Voice Over Education Blog

January 2014

Defining your Voice Over “Type” and Finding your Niche

Over the past year, a friend of mine has been investing in the stock market. He’s been doing quite well – because he has a pretty simple rule: he only buys stock when he understands exactly what the company does, and how their product is useful in the real world. If the company’s product description is vague (what is “consulting,” really?), he stays away.

This got me thinking about the relationship between voice actors and potential clients. Are we losing clients by being too vague with our own “product description”?

Successful marketing is all about convincing a client that what you offer is a perfect match for what they need. Yet, in fear of missing out on opportunities, we try to be all things to all people. We present ourselves as generic “all-purpose” voices. The result is that our marketing is equally generic … and clients can’t easily tell that we have the specific skills they want.

Consider, for example, how the audition sites Voice123.com and Voices.com have been fine-tuning their search parameters: actors who upload genre-specific demos and tag them with client-friendly keywords are rewarded with more auditions and higher rankings in client searches. In other words, if your narration demo is simply tagged “narration,” it won’t show up in as many search results as a demo that is tagged “corporate, warm, trustworthy.” If the system can’t tell what you offer, it won’t know what auditions to put in your inbox! Beef up your profile with specifics on your vocal age range, styles (perky mom, corporate trainer, casual best friend), and tones (friendly, sympathetic, wry, sincere, etc.). These same descriptors need to be on your website, and ideally will be reflected in the overall look of your logo and website design.

10 Common Voice Actor Mistakes

Just as important as knowing WHAT to do in the VO business, is knowing what NOT to do! Being aware of the biggest classic mistakes ahead of time can really help you avoid them.

Some of these admonitions may seem obvious and common-sensical, others are basic concepts you can adapt to your style and business plan.

Do yourself a favor, print this out and post it in a place where you’ll see it often.

By-no-means-complete, but essential list of VO mistakes:

1. Being undecided about your rate. Do your research; many of us charge too little for our services. Or we are apologetic, defensive, blustering, …. When your rates are competitive and you present them confidently, an issue might not even arise. But if you must get into a conversation about rates, come prepared!

2. Believing all you need is an agent and you are in the black. Of course, a good agent is invaluable in obtaining auditions for you that you’d not get yourself, but they will never be your only source of sessions. Look for contacts, keep networking, continue to market online and in person, and DO that cold-calling you’ve been putting off. Don’t rely solely on your agent.

3. Making your voice over demo when you are not yet ready. You need practice, you need coaching, you need to know your voice and what it can do. In short, you need to be really prepared. If you pay for that demo too soon, it can be wasted money. And no demo is forever. Be ready to go through the process as often as the market demands.

Details Define Da Game

I recently had my eyes opened -- to roughly the size of a high-quality porcelain 6½-inch diameter Micasa Infinity Band saucer.

This socket-popping moment came after a lunch meeting with the senior sound designer at a major game developer in the Seattle area.

Our discussion involved putting on a workshop for students interested in performing characters for Animation/Games. We figured it should also describe how casting for these projects have evolved over time.

It’s become a challenging field for all involved, including its voice actors. For starters, this particular company hires only union talent, which right there narrows the field to actors with a certain degree of experience, training and skill.

Add to THAT the trend of using famous names and celebrities to voice high-profile games, and the competition gets kicked up yet another notch.

Today’s goal in game casting? It’s to convincingly portray “reality” in fantasy … be it the way game players interact with each other, or the characters’ cinematic dialogue, or shredding your larynx to emit battle cries, exertion sounds, and death by falling, explosion and the ever popular incineration.

The degree to which game developers go in achieving such realism is staggering. In just ONE weapon alone, there can be as many as a thousand individual sounds. Each bullet fired needs to sound different from the one before it. Sound designers also manipulate how that particular gun sounds from three feet away, after you’ve handed it to your buddy in the game. And how it sounds in various sized rooms, and outdoors.

That’s just for ONE weapon.

I also learned there’s an approach called the “Super Session” -- where a talent spends up to six hours in the booth, rather than two separate four-hour sessions.

Know Your Voice

In a recent ”Talk Time” discussion, one of the participants asked, "I keep hearing 'know your voice.' What does that mean?” I thought it was a terrific question, so I'd like to offer some thoughts on it. ”Know your voice” can be interpreted several ways, and they’re all valid.

For me, the most obvious interpretation involves being familiar with your range across the different vocal components (such as volume, tempo and pitch), and being able to control it.

Another take on it could be that of identifying where in the industry your voice and delivery have the most natural fit.

A third interpretation could include having an understanding of how your voice typically affects listeners; what others sense in your voice when you speak.

In any case, our ultimate goal in voice over is to connect with the audience by delivering memorable, meaningful reads with natural personality, conversational ease, and appropriate emotion and energy. We tend to achieve this -- with the least effort -- when we are confident and comfortable.

So where do consistent confidence and comfort come from? Knowing your voice.

To start getting acquainted with your vocal range, there are some basic exercises and activities that you can do. For example, with volume, tempo, and pitch, most people can pretty easily identify three different levels they have:

VOLUME: 1-quiet, 2-normal, 3-loud

TEMPO: 1-slow, 2-normal, 3-fast

PITCH (that is, the contrast between the low and high pitches you use): 1-little change (monotone), 2-normal, 3-a lot of change

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