Voice Over Education Blog

September 2015

Earbuds and earplugs -- A heads-up on hearing health - Part One

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

As a voice actor, you figuratively need “ears” for judging your performance. But these days you’re probably also your own audio engineer, so you also really need ears for judging the quality of your audio.

How’s your hearing? Probably significantly worse than your counterpart a generation or two ago. Our ears evolved in a world where the loudest sounds were the roar of a waterfall, a clunk of two rocks, and the occasional bolt of lightning. Today’s world and your own listening habits can be murder on your auditory system. How can you protect your hearing?

The purpose of this article is to bring these issues to your awareness. It is necessarily only a summary and details are generalized. To fully appreciate what hearing dangers exist in your environment, and to determine the extent to which you should be concerned and/or take precautions, and what precautions are best for you, please look further into the issue or consult a hearing health professional. If you have any hearing difficulty, noticeable hearing loss, ear ailment (including but not limited to pain, discharge or pus), or want expert advice, please consult your physician or a hearing specialist promptly.

Whatever your age, your hearing won’t be any better than it is right now. And odds are, your hearing right now isn’t the equal of your professional counterpart a generation ago.

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

The world is full of real characters. How many are in your VO toolkit?

You’re at the mic, and the Director says, “Do this as someone else – weird but likable.” Or whatever. What do you do? We’ve written previously about the value of developing characters ahead of time, and this situation is one reason to do that.

But where do you find fresh, interesting character voices? The answer is, “all around you!” Here are a few suggestions:


Here’s a great excuse to take time away from your busy day. Sample reality and news shows. Hopefully you’ll even enjoy them. The subject matter maybe mundane, but these are a great source of real voices from around the country and around the world. With so many programs these days being about life in the back country, you’ll hear a lot of prototypes of that sort. But don’t focus only there. Check out more “typical” people, too. Listen for how one person in the same scene differs from another. How are they similar?

Beware that some reality shows are actually more or less scripted, and, regardless, some of the “characters” you encounter might not actually be from the area depicted. But even if what they say is scripted, their accent probably isn’t. And even if their accent is a hodge-podge of various locales, it’s a character, and that’s what you’re looking for.

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:

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