I remember when, as a child, I was given a Fischer Price voice recorder and used it for the first time. I was probably 8 or 10 years old at the time. I grabbed the little mic that was attached to the curly yellow wire and spoke some random words into the recorder to make sure it was working. After rewinding the tape (haha), I pressed play, only to be met with one of the biggest shocks of my young life: my voice not only sounded completely different from how I had always heard it in my head, but I also didn’t like it one bit!
But wait! I had listened to myself speak my whole life! Why did I suddenly not like the sound of my voice?
Maybe because I wasn’t used to it? It’s possible. When I look at things now I realize that because I have made/edited and starred in a number of documentaries and videos over the past 7 years, I have heard my own voice A LOT. I have gotten used to hearing my voice as others hear it, so there is no longer such a big disconnect between what I hear in my head and what others hear coming out of my mouth. These days, when I see an episode of These Guys (an awesome web series we make!) I don’t even think twice about how my voice sounds because to me, that’s my voice. Nonetheless, this is an experience that happened to me in the past and it’s one most people have when they hear their voice played back to them in a recording. We often ask, “Does my voice really sound like that?” Well, yes it does, and science has recently shed light on what is going on and why we have these feelings.
To understand this, we need to understand how we perceive sound. When a song plays, a person speaks, or a cat meows (or when a bear sh*ts in the woods), sounds travels through the air as a wave of pressure. Our ears grab these waves and funnel them into our inner ear, until finally those waves are passed to the brain and we experience the sensation of hearing. This is sound via air conduction.
But when we speak, the process is slightly different. While part of how we hear comes from our own voice bouncing off of our environment and coming back to our ears in the same way as air conduction, we also hear through bone conduction. When we speak, vibrations from our vocal chords are sent up through our bones into our skull, a process which actually cuts out high frequencies before the waves are passed to the inner ear and then to the brain. Thus, we hear our voice differently and it ends up sounding deeper and richer. Since we are hearing less of our vocal frequencies and are physiologically hearing in a different way than we hear everything else, when our voice is played back through a recording device it sounds strange to us.
So when we ask the question, “Do I really sound like that?” you can feel safe in the knowledge that you definitely do — but that’s okay! Just remember it’s actually only you who’s judging the sound of your voice, because everyone else has always heard it that way (and they like you just fine).