Voice Over Education Blog


When the script is a poem, how should your read roam?

A while back, EdgeStudio.com’s Weekly Script Recording Contest involved a radio commercial script that was in limerick form. Although “Poetry” as such is not a distinct voice-over genre, there may be times when you’re asked to read a bit of verse. In Commercials, for example, copywriters sometimes resort to rhyming, often in silliness. You might also encounter poetry in Audiobooks, where authors sometimes use poetry or song lyrics to convey a character’s personality. So let’s revisit this subject in a bit more detail than we were able to include in our contest comments.

First, let us hasten to mention the obvious case – an audiobook version of a poetry collection. If you’re hired to read a long poem or a collection of serious poetry, or are seriously interested in pursuing such a project, you probably know a bit more about poetry than we’ll deal with here. (And you should also check our past article, “ How To Read Poetic Copy Poetically.”)

Here, we’re dealing strictly with drivel (no offense intended; it means “silly” or “nonsense”) – poetry that should be read poetically, but not necessarily as serious poetry. In fact, if it’s in a commercial, the writer may have taken significant liberty with the poetic form, since the product name and message are generally paramount.

Our contest (a simulated audition for a hypothetical client) was such a situation. Here is the script: (Incidentally, “Llawn” is not a typo; it’s a hypothetical table manufacturer.)

5 reasons many people read voice-over scripts too fast

Do you read copy too quickly? Many beginners do. Even experienced entertainers do. It’s a natural phenomenon when under pressure in a new situation. As Jay Leno has advised comics, "If you think you're going too slow, slow down."

But maybe that advice is too easy. It needs to be part of your psyche when you’re on the job. So let’s think a bit more about why people read too quickly – why you might be reading too quickly, particularly in the case of narration. Maybe understanding the reasons will help counter that urge to speed up.

Reason 1: The job is exciting. To a voice actor, that’s good. A VO job – every acting job -- should feel exciting. Translate that feeling into the energy that helps you engage your listener. Energy also maintains their interest – and yours.

Reason 2: The text is exciting. Whether it’s about otter moms, a murder mystery, or new technology, exciting subject matter may seem to merit extra enthusiasm in the form of speed. But speed is not the only way to express enthusiasm. More important is the expression of “thought.” Emotion. In fact, if it’s a narration, it generally requires a bit slower approach than some other genres, because the listener needs time to observe visuals, share in the emotion, and let the thoughts sink in.

Confidence in your VO performance. Build it up, not down.

You can tell when a performer lacks confidence. It shows in many ways, all of them detracting from the read, and perhaps hiding the voice actor’s actual capabilities. The read might be halting. Or the voice constricted. Or safest options were chosen. Uptalk. Lack of energy. Unnecessary apologies. Whatever ways insecurity manifests itself, it can be overcome. Be confident of that.

There are three “C”s in voice-over: Control your voice, be Comfortable, and be Confident. The last of these even affects the others.

It’s natural to score low on your confidence meter when in any situation you’re not used to. Especially when the pressure is on. Especially in an artificial situation like acting (and all-by-yourself at the mic, yet). But don’t run yourself down. If you’ve trained for this, be confident in your ability.

Lack of confidence causes you to judge yourself before you’ve even done what you’re judging! Whatever you’re called upon to do, go for it. Often the director (or writer or client) will be very happy with a certain read when the talent doesn’t realize how good it was.

But unwarranted, “false” confidence can be just as harmful. It stands in the way of accepting direction. It leads to the formation of bad habits. And it can cause you to represent yourself as something you’re not. Don’t confuse “confidence” with a lack of self-evaluation, even self-criticism. Those are important capabilities, especially when self-directing and producing in a home studio. The key difference is in knowing when and how to evaluate your work. And to build with your observations, not let them limit you.

Put time on your side -- calibrate your internal VO clock

How long does a minute take? We mean, in your head, not looking at a clock or stopwatch? Various research suggests that someone 60 years old will take longer to estimate when a minute is up than a 25-year-old will. There are explanations for that, but we don't know if anyone has an absolutely rock-solid answer, and in fact, we've seen research that observed just the opposite. Studies also suggest that the discrepancy is greater in the morning than in the evening and that how you’re doing on time depends on what you’re doing. Time sense may also be affected by hormones and all sorts of other medical, biological and chemical stuff. (We love clinical terminology.)

But the key observation, from our vantage, is that the ability to estimate time depends very much on experience. The more you practice, the better you get at it. And if you stop practicing, your ability to know when 10, 20, 30, or even 60 seconds are up begins to fade away.

Why is this even important anymore? After all, with digital editing, it’s pretty easy to cleanly remove a split-second here and there, adding up to several seconds' leeway when recording a 30-second spot. (In the tape-days of yore, splicing tape was a laborious, imprecise process, making a well-timed read very important.) Digital editing also makes it easy to combine parts of two takes, so the overall length of the takes may be irrelevant. And as we all know, it’s also possible to digitally speed up and slow down a recording overall.

Well, the ability to “feel” time remains important for various reasons.

How to laugh on cue. The secret? Don’t wait for a cue.

How do you laugh? There are all kinds of laughs, and each of them varies, because there are all kinds of people. Some people laugh loudly. Some stifle every laugh with a glottal stop, barely letting it get out fully. What’s more, there are super-subtleties. Did you know that people the world over can discern whether laughter they hear is among friends or strangers? One thing, though, is for sure. All cultures laugh. When a script calls for one, how should you? Laugh, that is.

The best way to sound real when you laugh is – to laugh for real. But, although people in all cultures laugh, that doesn’t mean all people do. Nor that everyone laughs the same. So the first thing is to note how you laugh (or don’t), and when, and remember those moments.

Caveat: However you laugh, don’t lose it! Don’t be embarrassed. It’s uniquely yours, so not only is it professionally valuable, it’s part of your personality. Embrace happiness in yourself and others. Our point here is just to expand your natural range, at least when you’re at the mic.

Not only do people laugh different ways, but we also laugh at different things. In fact, we laugh different ways at different things! So when a script calls for laughter, in rehearsal think about what your character is laughing at. Is it outright surprise? It is embarrassment? Is it frustration? Is it in sympathy with someone else? What?

As you watch funny videos or TV cartoons, record yourself laughing. Really laughing, we mean ... not just laughing because you’ve been told to. To quote that wry master of slapstick, Bugs Bunny, “unlax.”

As you wend your way through life, notice what things make you laugh.

Newton’s Third Law of Physics as applied to Voice Acting

Newton said that for every action, there is a reaction. That’s also true of every statement in a conversation. A statement elicits a reaction, even if the reaction is unstated.

So acting is at least as much about listening and observing as it is about speaking. This isn’t news to even budding stage and film actors, let alone veterans. But it’s sometimes news to voice actors, often working alone in a booth, that listening should be part of their performance, too. We’ve mentioned this many times before, but ... just how do you go about listening when the only voice in the room is yours?

For perspective, let’s review. Voice acting is about emotions -- your emotions, and the emotions you seek to instill in your listener. The first tends to induce the second. (Or if you prefer chemical metaphors to physics, consider it a rapid form of osmosis.)

Where do your emotions come from? Simple. Listen to yourself. We don’t mean listen to your voice as you’re speaking – that’s a common pitfall that voice artists-in-training need to get past. Listening to your own voice (maybe marveling at how expertly you’ve used it in the sentence just past), is merely a distraction, likely to trip you up or get you out of character in the next sentence. Listening to yourself in that way interferes with performance.

On the other hand, listening to your inner self enhances performance.

That’s important even when you’re NOT speaking. In a wonderful introductory lesson about film acting, Michael Caine tells of his experience, as a young actor in repertory, when a producer asked him ...

Proofreading principles for voice talent to use at the mic - Part 2 of 2

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

Last week we talked about the importance of proofreading whatever you produce in the way of self-promotion ... your website, pitch letters, thank-you notes, emails, etc. We also remarked that voice talent are lucky in that we don’t have to proofread text that is only heard, not seen. But let’s not rejoice too much in that. Although a voice-over script doesn’t necessarily need to be spelled correctly, it needs to be understood correctly.

You can even benefit from observing proofreading principles as you perform.

The following tips will not only make you a better proofreader, they’ll make you a better voice actor.

1. Focus. When you’re proofing print, turn off the radio, don’t answer the phone, make it just you and the text. Likewise, when you receive a script, give it your full attention. If you’re at a live audition, draw away to a secluded spot where you can practice it without distraction. If you’re in your own studio, allow time for script review and analysis before recording.

2. Read it aloud. When proofreading printed text, this slows you down, forcing your mind to see individual words, rather than approaching the text as phrases. In voicing a script, generally your perspective should be just the opposite – you should view the script as phrases because seeing it as a series of thoughts and emotions helps you give a more fluid and natural reading. But when you’re practicing, reading it aloud is still important. How can you rehearse – how can you create muscle memory – if you “rehearse” by muttering, or if you can’t hear yourself at all?

What can VO talent learn from a print-media proofreader? Part 1 of 2

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here to read part two!

An acquaintance of ours used to write advertising for a financial institution. His boss told him: “If people find typographical errors in our advertising, they might think we’re just as sloppy when handling their money.” Here at Edge Studio, we don’t handle investments, but we do value attention to detail. So we read and re-read what we publish on our website, and here in our blog and other places, to catch whatever mistakes we can. (If you see one that slipped through, let us know!)

But you, as voice talent, don’t have to worry about spelling and such, right? After all, “if it sounds right, it is right” isn’t just for technical issues. Well, no. You promote yourself in print, don’t you? And observing proofreading principles can even help your VO performance.

As talent, you DO need to be careful about detail in any printed matter you produce – whether it’s email, your website, a post card, your blog or a letter. Not only does a typo or awkward phrase suggest that you are not as meticulous as your prospective client would like, but it could also suggest that you don't know right from wrong when it comes to vocabulary. Casting people want voice actors who can adapt and understand whatever copy they’re given. The more well -rounded and versatile you seem – let’s say it: the better “educated” you appear – the better prospect you’ll be.

How to work with a VO director, including when it’s you

With so much work being self-produced these days, the idea of working with a Director might seem foreign to some of the industry’s newer talent. Although a lot of work is still produced in commercial studios (that is, studios that serve multiple clients and/or record more than one particular person), and most of that work involves a Director of some sort, it’s conceivable that you have not worked with a director since your last coaching session. How should you work with one? And how should you direct yourself?

First, recognize that there are all sorts of Directors. Some, like Edge Studio coaches (and many other coaches), are highly experienced at working with talent. They may or may not be working voice actors themselves, but they are definitely experienced and proven as teachers. Not every voice-over professional is. The world is full of people who are great at their art, sport, or whatever but are not so good at coaching or teaching. It’s a matter of aptitude, interest and training as much as skill.

But sometimes a person designated as “Director” is not trained or experienced in directing. In fact, in Commercials and some other genres, the director is likely to be the scriptwriter, or an advertising Creative Director – a title that means they can direct copywriters and art directors but not necessarily voice talent.

So, sometimes the Director knows more than you and is skilled at drawing a better performance out of you – often better than you realized you could give. But sometimes the Director is less experienced at voice performance than you are. If they’re the copywriter, they know what they hear in their head, but may or may not be able to convey that concept to you.

How do inspired voice actors acquire creative inspiration?

We’ve written about inspiration before. About the importance of having a wide view of the world. Of observing and listening to the people and events all around you. Of letting an initial thought gestate and develop into a full-blown creative idea, if you have that opportunity. But why does this work? And how can you help it along?

Did you know that the brain’s creative processes weren’t seriously researched until only half a century ago? For starting the ball rolling, you can thank J.P. Guildford, a noted psychologist more generally known for his work in measuring a wide array of factors that represent intelligence. He proposed a new way of identifying which individuals have creative personalities.

His focus in that regard was children. And, yes, perhaps a battery of tests might be helpful in determining which children are more likely to be “creative,” than ... than ... whatever the other options are. But when it comes to adults, with a track record behind them, it’s a bit easier to tell. Simply observe which people have created stuff.

At least, that’s the way it works in the voice-over business. Nobody much cares what you might be able to do. Clients and casting people want to know can do. The exceptions to this viewpoint are you and your coaches. You should care about your potential. Work to develop it. By making yourself open to inspiration, you enhance your creative capabilities. And you give a voice-over coach much more raw material to work with.

That said, beware of spurious research. For example, we’ve seen an article claiming clinical support for various claims regarding creativity. It said that people are more creative when they’re tired ... that is, during the time of day that they’re otherwise not optimally productive. (The time of day varies from person to person.)

How many of these words do you mispronounce?

Did you know that the English word "bird" was once pronounced (in England) as "brid"? Language evolves, and far be it from us to complain about that. As someone has put it, “English is ‘open-source.’”

But when you're in the booth, your director or client might feel different when it comes to words that are not yet fully evolved. Just because a lot of people -- even most people -- might mispronounce or misuse a word or phrase, doesn't mean you will impress your client by joining the errant throng. A VO pro should at least know the options. We've collected a bunch of them for your perusal.

First though, some ground rules.

We’ll omit words and phrases that are incorrect but not your fault. For example, “I could care less” (commonly heard that way) is technically all wrong. If you could care less, then you actually do care at least a bit, right? The correct phrase is “I couldn’t care less” – in other words, you care so little that it would be impossible to care less. But a professional writer should understand this. If you encounter the “wrong” version, you should probably read it as written.

To give a more subtle example, a writer should also know that it’s “repository of information,” not “suppository.” So should you, and by tactfully asking, you might save the client embarrassment later. But there are a lot of words and phrases like this, and they would be a list in itself. For now, just one more ... a writer might confuse “cornet” with “coronet.” The first is a trumpet, the second is headgear. The need to catch such distinctions is yet another reason we at Edge Studio remind everyone, “Learning never ends.”

Can smart VO talent learn from an intelligent computer?

A recent New York Times article reported that IBM linguists, engineers and marketers began in 2009 to determine how they should best design the synthesized voice of Watson, their state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence computer. What sort of voice would be most pleasing? What should be its “personality”? Stuff like that.

Since then, there has been remarkable progress in the field of voice synthesis, but we doubt the voiceover community at large need to be worried about job security anytime soon. On the other hand, there are things that a live, human talent can learn from the IBM team’s findings.

Where does voice synthesis stand as of 2016?

Although you might be fooled for a bit – say in a weather forecast or driving instructions, even the narration of some nature videos found on YouTube – before long, you’ll realize that you’re listening to a computerized voice. (Bear in mind, we’re talking about purely synthesized voicing, not concatenation of words and phrases spoken by a real person.)

As researchers near their ultimate goal, new difficulties emerge. In the 1960’s, a robotics researcher predicted that as animations closely approached being humanlike, they would be seen as kind of creepy. And, in fact, now that animation technology has reached that benchmark, you’ve probably noted that the prediction was correct– if you’re not expecting animation, or aren’t used to the effect, watching a near-perfect animated human being can be unsettling.

Near-perfect synthetic speech has the same effect. It’s sometimes unnerving
But when speech is from an actual human, what’s not to like? By definition, it is “perfect,” right? Well, yes. And no – at least when the human is reading a script but pretending to speak from the heart. It can come across as unnatural, even if the listener is not quite aware of what the unnatural qualities are.

Attention span: The millennium’s most critical 8 seconds

Last spring, Microsoft released a study purporting to show that Canadians’ attention span has shortened to a mere 8 seconds. It was all of 12 seconds when this millennium began. While Canada is not the same as any other country, this has to do with cerebral wiring, and that knows no nationality. So we presume that the average digital-world human now loses focus faster than a goldfish (which, if anybody asks, is 9 seconds).

This finding has implications for the voiceover community. So, if you’re still reading, please read on ...

Sometimes, eight seconds can seem like a pretty long time. For example, you can fit a surprising amount of information into a mere 10-second commercial. That’s even more true now, since digital recording and computerized broadcasting systems let you take audio right to the limit. (In analog, pushbutton days, the rule of thumb was to make the audio a second or so shorter, as a kind of “pad.”)

But eight seconds is also alarmingly small, especially when it comes to longer commercials and websites. Grabbing your audience’s attention and drawing them in becomes ever more important.

In both situations, it’s important to remember that, as you begin speaking, the audience is not committed to paying attention. With commercials, that’s always been obvious. The classic scenario is that your viewer/listener waits for that moment to go get a beer. These days, maybe it’s a kale smoothie, but regardless, they’re not hanging on your words. Even if they’re hearing them, they’re not listening to them. So you have just seconds to capture the listener’s – sorry, the hearer’s – attention. If you rush, mumble or swallow the first word, you may have lost or confused them. (A confused listener is virtually as bad as lost.) And now, when you do grab them, you may have just 8 seconds to draw them in.

Alan Rickman: It’s not all about his voice

With the recent passing of the actor Alan Rickman, much has been made of his voice. Which is more than the vocal department at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art said he would make of it. Many years later, he told an interviewer that his voice had been “heavily criticized.” In fact, Rickman described one teacher as saying, “Alan, you sound as if your voice is coming out of the back end of a drain pipe.” So it would be tempting to make this article about pursuing your dream, never giving up, and not heeding the opinion of even a prestigious drama school.

But would that be wise?

Yes, and no.

No, in that if three people tell you you’re drunk, you should at least consider switching to soda, and if qualified professionals suggest you should consider a different line of work, maybe you should at least reconsider your game plan.

But we note that Rickman did not say his teachers discouraged him from acting. And his voice has been described more lately as seeming like a cello.

So there’s the “yes.” In fact, many a "yes." Rickman’s acting career provides a wealth of examples to inspire the growing voiceover artist.

To begin with, Rickman started relatively late for an actor. Although he had been interested in acting as a youth, professionally he first tried his hand at graphic design, figuring it would provide a more dependable income. It didn’t, so in his mid-twenties, he got himself accepted by the Royal Academy. Then he spent a dozen years on the boards and British TV repertory.

It was soon apparent that Rickman had more going for him than his voice. It wasn’t just the voice, it was how he used it. That’s another valuable lesson to heed.

Your “signature voice,” and other TalkTime! pointers

Do you listen to Edge Studio’s weekly TalkTime! call-in each Sunday? It’s an open phone forum, each week dealing with a different voice-over topic. Recently the topic was the Commercials genre, and participants discussed quite a bit.

You can listen to the entire hour discussion at EdgeStudio.com, but in particular we’d like to expound a bit on some of the points that were made about prospecting for clients, how to stand out from the crowd. As so often is the case during TalkTime!, these pointers apply to many voice-over genres, not just the topic of the evening.

Clients like to hire people they enjoy working with. The not-so-fine line between being anonymous and becoming a pest is found by simply being friendly and making the first move. Then you are not just another line in the Inbox. Rather than send a generic cold-call email or letter, learn something about your prospect first. What audio product or ad campaign of theirs do you particularly like, and why? It might be that you can make a succinct, valid case as to why you would be a good match for that sort of recording. Or you might offer a brief compliment – short and sweet – from your perspective. But it’s also flattering simply that you took the time to learn about them – because most people don’t. As TalkTime! moderator (and Edge Studio Managing Director) Graeme Spicer noted, “There’s a pretty close correlation between the work you put into it and the amount of jobs that are going to come from it.”

Acting builds character. And voice versa.

In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-greatest-actor-alive/413167/] about Max von Sydow’s long history of building rich, stand-out characters, the author muses, “How does von Sydow know so much?” and answers, “It’s just the sort of imagination that some actors, a very few, are blessed with.“

Actually there’s also another answer. Stephen Sondheim, when asked "How do you know so much?" replied, "I listen."

Do you keep your eyes and ears open? There are characters all around you. We’ve mentioned this before, but here are yet more examples, and ways to absorb and use what you will.

Another observation from that article about von Sydow:

What von Sydow brings to The Exorcist is more than the skimpily written part demands, maybe more than it deserves, but this is what he does in even the smallest, poorest roles. Like a novelist, he finds the human details that vivify the character.

Details. That’s the key. And, as with doing accents in audiobooks and many other VO situations, sometimes all you need is one connotative detail at a time. That one distinctive (and not necessarily unusual) characteristic may make all the difference in bringing the character to life. Integrated into your performance, it blossoms to transform your own personality.

Not everybody sees these things. It takes training, remembering, and even a certain outlook on life.

Consider the experience described by Richard Gere during the filming of his recent movie “Time Out of Mind,” in which he plays a homeless person. It was shot on the streets with hidden cameras, so that passers-by would not see a film shoot in progress. Nobody recognized him ... almost.

“Mailing in” your VO performance. Is it always a bad thing?

Are you familiar with the term “mailing it in”? We’re not talking about emailing a file to your client. Sometimes people will say “phoning it in,” but we’re not talking about transmission over a phone or Internet connection, either. We’re talking about it in the acting sense.

It’s when an actor delivers a performance that’s routine, competent but nothing special, no different than other performances the actor has delivered over his or her career. Taken literally, it’s when the performance arrives, but the actor’s mind hasn’t come along with it. Mailing it in is generally thought to be less than exemplary, and thus a bad thing to say of someone.

But is it?

We looked up some discussions of the subject, and got interesting results. The term doesn’t mean quite the same thing in all cases.

Sometimes it can even be said with pride, especially with the job requires a cold read. On a cold read – where there has been no time for even a brief rehearsal, or even pre-reading the script (as with a ton of routine retail sale copy, or the day’s news) – sometimes something’s gotta give. Like it or not, the talent might have to fall into a set pattern, as he or she focuses on being mistake-free. Being good at a cold read also requires experience at “seeing ahead,” pacing, subject knowledge, expert pronunciation and enunciation skills, and more. Such a capability, when required, can be a matter of pride. In that case, the talent might even say, “That sale copy is no problem. I can mail it in.”

However, although we can imagine one talent saying this to another talent, we can’t imagine someone saying it innocuously to a client. It’s not flattering to hear that a narrator has given the copy no attention at all -- that it required no effort, and was deserving of none.

In most situations, the interpretation is not so kind. Here are some we found:

Do you make these annoying vocal “mistakes” in voice-over?

In everyday conversation, some people do certain things that many other people perceive as wrong. In fact, most people do some of these things, so you – and most other people -- might not consider them to be wrong at all. That’s why we put the word “mistakes” in quotation marks.

But when you’re reading for a client or director, or need to adopt a certain vocal persona, that’s a different situation. A voice-over recording has special needs and limitations. And casting pros listen for a living. So casting pros and clients may listen with different standards, a different sensibility. When a voice-over professional is listening to you, it helps to know what they might hear as annoying.

(If you do these things to fit into a group, or convey a character, that’s a different matter. Congratulations on your insight! But you might be surprised how many people aren’t even aware they have these habits.)

How many types of humor can be conveyed by voice?

How many types of humor are there? We came across this neat list of “humor techniques,” that itemized no less than 41 types. No wonder dissecting humor can be such a mystery. There are many lists of humor types floating around, but this one was in a scholarly research paper, building on decades of other research. How, we wondered, can this information be put to use in a voice-over performance?

To start, let’s see that list of 41 types of humor ...

What’s my inspiration? Find a more motivating VO performance.

Sooner or later in your voice acting career, you learn that it helps to “become” the character, not just play the character. But how do you do that? Well, sooner or later (probably sooner), a coach or fellow talent suggests (or you have read at EdgeStudio.com) that you choose a prototype. There are various sorts of prototypes. You might select qualities from a specific person, animal or thing. Or you might draw them from people all around you. Or you might find them within yourself.

Here are some examples, used by well-known actors ...

Sometimes you’ll use selected qualities from a person, animal or thing. For example, for Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp needed to make his character appear potentially dangerous yet sweet-tempered. So he thought of himself as ... a dog.

Other times it works if you actually imitate the prototype. Most people, even actors, are not expert mimics, so your imitation will probably be imprecise, incorporating aspects of your own voice and nature -- you’ll wind up with a new character. Or you may intentionally veer away from the model. Consider Dan Castellaneta in The Simpsons. As the voice of Homer, he created a character that is simultaneously bumbling, vulnerable, lovable, naively confident and not exactly the best-looking man in the room. His prototype: the versatile character actor Walter Matthau, although Homer is hardly an obvious imitation.

(Many or most of the continuing Simpsons characters have roots in actual actors and other personalities, but here we’re not talking so much about who inspired the writers, but what inspired the actors.)

Reality is all in the mind. Four tips that might help.

We recently wrote about ways to sound more real, but those were essentially about training and exercises. When you’re actually on the job, it’s different. By then, those exercises should have become innate. Not habits, exactly, but in the sense that the techniques feel natural to you. At that stage, there’s another step in sounding natural to your listener. It’s a matter a mindset.

Read vs. Speak

Having a script in front of you is both a curse and a blessing. The blessing is that we don’t have to memorize, and not because memorization is difficult, or a chore, or impossible with a long script. It’s all of those things, but here’s the key one: Many amateurs focus so much on what they memorized, that the words, their own manner, everything, comes out in an unnatural way. Having a script at least avoids that.

But with a script, you’re of course “reading.” Even if you’re a facile reader and can recite from the page with ease, if your mindset is that you’re “reading,” you’re still not doing what you naturally do in everyday life. In life outside the booth, you simply speak. So do that at the mic. Use the script as a reminder, and to be sure you’re getting the words correct. But if you feel as if you’re “speaking” those words, rather than reading them, you’ll be inherently closer to the goal of natural communication. It helps you sound more real.

Performance vs. Delivery

What the Director really means. Or, How to make a poor director look good.

No doubt you’ve heard jokes about a nonsensical direction, probably have some of your own. For example, “That’s it! Now, 6 months younger” or (to a 60-year-old single man) “Do it more like a teenage kid.”

These directors don’t mean to be unhelpful. So what do they mean? Here are some ways to tell. If you can sort it out, you’ll make everyone look good.

Absurdly fine distinctions.

How do you sound 6 months younger? Can you quantify “10% more energy?” Sometimes, if you read it exactly the same way, they’ll say, “That’s it!” So much of voice acting is a matter of perception. Maybe the only difference was in their head. But maybe you somehow did come across differently? Did you really sound 6 months younger? Maybe your frustration came out as a bit more energy? Who knows. But another way to approach this request is to ask a constructive question. Don’t say, “What the #$%# does that mean?” But you might say, “What do you suppose happened in that 6 months that made them sound different.” There could be something in the back-story, or the Director’s imagination, or yours that you’ve overlooked. If the answer is, “He became a father,” or “she went on the wagon,” you have your performance clue.

“Sound like So-and-so.”

Learn from other people’s auditions! Do you know all these script-reading tips?

Do you follow our “Weekly Script Recording Contest” regularly? We hold it every week. Maybe we should have called it the Script Reading contest, because although recording quality is a factor in choosing our winners, it’s usually the reads that decide who we choose for prizes. But you should also be interested in the also-rans ... because each week we explain why some people didn’t win. It’s constructive criticism, made collectively (without singling people out), and each comment includes an Edge Studio Voice Over Tip.

Which of these Tips would improve your next audition? For your convenience in getting acquainted, here are Tips from a recent contest.

The current Weekly Script Recording Contest is posted here: www.edgestudio.com/script-contests.

The following tips are excerpted from our Contest ending Friday, August 28.
To read the full commentary for context, and to hear all the recordings from that contest:

Go to the Archives at www.edgestudio.com/script-contests/past-winners and select “August 28” (2015) from the Past Contest Quicklinks list. To hear all the week’s recordings, scroll down that page to “CLICK HERE FOR ALL ENTRIES.”

The recent contest assignment was this:

Is that really a mistake in the copy? Don’t be too smart for your own good.

Nobody’s perfect. But isn’t it sometimes tempting to show the client how close to perfection you are? For example, every so often, you encounter what looks like mistake in a script, and have to decide how – or whether – to point it out to the client, director or producer.

But is it really an error? Here are some apparent mistakes that aren’t, and what to do (or not do) about them.

What's in a word? Or the absence of one?

The script, talking about doors, said, "They lead different places." Shouldn’t that be "lead to different places"? Well, yes it could, but it’s also okay without the proposition. Before citing an error, consider other possible meanings of a word. One way to test that is by substitution. One sense of the word “lead” means “go.” And although the doors themselves don’t “go,” the paths from them do, and “they go different places” would surely be decent vernacular speech, so the script as written seems okay. Another test would be to search with the core phrase enclosed in quotes (so the search engine will find examples with that exact construction). In this case, “lead different places” turns up lots of cases, many of them in professionally edited publications. For that matter, “lead different directions” produces yet more.

Furthermore, if you include the word “to,” your listeners might think you meant “two.” The statement that “they lead two different places” has a very different meaning!

How much can you say in 6 words? A tool for practice.

Have you ever read a 6-word story? This literary genre, which has gained popularity in the past few years, is attributed to Ernest Hemingway for having written:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

It’s unlikely he actually invented the genre (a form of “flash fiction”), or even those words, supposedly jotted on a restaurant napkin; similar examples predate Papa’s nanotome, and recent authority suggests his agent wrote it. It’s also unlikely that you’ll earn much by narrating such stories, should they catch on as standalone audiobooks. But nevertheless, in addition to being an intriguing literary challenge, the genre is also an interesting voice over challenge -- it’s a fun way to enrich your practice sessions.

Here are some other examples, published by NarrativeMagazine.com in their call for submissions:

Without thinking, I made two cups. — Alistair Daniel
Revenge is living well, without you. — Joyce Carol Oates
Longed for him. Got him. Shit. — Margaret Atwood
All those pages in the fire. — Janet Burroway

(By the way, Narrative pays for accepted stories, but charges a fee for each submission.)

Here’s the challenge for practice: How many ways can you read each story?

Jon Stewart has left The Daily Show ... and these lessons in voice over

In the past week, the worlds of comedy, politics and journalism said not so much “Goodbye” to The Daily Show host Jon Stewart as probably “See you later.” Retiring from the program at or near the top of his game, over the years he has displayed a wide range of comedic and acting skills (despite his self-professed lack of the latter). His personal resume includes some voice over work -- as animated characters in films, and not-so-off-camera voices for puppets (such as Gitmo), inanimate objects, etc. on The Daily Show. But we’re not writing here about his voice work. This is larger than that.

This is a list of voice over lessons gleaned from his statements and life experiences. If we have applied these examples in a contrived, gratuitous or even tortuous way, so be it. In any case, they’re grounded in truth.

Jon Stewart: Although Stewart tried his hand at standup soon after college, his early employment history was extremely varied. He was a bartender, soccer coach, a puppeteer for children with disabilities; he even collected mosquitoes (for testing) in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Apparently in homage to those years, or perhaps in characteristic humility, his production company is named Busboy Productions.

Applied to Voice Over: A varied background and broad world view sooner or later comes in handy.

Jon Stewart: “I finally found the plug for my socket. My brain always felt like the rhythm of it didn’t make sense to me in general work situations and school situations in conversation. But comedy, it was like oh, that’s what this thing is for.”

Applied to Voice Over: Never stop learning about voice performance and the VO industry, or about the world in general. That’s how you find your socket.

Practice and the Unconscious: What have you practiced today?

We all know the answer to the question, “How do you get to the announce booth at Carnegie Hall?”

Just as with getting to the stage, the answer is, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Edge Studio students are taught not only the importance of vocal practice, but also how to go about it. Yet, it’s still so, so, so easy to overlook your morning practice session, or to give it only lip service (pun sort of intended), or to put it off till tomorrow ... except that tomorrow should already have its own practice session.

It’s important. Really. Without practice, you would be a total mess.

Think back, wayyyy back ... As an infant and toddler, you practiced virtually every waking moment. Without having practiced, you’d still be trying to grasp a cup. You’d step forward and fall flat on your face. And speaking wouldn’t have been in the cards for you, let alone doing VO.

To coordinate movements, the brain needs to have rehearsed them, again and again. Eventually they become automatic, and the brain can focus on other things. Research shows that (whatever Millenials might think), the brain is lousy at multitasking. Maybe it can “multiplex” – focus on various things intermittently – but it’s not so hot at doing different things simultaneously. That’s why, when a task is complex (involving various simultaneous actions), it’s essential that some of those actions be “automated.”

We were recently reminded of this by, of all things, a short article in Road & Track magazine (September 2015, pg 96), about how racing drivers accomplish their role, which is undeniably complex. It involves proprioception: an awareness of where parts of your body are, in relation to other parts and space in general.

As babies, we reach for a toy, learn to gauge the distance, how tightly to grasp it, how and where to lift it, push it, bring it to our mouths, whatever.

How to breathe well, Part Two.

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

To summarize what we said last week, good breath control is an important skill in voice acting, one that comes more naturally to some people than it does to others. Expert breath control takes an understanding of your body and all the physiology involved, along with observation and practice. Basically the point is to relax, stand correctly, and understand how to use your torso. But (we suppose this is the good news), there is no one “right” approach that is correct for everyone. Ultimately, do what is consistent with actual physiology and produces desired results for you.

Did you miss last week's article? Click here to read last week's article — How to breathe well. It’s easy, and it isn’t.

How to catch a quick breath almost silently

Now that you’re relaxed, and have the most basic understanding of the basics, let’s turn to practical matters – taking a quick, quiet breath during a script.

First, forget the thought of “inhaling.” Instead, we’re just going to let the air “enter” your airways. And for that to happen, the airways must be open. Don’t lower the tongue fully. That opens the front of your mouth, but closes it at back. Instead, keep the tongue loose, letting the air flow around it.

However, don’t even think of air “flow.” Simply “accept” the air. If you open the passages, and lower your jaw (don’t thrust it forward), you’ll acquire a breath without even trying – enough at least to sustain a phrase of moderate length.

How to breathe well. It’s easy, and it isn’t.

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here to read part two!

Everybody has to breathe. But some voice actors breathe better than others. Sometimes breaths should be heard, sometimes not. Some clients, in many genres, want breaths removed. For example, an audio book with the breaths removed sounds unreal, even spooky – it’s generally okay to breathe as you normally do. But in a commercial (and many other situations), it’s generally optimal to silence breaths and shorten the resulting pause by half. Software can be used to silence or reduce the loudness of breaths, but unless set properly, the result will sound artificial. How much easier it would be if you could breathe without making a sound in the first place! Can you learn to breathe totally silently?

As trained actors and singers know, proper breathing is a major part of one’s skill. Just as there are coaches for voice over, and voice, and acting, and singing, you can find coaches skilled at teaching breathing. The learning process involves demonstration, and physical conditioning, and awareness, and observation, and practice, and it can go on for many lessons. Many lessons. You won’t learn much in a single article (nor very well just from online videos). But you can learn what the factors are that you'll need to understand. So here goes ...

How to breathe, quick and easy

As we’ve said, breath control isn’t necessarily learned quickly or easily. And in the face of a sensitive VO microphone, a totally silent breath may be impossible. But it is possible to easily take a quick breath, and to breathe more effectively and quietly -- and to manage your breathing -- once you understand the factors involved.

The Alexander Technique: Sound relaxed by being relaxed.

Have you heard of Frederick M. Alexander? No, he was never a guest on our TalkTime! series. He was an early 20th-century Shakesperean actor who temporarily lost his voice due to throat strain. Doctors advised him to rest, which he did, and it worked. But he also sought an ongoing alternative, devising a technique for releasing unnecessary tension through better awareness of one's physical self.

Alexander found a solution. It worked well for him, to the point that he wrote several books on the coordination of mind and muscle. His approach pays particular attention to carriage of the head, neck and back. These principles, and many other related tenets, comprise what came to be called The Alexander Technique.

Many voice performers find it very helpful in relaxing the voice, improving breath control, and understanding their own body language -- all things that help voice talent sound more professional.

Another way to describe it is as sort of a mix of meditation, orthopedics, yoga, Pilates and other disciplines, aimed at undoing the bad physical habits you acquired on the way to adulthood. (Yes, regardless of what your mother may have told you, it is possible to stand TOO straight!)

Is Alexander Technique for you?

Maybe. Maybe not. We’re not saying you should become a disciple of AT. And, too, there are other approaches that reach the same end. But it's good to know about any mental tool available for relaxing your body and voice. You might find that elements of Alexander's advice will be helpful to your work in the booth.

A small example

Considering that Alexander applied his technique to a wide range of physical endeavors, there is far too much for us to go into deeply here. Serious pursuit requires guidance from a proper coach.

But, with apologies to Alexander purists, here is a practical application you can try:

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