Voice Over Education Blog


Do you listen to Radiolab? Or, How to get out of a rut.

The Voice Over industry involves virtually every aspect of modern society, from poetic expression to scientific analysis, from sheer commercialism, to pure education. So it’s no wonder that the voice over community abounds with curious people who like to explore – explore themselves, or the world around them, or both. (Did we hear someone mutter “actors”?)

If that’s you, you may already be a regular follower of Radiolab, the Peabody Award-winning program on NPR. It can expand your awareness, and thus your genre capabilities, in a variety of ways.

Hosted by its creators, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab describes itself thusly:
“Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”

Each week for an hour, there’s a different theme, with various segments exploring that theme from sometimes very different (even seemingly unrelated angles). For example, here’s their synopsis of just one episode. (Some episodes have fewer, longer segments.) The theme is ”Translation”.

6 Easy ways to blow a recorded audition

Use to be, you could fail an in-person audition by talking too much, wasting the audition team’s time. Or by signing in before you’ve read the script and are ready to be called. Or by making too many flubs (and saying “sorry” after each), or even inadvertently insulting the copywriter. Now that the vast majority of your auditions are probably online or sent in as recordings, a lot of those errors don’t apply.

But there are still some simple ways to blow it. The good news is that, once aware, it’s pretty easy to recognize and avoid these pitfalls, so you can concentrate on putting your best foot forward. Not in your mouth.

1. Poor volume level.

Opinions and situations vary as to what optimal volume is. But there’s a point where everyone would agree it’s too soft, when compared with the other auditions you’re competing with.

Your approach to setting volume levels matters. You probably learned in your first recording lesson that your volume should not go above (louder) than 0 dB. We won’t try to give a full technical how-to in the space of this paragraph.

Suffice it to say that here we’re not talking here about your recording volume. You might keep that fairly low, and then bring it up to a “normal” level later. We’re talking now about your finished volume, in the file you submit for the audition. We sometimes get auditions (and Weekly Script Reading Contest submissions) that are barely audible ... quieter than -10 or even -20 dB.

You know what some audition screeners (although not necessarily ours) do in that case? Adjusting their volume might be inconvenient. If they then forget to change it back, the next recording booms out. And do they want to hire someone who can’t send them a recording at the proper volume? So instead, they might just click the “Next” button.

2. Slating incorrectly.

Yes, and ... How an improv attitude helps in many ways

If you’ve had any improv training at all, you recognize the title, “Yes, and ...” as improvisational theater’s primary principle. That is, when one actor improvises a line, the other actor cannot reject that premise and switch to one of their own. The other actor must accept the thought, and build on it. In that way an improv routine progresses and grows. It’s also a great way to approach many other situations we encounter in Voice Over.

Many voice actors think only of situations where improv is used overtly. However, “improv” isn’t itself a VO genre. In voice over, improv skills are often behind the scene, making it a part of virtually all VO genres, to some extent or another.

The most obvious application of improvisation experience is when you and a voice acting partner are, in fact, improvising. It can be a big factor in Animation. It’s sometimes acceptable in Commercials. But there’s no time for it in most Video Games production, it can be embarrassing or problematic in copy approved by a committee or legal department, and it’s understandably verboten in Audiobooks and Medical Narration.

As the great and influential voice talent Pat Fraley has pointed out, “improvisation is the most misused, and at the same time underused, voice over skill of them all.” You’re misusing improvisation if you change a script on a whim, or if the only reason you “improvise” non-verbal utterances (such as, “hmmmm” or “uh”) when reading a script (whether it’s for one actor or more) is to compensate for not sounding “natural” as you speak the actual words. Most scripts have often gone through an elaborate and strict approval process, and since you are not the script-writing team that signed off on it, neither you nor the director may have the liberty to change it.

Do you make these 13 common mistakes in voice over? These tips will help you correct them.

Have you been following Edge Studio’s Weekly Script Recording Contest over the years? It’s a great way to get feedback on a simulated audition, and each week Edge Studio picks three winners who receive free educational opportunities. In the process, we summarize “why some people didn’t win” – some of those reasons are mistakes made by even long-experienced working pros. It’s all in a positive vibe, with Edge Studio Voice Over Tips to help put the kybosh on each of those all-too-common errors. Here are some Tips from contests past...

Note: We’ve done some light editing to make these tips clear out of context.

GENRE: Educational Narration (history)

Although most narrations don’t need dramatics, there are times in many scripts where there’s a bit of humor, or irony, or some other type of line that calls for a bit of “comment” in your voice. This was one of them, as indicated by the use of the informal interjection, “well.” Some people missed this opportunity – they just weren’t quite entertaining enough. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: If you value every word, you’ll more easily spot such situations and easily handle them. We don’t mean to ham it up. Just say the words – each of them – as if each is there for a reason. Because in good writing, each is. (And if it’s not-so-good writing, your job is to make it better ... not by changing the words, but by how you read them.)

GENRE: Fiction Audiobook

Know your lines. And don’t bump into the microphone.

Among the stage-acting factors that don’t apply in most voice acting are:

  • The need to project - In VO, you need only reach the microphone, not the back of a theater.
  • Listening to your acting partner - In VO, you’re usually the only person at the mic.

Last week, we addressed the second of these, by noting that the you do in fact have an acting partner, if only in your imagination. But the question remains, how do you address that imaginary listener/speaker while you are focused on the script? Or, to adapt Spencer Tracy’s immortal advice, how do you “know your lines, and don’t bump into the copy stand”?

The clue is in the choice of verb. It’s not just “remember” your lines, but “know” them. Talent should know the lines so well that they just emerge naturally. Even with a script in front of you, that’s not always easy. The script is an aid, but also a potential distraction. What goes into knowing one’s lines as a voice actor?

In last week’s article, we discussed how to incorporate emotions truthfully -- by truthfully reacting to the words, demeanor and conditions of the imagined partners and situation around you.

But if you prefer, you can still approach it more mechanically. (As an analog to George Whittam’s technology advice that “if it sounds good, it is good,” we might say, “good acting technique is whatever works with you.” )

The key is in realizing that an entire paragraph of speech doesn’t embody just one emotion. A person’s emotion changes at least subtly with each sentence. You are always thinking and speaking a progression of thoughts, as if conversing. One sentence elaborates on what came before. Or changes he subject. If a sentence doesn’t add or change something in the course of the “conversation,” why utter that sentence at all?

Bad acting, defined. Sorta.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has a specific definition for the term “bad actor,” but it has nothing to do with voice acting or stagecraft. In our field, bad acting is harder to define. It’s important because virtually every voice over genre involves acting to some extent. How do you know bad acting – or lack of acting altogether --- when you hear it?

First, let’s review some traditional definitions of acting ... that is, beyond the general dictionary definitions, one of which is:

“To do something for a particular purpose or in a particular way.” - Cambridge Dictionary

Actually, that’s not half bad, because it includes the ideas of “doing” and “focus.”

But how have acting masters defined it?

Appearing to be real in an artificial situation. Or, to get closer to Sanford Meisner’s (or was it Stanislavsky's?) description, it’s “Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.”

Lee Strassberg said, “Reacting to imaginary stimuli.”

Suppose, for now, we combine those, as: “Truthfully reacting in imaginary circumstances.” How do you apply that in a solo voiceover genre? How do you listen when no one else is speaking? How do you react when you’re often the only person there?

That’s where the imaginary circumstances come in. Common advice is to imagine who you’re speaking to. Specifically. Not “I’m speaking to people who like dogs,” but rather “I’m speaking to my (actual) friend Sara, who loves the most mischievous mutt.” Also imagine where you’re speaking. In a living room, you’ll speak a bit differently than in a veterinarian’s exam room, in a waiting room or outdoors. And again, be specific. Not just “outdoors,” but “at the dog park.”

But that’s just a start.

Discerning minds. How to read to preschoolers

Magicians know: children are a tough audience. Despite their inherent naiveté and typically short attention spans, they don’t miss a trick. They follow every move and assume nothing – unlike adults, who are full of assumptions and can be relatively easily misdirected. In a sense, kids are a whole lot more perceptive than some people give them credit for.

To an extent, it’s that way when reading to them, too. Except for the very, very young, don’t talk down to them, don’t use babytalk, and do anticipate that kids these days can follow some fairly complex plot lines.

If you’re interested in voice over jobs aimed at children as an audience (as opposed to jobs that use child voice actors), there are a number of genre options.

  • Audiobooks
  • Video games
  • Apps (especially for tablets and smartphones)
  • Talking toys

Although the last three of these tend to be more financially attractive for talent, Audiobooks tends to be the genre most people immediately think of. What people don’t think of is how short most young children’s books are. Since payment for narrating an audiobook is typically calculated Per Finished Hour, this market tends to be relatively low paying. It doesn’t take long to read a 32-page book. According to Writer’s Digest, that’s the typical length for a young children’s picture book, roughly a target of one sentence per page, or about 600 words at most.

Some people work for a song, and love it. Should you add singing to your voice-over repertoire?

We know a voice over artist who says, “I’m not a singer, but I play one in the shower.” If that describes you, consider putting singing ability on your resume.

Not that you should do that this instant. Professional casting people will easily see through resume-padding, and even more important, it’s counterproductive to promise something you can’t deliver. But not every song is scripted to be sung by a golden-throated warbler, let alone operatically intoned. If your spoken-voice talent is saleable, there may be additional singing-voice work for you, even if you can only carry a tune. In any case, as with spoken VO, experience through training and practice is makes the difference between padding and true capability.

If you truly have what it takes to be a professional session singer, this article isn’t meant for you. (But welcome, anyway!) You should develop either a Jingles demo (a variety of singing styles within the Commercials genre), or a Singing Vocal demo (a variety of singing genres). Learn more about that in these articles:

Jingles and Singing - How do I get into this?

How do you make your Jingle Jangle? by Carolee Goodgold

For the confirmed Shower Singer with solid spoken-VO experience, you might yourself develop a demo that spans multiple genres, as well as including a singing snippet in your spoken demo(s) for the respective genre(s).

What genres might those be? Glad you asked...

The Ultimate Animal Dub The addicting works of Andrew Grantham, voice of the “Talking Animals Channel”

Just about anyone can talk. But it takes special skill to get folks to listen. If you’ve haunted YouTube at all, among the zillions of animal videos you’ve seen some critters that speak. They’re cute, but even puppies and kittens get stale after awhile, and the talking variety are usually not so entrancing as their creators probably intended.

Then, there is the work of Andrew Grantham. For good reason, his “Ultimate Dog Tease” was YouTube’s #1 Video of the Year in 2011, and he has produced a steady stream of animal dubs that are hilarious, touching, and addictive.

What has made his work so special?

As the magazine Fast Company observed in 2013,

“Grantham has taken the art to a new level—his particular brand of comedic writing, voice characterizations and clever editing combine in a way that seemingly reveals a dog or cat's innermost self.”

It’s all in the personality

That is the key point. It’s not just a matter of dubbing. It starts with the personality, the acting. Although he has six cats and a dog of his own, Grantham begins his process by reviewing a thousand or so videos of other people’s pets. Pet owners have sent him innumerable candidates, not all of which meet his production criteria, and it can take more than a week to review a couple thousand. He tries to find one that “speaks” to him. Says Grantham: “When you sit down and really pay attention, especially with the sound off, to the expressions of an animal in a video, it’s almost like a story emerges without even trying. If not, it’s the wrong video.”

Should you write your own demo copy? Avoid the pitfalls of using copyrighted material

In our newsletter a dozen years ago, we wrote a few lines on the subject of using copyrighted material in demos. But it’s a multifaceted issue that deserves more than a few lines. Stay tuned for an update. For now, suffice it to say:

  • For recordings you’ve been paid to voice, it’s okay to put them on your demo, but get prior written permission from the client or their agent.
  • For auditions you didn’t land, it is even more important to get the client’s prior written permission, and even then it might not be advisable, for a variety of reasons.
  • For text cribbed from existing ads or commercials and other copyrighted works, we believe the legal doctrine of Fair Use allows you to use it on your demo, but it is better to use custom-written copy that doesn’t even include brand names. This, too, is for various reasons.

But if you’re not a professional audio copywriter, how do you go about developing unique copy appropriate for your demo?

Writing your own demo copy helps you avoid various potential legal issues and embarrassments. Not the least of these is the possibility that the client hasn’t even run the spot or released the recorded product yet!

Even mentioning a brand name could cause confusion or embarrassment. Suppose Product Y wants to hire you? Thinking you’ve already voiced Product X, they may pass you by. And that’s just one example.

Here are some tips for skirting those and other issues altogether, by writing your own copy:

1. Work with an experienced demo coach who is knowledgeable in your genre. He or she can advise you as to your content options and how best to choose among them. Your coach might even present you with custom copy they’ve developed for you. This has the advantage of freshness and performing under realistic conditions ... you’ve never seen it before, and your coach will have chosen it to demonstrate your strengths.

Are you ready for online casting? Some tips for spending your audition time wisely

One of the great things about the voice over world is that it constantly evolves. If you’re a working VO pro with a flourishing business, that might not seem like the happiest reminder of the day, because it means that your business must also evolve. But ultimately the continual emergence of new genres, easier (and less expensive) technology, and more efficient communication mean additional opportunities for everyone. Everyone who works smart, that is.

Today’s online-casting venues have resulted from all three of those types of change. The two major online casting sites, Voice123.com and Voices.com, were founded in 2003 and 2004 respectively. They came to be known as “pay to play” (P2P) sites, reflecting a focus where even novice talent can submit auditions. We now call them “online casting,” because that term is much more representative of today’s perspective: these services have garnered respect at all levels of our industry.

That’s not to say that everyone is glad to have such an open and competitive marketplace, but producers using the venue nevertheless range from Fortune 500 marketers to sole proprietors, and the talent ranges from wannabes to highly experienced voice actors. A lot of audition submissions are from relatively inexperienced talent. But more than a handful of knowledgeable talent apply their efforts efficiently, and a few even pull in six-figure incomes from online casting alone.

To help more talent work smarter, Edge Studio offers a four-part webinar on the Secrets of Online Casting. It begins this Tuesday.

Where do you stand amid this swirl? Is online casting right for you?

Before proceeding, we should disclose that Edge Studio has good relationships with both Voices.com and Voice123.com, and we recommend both.

How to come up with audition ideas on the “spur of the moment”

There’s a major difference between auditioning for most theater roles and auditioning for a voice over job. In the theater, you may deliver a monolog you’ve researched and chosen for its ability to show the best of your abilities. Or you’ve read the play, or studied the sides you were given. You’ve rehearsed and rehearsed, worked with a coach, and you have it down cold. In voice over, it’s typically exactly opposite – although sometimes you’re emailed the script beforehand, often you’re given a script just minutes before you have to deliver. Even if you’re auditioning from you home studio – where you have more time flexibility – your chances of winning the role often depend on how quickly you can turn the audition around.

In so little time, how do you come up with something fresh, something that shows the best of your abilities?

As we’ve noted several times over the past year (particularly in in 18 Steps To Improve your Audition Batting Average last May) a key factor in winning more auditions is in not doing it the way everyone else is likely to. That means coming up with an idea – fast. And fresh ideas being sometimes reclusive critters, an audition session is not the time to start that process.

How do you come up with ideas? That is, the sort of ideas that will help you succeed and progress as a voice actor?

The first step is to recognize that, as a voice artist, you are as much a part of the creative process as the team that wrote the script. Copywriters hear their words in their heads, but many are not trained to voice them as effectively as you. As much as you rely on a good copywriter to give you meaty thoughts and words, that copywriter is expecting you to give those words energy, to bring those thoughts to life.

Don’t let bad copy eat you alive: What to do if the copy is less than perfect

You know the old joke about the lion who’s not a man-eater: “You know that, I know that ... but does the lion know that?” Among the many archived articles at EdgeStudio.com, from time to time we’ve talked about how to interpret copy, right down to the seemingly most inconsequential punctuation mark. Copy has gobs of clues as to how the copywriter “heard” it while writing, if you know what to look for.

But what if the copywriter doesn’t know it?

Not every copywriter formats or even words copy in the most intelligible way. There are many possible reasons. Maybe the commercial was written by an agency that does most of its work in online or print media. They probably realize that you need to take a breath now and then, but may not realize how easy it is to give you a nasty tongue twister.

But you can handle that; the real problem is when tangled words or homonyms confuse the listener. For example, “Win money and/or prizes!” Part of your job is to spot traps like that. Your phrasing and enunciation will determine whether the listener hears the words as written, or rather, “Win money and door prizes!”

Or, maybe the commercial wasn’t written by an experienced copywriter at all. Scripts are often written by someone wearing two hats – a producer, business owner or account executive, for example. The reasons for not using an experienced voice-script writer range from budgetary, deadline pressures, other priorities, naiveté, and -- sometimes -- ego.

Clients often come up with great scripts – nobody knows their business and their customers better than they do. But not every businessperson is creative, a fluid wordsmith, a whiz at grammar and spelling, and hip to voice acting, all rolled into one. Sometimes they may not know that they need to be. Or that they aren’t.

One thing about doing an accent

Once upon a time, a young American tourist in England marveled at how many accents are native to such a compact country. After a week of absorbing them, he loafed into a London pub to chat with some locals over a pint. He figured by now he sounded pretty much like an Englishman, of some sort. One of the regulars said, “I know where you’re from!” The tourist could barely endure the next seconds of anticipation – what accent had he managed to acquire? Where did the guy think he was from??

“Boston!” hailed the Englishman. “I know, because I was docked there once in the Navy.”

And there was no telling that particular Englishman any different. The American was actually from Milwaukee, but the Englishman was certain he heard Boston.

This illustrates several important points about accents:

  1. The tourist was not VO professional. But no matter how good you are at it as an amateur, sooner or later you’re likely to be found out by native speakers.
  2. Most ordinary people don’t have an ear for accents. Or rather, they’re not trained in (or experienced at) listening for them, and they don’t pay that much attention to the details of the accent they’re hearing.
  3. With an accent, accuracy standards are relative. Our tourist just wanted to be heard as any sort of Englishman. Our Englishman could only tell that he was hearing an American.

To those we hasten to add...

4. Professionals are experienced and will pay attention to details. This applies to performers, and to the people who hire them. If an agent says they need an Irish accent, an Irish-accent pro is likely to say, “What county?”

But if you don’t hail from central Upper Overtheria, you might still pursue a gig that requires its accent. Because, as we’ve said, the needs of clients and genres are relative.

The election is over, long live the election!

If you live in a non-swing state or a “safe” political district, you might not have heard nearly as many political commercials as some Americans do. On radio, TV and the Internet, political ads run millions of times each year. In fact there are so many ads, and so much money behind them, that political strategists sometimes worry that there will not be enough airtime available.

You should have such worries, right?

The trend in bigtime spending began in 2004, and accelerated as even more money flooded into the political arena after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.

Who’s spending it? That’s not always known. But as you probably do know, political advertising began changing decades ago. Even advertising for local public positions has become pretty sophisticated. While radio and TV commercials still might be written and produced by the candidate’s own local campaign (for better or worse), local ads are also coordinated and even researched by national campaigns and consultants. Those campaigns are often very sophisticated, at least in their planning and testing.

They’re ready to change course on a moment’s notice. Which means talent must be ready, too.

Some voice actors say they would never do political spots. Others say yes, but only for candidates and causes they agree with. Yet others, including some major players in the genre, say (as Scott Sanders told NPR in 2006), “We’re hired guns. This is a job like anything else.” Often it’s the client who decides.

The producer of a political spot is unlikely to ask outright about how you’ve voted, but they are likely to want to know what positions you’ve voiced in the past. If you’ve been identified with one party or issue, the other side may not want you. You may have to agree beforehand not to work in the future for the opposition.

Video Games: Are you up to the torture?

Picture this scene: Our hero is secluded in a padded cell, forced to stand in a fixed position. He may move his arms, but is ordered not to move his head from the metal post. He has only one other person to communicate with -- his “Handler.” Deprived of information, our intrepid Hero has only a vague notion of his situation or what he is doing there. His handler has the full picture, but only issues instructions, one at a time. Nevertheless, Hero has come to rely on this relationship, constantly seeking his Handler’s approval. Is this the Stockholm Syndrome? Hero and Handler spend long sessions together, and the hours become torture. It seems he can barely speak. Does anyone know what he’s been going through? Does anyone even care that he is here?

And then there is the shouting. Always the screams and shouting. Heard by no one.

Until the game is published that is. Because what we’ve just very unfairly described is a common video game recording session. And, yes, once the game is released, the vocalizations of our Hero (or Heroine) may be heard very widely. Video games are played daily in 65 percent of American households.

A hit video game these days can cost as much as a live-action Hollywood blockbuster, $100 million and up, way up. But whereas Hollywood proudly touts their big budgets, game publishers play this part of the gaming game very close to the vest.

Production of a major game can take years, involving some 200 designers, programmers and other people. The 100 characters in a large story project might require 30 or 40 actors. And in most cases, each actor works alone with the Director, delivering one line at a time.

Voice actors typically consider games to be not only fun, but a serious professional challenge. It is long, hard work, requiring a level of stamina, efficiency and acting expertise that pretty much rules out rank novices.

Telephony: Are you listening to the caller?

Sometimes telephony specialists seem the most unsung heroes in acting. As many well-known actors have famously observed, the art of acting includes the art of listening. Acting requires reacting to lines as realistically as you deliver them. An actor can greatly help his or her partner by truly listening to them, in character, and responding authentically through facial expression, body language, etc. A generous movie actor might even stand next to the camera during the other actor’s close-up, in order to do them this favor.

We once observed a young hopeful in his first acting class. The assignment was to deliver a monolog. Delivering it to a point on the far wall, he was doing just terribly – repeatedly pausing to remember the next line (even though otherwise he could rattle it off in machine gun fashion) and totally not in the moment. After a few starts, the teacher had another student sit in front of him.

“Now try it,” the teacher said.

Suddenly, the lines just flowed out, as naturally as if the thoughts came straight from his soul.

Different things work for different folks.

What does this have to do with Telephony? Telephony is acting?

First, let us grant that most voice-over acting situations resemble that student’s monolog performance. You’re alone in a booth, and if it’s in your home studio, you probably don’t even have a director to give you feedback. Surmounting this limitation is part of what goes into being a voice over professional.

But telephony pros have it especially tough. In telephony, you’re actually in a conversation with the caller, yet it’s a caller you will never, ever hear.

What a voice artist can learn from a PowerPoint artist

Like all industries, the world of Voice Over constantly evolves. New genres emerge, others fade, styles go in and out of ... uh, style.

Yet some practices and advice in voice over remain unchanged. They’re based on virtually universal truths, not just in our industry, but in the nature of effective communication.

Like all industries, the world of Voice Over constantly evolves. New genres emerge, others fade, styles go in and out of ... uh, style.

For example, Microsoft has produced a very entertaining set of videos about how to create effective PowerPoint presentations. The lessons are aimed at graphic designers. But with a bit of translation, they also provide sound principles for a voice artist to follow. Since the videos are related to e-learning, we’ll apply them to the e-learning voice over genre.

Here’s where to see the videos:
(If you’re not able to view the videos at this time, no worries -- the rest of this will be meaningful whether you’ve seen them or not.)

In essence, Microsoft’s overall message is this:

  • With the great power of today’s presentation technology, its users often tend to get carried away – they let “creativity” and overused options get in the way of effective communication. For example, amateurs tend to use too many typefaces in too many sizes.

Here’s how every one of these videos’ key points also applies to voice over in an e-learning situation, as well as most other VO genres.

Advice to the designer: Don’t have too many charts, and don’t make them complex.

Lesson for VO: Don’t embellish your read unnaturally. Use your natural voice, in a natural manner. As in most other genres, “natural” is what works. And is what’s in demand.

Podcasting: PART TWO 17 Podcast Programming Pointers

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

Last week, we talked about how the podcasting field has grown and changed. We said that we like the idea of thinking of a podcast as “plain, clear talk.”

This week, we’ll present some tips to help reach that goal, so that your podcast content will be plain and clear to listeners, as clear as its audio quality should be.

First things first ... “Content is King.” That’s been said forever about websites. It’s should also be your first concern in podcasting. So what’s the most important thing in podcasting content?

1. Have a goal.
On any sort of project, a clear objective makes it easier to be productive. It’s especially important in podcasting. Unlike some projects, on a podcast you could just open your mouth and start talking. About anything. But unless you’re a fabulous raconteur, you it’s too easy to wander verbally all over the place. You’ll appeal to no particular audience, and probably won’t communicate your point very efficiently. That is, if you have a point. So rule number one is, have a point.

2. Be unique.
If you can’t be unique, at least be special. In short, give your listeners a reason for listening. If they’re heard it before, why hear it again? (Our apologies if you’ve heard this before.)

3. Be meaningful.
Meaningful to your listeners, that is. If your goal is to discuss the life of an obscure Namib Desert beetle, it may be specific and unique, but how many people care? How do you know if it’s relevant? Easy – identify the benefits it provides to others. You’ll soon be marketing your podcast, and in marketing, “customer benefit” is what it’s all about. If the subject is beneficial to people, it will almost automatically be interesting ... if you also follow the rest of these principles.

Podcasting: PART TWO 17 Podcast Programming Pointers

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

Last week, we talked about how the podcasting field has grown and changed. We said that we like the idea of thinking of a podcast as “plain, clear talk.”

This week, we’ll present some tips to help reach that goal, so that your podcast content will be plain and clear to listeners, as clear as its audio quality should be.

First things first ... “Content is King.” That’s been said forever about websites. It’s should also be your first concern in podcasting. So what’s the most important thing in podcasting content?

1. Have a goal.
On any sort of project, a clear objective makes it easier to be productive. It’s especially important in podcasting. Unlike some projects, on a podcast you could just open your mouth and start talking. About anything. But unless you’re a fabulous raconteur, you it’s too easy to wander verbally all over the place. You’ll appeal to no particular audience, and probably won’t communicate your point very efficiently. That is, if you have a point. So rule number one is, have a point.

2. Be unique.
If you can’t be unique, at least be special. In short, give your listeners a reason for listening. If they’re heard it before, why hear it again? (Our apologies if you’ve heard this before.)

3. Be meaningful.
Meaningful to your listeners, that is. If your goal is to discuss the life of an obscure Namib Desert beetle, it may be specific and unique, but how many people care? How do you know if it’s relevant? Easy – identify the benefits it provides to others. You’ll soon be marketing your podcast, and in marketing, “customer benefit” is what it’s all about. If the subject is beneficial to people, it will almost automatically be interesting ... if you also follow the rest of these principles.

The Changing World of Podcasting PART 1

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Stay tuned next week for part two!

Is there a podcast in your future? As a listener, almost surely. As voice talent, not necessarily -- but it’s increasingly likely, one way or another.

A podcast is a “radio-like” program distributed via RSS feed syndication. Listeners download the program as an .MP3 audio file or a video file. (The audience sizes of audio and video are roughly 50/50.) The RSS feed is a “push” technology – listeners are alerted when a new episode is available.

You can set yourself up as a podcaster in an hour or two. There are innumerable books on how to do it, and the to-do list is rather long, so we won’t get into that in this article. What we want to document here is how podcasting has evolved. And then how you, yourself, might grow into it for fun and profit.

Podcasting’s growth over the past decade has been exponential. In early 2013, 32-million people listened to at least one podcast per month. Last year, Apple’s iTunes app generated more than a billion podcast subscriptions (Edison Research).

While the audience was once dominated by males, Forbes magazine recently predicted major growth in female listenership.

Last year, finally more people listened on mobile devices than did on computer. It used to be hassle to get the file onto your mobile device, but the hassle factor has been reduced by the prevalence of smart phones and tablets, and the emergence of apps and new podcast sources.

"Host Whisperer" David Candow passes, leaves good ideas for VO talent

Although VO talent should usually not try to sound like disc jockeys, announcers or famous newscasters, there are some things to be learned from on-air talent, especially those who were coached by consultant David Candow.

Candow passed away on Sept 18, at age 74. He was known as “The Host Whisperer.”

In 2008, the Washington Post called Candow (pronounced “Can-doe”), “one of the most sought-after vocal training specialists in the English-speaking world.”

Candow was formerly a CBC producer ranging from drama to current affairs. Then, for the past couple decades, he taught CBC and NPR radio hosts and others how to avoid being stereotypes or clichés – how to communicate more personally, naturally, quickly and clearly. How to be more effective.

And because News involves writing, he also taught how to write more effectively. (We originally wrote, “he espoused principles for effective writing, too.” Candow would probably have preferred the revision.)

Many of Candow’s insights apply also to voice acting. We’ve corralled a few of his thoughts from online, appending our own reflections with regard to voice over. (Apologies if a quotation is not verbatim. Some may have been paraphrased by the source.)

“Just be yourself. You don’t have to sound like everyone else or anyone else.” Especially this. Only you sound like you. Only you have your unique combination of voice, personality and all the other factors you bring to a microphone. That is your key “product difference.”

How to Read Poetic Copy Poetically

Poetry-reading is not a major voice over genre. But any number of genres, from audiobooks to commercials, involve poetry, or poetic language. For example, a rather poetic speech about poetry, by Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society,” was recently used in Apple commercials. And if you are asked to read a passage from Shakespeare, you’ll want to do it justice poetically.

So, how do you read a poem?

Ever heard a poet read his or her own poetry? In most cases (based on our unofficial, unscientific recollection), the author will not change from his or her own voice. The same is true of award-winning reciters of poetry. As in voice over work, a major part of the task is to sound natural, yet articulate and with energy, so that the reading will be easily understood and maintain interest.

Yet, there is no one way to read poetry. Even authorities such as the Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress seem to disagree a bit on some advice. (The emphasis below is ours.)

The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Out Loud national contest for students advises:

Proceed at a fitting and natural pace. Avoid nervously rushing through the poem. Do not speak so slowly that the language sounds unnatural or awkward or to create a false sense of drama.[http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poems-and-performance/tips-on-reciting]

Whereas, the Library of Congress advises students:

 Read the poem slowly. Most adolescents speak rapidly, and a nervous reader will tend to do the same in order to get the reading over with. Reading a poem slowly is the best way to ensure that the poem will be read clearly and understood by its listeners. [http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/p180-howtoread.html]

18 Ways To Pronounce Medical Copy

You’re not a doctor but you’re asked to play one at the microphone? How on earth do you pronounce medical jargon without giving yourself away?

One answer, probably the most universal one, is: Don’t. If you’re not experienced at medical text, consider referring the client to someone who specializes in the genre. Pretending to be something you’re not is likely, sooner or later (in this case, probably sooner) to embarrass not only you, but also your client. An embarrassed, disappointed or misled client is unlikely to hire you again. That’s why you’ll need a Medical demo, and as with any demo, you shouldn’t make it until your truly ready.

But there’s always a first time. Maybe you’re planning to enter the medical narration field when you’re ready, or a regular client needs a medical narrator -- stat -- and, knowing you’re a quick study and that they can help you with the few unusual words, you’re the one they call. If so, lucky you.

You may want these tips in pronouncing medical terminology.

(This article focuses on pronunciation of the terminology. For other guidance on Medical Narration, including tone, skills needed, Medical Narration demos, markets, marketing, and audiences, visit our two archived Talk-With-a-Pro sessions at EdgeStudio.com (http://www.edgestudio.com/talk-with-a-pro) with Randye Kaye and Colleen Brown.)

Internet Audio: Is yours a star, or a dog? Part Two

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

Last week, we talked about how the use of audio and video is exploding on the Internet. This week, we have some tips and observations particularly related to online audio content and production.

As we said last week, “content is king,” so the script deserves some attention.

Audio scripting for the Web

Whether your role is only to voice the content, or you are its producer, the script may already be written. In that case you might skip over this next section. But it pays to be aware of any way to make your services more valuable, so please read on….

Where the script is concerned, sometimes a client will invite suggestions, but generally not. As a VO pro, you know that although perceptive clients appreciate your creative contributions, you should follow the script. It might have been written a certain way for reasons you’re not privy to. Even if you have a really helpful insight, a script critique might be unappreciated, embarrassing or even tactless to offer it outright. It depends on who is in the room with you, and your client’s attitude. But sometimes there’s a way to offer a suggestion indirectly – for example, by asking a thoughtful question, or mentioning previous experience in a way that won’t embarrass anyone.

If you’re actually writing the script, here are four important considerations:

Internet Audio: Is yours a star, or a dog? Part One

NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Stay tuned next week for part two!

As they say, on the Internet nobody can tell if you’re a dog. Unfortunately, people can hear if you’re a dog. The quality of your audio should be up to the quality of your content. And, of course, your content should always be stellar.

Internet Audio takes many forms, from a website audio file to the audio component in the video stream of a live event. It encompasses everything imaginable, including:
• “explainer” videos
• corporate training
• narrated banner ads
• podcast intros
• Audio Description for the sight-impaired
• just plain entertaining program content.

As voice over talent, you may have only limited involvement in the many relevant issues, or you may be totally involved in scripting, production, recording, and delivery. For example, if a video producer hires you simply (and we use that word only in a relative sense!) to record the voice over for a video that someone else will produce, that’s a limited involvement. But if the voice over will be a demo on your own site, or if you’re a site owner contemplating producing and voicing a video yourself, there are a whole range of creative, performance and technical issues to think about.

This brief article can’t cover all of them, but whatever your role, we hope to provide some seeds for thought, understanding and exploration. As you gain experience in this area, you’re likely to encounter clients who have relatively little experience at producing the end product, and who look to you for input and guidance. One way or another, your involvement is likely to grow.

Content is still king.

For the site-owner, the one overarching question is (dare we say it), do you even need audio? On the Web, content has always triumphed over form, unless form is what you are selling. There are times to use audio, or video (A/V), and there are times to stick to text.

18 Steps to Improve your Audition Batting Average

Voice over auditions are like professional baseball. Even the best hitter won’t get a hit every time. And most people, if allowed to play, would never get on base. But a pro knows how to get hits, and some pros get more hits than others.

Whether you’re a working VO pro or an experienced student, here’s how to improve your audition batting average, whether it’s an on-site audition, emailed recording, or tele-session:

1. Remember that nobody bats a thousand. Keeping this in mind will help preserve your morale, motivation, perspective, and sanity.

2. Pick your pitches. No one person is right for every role. By auditioning for only those jobs that are in your wheelhouse, your power zone, you’ll save time and be better able to focus.

3. Eventually, you’ll probably have auditioned for some prospects more than once. By sticking to your specialty, you’ll show professional judgment and self-awareness. Don’t get a reputation for trying too hard to be a jack of all trades, annoying people who see you as master of none.

4. On the other hand, if you can do a really stellar performance, but you suspect it’s way too offbeat for the job, you might decide to submit it anyway. They might agree, it’s wrong for the job. But maybe right for a later one. It depends on what you might know about the client, their future needs and your future access to them.

5. Respond quickly. In baseball, sometimes it pays to swing at the first pitch. In auditions, it suggests to the reviewer that you probably won’t wait till the last minute to deliver the job.


Acting has been defined as “seeming real in an unreal situation.” Boy, does that describe voice over! What is more distant from “real life” than to be locked in a padded cell accompanied by nothing more than a hunk of metal, a sheet of paper and a glass of water?

Thus every voice over performer, whatever the genre, must be a “voice actor” of sorts. In telephony, you must sound like you’re personally meeting the caller and be interested in the reason for their call. In museum tours, you must envision each painting, sculpture, etc. as you describe it. In wildlife narration, you must “see” the subject, and (as in another classic definition of acting) subtly react to what happens in the visual. In promo, you must think it’s the most spectacular (or whatever) program ever made. And so on.

In any form of acting, it’s easy to fall back on various “tricks.” How many times have you seen an actor glance off-stage, or pause in an odd point in the line, become “theatrical,” or repeat a personal tick? The first few times they do it, it may seem real, because real people do those things. But by fifth time or so, it can be downright annoying. Good play-acting is more than memorizing lines and using a few gimmicks.

So it is with voice over. You can inflect a sentence a certain way, pause too long or too often, fake a chuckle, or constrain your voice, etc. only so many times before the listener finds you out.

David Goldberg’s notes on the GET-A-BUZZ, GET-AN-EDGE CONTEST

David Goldberg’s notes on the


Here’s who won, who lost, and why.

-- David Goldberg, CEO (Chief Edge Officer) of Edge Studio voice recording studios

* * * * * * * * *

Yippeee!!! VOBuzzWeekly and Edge Studio put on a script reading contest during December, 2013:

Director's Notes:

This is a simulated audition for Intel. The company is producing a national commercial to promote the latest version of their core processor. They are looking for a male or female voice over artist with a natural, easy-going delivery, not a hard sell. This read should convey warmth and intelligence, with a hint of excitement.


Intel Core i7 - Visibly Smart

The fourth generation of Intel Core Processors.

Stunning visuals.

Intelligent performance.

Visibly smart.

The most amazing thing you ever saw.

Intel Core i7.

154 voice actors entered and competed for a $2,000 prize!

I was fortunate enough to select the winner. And there were some amazing entries! It wasn’t super-easy to select the winner.

While listening to the entries, I observed a lot of ways that entrants could easily improve.

So I noted various performance patterns and avoidable errors, and intended to write a helpful little article. That article grew and grew. And here it is.

* * * * * * * * *

Over time, a voice actor becomes a “working pro,” someone who knows the ropes. They can literally mail auditions in and almost do it in their sleep!

And that’s a problem. Because eventually many pros DO mail it in, going into an autopilot mode that stealthily puts their career to sleep. They fall into habits. These habits may work for their current clients, but won’t impress new ones, and may not translate to new genres.

Filling the Void: 5 Tips for Taking Advantage of Downtime

What happened?

Every freelancer hits that wall. The work…just…stops. Nothing’s coming in. Leads are long gone, and clients are clamming up. Hopefully it’s just a day or two … a week or two at the most.

You’d go crazy trying to figure out why. Sure, there may be some legitimate reasons: you’ve been slacking in your marketing, or your lead-generation, or in asking for referrals. But sometimes you’re doing all that stuff – diligently – and still the work stops.

These moments are actually opportunities. Remember all the things you put on the back burner when you were crazy-busy with that big narration project and six auditions a day? Well, now’s the time to drag it out … now you have the time.

Since 80% of your VO business is marketing, and 20% is voicing anyway, this should not be a big surprise. In fact this may be one of the reasons the work stopped coming in – while you were busy voicing projects, the lead-generating activity stopped. It’s a nice predicament to be in, but the key is to be able to find the time to do both.

Take Advantage of the “Free” Time

Here’s a quick list of suggestions that will keep you “working” while you prepare for the next wave of paid gigs:

1) Practice. In VO terms: audition. Pick up what leads you can from pay-to-play sites, your agents, and web-searches. That’s right, do a Google search for VO jobs or voiceover needed. You’ll be surprised what comes up. When those Voices.com or other sources dry up, just read. Practice on copy from Edge Studio. They have reams of legitimate copy for practicing. Record it. Edit it. Listen to it. Send it to someone for a critique. Play like it’s real, because it is.

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