How To Deal With Voice Over Fatigue Or Exhaustion

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One of the common questions perhaps your peers outside the voice acting sphere would ask you, “What do you do when your voice gets hoarse?” or “Is your voice the same when you have a sore throat?” But answering them is just one thing, the real challenge is how you overcome VO burnout/fatigue. 

In the voice-over career, investments are not just about the recording equipment and studio. The real name of the game here is taking care of your ultimate investment asset — your voice. 

What is vo fatigue?

VO fatigue or vocal fatigue is a voice-over term that describes strain, tiredness, or weakness in your voice resulting from the endless pursuit of voice over success. 

Symptoms of vocal fatigue

Before it hits you, you already see the fatigue approaching you from afar. And subconsciously, you plan to escape from it in many ways which will be discussed later. Here’s a list of symptoms:

  • Sore or itchy throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Reduced volume
  • Reduced vocal range
  • Warm or cold feeling in the throat
  • Dryness and viscous saliva
  • Dehydration especially in the morning when you wake up
  • Muscular tension in the neck and throat

What causes voice actors’ vocal fatigue?

Because most voice actors are independent workers and given the highly competitive VO market, you would likely to do anything to take on as many voiceover jobs as you can. 

There’s nothing so wrong about being a go-getter; It’s what it takes for every individual to be successful. But this is not applicable to a career where the product you sell is sourced from a specific part of your body. Pushing yourselves to the limits of what your voice can do abuses your vocal strength, thus, giving you vocal burnouts that jeopardize more opportunities than you fear losing because of your impulsiveness.

While it’s normal that you are after the unwavering quality of each voice-over job you take, protecting your voice is just as valuable as keeping the consistency in your recordings. If your voice suffers, even if you want to do just as good as your other projects, the quality will inevitably be crippled.

So how do I avoid fatigue from doing too much voice-over before it does the major damage?

1. Stay Hydrated

This is the number 1 rule, with or without fatigue. Drink lukewarm water as often as you can to keep your vocal folds lubricated. Herbal tea with honey, lemon juice, and ginger tea are also be a powerful aid that can keep your chords in good shape. As much as you can control, mitigate the intake of alcohol, coffee, and soda as they strip your vocal cords of their natural moisture.

2. Take a break and rest

When we say rest, we meant not just a vocal rest, but a complete break from all strenuous physical and mental activity. This can range from a day to a week or two, it’s totally up to you. Many voice actors practice the good habit of going on a vacation, where they totally forget about their job and engage themselves in mindless activities where they can do nothing but relax. 

3. Stay away from noisy places

When you are in a noise environment, you talk above the noise, causing a strain on your voice. Take the pressure off your sound and speak gently. Speak in a relaxed, and light tone and pace. Excessive chatting with your friends in the flesh or over the phone consumes your energy and abuses your throat. As much as you can, try to minimize the unnecessary talk especially if you feel like the fatigue is going to hit you soon.

4. Take vocal naps

A vocal nap is a short period of voice rest from (5 to 20 minutes). Throughout your day, try to vary your workload so you can find short periods of vocal rest and so you don’t do all your vocally intensive work in one short period. Likewise, try to effectively use break times by resting your voice.

5. Do warm-ups before putting your voice on

Like sports, voice acting needs a warm-up. You don’t just run a marathon straight up. Every professional voice user needs to know how to warm-up their voices effectively. A good voice coach can help you develop a warm-up tailored to your needs. Research has shown that voice actors who warm-up, report fewer instances of vocal fatigue, and recover more quickly from heavy voice use as warm-ups increase voice stamina and range.

6. Take a step back from taking throat-ripping projects

You should also assert which voice over genre is suitable for your voice type. Being able to voice a strong character in a video game once does not mean it suits you. Ask yourself if you can style that over and over without voice strain. 

7. Save your voice for what really counts

This can be ironic because you are always given tips and advice that you should be consistent with all your auditions and projects. But it’s not wrong to be wise enough to know where to save your vocal strength. If you are just rehearsing on your own, remember you are allowed to use a gentle voice instead of blasting every take like it is the last take for your project or an audition in front of your client. 

8. Consider consulting a doctor right away

If your vocal fatigue persists for several weeks, it’s a big red flag waving at you to consult a voice therapist or ENT doctor. Underestimating your chronic vocal burnouts can lead to a lot more serious voice problems. Specialist treatment can include medication (e.g. throat sprays, lozenges), surgery, voice therapy, or a combination of these.

9. Do some breathing exercises

Yes, breathing exercises can train your lungs to absorb and release air that reduces the stress in your vocal folds. 

10. Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle

This should be the basic routine for anyone who uses voice for their living. Avoid eating spicy food, sweets, and cold. Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke as they irritate the vocal folds. Make it to a certain too that you have good mouth hygiene and avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol or irritating chemicals. 

All these tips to avoid vocal fatigue should be kept in mind and it should be a no-brainer that protecting your voice should be on top of everything else in your responsibilities as a voice actor.

Advice from Experts: What to do when you lose your voice

If you’re a coach or a teacher, it’s no doubt that you’ve strained or lost your voice or at the very least suffered from a sore throat when you have to coach or teach. This isn’t a hopeless situation! There are some guidelines you can follow to ease the suffering–or at least get through those hours–when you need to use your voice.

If anyone would know what intense coaching and teaching can do to your voice, it’s Patti Komara*. She’s one of the industry’s most amazing and experienced in teaching gymnastics! But even she has worn her throat out, developing vocal nodes on her throat that required her to go to speech therapy.

Here is her list of 10 guidelines that she learned from her speech therapy experience:

  1. When you have a sore throat or you need vocal rest, speak softly. Don’t raise your voice or whisper (we tend to strain as we whisper and that puts a strain on our vocal cords).
  2. Drink a lot of water. Keep the cords hydrated. Soda pop dries out the vocal cords and alcohol and cigarettes are the worst. Milk creates mucous.
  3. Keep the rooms that you spend time in, filled with humidity, especially your bedroom. It should be no less than 40% humidity. Get a thermostat and barometer meter to hang on your wall.
  4. Don’t hack your throat or cough. You should sniff and swallow.
  5. Don’t turn away from whom you’re speaking to – look at them and speak softly.
  6. If you can, use a microphone when the music is on in the gym or dance school.
  7. Breathe through your nose, not your mouth, especially when exercising.
  8. Say fewer words.
  9. When sore, gargle 1 tsp. of salt in a glass of warm water. It knocks off the mucous from the cords.
  10. When at work, instead of yelling into the next room, use the inter-office intercom if available.
  11. Check out these five items to see if you’ve tried to cure your throat problems with false hope.
  12. Myth #1: Drink tea with lemon and honey.
    • Is this a real cure? No.
    • There is nothing wrong with honey, but tea and lemon are both acidic, which poses a serious problem to anyone who wants their voice to return.
    • The vocal folds are made of delicate, epithelial tissue. Though the food may not come in contact with them directly during food consumption (if it did, you would choke), acidic foods can trigger acid reflux, bathing the throat area in corrosive stomach acids. The vocal folds are already subject to chronic low levels of inflammation because of normal reflux events that occur up to 50 times during the day.
    • Tomatoes, citrus fruits, and chocolate are some acidic foods to avoid that can help to prevent reflux that can further damage the vocal folds.
  13. Myth #2: Slippery elm is a natural remedy for a raspy voice.
    • Is this a real cure? No.
      • Tea or lozenges made from the bark of the slippery elm tree has long been used as a remedy for sore, scratchy throats because this bark contains a gooey substance meant to be soothing. Singers go for the remedy, but there is no scientific evidence showing slippery elm is effective at protecting the voice or healing vocal folds.
      • Sometimes it’s tough to tell if something that seems to work is a placebo or real because people really want to take something and get better right away. But since doctors admit that remedies such as slippery elm don’t really do any harm, it’s probably safe to try it if it provides comfort to do so.
  14. Myth #3: Drink a lot of water.
    • Is this a real cure? Yes.
      • Staying hydrated is simple and effective and it’s one of the best things to do when struggling with throat and voice problems.
      • Viral infections and colds, as well as some medications people take when they are sick, cause dehydration, and impair the body’s ability to produce lubrication naturally.
      • Water can help bring back a lost voice by lubricating the vocal folds and the rest of the throat. The vocal folds vibrate about 100 times per second in men and about 200 times per second in women. Water is necessary to keep that amount of friction from wearing down the epithelial tissue.
      • A professor and director of the Vocal Health Center at the University of Michigan Medical School notes that moisture is good for the voice. The vibration of those folds is the fundamental source or sound. So, if it doesn’t respond the way it normally does, hoarseness is the result.
      • Water is also a major component of the jelly matrix that comprises the bulk of the vocal folds. Hydration keeps the folds at the correct fullness so that they vibrate well and are not too tense to close properly, which creates a ragged, croaky sound.
      • Using humidifiers or breathing steam can serve the same purpose, offering just a little more hydration to the sinuses and throat to promote healing.
      • Viral infections are tough to prevent, to shorten, or recover from, so it’s important to learn how to live with it and minimize the impact of infections on the throat.
  15. Myth # 4: Have a hot toddy.
    • Is this a real cure? No.
      • Warm and sweet with a splash of alcohol and perhaps a few spices – that’s a hot toddy. The warming drinks, fortified with brandy, rum, or whiskey, are considered by many to stave off viral infections and soothe a raspy voice. But experts advise staying away from hot toddies. No. Stay away from them!
      • Even though it sort of feels like the liquid is going down the throat and cleaning things out, it isn’t. Actually, it will be worse later.
      • If you’re sick with a viral infection and struggling to speak, or you’ve simply strained your voice into raspy hoarseness, your throat needs to heal, and to do that it needs moisture. Alcohol does the opposite – it dehydrates and compounds your symptoms. Hot toddies usually are made with tea and lemon or orange – which promote acid reflux.
      • The alcohol and acid are causing more damage than good.
  16. Myth #5: Whisper if you want to be heard.
    • Is this a real cure? No.
      • Forcing sounds when the vocal folds are inflamed is not recommended for fast healing because it smacks the vocal folds together with more force than they normally use and stresses them even more than the normal mechanical stress that can inflame on its own.
      • The extra stress on the folds, from whispering or even loud throat clearing, can push already inflamed and irritated tissues beyond their limits and increase the time required for the throat to heal.
      • Resting the vocal folds and throat by keeping silent is one of the best ways to promote healing. This would include refraining from singing, minimizing time spent on the telephone, and avoiding whispering or talking over loud music or crowds.
      • But a person’s natural tendency to want to be heard can interfere with this plan. And a coach or teacher’s need to provide guidance and direction to a room full of students usually forces you to use your already stressed throat. Extra inflammation or damage affects you more than someone who does not use their voice as often.
      • When you keep using an ailing throat, you open yourself up to the greater potential for permanent injury or severe damage from polyps, cysts, scar tissue.
      • When you boil it down, regaining a lost voice is simply a matter of time. It’s important to “listen” to your voice. You can tell when it sounds different. When it does, it’s just trying to tell you something.
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