When I was younger (not going into which decade THAT might be), I played guitar professionally. I was in bands, composed songs and played in popular Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles venues. My guitars lived in a pristine condition. Why? They visited great guitar luthiers regularly (Luthier: expert in maintaining and repairing stringed instruments). New strings, truss rod adjustments, bridge corrections and quite a few other refinements were all part and parcel to maintaining the instrument. Of course being a poor musician, I maintained the guitar myself as well. I changed strings, cleaned the beasts and, when not in use, kept them in airline cases for protection. During shows, I played my guitars so as to not damage them during use. When I finished a gig, I checked the axe out for issues and wiped it down before putting it away. As a professional, maintaining the instrument before, during and after use came with the job.
Much like a voice, the guitar is biological in nature. Unless senility has dropped in, my brain informs me that wood still comes from trees. The lion’s share of that axe is wood, after all. Wood fiber changes, like the voice, over time. It stretches. It contracts. It bends. It bows. There’s not a true guitarist alive who hasn’t lined that fret board up and eyed down the neck looking for too much action or a curve forming. A guitar requires constant monitoring and maintenance if a high-level of long term performance is expected out of the instrument. The voice is no different.
Actually, the voice is very different from a guitar. Obviously, right? First, we use our voices when we are still alive. Guitar wood is pretty much dead on arrival. Second and more key, the guitar breaks and what? The guitarist scrapes his pennies together and procures a new one. Back on stage we go!!! How about that voice? Not so fast, fellow vocalists. Last time I visited the music store, I did not see brand new soprano, alto, tenor and baritone voices hanging on the hook in pretty packages with instructions on how to pop your busted voice out and click your new one in with the promise of sounding better than ever. In truth, the marketplace is bereft of, what would be, fantastic products. So the really scary difference from guitars for singers, public speakers, actors, broadcasters and, you guessed it, announcers is we each only get ONE larynx. We break it. Our vocal careers are done for.
Well, I am not speaking the correct truth. There are voice prostheses. I suggest checking out the tracheo-esophageal (TE) model. One quick look at something like this and you’ll be ready to give up any vices or traumatic activities hurting your voice. Quite honestly as everyday humans, we should be doing the basics to take care of our voices, if for no other reason, so we can talk normally. Vocal professionals are under a lot more pressure.
EMPHASIS: ONE VOICE. IT BREAKS. CAREER DONE.
THE ELEPHANT: Does every vocalist (no matter their vocalizing job) take care of their voice like a pro guitarist might manage his Fender Stratocaster?…or with the the discipline one might have in taking their fancy SUV faithfully to those appointments so, it runs great well past 100,000 miles? I brought up the SUV to make a point. Sure, you need that SUV to get back and forth to the vocal job; however, the voice is the instrument bringing in the dough so, wouldn’t it make the most sense to take even better care of it than the car? Analogy: Imagine yourself a professional violinist. Suppose you keep your wheels in pristine order but, not so with the violin such that it has some intonation problems and your bow is badly frayed. You arrive to the concert safely and on the QT but, your violin plays like crap. What’s more likely to cost you the job, being late to the concert due to a poorly maintained car, playing lousy due to a suffering violin or both? You all know the answer. Gotta maintain the pipes if you want the plumbing to work right.
More importantly, does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing in order to protect those golden pipes? I thought I did until I stumbled across a number of articles and white papers written by some university types and voice doctors then, my confidence slipped. To edify myself, I ventured off into my own junior league research project.
Let’s chat about that valuable voice. Of course, the larynx is central but, the voice is much like a watch. A whole lot of gears come into play: brain, heart, lungs, abdomen, back, neck, shoulders, muscles, jaw, teeth, tongue, esophagus, pharynx and…the larynx. All of these parts have to be in pretty darn good working order for you to have the voice of an angel. There’s enough stuff in that list to indicate the same items we should be taking care of anyway will also gone miles to babysitting the voice.
So,… the voice itself comes down to just one organ: the larynx. The vocal chords are just a small part of the larynx, constructed of muscles and cartilages and pieces and parts that vibrate as air passes through creating sound. We manipulate these pieces and parts, along with shoving air out of our lungs using our diaphragm for volume, to create those wonderful pitches and prosodies which characterize how we sound. To give some context as to the tool itself, we are talking about an area the size of strawberry. Holy crap! You mean to tell me that the beauty of Streisand and Pavarotti comes down to something the size of a strawberry?! Even worse, a vocal talent’s entire career is dependent on this little, strawberry-sized, fibrous, easily damaged item which an infinitesimal effort can make irreparable.
What to do…what to do…
I know this sounds crazy but, using the voice is a very physical activity. To do your best work, you have to stand; therefore, the entire body would be involved. Announcers and broadcasters are, more typically, sitting so, your lower body gets a break. Even so, the heart pumps harder. The lungs breathe in and expel more air. The chin is up so, your neck and shoulders are hard at work which means your back is busy. The jaw and tongue muscles are going, The brain is cranking information a million miles an hour. We haven’t even mentioned the larynx yet! Whew!!! It’s doggone physical!!
The vocal chords themselves move, vibrate, stretch, contract, back, forth, up, down… Vocal professionals are, per the quote-unquote experts, supposed to train their voices like vocal athletes. That’s kinda cool. I always wanted to be an professional athlete but, what exactly does vocal athlete mean? Really simple: healthy diet, adequate rest, basic exercise (body and voice) and constant monitoring…all with consistency and discipline.
DIET – Boy, is it ever a four letter word. For some, the sheer sight of that word is justification for throwing in the towel instantly. Fret not. The recommendation from the USDA is a balanced eating habit based on that funny food plate but, we’re going to drop the food for a moment and begin with WATER. Of all the obvious, basic things to say, good ol’ hyrdogen hyrdoxide ranks right up there with breathing but, do we do a good job of drinking it?
At least, 8 eight ounce glasses per day is the recommendation. That’s a half gallon of run-of-the-mill AACH-TOO-OHH, baby! No, coffee, soda and booze are not good ideas even though they are hydraters. Caffeine and alcohol dry things out making them the paradox of hydraters. The voice likes things wet. Water makes the mucous thin and slippery which, in turn, leads to good vibrations in those chords. Soda, also a hydrater, has syrup and sugars…they make mucous thick and sticky causing the voice to under-perform and, more pointedly, sound bad.
Milk is a funny business. The body needs less of it as we age and, yap, it’s still very good for you; however, it sticks and makes things thick. Kids, of course, need rivers of milk (Having 2 sons, we go through…I couldn’t make this up if I tried…8 gallons per week). Irrespective, thick mucous is no good for the voice. Drink it at will but, I would advise not within 24 hours before an event.
Orange juice and other natural juices can be part of your water count unless you suffer from GERD or LPRD. We’ll discuss GERD and LPRD a bit further down. If GERD/LPRD is not your issue, juice is a good source of water and nutrients. Watch out for juices with sugars not innate to the juice. Recall, processed sugars and syrups are not good for performing with your voice…sticky, sticky and thicky mucous.
Unequivocally, anything that sticks or makes things thick are no good for performing. Syrups, sodas, candy and anything using milk such as chocolate and ice cream. These items don’t hurt your voice necessarily but, you cannot expect your voice to perform well on stage or at game time having just downed a Hershey bar. Plus, stickiness and thickiness leads to a voice clearing behavior which is extremely bad for your voice. We’ll discuss voice clearing further down.Fruit can count toward the water intake but, it’s hard to calculate. This segues us into EATING HABITS. Not trying to create a weight-loss or nutrition plan for anyone here OR profess myself a nutritionist/dietician (not qualified, sorry). Rather, any balanced diet, agreed upon with our doctors, makes us all healthier in general and trains us to watch foods in general. For voice, milk, sugar and alcohol are vocal killers. If you want your voice to poorly perform, a heavy dose of any combination of the aforementioned will do the trick. I am the last person to advise giving up on anything but, I would recommend that moderation is king and limiting before having to perform.
The problem with this thick mucous business is you find yourself clearing your throat a lot. The issue with alcohol in products is it dries out your throat resulting in hoarseness. For singers, thick mucous and hoarseness could very well end the show but, announcers can keep on trucking with constant water, gargling and throat clearing. Personally, why screw with it? Stay away from the perilous stuff if you have to perform. Plus, you never know who’s listening so, why take a chance sounding badly in front of a potential client in the crowd?
The overall balanced diet is between a person and their doctor. I am not perfect. I splurge sometimes like any average person. However, I consistently drink 10-12 glasses of pure water per day, watch my weight constantly and minimize the thicky-sticky foods. Hopefully, the doctor knows an individual uses their voice for a living so the best possible advice is given. If your doctor does not know you use your voice for a living, shame, shame, shame. My goodness people! Please, if I can encourage anything on this article, it’s to advocate that your doctor should know you use your voice for living. As an example, you might be visiting them because your ill. If they know you are a professional announcer, they might prescribe a medication which will not stick to your throat. Common sense your doctor should know what you do.
Additionally, one little thing that I do everyday is take a multi-vitamin. I know this is not for everybody but, I’m a fan. Their results are long debatable by everyone including the experts. My own feeling is that I am seldom sick, always have energy and a high alertness. I, truly, believe the vitamins help. I, also, never miss meals and keep my weight in check. Again, vitamins are a discussion with a person’s doctor. I’m simply expressing my perceived success with them such that I still, faithfully, ingest one daily since my Flintstones chewable days as a kid.
SLEEP – Seriously. I swear. So much of this is common sense, I can’t believe it. Lack of sleep can put a strain on your entire person. This includes your voice. When the body is strained, the immune system is weakened making a person more susceptible to illness. Illnesses and vocals do not coincide well. Sleep, also, provides vocal rest: no vibrating chords. Getting plenty of sleep before an event (and in general for that matter) will always be the recommendation. I try to get a minimum of 7 but, strive for 8 plus if I can at all help it. By the way, lying in bed watching TV is not what the docs and researchers have in mind.
VOCAL REST – What a mighty term! Vocal rest when one is awake is a typical practice, especially, for singers. Vocal rest means not using your voice…many experts and doctors say even whispering is no good. These same authorities claim speaking in a low, soft regular voice is better for your box than whispering. The aim is minimum (or even no) voice usage on vocal rest days. A weekend tournament probably means a day of vocal rest. I ran across a plan of action that school teachers should vocal rest all weekend after a week of classes…whew! Just consider how much teachers talk. 5 days and 20 hours of ballgames can wear an announcer’s voice box down, too.
It turns out that overuse is the biggest and most widely misuse of the voice. It’s, also, the most dangerous. Singing and speaking until your voice sounds like crumpled paper and feels like barbed wire is not good. Learn your own limitations. Continuing to use a hoarse or tired voice can lead to permanent damage. Why risk it? Find out how many games in a row you can do before you start straining or get soreness. Strain and soreness are extremely bad for a vocal talent. Rest the voice to rejuvenate it. 24-48 hours of vocal rest is not uncommon with voice professionals. To sum it up, you rest your voice as much as you can, which translates into as much as possible. VOICE=$$–>Must Protect!!!
EXERCISE – Here is another case for doctor-patient relationship. You do what the doctor allows you to do…but DO IT!!! Article after article, paper after paper all stipulate exercise helps overall health. If you are a person relegated to 3 times per week, 15 minutes a stint of basic activity, it WILL help your voice. Besides, how many would agree that simple activity helps the mental and physical well-being overall? How many doctors, kinesiologists and fitness gurus would agree? Announcers are of the sharpest people I know because they are watching the game, tracking the game and speaking about the game for 2-3 hours straight and often for multiple games in a row (I haven’t even mentioned simultaneously running music, the scoreboard, play clock, sound board, etc.). Would a bit of exercise go a long way to keeping them on their game (no pun intended)? Exercise helps everything.
Then, there are vocal exercises and warm-ups. Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Sally sold seashells by the seashore. Hum and make bubbles with your lips for 30 seconds. Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. The list is endless. Should announcers be doing some or all of this stuff? Let’s answer the question with a question: Do you want to sound crisp and sharp? Everyone doing something physical for living should do a warm-up. Think of the endurance it builds in your voice. Using the voice is categorically physical!!! Remember that.
How do professional athletes stay nimble? They work out. They stretch. They rest. They have strict diets. They warm-up before games. They do all this crap to perform at their optimum and reduce their risk of injury. Get it? I will repeat for the cheap seats: USING YOUR VOICE IS PHYSICAL!!! Voice Pros are very similar to pro athletes. Vocal exercises and warm-ups. Stretching to help your neck, shoulders, abdomen and back.
If you rehearse (and I am firm that everyone should rehearse), use any break time to say absolutely nothing and hydrate. During a game, say nothing and sip water between announcements. Careful on the intake during the event or find yourself holding it indefinitely…announcers don’t get much of a break for the restroom during halftime if a lot of copy must be read. I guess the advice is say nothing and sip water whenever a public speaker is not speaking.
Watch how you speak in loud environments such as basketball arenas. It’s so loud that you will find yourself yelling to your colleagues if you are not on headsets. Yelling will accelerate the wearing out of your voice. We announcers DO need our voices the entire game, you know. One tactic I take quite often is to cup my hand at my mouth, move closer to a person’s head then, speak normally into their ear. Be sure to do this politely with members of the opposite sex so as not to offend.
No doubt exercising, warm-ups, rehearsal and such play an important role in doing a good job. Wisely monitoring how you use your voice during events is important. Yeppers, quite a bit goes into this voice TLC business. To me, all these disciplines represent professional behaviors.
TRIPLE NUCLEAR DOOM (ˈtri-pəl ˈnü-klē-ər ˈdüm) noun : any item or activity with capability of permanently destroying your voice.
Let’s talk about stuff to NOT do. Can we start with SMOKING? If you need your voice for your job and you smoke, boy, this is tough. I’ve heard of singers, which smoke, using vaporizers to keep their throats from getting sore. Nothing dries out a voice more effectively than smoke. I always go back to Lucille Ball. Listen to her voice change through time. Talk about scary-sounding. As announcer, I prefer to have a smooth, sonorous voice as opposed to raspy or hoarse. If at all possible, best not to smoke…ever.
In my humble view, this includes all this vaping business. The claim is a person is only sucking in water vapor and nicotine. Heaven knows what else they are sucking in. There is no documented proof vaping will hurt your voice. I will go on record by saying that I am just not sure. Best not to smoke any way, any how. It just seems wiser in general. Since I’m not a smoker and never have been, I will not miss a beat with this one.
How about DRUGS? Let’s start with recreational. Recreational drugs are bad in general. Pot=Smoking. Uh, no. Again, smoke is smoke to me. And check it out yourself, over and over and over, the voice docs say cocaine and its related, illegal buddies severely damage the voice (not to mention all the rest of you). Want to end up under the vocal surgery knife? Use drugs. Uh, no. I don’t get it. How many ways and in how many formats does need to be spelled out to everyone on earth that recreational drugs are just bad, bad, bad?! Nancy Reagan was right. Just Say No.
But wait, what about regular prescribed or off-the-shelf medicines??? Let’s chitty chat. Many, many medicines dehydrate (dehydrate being the operative term). Many have some type of alcohol in them. If you have to take and it dries out your voice, vocal rest and hydrate. Even moderate use of a dry voice can permanently damage those pipes. Yes, permanent! Need a Tylenol? Take it with water. There’s that water thing again. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!…and with plain ol’ fashioned water. Other medicines have syrups and sugars which stick and make thick mucous. Gracious sakes alive! Where does it end? I’m not a doctor so, I ain’t recommending anything but water, which announcers should be drinking steadily anyway.
And medicines for soothing an irritated voice? Well, no shortage of remedies exist as suggested by doctors, singers and speakers alike. On the off-the-shelf side, beware of anything with alcohol, menthol or eucalyptus which will dry you out. Watch products with sugars and syrups…stick and thick. On the other side, if you see glycerin or pectin in the ingredients, you might be on to something good that will help your soreness. More on voice care when you’re sore, later. The point is to watch out for medicines which dry out, stick or make thick mucous.
Ok. Back to TRIPLE NUCLEAR DOOM.
THROAT CLEARING IS AWFUL. It’s horrific to listen to. It’s an uncomfortable throat grinding kinda thing to do. Most paramount, it is quite traumatic for vocal chords. Apparently, a person is not really clearing the throat but reacting to thick mucous. Avoiding anything that makes the mucous thick is a start: dairy, sugar, etc. Sinus drainage can be a big contributor, too. Being a guy who has suffered his whole life from sinus issues, the only consistent way I have been able to do battle with mucous in my throat is hydration. Drinking water makes mucous thin. The entire professional speaking world and the associated healthcare professionals all say the same durn thing: hydration.
If throat clearing is a habit, consciously work on reducing the habit. 99% of folks clear their throat at one point or another and much of it is habit so, you’re not alone if you do it. As an announcer, you have to work on it. I’m sure some know what it’s like to clear the throat with the mic live. LOL. Apparently, swallowing your saliva (gross!) and taking regularly sips of water when you feel the urge helps reduce the need. I read, have not tried, that talking through the mucous works to announcer’s great advantage. Why? Talking through the mucous actually loosens mucous and helps get rid of it. It may not sound perfect over the mic but, anything that diminishes throat clearing works great.
YELLING, screaming, hollering and loud-talking go against the voice health plan. You betcha. Plus, it can damage the jewel of your talent. Find a different way when you’re mad at your kids. For me, taking away the phone from them has generated more of a grin out of me than a grimace when they upset me. Coughing is no good either. Whispering…I think this was mentioned earlier…causes more strain on the voice than regular talking and, the vocal chords behave abnormally in the process. If a person has laryngitis, better to use a quiet normal voice or no voice at all than to whisper.
How about my pet peeve…VOCAL FRY… Man, do I hate vocal fry. Let’s explain it first. In case of unfamiliarity, there are 4 registers of the voice: Fry, Modal, Falsetto and Whistle. Modal is the normal voice. Falsetto is the initial treble voice guys go into above their modal register. Whistle is the tippy-top which, truly, only female sopranos and children are able to develop. Fry is the bottom, grinding sound a person can make with their voice by squeezing their vocal chords together then vocalizing. To me, it makes men and women sound like old scratchy AM radios but, infinitely more critical, vocal fry can be a trouble.
In my research, one paper noted that excessive vocal fry puts a person at higher risk for lesions, polyps and cysts…egads! Although, excessive yelling and overuse can do the same. A couple other remarks from some voice doctors indicated long-term vocal fry can, potentially, screw up your range. Now, words like “higher risk” and “potentially” do not mean it will happen but, extended and excessive use of your voice out of its optimal range certainly is not helpful to your own instrument. No hardcore proof vocal fry is a vocal killer but, I will always advise against vocal fry because I simply have a distaste of it. Women such as Kim Kardashian and Zoey Deschanel, who’ve made vocal fry posh, can have it!
COLD WEATHER…BRRRRRRRRRRR… Oh, yes. Cold weather is the Blue Devil (No offense to Duke). Bundle up. Scarf around the neck. Breath through the nose. Get back inside. Drink warm fluids. Drink warm water…weird, huh. Try it. It’s not so bad. How many sore throats have arrived after a quick trip in the cold? Plenty. Then guess what?! Everyone runs inside to that wonderful Heating/Cooling system which delivers nothing but dry air. Eek! Make a room vaporizer/humidifier part of your Announcer’s Toolkit. Take a hot steamy shower and stand in there and enjoy. Getting moisture into that throat is good. Don’t forget the voice likes things wet. Cold weather is dry and harsh. Following that up with going inside to the dry warmth results in a double whammy of dryness. Know it and be prepared to deal with it.
The bottom line on TRIPLE NUCLEAR DOOM is to avoid anything which hurts the gold. Relaxing in a lawn chair in the middle of a heavily polluted city with lots of pluming black smoke may not be good. The best combatant to TRIPLE NUCLEAR DOOM? Water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water, water.
GERD vs LPRD
Good grief. There is GERD and LPRD. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease and Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease are similar stomach troubles whereby a backflow of stomach acid makes its way back up the esophagus. With GERD, heartburn is a symptom. LPRD goes all the way up into your throat causing throat soreness. This is the big difference. LPRD is the bigger worry for singers and speakers.
Insofar as the voice is concerned, the LPRD acid can get into the larynx area a cultivate what is known as reflux laryngitis. Laryngitis of any kind is pure pain on so many levels to vocal professionals. It hurts. You can’t perform. It goes on. The plan? See a doctor. Any kind of laryngitis requires doctor consultation and treatment. Especially for vocal talents, the prescribed steps from the doctor should be followed to a “T”. For the pros, no voice=no work=no money. Need I say more?
REMEDIES FOR THE IRRITATED VOICE Far and wide exist the plans and ideas for dealing with sore throats and irritated voices. Healthcare practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, vocal professionals and Mom retain their litany of solutions to your problems. In the end, everything water related ends up doing the best job. People, water is the universal tool, the panacea if you will. If you want to improve your overall health (beyond your voice), lots and lots of water will launch you forward.
Now, throat illnesses like laryngitis will land you in the doctor’s office. Don’t avoid it or come up with your own concoctions. Cruise on over and get the professional healthcare help you need to recover quickly. If you just don’t feel right, your throat feels bad, your voice is not sounding right and you’re not sure what’s going on, go to the doctor. I am not a doctor but, I am an advocate for all vocal workers to hit up the doc when the pipes ain’t right.
Now, a person’s voice can sometimes find itself just warn out and irritated. Again, lots of remedies abound. I’ve spoken to quite a few announcers and they have all kinds of things from lozenges to herbal teas. I’m not going into products here but, there are plenty to go find. I recommend researching them, reading the reviews and understanding the ingredients. Any of these products which even remotely appears to be a medicine, consult your physician.
My favorites to relieve my irritated throat are room temperature water, gargling with lukewarm salt water and eating an occasional potato chip (not the whole bag…how silly.) Once again, water runs the show. Water must be mentioned 100 times in this article. Gargling with salt water works. It does. I feel relieved. Magically, I feel a clarity in my voice. If my throat and voice feel squirrelly in the slightest upon arrival to a game, I immediately go gargle with salt water. I will not lie. It helps me and builds my confidence that I did it. Eating an occasional potato chip if my voice starts to sound warn seems to help as well. Whatever it’s special wizardry, it works. Other announcers do other things like suck on lozenges or drink special herbal teas. I advise one do what works for best them. My way is old school but, it works really well for me.
STARVE TO DEATH!!! Also if you want your voice tip-top at game time, never, ever eat beforehand or during the contest. Why you might ask? Well, a full tummy will hinder that omnipotent diaphragm and keep you from being able to take a big solid breath before you speak. For me, some of those copy sentences can be pretty long and I like to speak as far as I can without taking a breath. Starve until the end of the game. If you ARE starving beforehand, make it a light snack with nothing dairy or loaded with syrup and sugar. Stay away from spicy foods that could irritate. Yes, the pleasant and altruistic administrator will swing through and offer up that delectable slice of pizza…. mmmmmm. It smells so good. Sigh and turn it away. Eating and performing do not mix.
Well, I wrote a lot of rhetoric suggesting things to do and things not to do in voice maintenance. Believe it or not, there is 1,000 times more detail on this vocal care subject than has been plopped in this post. I’ve dipped only into the basics. The bottom line on what to do is TAKE CARE OF YOUR VOICE. The bottom line on what NOT to do is NOT TAKE CARE OF YOUR VOICE. If you care about your vocal work, you’ll take the necessary steps. I’m confident of it.
Announcers announce. Announcers perform by announcing. Part of being a professional is attaining the behaviors of a professional. A pro cares for their instruments and in an announcer’s case, this is the voice. The world rewards consistency which means performing consistently which means consistent behaviors on and off the mic. If an announcer does not monitor and maintain their voice, they only hurt themselves AND their performance disappoints others. What can anyone expect if they approach their talent and trade as a dilettante? Unremitting hard work and discipline pretty much always gets a higher success rate in the end.
It’s bush-league, side-armed, arrogant nonsense to believe an announcer is exempt from much of what’s discussed here. I will be one to vacillate on whether announcers should be involved in playing music at a game or whether they should overly inflect the names for the home team. However, I stand pat on the subject of voice care. An announcer or any type of vocal professional must take the steps to maintain their one, single, fragile instrument that keeps them behind the microphone: their voice. Take care of it fellow announcers. Keep that big bottle of water by your side. Your fans, administrators and teams will love you for it.
Chime in, folks. Let us all know what you do to maintain and help your voice.
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