Voice Over Education Blog

November 2014

How’s that you say? Taking care of your vocal health

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

Have you had your flu shot yet?

Ours is an unusual industry in so many ways. How we deal with minor illness is one of them. Most people, if they have a cold, they still come into work and tough it out (unless they work for an especially enlightened employer). But the last thing anyone wants a voice actor to do is come in and spread a throat infection to the rest of the studio and VO community.

If you record at home, it’s less of an issue to others. But vocal health is of course still a major issue for you as talent. Many people pay too little attention to their vocal health until something starts going awry.

At EdgeStudio.com you’ll find a lot of vocal health tips, so rather than repeat them all here, we’ll include links to some of them, and a variety of other authoritative sites, at the end of this 2-part article.

Meanwhile we’d like to add some fundamental thoughts that bear repetition or elaboration, and a few things that may have escaped your attention.

Important: We are not medical experts and cannot give medical advice. If you have any question or concern about your health or any symptom, consult your doctor without delay.

1. Hydration, hydration, hydration.

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.

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