Why You Hate Hearing Your Voice On Recordings
Yes, that's what you really sound like — but it's not as bad as you think.
If you’ve ever heard your voice played back to you and hate it, you’re not alone.
"That's pretty universal," said Aaron Johnson, assistant professor at the Department of Speech & Hearing Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I don't know that I've ever met anyone who's starting off in vocal training that likes to listen to themselves."
That means that even professional singers go through it, and as Billboard charts might indicate, they've probably gotten over it.
To understand why you can't stand hearing your own pipes, there are two complementary explanations: the mental and the physical. With some practice, you can overcome hating how you sound.
Let's break it down into bite-size chunks.
How your voice works
When you talk or sing, your two vocal folds (also known as vocal cords, which are folds of tissue) flutter, and those vibrations journey through your vocal tract to the back of your throat.
The sound that comes out depends on the position of each player involved: the shape and length of that tube, where your tongue is, if your lips are parted or rounded, and so on.
How you hear yourself
Your voice is also conducted through the tissue and bones in your head in an additional layer that bypasses the atmosphere and outer ear. It's like when a car with cranked music thunders by and you feel the bass, said Johnson. That surge is a series of sound pressure waves that are physically transmitted through your body.
In other words, you feel it.
Why your voice sounds so different on a recording
Anyone who has transcribed anything knows how painful it can be to listen to yourself. But why do you sound so...weird?
That big ole skull filled with spaghetti on your shoulders has a lot to do with it. Think of it this way: When you put your hand over a flashlight, your hand looks red because red light has longer wavelengths than blue or purple. Red's lengthier wavelengths travel through tissue more easily than the shorter wavelengths of colors on the other side of the visible spectrum.
Now, pretend your voice is the light. The lower, longer wavelengths filter more easily through our head's tissue and to our ears, so it sounds deeper and richer to us, but the frequencies in real life and the recording are pretty much the same.
How to stop hating it
Yes, it is possible. Here are some of Johnson's tips:
Override your brain bias.
If you hear yourself on a recording, your first thought might be, That's not me! "One [way] is just get used to it," Johnson said. "If you listen to it enough, you can accept it."
This psychological ploy is called the mere exposure effect, and it's pretty simple: You prefer what is familiar to you. A good example of this is when you see a friend in the mirror and they look a bit odd. That's because the way you see them is straight on, so that's why your brain logs their reflection as different (and a little less preferable).
To get a better sense of what your voice sounds like in the room, Johnson suggested a simple experiment. Put your hands in front of your ears so they form a wall between your mouth and ears. (That way the sound can't travel directly to your ear.) You'll still get the immediate conduction in your head, but you'll get more of the reverberations that happen in the room.
Get real-time feedback.
This might not be readily available for everyone, but if you wear headphones and have a mic hooked up, you can override the sound waves that are traveling through your head, he said. Musicians use it to practice pitch and other aspects of vocal training.
And if you're up for it, a professional coach can help.
It's also a big misconception that you're stuck with the sound you're born with. "Anyone can learn to use their voice in more healthy, efficient, beautiful ways," Johnson said. "I hate to say 'make it better,' because that means different things to different people. A good voice is hard for everyone to agree upon."
But if you truly want to change something, like how hoarse you get after a long day of talking at work, or if you get winded when you speak, a voice clinic can help. "It's just another physical activity and athletic use of the body, but most people don't think about it. They think what we're born with is what we got, but training goes a long way."
And if we're talking about the bevy of "um"s and "you know"s that you hear, fear not: A lot of those are natural to speech.