The Love-Love Theory of Voice Coaching
Love-Love – it's the opposite of Tough Love.

I think I might have made up that phrase. But it works. When I say it, you know exactly what I mean.

When people ask me how I approach voice coaching, I often tell them that I take a love-love approach. It's one of the first things I say.

It's not actually the VERY first thing I say. I usually start by stressing that I'm not here to turn anyone into a clone of someone else. My goal is not to change your voice or the way you speak. My goal is to bring out your natural, authentic voice. To make you sound MORE like yourself.

By the way, this is super important for women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Our voices have been criticized and policed our entire lives. I'm not here for that BS. I want you to sound like yourself…because every voice is special and unique and beautiful.

When I explain this to people, I usually get a nod or two of agreement. And then I come in with the love-love.
Steamy heart photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash.
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But the more I think about it, the more I think that love-love is maybe where we all should start – especially if the person you are voice coaching is ... yourself.

And yes, voice coaching is one of the ways I earn money. But I see no problem with sharing the love.

(Or the love-love, as it may be.)

So here are the steps I would take, if I was in a voice coaching session with you.

And if you are coaching yourself, feel free to pretend that I'm in your headphones, offering the love-love, step by step.
Step 1: Prep

Make sure you have a glass of water. Make sure you don't need to pee.

Try not to track directly after eating lunch. Especially if you – like me – have an unnatural love of cheese. Cheese is not great for voice tracking.

By this point, you should have some familiarity with your script. In theory, you probably wrote it. If not, you at least should have edited it before you got in front of the microphone.

But the thing you should NOT have done is practiced it.

Yep. You heard me right. I do NOT want you to spend a bunch of time reading the darn thing over and over again.

Too much practice can make you sound robotic and disconnected.

And nobody wants that!

So just don't do it. I'm serious about this.
Step 2: Relax

Stress is the #1 killer of voice tracking sessions.

Most people come into voice tracking sessions entirely too wound up. And that "wound up-ness" can manifest in a lot of different ways.

For some people – especially women and those with higher voices – it can result in squeakiness. Their voice goes into higher registers, even higher than they are naturally.

For others, it can result in a pace that's too fast…or too slow. It can manifest in someone speaking with way too much emphasis…or not enough emphasis at all.

Fun fact: Sometimes the person who sounds the most bored is actually the person who is the most wound up.

Basically, every single horror of voice tracking can find its roots in a total lack of chill.

So before you start tracking, I want you to take a few calming breaths. Really get that oxygen into your lungs. Center your mind. Focus on your task.
Step 3: Warm Up

I am not one of those voice coaches that's gonna teach you a bunch of vocal exercises. For one, I don't know any.

(Yes, I did a lot of theater in high school. But high school was a very long time ago, and my memory is not that good!)

The truth is, most of those exercises just remind you that you're doing something weird. Something unusual. Something that you need to stress about.

Remember, stress is your enemy. You want to avoid it at all costs.

So instead of doing some weird vocal exercises, I want you to open up that script. Yep…the one I told you NOT to practice.

Now, what you're gonna do is read the first few pages.

But I don't want you to "perform" them. Not in the same way you'll be doing when we start recording. Instead, I want you to read them as quickly as you can.

Fast, fast, fast. Really get your tongue and mouth and face warmed up.

I want you to read out loud. You can read quietly, if you're afraid of overtaxing your voice. But I want to you read with the "vibrancy" in your voice turned all the way up.

What do I mean by "vibrancy?" Think of your voice like you would a piece of equipment. Like…maybe an amplifier – the kind you'd use for an electric guitar.

There are a bunch of dials on the front. The most simple dial is for volume. Turn it up, you get loud. Turn it down, you get quiet.

But there are some other dials too. Speed. Emotion. And…vibrancy.

The vibrancy dial doesn't actually add anything to your voice that's not already there. It's like the "saturation" dial in photo editing software. It makes the colors brighter. Bolder.

You're gonna emphasize words a little harder, pause a little longer, show more emotion…be more animated. More alive.

Turn that vibrancy dial ALLLLL the way up. Turn it up until it feels ridiculous. Don't worry. You'll naturally dial it back a little when you start to record.

This exercise does a few things.

  1. It familiarizes you with all of the ways you can use your voice. They're all wonderful and beautiful, and you're going to want to use every single one of them.

  2. It helps you find errors in your script. And there will be errors – no matter how many times it has been edited!! I tend to do a lot of tiny rewrites during this time.

  3. It helps you identify problem phrases. Difficult names. Awkward titles. All those tongue twisters that are really hard to pronounce cleanly. I usually repeat those phrases, really really quickly – like a tongue twister – until they sound smooth.
Step 4: Start Recording

Okay, I want you to start recording now, but try not to think about it too much. I had a photography instructor who would always say, "Pixels are free."

And, well, studio time is not free. But if you're recording in your closet, like I am, then you really do have all the time in the world.

So settle in. Pretend like you're not in a hurry. Imagine that you don't have anywhere else you need to be.

And get ready to make some mistakes.

You don't have to get it right the first time. You don't even need to get it right the 10th time. You only need to get it right once.

And you can do anything once.

(As my husband likes to say, even a blind squirrel can find an acorn every once in a while.)
Step 5: Bring on the Love-Love

This is the part of the process where being in a good head space is absolutely vital. You literally cannot do your best tracking if your head is filled with self-doubt.

It is simply not possible.

I once sat in on a voice coaching session with the amazing Viki Merrick. If you don't know Viki, check out this Sound School episode from 2017.

Viki was working with a host candidate who we were considering for a job.

There's something magical about bringing in an "expert." People are generally more receptive to hearing what an expert has to say. (And, as experts go, Viki is the very best!)

Anyway, the host candidate had an amazing on-air presence. He was really, really fun. In conversations, his voice was emotive and dynamic. He had all the charisma.

But when it came time for him to read from a script, some of that charisma disappeared. And his voice – which never was very deep to begin with – suddenly stretched into his upper, squeakier registers.

When Viki sat down in the recording booth, the host immediately started telling her all the things he knew he was lacking. He didn't have "the pipes," he said. Other candidates were better. He was doing the best he could.

Viki just stopped him, looked him straight in the eye and said, "You have everything you need."

"I've heard your voice," she said. "You have a lovely, lovely voice. It's not like other people's voices. But it doesn't need to be."

"You have everything you need."

Turns out, the host's voice was squeaking because he was trying too hard. Straining too much. Trying to be something that was not.

And by convincing him – truly convincing him – that he was enough, Viki made all of those problems go away.

This is the origin story of the love-love school of voice coaching.

Thanks, Viki. I should probably pay you royalties or something!

There is a point during almost every tracking session when it all goes wrong. Suddenly, we can't even pronounce our own names. We trip up on the simplest sentence. Our voices sound awkward. Alien. Weird.

But if we allow ourselves to dwell on that fact, we can end up in a spiral of self doubt. And things go from bad to worse.

So take a moment and remind yourself…you got this! Your voice is unique and beautiful. And you have everything you need.

Step 6: Make Bold Choices

Those of us who write for the ear generally hear the way our sentences sound as we're writing them. There's a cadence. A rhythm. A poetry to it all.

But if you go into the studio and try to replicate that EXACT sound, you're gonna come off as a robot.

A stilted, awkward, non-human robot.

And we don't want that.

So I want you to challenge yourself to try things.

Say that sentence differently. Try to emphasize this word instead.

Experiment. See what happens. Surprise yourself.

You never know. It might be brilliant.
Step 7: Double Down on that Love-Love

Almost every single person I have ever worked with (and there are a lot of them) seems to think that this SHOULD be easier.

They must be doing something wrong. Or they must be deficient in some way, because someone else would definitely have an easier time of it.

I don't want you to get caught up in that kind of thinking.

First of all, those problems you're having? I've heard 30-year veterans take an hour to track a 8-minute story. Seriously. No one is immune.

So when you make a mistake, I want you to laugh about it. If you're having trouble with a phrase, rewrite it. If you find yourself getting stiff, shake it off.

Literally. Move your arms and legs. Wiggle. Do a happy dance. Make yourself giggle. Extra credit if you sing a Taylor Swift song.

Cut yourself a break. Remind yourself that your voice is unique and beautiful. Breathe deep and get that oxygen into your soul.

Because what you're trying to do – reading into a microphone and trying to sound like your perfectly natural, authentic self – it's really, really, really hard.

Like, seriously, I've done some difficult things in my life. I've climbed a mountain in Tanzania. (No, not THAT mountain.) I've run a half-marathon. (Two, actually…but not in a row.) I've finished grad school while working a full time job and planning a wedding.

And I can say, with authority, that voice tracking is HARD.

I have met very few people who love the sound of their own voice when they're first starting out. Generally it takes years – maybe decades – to really get to love our voices.

So until you get there, I want you to imagine me…in your ear. Giving you the love-love.

Close your eyes, and I'll be there.

"Your voice is just right."

"You are unique and special."

"You can do this."

"You have EVERYTHING you need."
I try to avoid getting too self-promotional in this newsletter, but if your imagination just isn't bringing the love-love, I have some slots available in my February voice coaching schedule.

Cost is $300 for a 90-minute session. Be prepared to send me samples of your previous voice work, so that I can come to the session with a sense of what's working and what you might be struggling with.

If you're interested, just hit reply to this email.

And as always, if you'd like to help grow our little Narrative Beat community, please share this newsletter with anyone in your world who might be needing a little love-love.