Voice Over Education Blog

Performance

That is the Question


How do we get inside a text? How do we find the best way to communicate its message? Just as listening is half of communicating, questioning can be the better half of finding answers. Here are only a few questions voice over artists might want to ask themselves when analyzing copy.

Who is your audience?

I’m sure you have heard this question repeatedly in your voice over training and career. Every piece of copy that you are asked to do, whether commercial, animation, audiobook, narration or beyond, asks this essential question. Of course, our job is not merely to identify the audience, but to deliver our message directly to him or her. I use singular pronouns here because in the context of VO, the defined audience is best considered to be one person. This brings a level of specificity, intimacy and focus to our work. The audience is our “customer,” and the audience is always right. The audience wants a certain something in his/her life: a product, a service, an escape into a story, a better understanding of a particular topic, etc.

Producers, advertisers, writers, publishers and casting directors look to us to bring that certain something to that certain person. This process requires imagination, the distillation of facts and, often, research into the target market.

When working on your script, ask yourself, “Who is the single perfect audience member whom this piece will effectively relate to, engage, inspire and compel?” Begin to answer this question by looking at the direction you’ve been given, the subject of the piece, and its writing style. If the direction calls for an “urban edge,” you can probably rule out a Midwest farmer as your audience. If the piece is a commercial for enhancing one’s investment portfolio, you can fairly confidently dismiss the under-18 demographic. If a text contains the word, “dude,” it’s likely you’ll not be speaking to a senior citizen.

How Improv Can Make You a Better Voice Talent by Vanessa Richardson


Most people have done it. Some people do it all the time. We step into an office, classroom, party or club meeting in front of strangers, and, armed with only a few notes or preparatory thoughts, we wing it. We try to relax, breathe and go with the flow. But it’s easier said than done; our lives are not scripted or planned.

That’s improv. In these situations, ordinary people generally succeed, but who hasn’t encountered a false or slow start, distracting nervousness, going blank, or later thought that “if only I’d said _____”?

The same applies at the mic. Learning improv skills and techniques – and practicing them – helps you deliver better voice over performances, whether you’re following a script or not. But in voice over, there’s seldom time in the budget (or the producer’s patience) for you to “get your juices flowing” or move past a series of false starts. Is there a basic way to gain the skills and confidence needed to improvise well and quickly? Yes.

It’s called listening.

In our everyday lives, we all need to listen, being aware of our surroundings and open to a change in direction. This is a key reason why (as actors such as Meryl Streep have long advised), listening is at the core of acting. Listen to the other actor. (Or if you prefer, your character should listen to the other character.) Even when you’re working solo, listen to yourself

.

Also listen to your producer, director or client. They are, in effect, your scene partner. The better you listen and are able to take direction in a relaxed and positive manner, the more able you are to make them look good.

Following Instructions=MORE VO WORK


Here at Edge Studio, we cast, record, and audition a LOT of voice actors.

Surprisingly, we are shocked at the number of voice actors who don’t follow instructions. As a result, these voice actors lose work from us and our clients.

In this series, we’ll highlight the most common poor practices and give you friendly reminders to increase your voice over work.

PART I

--Be Punctual--

About 60% of Voice Actors Are Late!

(Worse, only a third apologize - yet usually with a lame excuse. Look, everyone is late sometimes... but be honest about it. Say, "Hey, I'm so sorry for being late and for any disruption it may have caused. This is not normal for me." In your own words, of course.)

Things move quickly these days: clients have last-minute voice over jobs, recording studios have tight time schedules, casting calls are booked in 5-minute increments... Being late can be very disruptive. Worse, for you, you lose future work.

Do what you can to be on-time. If your client needs your recording by 10am, then get it to them by then. If your call-in time is 5:15pm, then call in at 5:10pm. If you need to arrive at a studio, then get there 15-minutes early. Being early is a chance to establish good rapport with your clients and maintain a good relationship.

WHAT IS "VOCAL FRY?"


Are you at risk? Read and find out!

Vocal Fry is a speaking style that damages your vocal chords.

It occurs when you speak in your lowest register and create a low, glottal, grumbling sound. When this sound is created, the vocal folds compress tightly and become limp and compact. This sound is stereotypical of young girls and reality television stars.

This speaking style is a rising epidemic in today’s society, but many don’t know they are doing it.

If you are a singer in addition to a voice actor, you are even more at risk. Vocal fry is that stereotypical "croaking" sound made in country music, and is also used by bass singers in gospel choirs. These practices can permanently damage the vocal chords and may cause you to lose some upper notes in your register.

Other common names for vocal fry are pulse register, pulse phonation, glottal rattle, glottal fry, glottal scrape, creak, laryngealisation, and strohbass.

So I’m "Frying" my Vocal Chords…How Do I Stop?

Vocal Fry has snuck its way into our society and is affecting the way we speak.

The best way to stop this bad habit is to become aware that you are doing it. Once conscious, stop yourself each time you hear vocal fry creeping in.

To correct further, record yourself speaking and listen back. Post recordings on the
FEEDBACK FORUM and get vocal fry feedback from your peers as well.

You will hear your vocal fry when your voice is pitched lower than usual, or part of elongated vowels in the middle of a word, at the end of word, or in voiced consonants.

Become aware of your speaking. Keep your voice healthy.

What Do You Do To Stay Healthy For Voice Over?


We asked some of our friends, and here is their advice:

PAMELA JACKSON says, "plenty of water, eat healthy, exercise vocal as well as physical, and I listen to my body. Take care of your voice and your voice will take care of you."

KENDRA WEBB says, "A unique, powerful immune supplement in the form of a molecule extracted from bovine colostrum and chicken egg yolk."

A'LISA WILHELMSEN ANDRADE says, "Vitamin D 6,000 IU/daily as well as a Neti Pot regimen for immune system support. To prepare for a long day of recording, take Mucinex 1200 mg extended release tablets. It does 2 things: lubricates the vocal folds to ensure the smooth luscious sounds stay clear AND thins mucosal secretions so all that yucky winter phlegm doesn't clog those tones. If you find yourself with a scratchy dry throat, try Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Tea or Thayers Lozenges. Both use slippery elm which is mucilaginous."

NIKI KERNOW says, "I drink at least 2 litres of water everyday and I drink hot water with lemon, honey and ginger!"

SUSAN D'ANGELO says, "Lot's of foods high in anti-oxidants. I drink a lot of green tea, and I swear by Emergen-C every day. Also, I keep my chest and neck covered up when out in the cold. It's all about staying virus-free."

And…My advice:

Some Classic “Fake” Accents in Film and Television


Do you agree? Disagree?

1. Hugh Laurie plays Gregory House on “House,” an American doctor. Though he was born in Oxford, England, he was able to fool everyone during his audition and ultimately landed the role.

2. Who can forget the beautiful film “Shakespeare in Love?” American Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed the character Viola de Lesseps and ended up winning an Academy Award for her British accent in the film.

3. In the movie musical “Chicago,” Catherine Zeta-Jones played Velma Kelly, an American woman who is in prison for the murder of her husband and sister. When you hear her thick Welsh accent in real life, it is hard to believe how she pulled off an American so successfully.

4. Sacha Baron Cohen is known for his crazy accents, most recently seen in “Les Miserables” as Monsieur Thenardier. In my opinion though, his most beloved role was Borat, as he was able to maintain a consistent ‘Kazakstani’ accent in the film.

5. Remember the remake of “The Parent Trap” with Lindsay Lohan? Not only did she have a pretty believable British accent for a child, but she was able to switch back and forth seamlessly.

6. Though Daniel Dae Kim plays a Korean man with barely any knowledge of English on “Lost,” in real life he has a normal American accent. While he was born in Korea, he moved to Pennsylvania at the age of two.

7. Did you know that Health Ledger was actually Australian? You would never know from any of his films, as he immersed himself completely in his roles. Some say his most impressive film accent was in “Brokeback Mountain,” when he effectively played a cowboy.

3 Ways to Improve Your Voice Over Career in the New Year


Hi, I'm Kendra Baker, an educational consultant at Edge. My role is helping people break-in the voice-over industry and expand their careers. One of my favorite ways to do this is by devoting much of my time to our Weekly Script Recording Contest, Feedback Forum, and Checkups.

Consistently, I've seen newcomers go from 0 to 60 by uploading home-studio recordings to these three resources on our website and following the suggestions they receive. That is why we devote such a large portion of our website to the Free Career Center . We really want you to get better, and practicing with these resources is a great way to do so.

The New Year is upon us and this is a time when many plan on how to better themselves in the coming year. Vow to make yourself a better voice talent. Just create a schedule (even as simple as setting aside 15-minutes three times a week) and stick to it!!!

Here is how I've seen people get better with these three resources:

Feedback Forum : This is a really cool resource, and it's free!!! You just upload a practice recording to our site and then you receive insightful, candid peer reviews and suggestions. It's amazing how much better people sound after they use the forum!

Weekly Script Recording Contest : Every week, we run a new script reading contest. It's free and there are even prizes! But more important is how much everyone learns. At the end of each contest we select winners and we post an article telling you why the winners won. We also post an article telling you what the common errors were that we heard among all the entrants. This article is like a free training session every week!

Why Are You Still Waiting To Explore Voice Over?


People who fail to investigate a career opportunity often lose out on a lot of self-satisfaction. That can be even more costly than not making the money the opportunity might offer.

If you’re still waiting to investigate voice over, why? You’ll never know the opportunities if you don’t look into it. And if you carry that burden too long, you’ll kick yourself when you finally do determine – maybe years from now? – that a voice over career has been (or not been) in the cards for you all along.

So, here are some reasons why people procrastinate, and ways to get beyond these excuses. Rather than having you kick yourself later, hopefully our little kick-in-the-butt will propel you into a wonderful new career!

I’m not sure I’m right for it.

  • Most people, even trained actors, aren’t great voice over artists right out of the box. (Or rather, right into the booth.) The profession requires a marketable voice, training, knowledge of the industry, and more. But let’s start with the question of your voice. Do you have it? Find out. Save yourself the anguish of wondering. Learn more.

I’m shy, nervous about performing.

  • Surprise! Even among actors, nerves are not unusual. Working with a good coach can help you get past it. And surprise again: In voice over, most work is done solo – just you and the mic! Learn more.

I can’t pursue a program because I’m always away.

Voice Over Client Pet Peeves


Knowing what NOT to do (and not doing it) can increase your chance of being the star. We polled many of the top creative teams, and asked what pet-peeves they had with voice over artists.

  • The most common pet peeve was about voice over artists who try to do jobs other than their own. For example, they tell the producer how the script should be read, they tell the scriptwriter that the script has grammatical errors, etc.
  • Many creative teams were bothered by voice over artists who did not invoice their services correctly. For example, they took too long to send an invoice, social security or business IDs were not on the invoice, invoices were handwritten, etc.
  • Another common pet peeve was that the voice over artist does not see the ―big picture‖ and therefore does not read accordingly. For example, if the script is for a documentary, the voice over artist may read too quickly, forgetting that the final product will be accompanied by a visual and therefore should be read slower, so that the viewer can assimilate the video and the audio.
  • Often, producers complained about voice over artists not giving it their all, and losing energy and concentration throughout the recording process.
  • Many creative teams also noted having problems with voice over artists not following direction or just taking too long to ―get it.‖
  • Producers often noted disliking when they need to tell the voice over artist how to do their job. For instance, the voice over artist would not know what to do if they had ―dry mouth‖, or they would not know how to emphasize a word correctly, etc.
  • Finally, a large complaint was voice over artists who think they know everything.

Would you record a voice-over for a Product, Service, or Candidate that you didn't believe in?


Recapping our TalkTime! phone conversation of June 24, 2012.

As a professional voice actor, you sometimes encounter jobs you would rather not do for personal or ethical reasons. But if you turn them down, you will lose income and you might miss out on future work from that client. Should you accept these assignments?

That’s the question we asked new and pro voice actors, in our TalkTime! tele-conversation.

Hypothetical case-in-point: Suppose a computer tech-help company wants you to record a phone tree system. Sounds like a great job, until they tell you to read the script extra slowly because they charge callers -- by the minute.

Almost everyone has a personal boundary at some point.

Would you do it?

Given the example above, let's assume the client tells you this when they offer you the voice over job. There's time for you to reject it once you receive their questionable direction. Yet what if they spring it on you after you've accepted and stepped into the booth?

Here are some of the thought processes that arose during the discussion:

NOTE: Comments have been edited to make them succinct or clarified.

Yes, I'd do it.

8 Voice Over Diction Guidelines For Voice Actors


Diction is always important, whether the script calls for a formal delivery, informal, or something in-between. Here are some general "diction guidelines" that almost always apply.

1. "The" and "a".

Pronounce "the" with a soft "e." Pronounce "a" with a soft "a". This is how we generally say these words in everyday conversation. Unfortunately, when reading scripts, we tend to over-enunciate and, inappropriately, use hard vowels, for a variety of reasons having to do with psychology or training. Ironically, this over-enunciation is the one of the biggest indicators that we are reading.

2. Complicated words.

When first looking at a script, it is often difficult to anticipate which words you might be likely to slur. Look again, for multi-syllable words and other potential pitfalls. Remember that your voice over is often mixed with music and/or sound effects, making it more difficult to distinguish slurred words. Also remember that listeners are rarely hanging on your every word, and are easily distracted.

So ensure that your delivery is clear enough for the most casual listener to understand.

To pronounce a challenging word, break it into separate syllables and concentrate on each one, pronouncing each of them individually. For example, if "particularly" is particularly difficult to pronounce, pronounce it with a space between each syllable, like this:

par...tic...u...lar...ly

Then, connect the syllables, while still concentrating on each one individually:

particularly

3. Complicated "tongue twister" phrases.

Tongue twisters are phrases in which similar sounds are connected. They often occur because the scriptwriter focuses more on the content than on the fact that someone will have to read it.

4 Types Of Variety That Make Your Reads Rock!


If you can bore someone in a 30-second commercial, think what would happen if they fell asleep listening to an audiobook while driving their car... Crash!

In spontaneous conversation, we do not simply say words. To engage our listener, we add variety to our words. Learning how to add vocal variety to scripts - even boring ones - is an art that must be mastered in order to get voice over work.

Another reason to be good at adding variety is because producers often ask for multiple takes of the script - meaning they want you to narrate multiple versions of the same voice over script. Assuming each of your deliveries is different, the producer will then have different options to choose from.

Here are 4 ways voice actors can add variety:

1. Pitch variation

Using pitch variation (expanding your dynamic range) and hitting different words will add terrific variation to your delivery.

Remember not to confuse pitch with volume ... for if you raise your volume, the listener will feel that you're yelling at them.

2. Dramatic pauses

Dramatic pauses, also called beats or frames, add variety to your read. For example, a producer may say, "Give me a beat before that word." Dramatic pauses also help emphasize the following word. In other words, instead of hitting a word to emphasize it, insert a pause (space) before it.

Whether you use a dramatic pause to add variety or to emphasize the following word, be sure that the pause is not too long, or it will sound too dramatic.

2011 Wrap-up - PART 2


Here’s a controversial move, I’m going to briefly discuss demos. Yes, I prefer to write about the production and studio specific side of the world, but lets take it out of the comfort zone for a minute. I’ve seen a lot of these things. I’ve recorded a bunch of demo sessions, and mixed enough of them to qualify me for a lifetime achievement award at the secret ceremony each year presented by That Dude That Imitates Morgan Freeman™ and the Ghost Of Gilbert Godfried. Its a secret ceremony, don’t try to get an invitation.

Most if not all of the normal studio rules I have written about apply to recording demo’s. All beginning voice talent is going to need one, but that doesn’t mean you should sound like a beginner. Recording a demo is basically an audition for an audition. The person coaching you is a professional voice talent, who makes their living that way. The engineer recording you is a professional engineer, who also works on non demo projects. The studio in which you are recording handles a variety of sessions. How great of an opportunity is that!? How are you not so excited right now!!!!!!??? It also means, be nice to these people. Despite my curmudgeonly demeanor in these posts, I’m very pleasant and encouraging to work with. As are all of my colleagues here at the studio. They can get you work. They can also NOT get you work. That’s not a threat, but just think about it. And if a horse head shows up somewhere, don’t look at me. (I guess it would be half a pop filter or one ear of headphones in this case)

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