Category Archives: Voice-Over

How to Cure a Hoarse Voice: a follow-up

My post, “How to Cure a Hoarse Voice,” is, by far, the most-viewed on my blog. I get lots of views and comments all the time, and I’m so glad the information has been helpful to people. It’s easy to share the information and say, “Just wait. Don’t talk.” But when it’s actually happening to you, when you’re actually unable to speak (or on the verge) it’s tough advice to take. In fact, I had to take that advice myself about a month ago. My hope in sharing this story with you is that, when you start seeing (hearing) red flags, you will recognize what is happening and know when to take it easy.

I have developed acid reflux over the years. I only get it if I’ve overeaten a few too many times in a certain period, and it does put me at risk for infection; when my throat gets raw like that, it’s easy for bacteria or a virus to sneak in and get me sick. I’d been feeling weird for days, and then my voice started getting weaker and weaker. This leads me to the main takeaway of this post:

When you feel your voice getting weak and you think something might be wrong, do not push it.

I was at my day job, and on break. I was obsessed with a certain Latino pop song and was doing a casual recording to see how my Spanish sounded. The artist is not Mariah Carey, but there are little vocal frills that add a certain amount of athleticism to the song. I thought that, by pushing through the texture, weakness, and the stuff in my throat, maybe I’d shake it off. How very wrong I was. No sooner did I get back from break that I found my voice was entirely gone. Literally, the most I could get out was a whisper–no vocal involvement whatsoever–and we all know how bad whispering is.

In fact, I have a recording of my voice failing, and these are the signs you want to look for. I pridelessly am sharing this with you. For comparison, I’ve made another very casual recording of my voice as it would have been that day, had I not been ill. It’s not perfect, either (I didn’t exactly warm up for this), but it gives you an idea of my normal, healthy voice (caution to you headphone-listeners):

Hear how my voice leaps from note to note in a facile way. There is little texture to it, and it sounds bright.

Now, compare that to the mud that follows. Follow along with my commentary:

0:00 Right off the bat, you can hear the texture of my failing voice, the weakness of my vocal chords, and also just how sick I sound. You can also hear that all the notes are falling pretty flat, despite how hard I’m trying (which only makes it worse, as you’ll later hear). Also, these “frills” and “athleticism” I mentioned are almost nonexistent because my voice just can’t do it.

:15 At this first leap in pitch, you will hear how much flatter and inaccurate the following notes become. The more whispery sound that follows and subsequent throat-clearing (shame on you, Morgan!) is my body’s natural response to try and protect my voice by manufacturing mucus. Why didn’t I listen?

:25: This is when my voice starts wavering and sounding like someone’s going crazy on the pitch modulator for a synthesizer. Listen how quickly this situation deteriorates.

1:03 My voice cracks after hammering that A note for so long. Sayonara.

Not long after this recording was made, my voice was entirely destroyed, and I didn’t get it back for almost exactly two weeks.

Did you get that? Two weeks.

Had I not ignored the signs, tried to push through, and ignored my body’s natural defenses, I may never have completely lost my voice. Certainly not for two weeks, at any rate. These are the times when we must remember to be patient, relax, and care for ourselves. Whether you’re a singer, actor, public speaker, or other admirable voice-centric profession, our voices are our livelihood. Without them, we cannot work.

On top of the physical damage, there are also considerable expenses that come up for us professionals: permanent damage not only limits our capabilities but also changes our sound. With my bright, young voice, my most marketable self if the bubbly retail-type. If my voice were suddenly to drop in pitch and gain texture, I’d have to completely rethink all of my marketing and record all new promotional demos. And then, in the more extreme cases, there is surgery for those who develop nodules and polyps. It is not cheap.

I would rather take two weeks off from using my voice than risk damaging it for the rest of my life and career. Sometimes, as I said in the original post, it really does take a while. And it’s always longer than we want. Describing how frustrating that experience was will have to wait for another day. I encourage you to think of the bigger picture the next time your voice is setting off alarm bells. The more you rest your voice early on, the sooner you will be on your way back to vocal acrobatics.

How to cure a hoarse voice

Here’s the situation:

I’m narrating an online course. I’m leaving town tomorrow, so I need to finish narrating before I leave. I thought I’d be able to get through it yesterday, but after narrating for nearly ten hours, I realized I had over-used my voice and was damaging it so I stopped.

Six hours later I felt like I had strep throat. I woke up this morning hoping for an amazing recovery. I was not satisfied. I still have several more hours of narrating to do and I can barely talk.
Say hello to the internet! Someone has got to know how to cure a hoarse or lost voice, right?
WRONG. SO, SO WRONG. I was horrified by the answers people were giving to “fix” this problem!

just whisper!

cough drops!

ice cream!

No, you guys. Oh my god, I can’t believe people actually think this is the answer.

I think I need to admit this to myself now so I can teach you all a lesson: there isn’t a whole lot you can do to cure a hoarse voice besides wait. There isn’t an easy fix. I know I wish there were, but think about it: when you cut your finger, there isn’t fairygodmothersome magic serum Madam Pomfrey gives you to make it heal in three seconds. Sure there are things you can do to help the healing along, but chiefly, you gotta wait!

Let me tell you why these “fixes” don’t work:

Cough drops:

This reminds me of a commercial I saw the other day. The target audience was people who own elderly pets. The pets slowly stop being able to have fun like when they were young pups because of joint pain and whatnot. Product to the rescue! The commercial was selling a medicine that would make the pain go away! Oooohhh, the pet owners were so happy! Rover loves running in the park again!

Never once did they mention anything about making the problem go away. Just the pain.

Pain, though painful, is actually a very helpful tool. It is your brain’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m hurt. Please stop doing that and I’ll feel better. Take it easy.” Now that the dog’s brain isn’t receiving that message, Rover is going to be doing the same damage as before, but ten-fold because he has no idea it’s hurting him. The product it actually just going to make the situation worse.

Now apply this to cough drops. Cough drops these days are created to numb your throat, relieve the pain. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to speak anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’re cured. When you were in pain, at least the pain was reminding you to rest your voice. I know we’re taught not to listen to our bodies these days, but trust me: they’re right.

Now think about this name: cough drops.

Rule to remember: only take cough drops when you’ve got a cough.

Whispering:

Whispering is actually quite harmful to your voice (regardless of if you’re sick or hoarse or healthy). It sends copious amounts of air across your vocal folds and dries them out. It also puts a lot of stress on them. When your voice is hoarse, stay on-voice, but speak quietly. There’s a difference between whispering and speaking quietly.

Ice cream:

I have nothing against ice cream. But this is the same principal as cough drops: numbing so you can pretend the problem is gone. No one likes to be in pain–if you want to eat ice cream and cough drops, that’s totally fine! Just as long as you’re aware it doesn’t entitle you to speak.

As a general statement, anything you try with your voice that makes you cough afterward is not helping.

Now, here’s something that actually might help you:

Humming. Yes, humming. A gentle hum can actually do wonders for the voice. Just don’t hum all day.

And I’ve heard good things about gargling warm salt water a couple times a day (just don’t swallow!).

Also, inhale steam a couple times a day. Two sessions of five minutes is better than one session of ten. You can do this over a boiling pot on the stove or buy a steam machine–Vick’s makes them, and they aren’t too expensive.

This is why people drink tea (though they don’t realize this is the reason): the actual tea–the honey, the lemon, all that stuff people tell you is good for your voice–doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s really the steam you’re inhaling from the tea. Let me explain something: when you swallow, your vocal folds are moved out of the way. Nothing you eat or drink is going to make contact with your vocal folds. The only way to get to them directly is by inhaling. This is why smokers have those gritty voices; smoking is all an act of inhaling, so all the gross stuff in the smoke is passing over their vocal cords. When you inhale steam, the water plumps up your vocal cords!

I’m gonna be real though. In the end, the best thing you can do–the quickest fix you can get–is rest your voice. If you want to see results fast, you have got to commit to not talking. Also, I know this seems like one of those catch-alls like drink lots of water–which, by the way you should do (and notice I didn’t say “fluids”, I mean water)–get lots of sleep. Sleep does wonders for vocal cords.

One last thing: clearing your throat. Not good! It is not a pretty sound. You know why? You’re grinding your vocal cords together. That doesn’t sound very good for them, does it? Our brain prompts us to clear our throats when mucus is getting too close to our vocal cords, so this might be something you’ll be doing a lot because, even if you’re not sick, our body’s natural response to all this damage is mucus. Drinking a lot of water will help to thin out the mucus, but if you must do something about it, try doing a “young lady cough”. No voice is involved in this one, just a short puff of air. It sounds a little like “eh eh eh eh”. These little puffs of air hopefully will be enough to dislodge all that yummy stuff in your throat.

Well, I hope this was beneficial! If you don’t need the advice now, maybe it’ll help in the future!

Stay healthy!

4/24/2013 Update: Thanks so much, everyone for your feedback. I look forward to providing more tips in the future. I recently lost my voice, and would like to share my experience and what I learned from it HERE! Includes helpful sound clips.

Tracks!

I’m a little apprehensive about posting this because this will be the first major intersection of two of my lives. This isn’t even a big event, but it feels like it. People who watch me on YouTube (or “watched”, since I don’t ever get around to posting anymore) have never actually seen me act. They haven’t seen me onstage. As I spoke about in a recent entry, all of my different lives are beginning to converge in one place; it’s impossible to keep them separate. Where I was once able to keep a partition around my personal life (e.g., facebook), my family (email and a blog), my internet life (e.g., YouTube and this blog), and my professional life (pretty much anything non-internet), the Venn diagram that represented all that has become a single circle. On facebook, I’m now friends with my mom, my mentor, potential employers, YouTube people I don’t really know…

All I’m trying to say is that I went to Detroit last weekend for a voice-over workshop on accents and dialects, and this is what came out of it:

‘Bye, Y’all! – Southern accent sketch: Hobart “Bob” Reynolds, Mary Kay Florek, Morgan Bailey

Our instructor! Look him up! Chances are, you've heard him hundreds of times
Our instructor, Pat Fraley! Look him up! Chances are, you've heard him hundreds of times

New Yorkers – New York accent sketch: Jody Zink, Michelle Falzon, Morgan Bailey

That's Mark Boyd on my right, then Mary Kay Florek, then Michelle Falzon
That's Mark Boyd on my right, then Mary Kay Florek, then Michelle Falzon

Medic! – English accent sketch: Jody Zink, Kevin Scollin, Morgan Bailey

Recording Russian Ebonics
Recording Russian Ebonics

Russian Ebonics Class – Mark Boyd, Matt Adams, Morgan Bailey (this one’s my favorite)

Group Shot

This is my life now. Welcome to it.