Becoming a Voice Over Artist

Voice over is a business that can be very unfriendly to the faint of heart. If you cannot take constructive criticism, if you’re impatient, if you hate to lose, if you can’t handle rejection, then these traits will not work in your favor when seriously considering becoming a voice over artist. To begin with, the competition is fierce. At the top of the food chain are the union voice actors, then the independent professional self-contractors, and finally all of the amateurs or “wannabes” looking to make a quick buck. The internet is saturated with the latter, which is unfortunate. Particularly for the experienced talent who strive to maintain a standard. Most professionals have their own websites in order to promote themselves online. There are also the numerous talent pools, many of which charge for membership on their sites. Inclusion into the more recognized “voice banks” is like attempting to join an exclusive golf club. Very few are selected for admission. The same goes for the top talent agencies. Unless you can fill a specific “hole” they may have, you will be passed by in a heartbeat. Not to mention they’re first obligation is to cater to those already represented. Discouraging as it may sound, seeking representation can lead to many dead ends. Even if you are unique enough to be accepted by an agency, they will only do so much for you in terms of auditions and getting you work.

Therefore, the road to any success in the voice over industry involves a ton of self-promotion. Firstly you should have your own website, where potential clients can listen to your voice over demos. This also demonstrates that you are legitimate and genuine. Anyone can create a voice over page in social media, or post a video portraying oneself as a voice artist, which are paths of least resistance in terms of cost. Paying for a membership with a well known voice over website could be an additional option. In these cases, one would have to audition for voice over jobs posted by voice seekers, some of which may not be trustworthy or reliable. There’s a degree of risk involved since there are no guarantees of securing work. Levels of membership can also pose a problem when it comes to receiving the same quality leads as the highest level. Signing up for a profile is free on a number of voice over sites, but ultimately paying a fee is required to audition through them. Self-promotion also entails contacting production companies who have used independent voice talent on their projects. Blogging is another option. Sending emails announcing your services to businesses that advertise is still another option. Networking through social media too. Investing in AdWords could be another way to go, and many are already taking that route. In any event, getting your name out there should be your primary goal.

Be prepared for competition once you’ve established a degree of online presence. You will be going up against many of the big guns who are repeatedly sought after by the same clients. Fortune may work in your favor though and you’ll get a paying gig within a few days, or a few hours of your site being visited and your demos found and heard, or it may take much longer depending on demand and what you bring to the table in terms of talent. Finding new sources of voice over work is difficult, but not impossible thanks to the internet which reaches around the globe. Overseas can be a great source for voice over projects, but be prepared for possible communication gaps, unless you speak a dozen languages. American voice over actors are highly sought after across the pond however, so this could be a direction to pursue. The UK, India, China, the Netherlands, and Japan have all used American English speaking voices. Chances are, if you have decent search engine ranking for some of the important voice over search terms, you’ll be contacted by overseas voice seekers. Potential projects include independent films, major and small events, wedding videos, animation, radio imaging, documentaries, and corporate websites to list a few. Question now is, how do you compare to the competition? Do you sound believable? You can’t sound like you’re reading. Sounding like an announcer, unless specifically requested, can also be your downfall. Having a deep voice isn’t always an advantage either. Currently there seems to be a trend of leaning towards more college age voices, but the conversational, natural sound wins out on a consistent basis. The storyteller, “guy next door” approach is without doubt in the highest demand today. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and involves the ability to act, or to “pretend” to sound genuine, sincere, and realistic.

We’ve come a ways now in this discussion, but have still to talk about the actual recording end of it. You can’t depend solely on opportunities to record at a professional, multi-million dollar studio that talent agencies send talent to for auditions, even when one has representation. You have to have your own studio at home, or wherever you can afford to assemble and have room for one, no matter what and where the source of business situation. You have to have a microphone, preferably a condenser mic, an amplifier, a compressor, and an interface for starters. Then you’ll need editing software installed on your computer, ideally a PC with plenty of ram. You’ll need a method of delivering finished audio files, and of course a way to accept payment. Practicing reading while recording yourself, then listening back for objective critique is an ongoing process, even for professionals, and someone other than your mother should provide the feedback to your reads. This is where a vocal instructor could come into play. Microphone technique is an art in itself, and must be incorporated correctly during recording. It must become second nature so it doesn’t distract from interpreting the script. The main focus needs to be on what’s being said, keeping in mind who it’s being said to, and how to say it in a convincing manner. One-on-one is a term often used in the industry. In other words, sounding NATURAL, while avoiding breathy pops, and clicking sounds while speaking. Staying hydrated and maintaining breath control are integral to the whole process of recording in front of a microphone.

What about categories of voice over, and should you concentrate on a single genre? The variety of voice over projects is limitless, but all invariably fall under specific categories or “genres”. They are, in a nutshell, commercials, promos, narrative, radio imaging, movie trailers, and animation. Just about any application of voice over will involve one of these concepts. The goal of the voice over artist is to evaluate and decide in which category one’s strengths mostly lie, those which one’s talents are best suited for maximum impact. In other words, finding your “niche”. Attempting to cover them all could lead to an exercise in futility, so honing your skills to excel in one area might be the better approach to take. This only comes with practice, and more practice, and being critiqued by an objective party. It takes time and patience to eventually succeed, and most success stories don’t happen overnight. Rejection is a large part of the business, so be prepared for that. It’s all mostly a matter of opinion anyway, so what sounds inadequate to some, may sound like the best thing since sliced bread to others. You can’t take any of it personal. You need to stick to your guns, and believe in yourself. Believe you have what it takes, and you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. If it’s professional voice over, then needless to say it takes a lot of commitment and drive. Should you hang in there long enough to build up a respectable clientele through your pursuits, gaining invaluable experience along the way, then the realization of it all having been well worth the time invested will subsequently become your primary motivation to be the best at what you do. Again, there are no guarantees of success, but unless one gets in the mix, there’s no way of knowing for certain.

How to Build a Character For Voice Actors

Whenever people hear a beautiful speaking voice, they say, “Oh, you should get into voiceovers — it’s easy!” Think again. Voice acting, because that is what it is, is far from easy. You don’t have scenery, fabulous lighting, dance and costumes to help get your point across — it’s all up to you and those little bits of tissue in your throat to lure your listener into a world of your creation.

So how do you go about creating a memorable character? And believe me that character better be memorable, not just for your readers, but for you. Suppose you are recording an audio book that has 5 or 10 characters — all of them you!

First, it helps to know what kind of a learner you are. Are you kinesthetic, where the physical is predominant for sense memory? Are you aural, is hearing your avenue of choice or are you a visual learner, and do your eyes paint your memories? Whatever your key learning style is start there. For example, I am visual kinesthetic so I start with how the character looks physically, how they appear to me visually, and lastly, what they sound like.

Just yesterday I was working with a UK client and she had to find the voice for a young surfer who was caught in an unforgiving wave. Because we didn’t have the full story, we had to use our imaginations. Most of the time research in your book or your short story or your ad will give you all the clues you need to gather the skeleton, the muscles, the skin, and perhaps even the clothes, of your selected character. In this case, we had to use our imaginations. You must find a way to make the character real to you to be able to impersonate him or her.

Okay, back to our surfer, we made him 15 years old, nicknamed The Wave Master, tall, slender, muscular and concave in his body stance (we chose that because body posture makes a big difference in how you breathe – and therefore in the sound of your voice). His hair was sun-streaked dirty blonde and he wore a hat inscribed, “I’m the greatest.” He was all urges and bravado. The first thing to go was the bravado as he realized this could be it — curtains — a terminal wipeout.

You see, here we have used kinesthetic and visual to flesh out our character – let’s continue. He walks with that curious combination of grace and adolescent clumsiness. Finally, his voice, changing, cracking, assured one minute, a bleating kid the next.

As you can imagine creating a voice like this demands excellent control of your instrument — especially if you’re 35-year-old woman! We will go into how to use your vocal instrument to create things like accents, differences in age and sex in further articles.

I have to physically connect with a character before I can give it life. In other words, I’m using my predominant learning styles to create a character that is memorable for me, understandable to me, because I can’t give away or create what I don’t posses.

One time on stage with Palm Beach Opera I simply couldn’t find the key to a character. The challenge was a very feminine woman becoming a very bored, wealthy and slightly cynical man, Prince Orlovsky in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. I found him when I tried on my costume; by that time I was getting mighty scared, but at last, I found him. My costars were all over 6 feet tall, I was 5 inches shorter. As the Prince, I found my short stature infuriating and that attitude was the trampoline for the rest of his character and behavior.

So you see, one little detail can bring a character to life for you. As actors, and as voice actors, your greatest learning tool is observing the humans around you. Get on a bus and watch how bodies hold themselves, listen to how people use their voices and try to imitate those voices. You have school all around you. I wish you a joyous learning experience -throw your fear out the window and go share your creations.

Adria Firestone