Archive for July 10, 2011

I Don’t Really Sound Like That….Do I…?

When  people find out that I voice for a living, I will commonly get the confession: “I hate the way I sound in recordings. I sound terrible!”

Some will even go so far as to ask: “How can you stand to edit your sound files and listen to yourself all day..?”

I try not to take that one personally — they’re simply expressing an almost universal perception that virtually everyone comes to when they hear their own recorded voice: That’s not me. I sound completely different than that….

Actually, they’re absolutely correct.

Plainly put: your head resonates. It vibrates.

Inside your ears is an organ called the cochlea, a structure which converts vibrations of sounds in the air into electrical signals which the brain can understand. The cochlea gets stimulated by the air pressure waves caused by sounds in the air, but at the same time, it picks up vibrations of the bones in your skull. Listening to sound in the environment, the chief source of those sounds is coming through the air. When you’re speaking, the cochlea gets stimulated by the skull vibrating, as well as the sound coming out of your mouth and going through the air to your ears. Another way to look at it is that air-conducted sound is transmitted from the environment through the external auditory canal, eardrum, and middle ear to the fluid-filled spiral of the cochlea; Bone-conducted sound (your voice) reaches the cochlea directly through the tissues in the head.

You are — in essence — benefitting from a network of bones, tissue, and muscle, providing a soothing network of baffling which softly muffles your voice until it actually takes on a “persona” of its own — vastly different from the voice which others hear, and which ends up on your voice memos or your voice mailbox outbound greeting.

For myself — I have long since surrendered any self-consciousness about the sound of my voice and have long ago given up any of the shock which often comes from hearing one’s own voice played back to them — I have listened to my own voice broadcasted back to me via radio, TV, and telephone systems for over twenty years; I have been recording and editing my own sound files professionally for greater than a dozen years. Day in and day out — the navy blue waveforms on a white background are the visual representations of the sound files I record for my clients, and I’m as objective and clinical about editing them as a writer red-lining their own writings. My voice files have merely become my “product”.

 I have the detachment of the ballerina who sees not her form in a total, encompassing way; she sees “leg not straight enough” or “pleie needs to be deeper.” I hear, with my detached, analytical ear: “breath strong throughout that sentence but diminishes too fast towards the end” or “too gravelly”. I self-edit on the spot — I monitor closely each intonation and decide on the fly which needs to be re-attempted, and which is “up to standard.” I can hear the ranch dressing I shouldn’t have had with lunch; I can hear that my head cold is *almost* gone — but not quite; I can hear the effects from having enjoyed a couple of drinks in a noisy environment and strained to speak over the noise the night before — I even redo a prompt simply because of an inflection sounding…”off”. Like a model who doesn’t self-consciously recoil at photos of herself (like most of us do) — she will, instead, eliminate a shot because the angle of her chin was too high; her shoulder was too parallel to the camera, or any manner of other technical aspects by which she critiques her work.

Similar to catching an unexpected reflection of yourself, we have a tendency to shrink away when we hear our voices captured unexpectedly on a home-shot video recording or even when someone plays a message back which we’ve recorded — understanding the biomechanics of why our voice sounds different to us than to anyone else merely accounts for the difference — but doesn’t help us to fully bridge the chasm between how we sound to “us” and how we sound to everyone else. Our voices are an aspect of our beings which have a mysterious double-life and that’s difficult — if not impossible — for us to reconcile. I think our “real”, “authentic” voice is heard when we verbalize in our dreams; when we tell those close to us that we love them — even the gentle patter when we talk to ourselves *must* be more “authentic” than our voice left on a voicemail system or even in the form of a coffee order which falls on a barrista’s ears.

In my next blog — in about two week’s time — I’ll feature a brilliant colleague of mine: voice talent Paul Boucher, who is a force of nature in the voice-over industry, and also happens to be one of the nicest people in the business.

Thanks for reading!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is