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.

You can also use this list to catalog your strengths and weaknesses, so you can emphasize the former and improve the latter. Even working VO professionals will find this a handy refresher course to keep themselves in tune. That's important, because, ultimately, a "passable" performance isn't sufficient to sustain your career. Attention to all these qualities creates a sound foundation for excellence.

Here's a list of some of the things we listen for:

Reading ability: Do you read in a natural manner, as if conversing? There should be no undue hesitation or awkwardness. You should also sound comfortable with words and pronunciations.

Diction: Your speech should be clear, without slurring or "swallowing" words. Lots of people slur or stumble over the occasional word, whether through inattention, or letting their thoughts get ahead of them, or some other reason. But in VO, you'll need to overcome such a tendency. No one can predict that you will, but we do listen to determine if you can speak clearly once you've been reminded and/or trained to do it. Some people are not cured by any reasonable amount of practice; it's a skill that that they just don't have.

Accent: A regional or foreign accent is not itself a disqualifier! After all, most people's accents are "native" to somewhere, and, in Oxford, England (for example), what is a "neutral" American accent in the United States is a foreign accent there. In fact, for some jobs, an accent can be an advantage!

At the outset, the issue isn't so much whether or not you have an accent, but instead whether you will be able to learn to control it.

Assuming you're aiming for the US English-language market, a “neutral” accent helps maximize your VO job opportunities. You'll probably need to lose or soften your regional or foreign accent. (Yet, be able to get it back when wanted.) If you're aiming at another language market, you'll want to optimize your speech for that language or region.

Sibilance: Do you have excessive “S” sounds in your speech (whether in terms of the number of incidents, or their loudness, or both). Many people tend to exhibit sibilance, but with practice and various speaking techniques, most can control or eliminate it. On the other hand, if you have a persistent whistle, that may or may not be correctible.

Plosives: In other words, "popping." Do you pop your P's and B's? Some people tend to do this because of the way they talk – pushing their words with excessive breath. For maximum marketability, you'll need to control this. It may take guidance and practice, but it's well worth the effort.

Mouth clicks: In fact, any mouth noise. Like some of these other qualities, mouth noise can be minimized or eliminated by learning certain techniques. But if it has a physiological cause (e.g., dentures), that could be problematic.

Breathing: Breathing is good, but noisy or excessive breathing is not. Some people breath virtually unnoticeably. Others breath noisily but can learn to avoid or reduce that. For some people, though, it can be a significant drawback if the noise stems from physical shortness of breath or a constricted airway.

Pacing: When we spoke of "reading naturally" above, we meant the "ease" of reading aloud, preferably neither rushed nor halting. However, the pace at which a script should be read depends on the nature of the script. Are you able to read the same copy more quickly or slowly, and vary your pace as directed – and still sound natural?

Speech pattern: If you normally speak in a well-modulated manner, with your speech and thoughts flowing smoothly, great. Most people converse this way, and have a natural level of energy as they do. But some people habitually speak listlessly, or in a monotone, or stammer or stutter when reading. In some cases, these characteristics can be overcome through training and practice. In other cases, they are difficult or virtually impossible to eliminate, at least not without specialized assistance.

Vocal characteristics: Do casting agents hire your type voice? The industry long ago ceased focusing on "golden throats." Now, almost every sort of natural voice quality is marketable, if these other criteria are met. A normal, "nondescript" voice has a wide range of VO applications. On the other hand, a unique, readily identifiable voice is not so widely marketable, but might be especially saleable for certain types of jobs, such as a company or product spokesperson, character roles, animation, audiobooks, promotion, etc. An obnoxious or painful-sounding voice is generally problematic.

Directability: As we've noted, voice-over training involves enhancing your strengths and correcting or compensating for any weaknesses such as those above. But to do that, you need to be able to take direction, have the desire to follow your coach's advice, and make the effort to practice. This isn't something we can determine in a single evaluation. But sometimes a warning sign will quickly appear. For example, if your director says, "Read the line more slowly this time," and, try as you might, it always comes out the same, that's something you'll need to work on. Some people never do learn to "hear" themselves and change the way they speak.

In addition to the above, the written report after our Investigate Voice Over class includes the following:

  • Your interest. Are you comfortable at the mic? Do you have the passion to succeed and sound interested in the words your speak? Is this for you?
  • Innate ability. Some people step naturally into a performance mode, while others need to learn this. How much training will you need to achieve success?
  • Aptitude. During the evaluation session, how quickly did you pick things up?
  • Marketability. Which of the more than 2-dozen VO genres are you best suited for?
  • Potential. How likely is it that you'll find enough work to pursue VO full-time? Is part-time work an option?
  • Demo track. What kind of demo(s) would you need to become successful?

That's a lot to consider, right? Yes, it is, and it's only the beginning. We don't greenlight everyone who takes our Investigate Voice Over evaluation. About half the participants don't make the cut. And, of the half who do, virtually everyone requires training in at least some of these areas, along with other training in voice-over industry techniques and practices.

But it's a start. And nothing in life ever gets underway without that.

ADDITIONAL READING:
PHASE 1 Investigate Voice Over Class, With evaluation report
http://www.edgestudio.com/voice-over-class

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