Listening to Drake with my daughter Lisa as we drive on the 401 through north Toronto ticking off To Do and Don’t Forget Lists before I dive full on into family vacation mode…I’m struck by this thought: I get at least one call or email a day from people who seek advice on how to become better voice actors. And there’s quite a lot of advice I pass out that is similar. So, before I chill out on the beach, dominate in family games of dominoes (I hope), and spend evenings singing tunes around the campfire, here are a lucky number seven hot tips for voiceover artists to roast their marshmallows over.
As actors who work with our voices, the wellspring from which we draw is aural. It’s the speech patterns, lyricism, and rhythm of other people. Breathy speech, tight lipped or clipped phrases. Non-verbal sounds. Animal sounds. Inanimate objects. Musical instruments. So listen to the world around you. Last week among all sorts of human roles, I played a wind chime, a plastic flamingo and a frog. I am constantly fascinated with sound and daily I consciously bank aural treasure in my actor tool kit.
2.Be Mindful of Voiceover Trends
Imagine if theatre and film actors still sounded like those indelibly captured on celluloid in the 1940s and 1950s. We wouldn’t find that acceptable at all. The greatest demand for actors today is that audiences and directors want dialogue to sound as natural as it does whether on stage in film, television or the web. By and large, I believe we do achieve that. But it takes an enormous amount of skill to be authentically modern and yet theatrically clear.
3.Research Voiceover and Read
Books, blogs, podcasts, you tube videos. There’s a gold mine of info on whatever is lacking in your sound chain, craft, marketing, or life-work balance needs. Yeah, read the top sellers on Amazon if you want, but read for your art too. Personally my reading ration is 3 books that help me in my job somehow to one for pleasure. Ask colleagues for suggestions. What’s inspired them recently? My beach-ready iPad is currently full of marketing books and a couple romance novels written by my dear friend Sarah Hegger.
4.Keep up your Voiceover Training
Voice training involves relaxation, posture, breath, muscular support, articulation, tone, resonance, vibration, tune, listening, rhythm, movement of the body, thought, storytelling, the study of language, singing, dialects, phonetics, speech and sight reading. The texts we look at are varied: poetry, prose, political speeches, representative language and plays from every era. Acting is at the heart of what we do. In all technical work there can be imagination and artistic purpose, and when a text is involved or a story, it is the actor’s job to bring the situation, historical period, relationships, given circumstances, intentions etc, to the work. As in life, emotions generally come from thoughts, and the study of voice may move from the simplest technical exercises to the most complex ideas and emotional discoveries. The actor’s body and posture may be the focus one moment, and an intellectual or philosophical idea in the writing may be in focus the next.
5.Practice, practice , practice…Perfectly
Lisa, my road trip & voiceover daughter buddy, took piano lessons from the age of six from Elizabeth Neufeld, one of the best teachers in Montreal. Elizabeth would tell her for every time she played a note wrong she had to play the note right twice as many times to correct it. This is a great philosophy to adopt. Especially if you are working on an accent, a sound-alike or a piece of comedy. Practice (as) perfectly (as you can), or you will have to work even harder to undo mistakes you ingrain. Ever talk to someone who went through accent reduction? That’s a tough row to hoe.
6.Use your own brain
Or more accurately, your own ideas. Your own observations, mixed with your great instrument (voice), colored and flavored with your experiences, ideas and emotional responses. You can draw media and materials from others, but there is NO one like you and no one will tell the story (script) like you will. Be confidently you.
7.Be discerning. (i.e. call out the B.S.)
There is bull poopy out there. Some of it may try to take your faith and your money. Don’t let that fact get you down. Expect it. And don’t get stuck in it. Seriously. It’s everywhere. My dear departed Dad used to expound about the importance of a good B.S. detector. Find yours. Sharpen it. Use it.
Kim Handysides loves Dachshunds, the great outdoors & awesome people (you are definitely on that list). When not on a beach or climbing a mountain, she spends can be found in her 4-6 padded cell (aka Whisperroom) mainlining the message between sender & receiver.
Tina Wilson says
Wonderful article! Good reminders even if you’ve been in this for a long period of time.
Kim Handysides says
Thanks so much Tina! I appreciate your endorsement 🙂
Kims blogs are always on point. I always resonate with and appreciate words from humble honest people who genuinly care and are passionate about the VO industry. Kim never fails in that department. Thanks Kim and i always look forward to your blogs
Kim Handysides says
Thanks so much Dave!So glad you are getting good things from my posts. 🙂
Just recently found your blog. I love it! Just curious if you could answer a couple questions?
I read free scripts pretty much every day, do breathing exercises, and audition sometimes on P2P. I also, listen to podcasts and read blogs (like yours). I’m focused on commercial right now so the majority of the scripts I get are commercial scripts of different genres. Do you have any other recommendations for practicing? Specifically practicing reads? How often did you practice before you were booking on a regular basis?
Thanks so much for any info you can give me!
Kim Handysides says
Hi Elliot, I used to play “commercial” when I was a kid, so I’d begun playing the part of the announcer or actor in ads from a very young age. A few years in acting school helped develop how to approach voiceover stylistically, then I worked in radio and TV for close to a decade where voicing ads was part of the job. Practicing on your own is key, but just as critical is developing your ear for what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes that can be done comparing your work to that of others (who have booked the work) – I like to suggest listening to award winning spots and other narrations as you get an ear for what is the gold standard and how the bar shifts every year as well.