Voice Over Education Blog


The Science of Speaking Like a Pro

Improve your skills as a voice talent – by embracing your inner nerd!

~ How a linguistic approach and a basic knowledge of phonetics  (the study and classification of speech sounds) can improve your reads and make you sound more like a pro.

You have no doubt heard it said that there are no shortcuts to becoming a better voice actor. This is certainly, definitely, always true.

EXCEPT when it isn't...  

Students often ask “What is the difference between formal and informal reads?”, “How can I sound more polished?”, “Why do I always stumble over certain words?” and my favorite, “Why do the pros I hear on TV just SOUND BETTER?”

Well, let me tell you why:

Throughout my career I have been asked to vary reads in a myriad of different ways, from basic conversational to formal and sophisticated – with all stops in between. As a former speech-language pathologist, I have found my background in anatomy, physiology, phonetics, and linguistics in general extremely helpful in enabling me to do this successfully.

For voice-over success, know – and trust – yourself.

The Greeks said, "Know thyself." Sometimes they meant it in a way that we modern folk might not realize – namely, to know your place in the scheme of things. But most people today probably understand the advice in a more positive sense ... to know your own nature and why you act and think as you do. That seems a sensible idea, especially for the actor. In fact, Plato (it says here in our Classics crib sheet) professed that by knowing one's own human nature, a person is better able to know the nature of other humans.

With regard to voice-over, we would add a further angle. At some point, it is also important to "Trust thyself." To illustrate that point, here is a brief fable, ripped from the pages of a personal history:

Once upon a time, a college student got to DJ for a couple hours each week on the campus radio station. Throughout each week, he put a lot of effort into the show, planning jokes and patter, and intros, all kinds of material to cram into that scanty timeslot. He didn't know it at the time, but it was hardly worth so much effort. He had no experience at working a live audience, everything sounded much, much too "rehearsed," and he was like the cocktail party guest who's so full of small talk that you wish he'd pause to let you settle your nerves, let alone get a word in edgewise.

He wasn't even funny. To illustrate, do you know that scene in Good Morning, Vietnam where Robin Williams (as Adrian Cronauer) follows a really straight-laced Armed Forces Radio announcer guy who says stilted things like, "Greetings and felicitations"? Our hero sounded like that announcer guy.

Then, one day, our hero happened to walk into the station to do some record filing or whatever, and the Program Director said, "Our 4 o'clock DJ is sick. You're the only DJ here. You're on the air in 5 minutes."

"But I have nothing prepared," our hero stammered, ready to steadfastly refuse.

What's the right way to deliver a humorous VO line? Part 3 of 3

NOTE: This is the third post in a 3-part article. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

There's a wrong way to tell a joke. But there's often more than one right way. Part of what makes the "right" way work is that it coincides with the character of the person telling it. (Or rather, the persona of the character. And by "joke," we mean any humorous line.) Is the person high-energy, or low-key? Are they cynical, or silly? Are they known to be serious, but with a comic payoff?

Your character affects your listener's expectations, patience, and viewpoint as they listen. It also affects the way you time the joke – and thus the laugh.

As we mused at the end of Part Two, can you learn comedy timing without having entertained friends or coworkers all your life? Yes, maybe you can. But timing is not as simple as some people think. Here are some tips.

(Reminder: The term "comedy timing" doesn't refer to how long it takes to tell a joke. In its simplest sense, it refers to knowing just the right moment to deliver the punch line. In the real world of humorous discourse, it's more complex than that. But it's still not about how long it takes to read the script.)

There are two basic components of delivering a joke: timing and pacing.

Timing. Maybe it should be called comedy pausing.

Timing involves knowing where to pause, how long to pause, and why.

In the context of comedy or dramatic direction, you'll often hear the word, "beat." For example, "Between these two words, wait a beat."

Comedy Timing. How does it work in voice-over? Part 2 of 3

NOTE: This is the second post in a 3-part article. Click to read Part 1 and Part 3.

A stage actor or stand-up comedian has something of an advantage over those of us who work alone in a booth. Audience feedback. One of the things you get from an audience, along with a certain energy and maybe (for better or worse) a sense of "danger," is that you know if a joke worked or not. And you can experiment with varying your delivery in order to make a funny line work its best.

Even a movie actor has a crew around them, and a director to help them along. If you're self-directing and don't have years of experience at delivering funny lines, how do you know when you've achieved what writer Larry Gelbart has called, "a nerve well struck"?

One way is to be observant and develop your sense of comedy timing.

What "comedy timing" is not

First we should clarify – in voice-over work, there are three very different types of "timing." Professionals know one from the other, but all involve the same word.

  • In one sense, "timing" refers to how long the read is. Is it 10 seconds or 30? Can the 30-second script be read in 27 seconds? For more on that, see our article, "15, 30, 60,... The Art of Voice-Over Timing." It's not what we're discussing here.
  • In another sense, "timing" in voice-over means the same thing as in everyday life – namely, being in the right place at the right time. If you land a voice-over job for that reason, that's good timing. If the script is funny, you might even quip that it is good comedy timing. But it's not what we're discussing here.

What comedy timing IS

What makes something funny? Especially in voice-over. Part 1 of 3

NOTE: This is the first post in a 3-part article. Click to read Part 2.

There are various schools of thought as to what makes acting work.

There are also schools of thought as to what makes comedy work. What is humor? What makes something funny? And, since in voice-over work, you're usually handed a script, that may or may not be humorous – can you make something funny? Or is the humor already built in, so that all you have to do is read it?

The answer is, a little bit of both. And, unlike acting theory, humor theory is at least partially subject to scientific investigation. Someday, neurologists might even be able to tell us exactly why we laugh.

For now, we'll give it a try ...

By the way, here's our article on various theories of acting.

To fully explain how humor works would take a book – several in fact, including maybe a volume on human neurology and even anthropology ... because laughter is rooted deep in ourselves and our collective past.

Our objective here is simply to give you a crib sheet. But let's have at it for a bit ...

Even among scientists and highly experienced comic actors, there are many theories as to what makes something funny to us. Psychologists have identified no less than 41 types of humorous situations.

The scientists keep getting closer to pinpointing the various factors, using techniques that include real-time brain scans. But, like driving your car, as a voice actor you don't have to know exactly how it works, only that it does ... and that there are different types of engines, etc.

A voice artists shouldn't just talk. Also listen to yourself.

We can't stress enough the importance of daily practice. Not only does it keep your voice and your work habit in shape, you can learn a lot in as short a practice session as 15 minutes. Part of that session should include listening back to what you've been practicing at. Or listening to some of your past auditions. There are a bunch of reasons – of various sorts -- why this helps you. Let's look at them ...

What should you do in your practice session? See our article, "Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice" (March 16, 2017).

Several of the above article's exercises involve recording yourself and listening back. So these are among the reasons to listen to yourself:

  • Can you read something repeatedly, even over time, and still sound as natural as you did originally?
  • Did you say everything as clearly as you thought you did? When you listen to a recording after significant time has passed, and without the script in front of you, the occasional mumble or mispronunciation will be more apparent. Maybe even painfully obvious.

Here are yet more reasons to have your recording app ready, even when it's just for practice, and, in general, to listen to yourself objectively.

What is a "clean break" and how long should it be?

In our December 2017 Monthly Audition Contest, the Director's Notes asked for a "clean break" at punctuation. The direction didn't say how long a break, just that the producer will add time between phrases, in order to match up the video. When a client or director says to pause for "a second" or whatever amount of time, it's clear enough how long a break to give them. But if no interval is specified, what then? How "clean" should a clean break be?

Note: Sometimes a Director will just say "a break." You can assume they mean a clean break. Now, what do they mean by that?

See for yourself.

The best way to grasp this situation is to do a bit of editing in your workstation software. Record a sentence that consists of multiple clauses, and pause at a comma, or wherever a tiny pause is logical. Before or after the sentence, leave the mic open for a few seconds but remain silent. This will give you a sample of your space's ambient (background) noise. (Almost every home studio, and even many commercial studios, have a slight bit of background "presence.") We'll call this your "silence."

After recording, look at the sound image in your audio software, and see where the volume level goes down to zero. (Or, if your space is not totally silent, this will look like the silent part you recorded.) Ideally, you'll see a flat line. That's a clean break.

Hear for yourself.

You read VO scripts clearly. Why don't people hear you? Part 2 of 2.

NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read Part 1!

In personal conversation, have you ever known someone who doesn't listen to you because they think they already know what you're going to say? Sometimes they've assumed correctly. But not always. And when they're wrong, it's kind of maddening, isn't it? Why don't they listen to what you're saying?

In that conversation, you might be able to bring your friend around to listening more politely. But in a spoken-voice recording, you can't do that with your unseen listener.

Or can you?

In some ways, you can encourage listeners to pay closer attention, to improve how they hear what you're saying.

The first step is to understand why they don't. There are various reasons:

A. They're distracted. This is virtually a given when the script is a commercial. In all but a handful of situations, people aren't listening for commercials, and in fact might be planning to do something else as soon as you start talking. (An exception would be a Super Bowl broadcast, where some people actually watch for the funny or edgy commercials. But how often is that?)

You'll encounter distracted listeners in plenty of other genres, too. For example, telephony ... scripts often say, "Please listen carefully, as our menu has recently changed." Everyone knows darn well that it probably hasn't, but a system has to do something to get the caller's attention. After all, they didn't phone for a menu – they called to tell a live representative that the flange on their widget broke, or to check the balance on their checking account, or to find out how to size new tennis shoes.

In voice acting, what does "enunciate" really mean? Part 1 of 2.

NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read Part 2!

You can't be a voice talent without having encountered the word "enunciate." Even if you've spoken very clearly all your life, and no coach or director has ever complained that you need to enunciate more, surely you've thought about it. Or read about it. Understanding how to enunciate is key to a voice-over career. After all, no matter if you master all other voice-over skills and do everything else right with your read, it's for nothing if your listener can't tell what you said.

But one of those other skills is "sound natural," and in most genres sounding natural is equally important. Can the two skills work together? What does "enunciate" really mean?

Maybe it will help if, instead of "enunciate," we say "speak clearly." Because that's what we mean. When a coach says "enunciate," they usually mean "enunciate more." The practice of enunciation is not absolute. There are differing degrees. Exactly how clear do you need to be? The art is in finding a happy medium – the range of intelligibility that is easily understood, yet fits the script's tone or character.

Too much enunciation can make you sound "stand-offish." You know the stereotype: it sounds like a character in a goofy 1930s comedy where some professor or upper-crusty type pro-noun-ces e-ver-y letttter and syl-ab-buhl separately. And maybe even rolls their R's.

Unless you're playing such a character, that's way too much.

But at the other extreme, you're not speaking clearly enough if people think you said "What's the Biggie's turtle you met?" when the script said "What's the biggest hurdle you've met?"

Improv offers voice-actors more than comedy. It offers reality.

Improvisation training is not essential in developing your voice-acting skills, but can be highly valuable. Just about everyone is familiar with comedy improv, and maybe you've even taken a workshop in it. But do you realize that comedy improv is just part of the improv universe? In fact, various types of improv experience are helpful in many other professions besides acting or comedy. The training and exercises can improve your ability to connect with listeners in any presentation, whether it be a voice script, a business proposal, or university lecture.

Here's a "wavetop level" view of what you can experience in the refreshing, fun, and sometimes scary ocean of improv ...

So far, we've called it a "universe" and an "ocean." Rather than continue with those mixed metaphors, what is "improv" anyway? It's simply two or more people acting without a script, making up the characters, story and dialog as they go. The "acting" can be for an audience, or it can be for each other (as in training or a professional development class). Some improv is done entirely free-form, with maybe just a random seed of an idea (e.g., "at a picnic" or "credit card"). But, especially in training, it can be highly structured, with specific objectives. When there's an audience, the objective is entertainment, but other times the objective is the improv experience itself.

That experience is what's so valuable in voice-over. It actually rewires the brain. The process of working with others, learning to read and anticipate their thoughts and responding with yours, is very much like what we do every day in the real world. And in most VO genres, sounding (and being) real is essential in developing your voice-acting skills.

6 ways to improve your VO performance, away from the mic

If you keep busy at your mic and computer, you may have no reason to leave your studio, other than to go to the kitchen and to sleep for the night. But unless you get out and about from time to time, you could be losing more than muscle tone. That lack of variety could leave you short-sighted, figuratively, and maybe even literally.

Here are six ways you can improve yourself as a voice artist and strengthen your business, while you're away from your mic.

We've all seen articles by "efficiency experts" who say to, oh, buy stamps online instead of at the post office. Heck, these days you could do the same with groceries and half the other stuff you need.

But go there anyway. You can get more than stamps at the post office.

1. Get acting inspiration. In just about any stable crowd, you can find acting inspiration -- because you see and meet other people of every sort.

So if there's a long line of customers when you get to the post office or supermarket or wherever, don't view it as a negative. Use it as an opportunity. Look at each person around you, and imagine what they're thinking. Come up with a word to describe whatever emotion each person seems to be feeling at that time. In fact, do this with everyone you come across. This mental exercise (or let's call it a game) has been proven to be an effective technique in enhancing your ability to empathize (to know what other people are feeling). Empathy is part of a voice actor's stock-in-trade. Imagining and understanding the thoughts of your audience is helpful, especially considering that your audiences are people you can't even hear or see.

2. Get ideas for voice characters. Leave your earbuds at home. Listen to the voices of the people around you. Now and then you'll hear a voice or notice a mannerism you've never encountered before. Maybe someday you can use it.

How to voice a run-on sentence comfortably in a single breath

So there you are, cruising along in a script, sounding natural and vocally free, and suddenly the Director stops you. You've been narrating in moderate-length phrases, taking breaths just often enough that you can sustain a comfortable delivery, not chopped up by too many breaths, yet not straining to finish a phrase. Now you're told, "Don't breathe during this phrase. Say it as one continuous statement, without pause, and don't rush it. Oh, and keep the easy, natural sound."

How do you deal with that?

Let's back up ... The rule of thumb in voice-over is to phrase the script in ways that don't require you to strain. If you try to extend a phrase too far, yes, you might get the words out, but the listener might hear you straining to find the breath – no matter how expertly you try to hide it. But at the other extreme, that doesn't mean you have to speak always in short choppy phrases. Even in a genre such as video narration, where relatively short phrasing is often the norm (so as to let the video play out and sink in), variety is the spice of authenticity.

Sure, the engineer could edit out a breath, but if the Director wanted to do that, she wouldn't have asked you to take a shot at it. Or she may not have thought about it, or might not realize how easy such an edit usually is.

There might be a good reason for not pausing. For example (admittedly one contrived to avoid embarrassment), suppose the client insists that their advertising slogan not be broken up, and their slogan is:

"The place to go when you just don't have the hang of
hassling with computers and today's high-tech electronics."

(This example is even more challenging because, look at all those H's! An H sound uses more breath than average. See our footnote.*)

The solution?

How to distill a script to the right length for your demo. Part 2 of 4.

NOTE: This is the second post in a 4-part series. Click to read  Part 1  ...  Part 3  ...  Part 4

Last week, we demonstrated how to turn a print ad into a radio or TV commercial demo script. But for a Commercials demo, your cuts should each be 10 seconds (or so) at most. So now, let's look at how to distill it down to the mere 5-10 seconds you'd want to use. (Note: Demo cuts in some other genres tend to be a bit longer.)

You'll also see how, as in preparing a sauce, this "reduction" process often makes the script tastier!

As we demonstrated in Part 1, you can start with almost any decent print text, such as a magazine ad, a brochure, information in an encyclopedia, corporate training manual – whatever seems interesting, well suited to you, and right for the genre you're demo-ing. You'll also want to have some variety in your collection of clips.

How to cut copy down to 5-10 seconds

The original:

I have a problem when it comes to ice cream. I can't make an ice cream cone with less than 5 scoops. Because every time I start scooping Froball ice cream, I start thinking of all the reasons I love it. How do I lick this problem?

Now get out your blue pencil (or, if you used to work at Time Magazine, a green one), or your delete key, and weigh every word:

  • Pare it down to essential thoughts
  • Don't repeat unnecessarily
  • Delete unneeded words
  • Replace "wordy" phrases with single words

The results:

Turn print copy into a commercial script for your VO demo. Part 1 of 4.

NOTE: This is the first post in a 4-part series. Click here to read part 2! Click here to read Part 3! Click here to read Part 4!

In our May 7, 2017, Talktime! session (that's our free call-in discussion on various topics each Sunday evening), the question arose as to where to find demo scripts. Various tips were offered, the most fundamental being that your demo coach should be able to guide you. (You do have a demo coach, right?)

But another good source is to convert print copy -- such as magazine advertisements, brochures, encyclopedias, corporate training manuals, and so on -- into an audio track for a radio commercial, explainer, narration or whatever you need. Just how does the average non-scriptwriter go about that?

The simplest answer is, "Write how you talk." That's what NPR advises its on-air journalists. In this article summarizing NPR guidelines, they demonstrate how a print news story is often not at all written the way you would tell it personally in conversation.

See the NPR article for details. To summarize, here's their list of how people talk:

Turn print copy into a commercial script for your VO demo. Parts 1 and 2 of 4

NOTE: This is multi-part article. Go to Full series

In our May 7, 2017, Talktime! session (that's our free call-in discussion on various topics each Sunday evening), the question arose as to where to find demo scripts. Various tips were offered, the most fundamental being that your demo coach should be able to guide you. (You do have a demo coach, right?)

But another good source is to convert print copy -- such as magazine advertisements, brochures, encyclopedias, corporate training manuals, and so on -- into an audio track for a radio commercial, explainer, narration or whatever you need. Just how does the average non-scriptwriter go about that?

The simplest answer is, "Write how you talk." That's what NPR advises its on-air journalists. In this article summarizing NPR guidelines, they demonstrate how a print news story is often not at all written the way you would tell it personally in conversation.

See the NPR article for details. To summarize, here's their list of how people talk:

Do your voice-overs benefit from your full vocal range?

"Great! Now, read it another way."

Whether or not you've ever heard that from a Director (and you won't always), it's a good direction to give yourself. Because there's more than one way to read almost any VO copy, and there's more than one vocal approach you can use. Which means ...

... there's more than one way to land a job.

Before you start recording, shake yourself up. In fact, you could do that literally – shake your body all over for a few seconds. It helps loosen you up, both physically and mentally.

But you can shake up your "usual" read in many more significant ways than that. Here are some that will help shake up your voicing options.

Who's your character? In an acting framework, this question is often combined with "Who are you talking to?" and "Where are you" and other such situational images. But ultimately, they all come down to "Who are you?" Even if you're narrating, or doing phone prompts, you are voicing a character of sorts. For example, your "character" might be the customer of a department store (the client), or the store's marketing director. Or as a narrator, you might think of yourself as a scientist, or a businessperson, or a teacher. Even as a phone prompt, you might feel like a retail greeter, or the company's owner. They may all sound like you. But each thinks and maybe behaves a bit differently.

Over the course of your career, one of your core characters is "you." Clients come to know your "go-to" voice and personality (or persona); for most talent, it's probably their most saleable voice. But in developing that voice, hopefully you will have given it all the resources at your disposal.

Which leads to another "shake-up" question ...

What to consider in evaluating your voice-over potential? Part 2 of 2.

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Evaluating someone's potential as a voice actor involves a wide range of considerations. It's usually not a black-and-white issue. There are lots of shades of gray, and virtually everyone – even trained stage and screen actors – needs some training in order to perform consistently well as a voice-over professional. But there are certain qualities to look for in a prospective voice-over student, and certain things that would rule someone out.

Where can you find such a list?

We happen to have one at our fingertips; it's the evaluation guide we use in our Investigate Voice Over program.

We caution against relying on this list without assistance from a voice-over professional. You might be too hard on yourself. Or too easy. Or, you may not hear what evaluation-trained coaches hear ... in which case you might not realize that you are (or are not) marketable.

As we said, there are many gray areas and qualities that can (or cannot) be easily changed through training and practice. Seriously venturing into the field of voice-over can be a life-changing move. Just as you would not rely solely on a consumer-website slideshow to diagnose your health, you should not simply breeze through this list to determine your prospects as a voice actor.

But you might use it to determine the quality of an evaluation you receive, whoever that opinion is from.

Not landing the audition is NOT a failure. Yeah, right.

People who know the power of positive thinking realize that failing to land an audition is not really a failure. Nor is it rejection. The positive way to look at it is this: You just weren’t the one person they selected.

Easy to say. Not so easy to feel. So here’s some help ...

Although not landing an audition is disappointing, even frustrating, it's part of the acting business. Another part of the acting business is knowing which auditions to try out for, and understanding what you can learn when you don't get the role.

Nobody ever wins everything. Just as not even the best batter in baseball will hit perfectly over an entire season (in fact, a 30% average is considered good), no actor ever won every role they were up for in the course of their career. The key is to know which roles to try for, and when you don't get the part, learn how to learn from the experience, or (eventually this will be the usual case) simply slough it off and move on.

Is that easier said than done? Probably. But putting missed opportunities into perspective is easier when you look at them as variable situations, filled with gray areas, and not absolutes.

Words-to-Time Calculator: Give better VO estimates, faster

Vocal skill and business sense are key to maintaining a voice-over career, and so is a sense of neighborliness. These attributes work synergistically. After all, ours is a people business in so many ways. In the almost two decades since we at Edge Studio began focusing on the voice-over community, we have grown largely because we treat the VO industry as a community.

So at EdgeStudio.com, we offer a broad range of free VO resources for voice actors and people who work with them. For example, one of our widely useful tools is the Words-to-Time Calculator. Here's an updated look at how to use it to your best advantage ...

The Edge Studio Words-To-Time Calculator tells you how long a script will take to read. It's a valuable tool for working VO talent to use every day.

Scriptwriters and copywriters also use this tool, to estimate how many words fit a certain amount of time. (If, as a voice artist, you've ever been faced with a script that's just too long or too short, you appreciate copywriters who can gauge how long their audio copy is.)

Our Calculator lets voice talent create more accurate estimates, more quickly. The faster you can judge a script's finished length, the faster you can return an estimate. This is especially helpful with a long script, such as a corporate training series or audiobook. Simply specify the number of words in the script, or paste the script, or tell it the average number of words per line, number of lines and the page count – and it gives you the time of the finished audio.

Better yet, it allows you to adjust the wps (words per second) to compensate for a variety of situations.

What we teach kids, voice actors should also remember.

Kids are amazingly natural. They breathe naturally from the diaphragm – and their voices tend to be vocally free – they say what they mean to say, without physical restriction or inhibition. By the time we’ve become young adults many of us have lost these capabilities. As voice actors, we may need to re-learn them.

But kids don’t know everything. Parents need to teach other good speaking habits ... like slowing down, not mumbling, and being sure they’ve been understood. As voice actors, it’s good to review these habits, too.

One of our staffers recalls being told as a child, “If they haven't heard you, you haven't said it.” That pretty well sums up any conversational statement, and definitely encapsulates the goal in voice-over. It’s the responsibility of the speaker to be understood – don’t expect the listener to bear all that burden. In fact, in some VO genres, you can’t even count on them paying attention!

Here’s a list of good speaking habits, and how to relate them to your voice-over delivery.

Get their attention. Parents teach that it’s not polite to shout “Hey!” at the dinner table; there are more polite ways to get someone’s attention. In voice-over, such an obvious attention-getting ploy is a very rare but accepted procedure. For example, a script that starts with “What’s this?” or shouting (figuratively, at least) in a pushy commercial. But in most cases by far, there are more sophisticated ways to capture the ear of your listener. One of the best is to value that first word. Pronounce it clearly, and just a bit more slowly than you otherwise might. Then, rather than pausing after it, deliver the first complete thought (the first phrase) to bring your listener mentally up-to-speed. Consider, for example:

In an audio tour, are you a Docent, or a Tour Guide?

A “docent” is a person who guides people through a museum or such, explaining as they go. So why the heck why aren’t they just called “tour guides”? Why use a $50 word just because it’s a museum???

True, a common word would sound less pretentious, but it would also say less about the guide. “Docent” comes from the word “teacher.” A “guide,” like many VO talent, might just present a script, whereas (in principle, at least) a teacher knows what they’re talking about.

So, are you a docent?

First, let’s elaborate a bit on what we are talking about ...

Another reason for saying “docent” is that the word also has other applications. It often designates an unpaid museum volunteer, or a parent assisting on a school field trip. In some countries, it refers to an associate professor.

Let’s also make clear that this question is relevant to more than museum tours, or tours of any sort. It’s also a valid issue in other genres, from eLearning to industrial explainers, and in online virtual tours, as well.

And while we’re at it, you might like to know that “docent” comes (by way of German, “Dozent”) from the Latin word “docēre.” Incidentally, the English word “docile” – as in “she was a very docile pony” – does not mean “gentle” as some people think; it means “easily taught or trained,” and it comes from the same Latin root.

So now you can docent the word “docent”! (In which case you would also want to know that, grammatically, “docent” is only a noun, not correctly used as a verb. But plenty of people do.)

Where were we?

Oh, the distinction between a “teacher” and a “guide” – that should be obvious. A teacher typically knows their subject intimately. Whether they are holding class in a semester series, or leading tourists through a museum wing, a teacher knows much more about the subject than they are able to tell in such a brief time.

Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice

With the professional baseball season near, we might use it as a metaphor for voice acting – namely this: Pre-game batting practice is often one of the most fun, interesting parts of a day at the park, and it’s an essential part for the players. The analogy works for any performance skill, from musicianship to chess, and certainly includes voice-over.

Pros practice daily. Do you?

Before you made your first demo, you of course practiced intensively, under the guidance of one or more coaches. But – temporarily using another sports metaphor -- that demo was just the on-ramp that leads to the track, so we hope you didn’t stop practicing once you became proficient at consistently landing work. That’s no time to quit. It’s all the more reason to practice, thoughtfully. Every day.

Furthermore, although “learning never ends,” an actual recording job or audition is not the time to learn. On those occasions, it’s important to be free of inhibition, and to use your ability to innovate, but that’s not the same sort of learning. Confidence and innovation are skills that themselves require learning, and these skills are in turn comprised of others. Practice makes them ... professional. And pulls them all together.

To practice well, you need four things.

1. A recorder
2. Scripts
3. Discipline
4. A plan

The first, of course, you have. Scripts, you can get. Some people find it harder to come by the necessary discipline, but try. Consider practice time to be just another part of your business, and you will find a way to build-in the time required.

What makes these all come together is the plan. It can vary according to your personal preferences, genre and schedule, etc. Here’s one to consider ...

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?

To continue reading, click here.

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.

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.”

When should VO actors act? And when not?

Is every voice-over artist an actor? No. Acting is of course part of voice-over work, but is also a profession unto itself. Or let’s call it an art form, a skill, or a calling. It’s all of those. And just as not all acting skills translate directly to voice-over, there are some voice-over skills that would not ordinarily be called “voice acting.”

As we (and others) have said many times here, acting skills can be applied in the vast majority of voice-over work -- in most genres – but there are times when a voice artist, even the voice actor should not act. When do you suppose those are?

Let’s answer that by first asking, how can acting skill help you in a voice-over?

Acting smarts can be helpful just about anytime. Even genres as seemingly cut-and-dried as telephony and announcements sometimes are (“For sales, press 1 ...”), or as stylized as promotion (“... that’s Thursday on this channel”), there are plenty of situations when empathy or imagination come into play.

But most of the time, when we talk about acting in voice-over, we mean genres such as audiobooks, animation, characters in commercials, videogames, and such – situations where you’re clearly called upon to play a character or express emotion.

Another such situation is narration. Sometimes the narrator (in a book, a video or whatever the story) is a character, either literally (as when Ismael narrates Moby Dick) or stylistically (as when Charles Dance sets the mood in Nat Geo Wild’s “Savage Kingdom”). In fact, even when the narrator of a video, book or other tale is not a character, it can help to think of yourself as a character, if you can do so consistently and credibly. By adopting the mindset of a credible character, you’re able to present the story more credibly. It also expands the range of tones you can choose from in conveying the story.

Using Peripheral Vision in VO – that is, in the wider sense

In a recent article, we discussed how to enhance your script-reading ability by using peripheral vision. To review explicitly why it’s helpful: it enables you to see the big picture and avoid mistakes. By anticipating what’s next, seeing more of the line helps everything flow, thereby making you feel more comfortable.

Maybe that’s so obvious that it goes without saying. But the obvious things in life are sometimes the very things that benefit from fresh discussion. So, let’s enlarge our view still further, and (with a full sense of the irony) focus on the various other ways your voice-over performance and business can benefit from exercising peripheral vision.

We’ll segue here by addressing another aspect of performance ...

Use peripheral vision not just to see what’s coming next in the copy, but also see what visual cues might exist in your acting environment. Are you working with a director on the other side of the glass? Intent on listening to you, they might seem to be ignoring you ... but they might instead be smiling at you and directing while you speak -- as does an orchestra conductor. A conductor doesn’t hum the tune or lead the musicians through every note (it’s the musicians’ job to already know the notes and play them with feeling). But a conductor will sometimes indicate a change of pace or subtle shift in mood, or confirm that things are going well. Similarly, the voice-over Director might indicate that you could use more smile, or they might play the role of the person you’re speaking to, or indicate that they like that little thing you just did.

How can you look at both them and the copy? Peripheral vision.

Acting a VO character is more than a vocal quirk.

Holiday Time! The perfect opportunity to observe seldom-seen family members and friends, and take inventory of all the great mannerisms and vocal types, for a lot of great new voice-over characters. Right?

Wrong. If Uncle Harry or Aunt Gladys inspire a character, great. If a quirk or habit can be integrated into a new or existing character, use it. But there’s more to character-building than an eccentricity or a quick imitation.

Character acting isn’t about being eccentric. It’s about being a character.

To be sure, we’re talking here in a different sense from the way “character actor” is sometimes defined in the movies. We all can name many wonderful character actors who sometimes steal the show with their odd behavior or unusual characteristics.

But, rather than focus on their eccentricities, focus first on their characters. Note how many of these actors often play very different characters (often supporting parts) from role to role. Some character actors are eccentric, but their characters are more than a quirk.

In contrast, consider that many leading-role actors tend to play characters relatively close to their own personalities, or a certain on-screen persona. Cary Grant might be considered such an example. For awhile, Adam Sandler and Paul Giamatti were said to be in that group, but have since (as did Grant) also shown themselves very capable of expanding out of their popular type. (And, for a classic example of the opposite approach in a career, Meryl Streep is both a lead actor and a splendid chameleon.)

We should also caution at the outset that this discussion is somewhat theoretical, and the differences might be thought of as a matter of degree, not absolute.

What stage acting, screen acting and voice acting have in common. Part 2 of 2.

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Once upon a time, before the age of microphones, singers had to make themselves heard. In a band setting, some (like Rudy Vallee) even resorted to using a megaphone. But along came Bing Crosby, who became famous for his ability to sing with a new form of expressivity, thanks to his using a microphone. However, they had one thing in common. They could sing.

Similarly, actors on stage, on screen and at a microphone all face differing arrays of challenges. But all three disciplines also have many factors in common.

Acting is acting. All three types of actors are working in an artificial situation. Whether on a stage, or isolated in a little room, or in a real setting with a camera in their face, they need to convey the appearance of reality in that situation. The stage actor must learn to ignore the audience, yet sometimes play off them. The film actor may need to create an audience – the person they're speaking to might not even be in the room! And the voice actor needs to envision the listener (be it an audience or a character), so they are not, say, speaking words of love to just a pane of glass, foam wall, or the engineer.

Professionalism. There's more to acting than "acting." The actor should be able to take direction. And to do so without taking it personally. Actors need to show up on time and respect their peers, and it helps to be generous. They also need to conduct themselves as if they were a business. Because they are.

Expand your voice-over world – to a Workout Group!

With the voice-over business so heavily focused on home studios these days, and with you probably self-directing most of your projects, how do you stay fresh? How do you acquire new ideas and learn techniques? For that matter, how do you stay sane and get some “fresh air,” literally and figuratively?

One way, as in any profession from plumbing to surgery, is continuing education. A voice-over pro should know, more than anyone, the value of taking advanced courses and continuing to work with a coach from time-to-time. But there are other ways, too. Do you know about “workout groups”? Whether you’re a beginner or an established working pro, a workout group is a great way to get feedback and firm up or expand your capabilities.

The concept is simple. Various VO talent meet and take turns performing, with the others providing feedback. This has long been a practice among stage and on-camera actors. They get together and do scenes. Same with voice actors, but it’s easier for voice artists to get together and perform.

Workout groups vary in nature. Many meet weekly, some less often, for maybe a couple of hours. Some are large, some small. Some are an informal collection of peers; others are led by a coach and might be more like a class. You might find a group that’s free, or (more likely) there is a charge (typically by the week or month), but usually, any charge is nominal. For the benefits you receive, it will probably be a bargain.

There might even be various frills. Some groups record the performances, not only so that the artists can hear themselves, but so that after receiving suggestions or direction, the talent might wind up with a better audition to send off to their agent, or a track to update their demo.

How to Reach Us

Call us 888-321-3343
Email us training@edgestudio.com

Click for Edge location information...

Meet Your Coaches

Edge Alumni Work Everyday

Get free educational
voice over newsletters!

Get free, educational voice over newsletters

Where should we send them?