I’ve wanted to “get into” voice acting for years. Now that I’m starting it as a hobby, I wondered how dangerous it really is to be a voice actor. I did some research, and this is what I found.
So is voice acting dangerous? Yes, voice acting can be dangerous, especially if you’re doing voice acting for games. Video games often require hours of screaming, noises, yelling, creature voices & choking to death. This can do some serious damage to your vocal cords. Other types of voice acting can be much less dangerous.
While voice acting can be dangerous, there are ways to limit the possibility of hurting your voice and there are other types of voice acting (other than for video games) that are much easier on your voice.
How else can voice acting be dangerous?
You already know that video game voice acting can be dangerous but here are some more ways voice acting can be dangerous.
- Doing breathy voices. Whispering or “breathy” voices are created by forcing the vocal folds close together and keeping them together. This constant touching and vibrating of your vocal cords causes damage over time. (Think Shaggy from the Scooby Doo movie. The actor practically lost his voice to get that role. And then he had to keep doing that all throughout shooting of the movie.)
- Screams, growls, and other noises. It’s not only in video games that you might be asked to make these kinds of sounds. And if you’re doing a lot of takes of a sound, you might leave the session with a bleeding throat.
- Caffeine & alcohol. Both of these dry out your vocal cords and dry vocal cords can lead to damage faster. Avoid these while you’re working.
- Working when you’re sick. The first thing to go is your voice. And if you’re working while you’re sick, you could be causing even more damage to your already fragile voice.
It’s pretty much the same for working through allergies and acid reflux. If you’ve got an allergy flare-up going on or last night’s take-out is giving you acid reflux, don’t just work through it. Your vocal cords could be inflamed and you’d be making a bad situation much, much worse.
- Working through pain. If you’re feeling pain during a session, you should stop. Take a break. Do a few warm-up exercises. Better yet, warm-up before your work sessions. Just don’t “work through the pain”. When it comes to your voice, it might lead to losing your voice for a while (or permanently.)
Generally speaking, voice acting is pretty safe, as long as you avoid stressing your vocal cords. Like any physical activity, pushing your limits is a surefire way to cause damage. So give yourself time to find your limits, and slowly expand them. Don’t just go “all in” just because it’ll be fun or financially rewarding. You only get one voice. (And voice surgery is expensive!)
What types of voice acting are safer to do?
Now that you know the dangers of voice acting, let’s look at some types of voice acting that are, generally speaking, pretty safe to do:
- Cartoon voices. This can be fun and easy work to do. Most of the time, you won’t be making weird noises but, if you are, it’s probably just for a short while and then you can get back to doing pretty normal voices.
- Commercials. The bread and butter for most voice actors, commercials are pretty easy to do. You normally just need to be yourself. Gone are the days when you had to sound like a sleazy car salesman to get a commercial gig. It’s a lot more common these days for companies to seek out “normal” voices for their ads. So these are pretty safe for your voice.
- Audiobooks. Again, not a lot of need for weird noises and voices here. Sometimes audiobooks are read in a normal voice, other times a bit of “acting” is involved but you’re normally pretty-much in control of how far you push yourself here. Be creative but don’t hurt yourself if you don’t need to.
- “Boring” Corporate and Educational Videos. Doing training videos for companies and educational videos for schools and colleges can be pretty drab and boring but it’s also (usually) pretty safe work for your voice.
- Movie & documentary narration. Narrating movies and documentaries is another (relatively) safe type of voice acting. A normal but engaging voice is all that’s needed. (But pick your gigs carefully. Try to get a script beforehand so you can see just what kind of work is involved.)
What are ways to make voice acting less dangerous?
- Warm up & cool down. Just like any athlete, you need to warm up and cool down before and after recording sessions. Just diving into a session (or running out of one to your next appointment) can lead to a sore throat and might even cause some short-term damage.
- Join a union. In 2017, the longest SAG strike in history came to an end, resulting in new guidelines for safer work conditions. Joining a union (like SAG-AFTRA) can go a long way towards helping you protect your voice. If a client wants you to perform in some dangerous way, you can call your union rep and get their advice. They might be able to step in on your behalf and help you negotiate a safer way forward for you to work.
- Improve your posture. Good posture will reduce neck tension, allow for better breathing, and relax your larynx, which will help you avoid hoarseness and (potentially) losing your voice.
- Use a humidifier next to your bed. This will help your vocal cords not dry out while you sleep, especially if you sleep with a fan or aircon on. But even just on a cold, dry night, your vocal cords can get dry while you sleep.
- Stay hydrated and get enough sleep. Don’t underestimate the value of good sleep and proper hydration. It can mean the difference between a healthy voice and losing your voice for a while. (And in this business, losing your voice means losing your income.)
- Exercise. Exercise can help lower your tension and tension is definitely bad for your voice. As a voice actor, you’ll spend a lot of time at your desk, applying for jobs, recording sessions, editing sessions, dealing with client emails and so on. A bit of exercise will go a long way to helping you avoid the physical aches and pains that come with a desk job.
- Get a vocal coach. Seriously, even if you can’t find a coach who specializes in voice acting, get a singing coach. You’ll learn to use your voice properly, how to breathe properly, good posture, great warm-up and cool-down techniques and ways to protect your voice in different situations. If you’re planning on going pro, get a coach.
Where can I find less dangerous voice acting gigs?
Online marketplaces are a great way to find “safer” voice acting work. You can often pick the exact kinds of work you want to do. Most of the work available will be for commercials and announcements. Some of the more specialised voice marketplaces will have plenty of the more “interesting” work like cartoon and movies.
Remember: Stick to the “safer” categories of work, avoid the “dangerous” voice work and you should be just fine.
- Fiverr. Check out Fiverr for commercial work. You just need 1 or 2 pics and 1 or 2 demoes to get started there. Most of the work will be for promotional videos in an American or British accent.
- UpWork. UpWork is a more “premium” marketplace than Fiverr but they work pretty similarly. You create a profile and clients hire you. The key difference is that you can “apply” for specific jobs on UpWork. Most of the work here fits into our “safe” categories above.
- Voices.com. Probably the biggest marketplace for voice work. It’s pay-to-play although you can sign up for free and hope to get invited to do jobs. (If you pay their annual fee, you can audition for jobs.) They offer just about every kind of voice acting work so just be careful to apply to the “safe” categories if that’s a concern for you.
- Voice123.com. is another voice-focused marketplace like Voices.com but you can do a bit more with their free plan.
- VoiceBunny.com. Another marketplace but you have to meet their standards or you don’t get listed.
There you have it. Voice acting can be dangerous but, most of the time, it’s relatively safe. If you want to protect your voice, stick to the “safer” types of voice acting and you should be just fine.