For most of us to feel awkwardly self-conscious, we merely require a mirror, an old home movie, or an unflattering selfie. Vocal coach Chris Beatty is pleased to report that you can now add “two empty file folders” to the list of culprits.
Your voice says volumes about your personality—but do you really know what it sounds like? According to Beatty, a singer-songwriter who hosts free vocal coaching videos on YouTube, by holding a file folder vertically in front of each ear and speaking aloud, we can instantly hear our own voices the same way the rest of the world hears them. (Two magazines, books, or thick sheets of paper can also serve as de facto sound barriers if you don’t have a folder on hand).
The reason for this, Beatty explains in the video below, is also the answer to that burning question: “Why does my voice sound so much worse when it’s recorded than when I’m speaking?” Because sound is processed deep in our inner ears, most noises reach us after being altered or amplified by their environment. Temperature, the presence of natural sound barriers like furniture or other people, and even the thickness of carpet can affect the acoustic information that ultimately reaches your ears. (This also explains why professional voice and music recordings are so often done in studio sound booths, where engineers can perfectly control the acoustics.)
That all changes when the sound comes from inside your head. When you speak, sound projects out of your mouth into the room, but also takes a more direct route up the side of your face and right into your ears, Beatty says, giving you an unusual preview of your own voice, unaltered by the acoustics of the room. Add to this the fact that the bones in your head are excellent at conducting low frequencies—which get transmitted directly to your inner ear before escaping the soundstage of your mouth—and it’s no wonder that the voice you hear in your head is often richer, and always more familiar, than the voice you hear on recordings… and the voice that everyone else hears whenever you open your lovely pie-hole.
If you aren’t in love with your own voice as it actually sounds, you’re not alone—and you’re not stuck. Here’s how to change the sound of your own voice, according to a speech pathologist.