Voice Over Education Blog

February 2017

Voice-over work (and all else) got you uptight? Relax!

Almost everyone’s voice sounds more relaxed in the morning. In fact, a well-known voice artist once confided to us that – even though he is prolific throughout the day – he sometimes reserves the top of the day for jobs where he needs to sound especially deep. Another voice actor has told us that, early on (when his VO career was only a hope), he figured he’d make an appointment at one of those massage franchises for a neck rub before each job. Fortunately, as soon as he got some training he dissuaded himself of that approach. There are more practical ways to shed the tension that comes with a day’s physical and emotional trials.

Which of these might work for you? And why is this important?

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Let’s answer the second question first. Relaxing your voice gives you many advantages. One major advantage is that it’s more appealing. When you are tense, your listener hears and feels it. But, like sincerity, vocal ease is not so easily faked. To sound comfortable, you should actually be comfortable.

A relaxed voice also gives you greater tonal range, has more endurance, enables you to follow direction more accurately, helps you enunciate better, adds to your confidence, and simply makes VO work (even) more fun.

So, how to achieve that state?

Method-to-Improv: What are the major acting techniques?

As a voice-actor, you encounter many stage and screen actors and are likely to consider at least a bit of formal acting training yourself. There are many ways to approach the task of acting. The lay person has heard of "method acting, " and that's about it. (And they're usually wrong as to what The Method is!)

Here’s a list of techniques. Many of them are similar to each other in some ways, very different in other ways. And none is nearly so simple as we’ve described them here. Hopefully, this will be of some service to you, even if something of a disservice to them.

Stanislavski. Developing the shift to modern acting, Constantin Stanislavski incorporated a range of natural behavioral influences, including emotional memory and self-analysis. The focus is on “experiencing” rather than “representing” the character, employing a holistic approach to performance and breaking down the text into “intentions.” The goal is to be aware of an objective, a problem to be solved, rather than be inhibited by the actor’s awareness of his or her artificial surroundings.

Method. Stanislavski had his “System”; Lee Strasberg developed it into his “Method” shifting the focus. Although it is not true that Strasberg’s called for an actor to stay in character even between scenes, the Method does focus more on psychology, using a range of rehearsal and practice techniques, including improvised situations. Emotional memory recall, “sense memory” is at the heart of it.

Stella Adler. While Stanislavski and Strasberg would have you draw on experience from your own life (whether an action or emotion), what if you never had such an experience? Often you can try to apply a feeling or situation similar to the one your character experiences, but that may seem too limited. Stella Adler called for actors to imagine the character’s circumstances and react to those.

Choosing a tax preparer for your voice-over business

Some people have a head for rules and numbers, . . . some other people don’t -- but manage to deal with them anyway, . . . and other people are better off assigning such work to someone else. Taxes are like that. For your voice-over business, you probably keep the books yourself. Do you prepare your taxes yourself? Would you have more time and/or peace of mind if you hired a tax preparer or accountant? Or will software do the trick?

We’ll let you evaluate the software approach, as there are reviews online, and trial periods or even free name-brand tax and accounting products to choose from. To those resources we’ll just add a few observations:

  • Sometimes the software is free for the Federal tax return, but you then have to buy the State module to complete the task.
  • Bookkeeping software, which can interface with the publisher’s tax software, is helpful only if you use the bookkeeping. If you fail to maintain your computerized records on a regular basis, it won’t magically automate your tax return, and your job at tax time will be even bigger.
  • Popular software is designed to be used by an entire range of people and/or small businesses. As voice talent, you are in a particular kind of business, and may need to make some judgments related specifically to the VO or acting industry. Does it know, for example, that you can deduct a suit purchased for use on-camera, but only if you NEVER wear it otherwise?
  • There may be additional forms or taxes related to your business. These may or may not be included in the software package. In fact, you might not even know about them till rudely informed by a penalty notice.

We think we have the above examples correct, but as with anything we say here regarding taxes or the law, consult your financial or legal advisor.

Which brings us back to our topic: How do you find such an advisor?

Listen, just listen, to all the people all around you.

Have you listened to your world lately? Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has surveyed the North American aural environment and found that virtually everyplace has some noise pollution. According to him, in the entire United States there are only a dozen places where you can stand for 15 minutes during daylight hours and not hear a man-made sound.

But even in those few places, there are natural noises. Hempton studies those natural sounds. But let’s turn it around. What might happen if you were to study the unnatural sounds -- specifically, the voices in various environments all around you?

Hempton’s thoughts were explored in a recently aired episode of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast, On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. The hour, titled “Gordon Hempton — Silence and the Presence of Everything,” was recorded in 2012.

Hempton reported that the least amount of noise pollution is found among the world’s tallest trees, in the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park. He calls it a cathedral. But while he calls it his “church,” it’s not where he first got this spirituality. That conversion, at age 27, occurred when he pulled off the road into a field to rest.

As he tells in the interview (emphasis ours), “While I lay there, and the thunder echoed through the valley, and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it’s then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it.”

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