Thursday, September 17, 2009

Take Care of Your Voice During Flu Season!

Unfortunately, it's true. Especially as the temperatures drop here in Vermont, it's hard to ignore that it's that time of year again: flu season. Whether or not you're worried about catching the H1N1 virus (what was being called the "swine flu"), influenza, or the common cold, chances are you'll have to deal with the stuffy nose, tickle in your throat, or balloon head at some point in the coming months. For many of us in the voice-talent industry, taking time off work isn't always an option. Voice-over artists can't tell a client to wait a few days, just as actors and singers can't hold up production because of a case of the sniffles. The show must go on. While we can't give you fool-proof tips beyond common sense practices to avoid catching a virus (i.e., wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough, clean common hard surfaces with alcohol, get plenty of sleep, etc.), we can tell you some pointers to help you avoid sounding as bad as you may feel when you step up to the mic.

  • Drink water like it's your job! Not only will staying hydrated boost your immune system, but it will also decrease the amount of mucous in your mouth and throat. The mic picks up the sound of the thick saliva, and you'll spend hours editing out the "pops" and "smacks" if you're not adequately hydrated.
  • To avoid and treat mild nasal congestion, try using a neti pot as a natural method of cleansing the nasal passages. The lukewarm solution of salt and water gently washes away mucous and build up that only inflames your sinuses even more. Neti pots are also great for reducing the stuffy or nasally sound you may get with seasonal allergies.
  • Avoid dairy. You should avoid eating dairy at least 12 hours before doing a recording anyway, and this is even more true if you are feeling congested. Dairy thickens the saliva and becomes a "petri dish" for bacteria and viruses to multiply.
  • Avoid eating starchy carbs. Starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bread, and pasta, may have the same effect as dairy. Furthermore, many people have unknown, mild allergies to wheat, which only become exacerbated when your immune system is down.
  • Eat brothy meals. They're warm, delicious, nutritious, and easy to digest. Enough said! Add a splash of hot sauce to the broth for dinner. Not only will the hot sauce help drain mucous, but also chilies and jalapenos have anti-viral properties.
  • Get blood circulating to your head. Although most of us aren't yogis and can't hold 10-minute headstands, you can still get some of the same health benefits by staying in poses that will make the blood and lymph drain toward the head. Try lying down on a bed with your head comfortably hanging off the edge. Relax there for 3-5 minutes. You may notice that your sinus pressure increases while in the pose, but after you (slowly) come out of the pose, you should notice your energy is higher and that you can breathe more easily. This type of pose will also stimulate your immune system.
  • Eat a green apple. "An apple a day..." Well, it may be too late to keep the doctor away, but eating a green apple before you go into the studio will clean out the mucous and leave your mouth feeling fresh.
  • Dab, don't blow! If you're not producing greenish mucous, you may only be aggravating your nasal passages even more by blowing your nose. Get rid of the sniffles by dabbing or wiping your nose frequently.
  • For the persistent cough, take a teaspoon of olive oil. A far cry from your grandma's Castor oil, olive oil will sooth your throat for hours after you take it without the side effects of many medicines.
  • Do light exercise. Exercise boosts your immune system and is especially useful at the onset of a virus. Don't over-do it, but get your blood, muscles and body moving to help fend off illness. Exercise is extremely useful in reducing stress, which also lowers your immune system. No matter what you do, exercising before you go into the recording studio will make you sound like you have more energy than you actually have!
  • Back away from the coffee, and pick up the herbal tea. When we're feeling lethargic and low on energy because of illness, stress, or lack of sleep, many of us try to rely on caffeine to get us through the day. This is generally a bad idea. Caffeine lowers the immune system's defense mechanism and will prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need when you finally crawl into bed at night. Try a hot herbal tea and see if you were just craving something hot to drink.
  • For a sore throat, take a teaspoon of honey with a few flakes of red pepper. Avoid drinking water directly after, as you want it to coat your throat for a while. The pepper flakes bring blood to the surface of your skin while the honey works its antibacterial magic.
  • Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to clear your throat! Hard coughs, while they feel great in the short-run, will ruin your voice in the long-run, decreasing your stamina in the studio. Instead, gentle, "fake"-sounding coughs will help you get through your session.
  • Make time for a short nap. Short, 30-minute naps, or "power naps" are a great fix to boost energy, rest your vocal chords, and clear your head before you record.
And finally...
  • Know when to call it quits! Respect your body and know when you need a time-out. Plus, it's better to turn down a job offer today with someone who may want to work with you tomorrow than to give them a low-quality product today and risk losing a future client.
  • Experiment a little. If a cold changes the pitch or range of your voice so much that it no longer sounds like you, take advantage of this opportunity to play around with different characters, moods or emotions. Beyond amusing yourself, you may actually land work with your "sick voice".
Have tricks that keep you healthy when others around you are calling in sick? What's your go-to that helps you sound and feel better when you do catch a nasty bug? Feel free to post them here in the comments section!

-By: Catherine Marshall

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Voices Supporting Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries

As it turns out, the decision we made at Such A Voice to support an entrepreneur in a developing country in the start-up phase of their business was the easy part. Following an initiative from a fellow philanthropically-minded voice talent took us to Kiva, a micro-lending website that allows you to hand-pick an entrepreneur around the globe based on their business plan, location, personal background and work history. The hard part was deciding who to make a loan to! After browsing through Kiva's pages of equally legitimate and loan-worthy candidates around the world for nearly an hour, we landed on the Fuente de Vida ("Fountain of Life") Communal Association in Bolivia. Maybe it was the name that caught our attention, the community-focused aspect that struck a cord in us Vermonters, or the group photo of the hard-working Bolivian women proudly holding piles of their hand-woven jackets. Whatever it was, we knew we were inspired to make that loan.

The way micro-lending works is like this: the loans received by Kiva are forwarded to the respective Field Partner, who is an existing microfinance institution in the developing country. They distribute the funds to the entrepreneur on a monthly basis. Before the entrepreneur receives any of the money from Kiva, they have already set the anticipated repayment dates for the loan and the date the loan is set to be disbursed to the entrepreneur. This repayment schedule can be monthly, quarterly, once at the end of the loan term, or whatever most accurately reflects the way that the entrepreneur will be making repayments. As the budding business shoots up, the entrepreneur pays off those loans according to the deadline to the Field Partner, who then sends the money back to Kiva. Kiva then redistributes the money to all the lenders for that entrepreneur until all loans have been repaid in full. All progress can be monitored online, making the entire process completely transparent. It's a truly inspiring way to see how far a micro-loan can go for these aspiring business people through the organization of Kiva.

Through Kiva, we learned that the Fuente de Vida Communal Association has been established for about 9 years, and they are comprised of 10 members, the majority of whom make a living knitting jackets with machine or by hand. This wintertime, due to a higher demand for their products, they need a loan in order to buy more wool and, in some cases, machinery. We signed up with Kiva and the Voice Talent group in a matter of minutes, and at the time we made our modest loan of $100, the Fuente de Vida group had gathered 70% of the $1,800 they needed in order to buy more machines to support the increasing demands on production. By the time we checked up on their page at the end of the day, they were already fully funded!

To check out Kiva and how micro-lending works, visit their website at http://www.kiva.org. If you'd like to to join the Voice Artist team to lend as little as $25 in support to self-supported entrepreneurs (like ourselves), ask to join our group at: http://www.kiva.org/team/voiceartists. Don't forget to browse the hundreds of applicants to find a plan and a purpose that speaks to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Technique Tip of September: Vary Your P.A.V.E.

[Rob Sciglimpaglia, Voice-Over Talent, Coach and Producer]

Just as you want each line of a voice over to sound distinct from the next, you also want each of your voice overs in your portfolio to stand out as being unique compared to the next. Imagine you send a prospective client a demo of material -- and each copy sounds the same. You will have cornered yourself into a niche without even realizing it.

The key to making each copy sound fresh, new and polished is to vary your P.A.V.E. That is, play with your Pace, Attitude, Volume and Energy. If you can learn to alter these four aspects of your voice with control, your range and variety will begin to grow exponentially -- and so will your market.

Whether you read the spot fast, medium or slow is your Pace. You're probably not going to read every single line with the same pacing unless it's a lot of copy that you're trying to cram into a short period of time. In that case, it will mostly be fast, but you are still going to vary your speed. Depending on the mood of the piece, you may want to have a sweet tone, a sarcastic voice, speak with authoritative command, or speak in a neutral flat-tone. This is called your Attitude. Your Volume, which we highlighted in last month's newsletter, should get louder or softer depending on where the climax is, when you're trying to create intrigue, or catch the listener's attention. Finally, Energy is similar to Pace and you might choose a high-energy, hard-sell or a low-energy, soft sell. Even for a high-energy spot, you will want to bring the Energy down and then up again so that you don't over-whelm the listener or lose their attention.

If you can get the right combination of variety for Pace, Attitude, Volume and Energy for every single spot that you perform, you will have a much more dynamic resume than just reading it straight the same way each time the same type of copy comes across your desk. To experiment with your range of effects, try reading the same piece aloud, focusing on one of the four aspects at a time. When you've got that down, try combining two points, and so on. You may discover a hidden potential that will lead you to different types of auditions!