What does “conversational” really mean in voiceover?

The idea of sounding conversational has long been important in voiceover work, since long gone are the days of the announcer. It has followed suit pretty similarly with the shift in acting styles in film which went from theatrical to “real.” It’s why i am not one of those “hip artsy types” who just love those black and white “classics.” They feel phony. Ok, back to vo and being conversational. Let’s get to the bottom of that word and the technique that goes along with it.
Conversational means to be talking in a personal, familiar tone with someone, looking them in the eye, actively listening. But most people think the concept stops there. It doesn’t. Not even close.
Think about all the conversations you’ve had in your life. Some were sensitive and serious, some were fun and playful, some were excited, some intense, powerful, etc. Do you see the direction we are headed in? They all meant conversing with someone and truly engaging, but the tone can be completely different for each one.
And this is where script analysis comes in. It’s crucial. So tune in next time. For now, enjoy the variety of your conversations!

Newest creative voiceover tips

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on the subject of voiceover technique.  If you feel like skipping this moment while I muse on how I came to write this particular set of voiceover tips, you can go to the next paragraph and you’re forgiven.  What has happened to me over the years of voiceover coaching is that I have learned so much more about coaching, about how to TEACH.  In the beginning of my career it was all about sharing how much knowledge I had about the various ways to book voiceover jobs, about how to use your inflection, your keywords, your volume, your pacing, etc.  What I have added to my resume since then is the even more important ability to teach.  This concept comes through a bit less powerfully in a blog article to a general audience, but when coaching an individual voice actor it is magic.  We all learn differently because we all think differently.  Some of us need a push to let the emotions out, some of us need our right brain to be taught to because our left has gone on vacation…and now I see that this is truly what teaching is about.  It is as much about teaching to the INDIVIDUAL PERSON as it is about teaching the material.  So here are the interesting teaching moments I have experienced through many individuals who have given me the opportunity to teach them and learn from them in less traditional ways.

I have a student, let’s call him Joe, who struggled with his pacing/pausing.  This is one of the many ways we can communicate  (or fail to) authenticity in a performance.  When we’re excited we talk a little faster, when we are being serious or sincere we go a little slower, etc.  This is what we do in real life and therefore it becomes critical that we use the appropriate pace required of the emotional subtext of the writing.  Pausing is a part of this as well.  We really only pause in real life if it is grammatically necessary (to separate points in communication).  We also pause for dramatic effect, but not that often in everyday conversation.  But oh do you voice actors loooove to pause! It’s fun, indulgent, and dramatic!  It helps you breathe through longer sentences!  But it’s not what you do in real life, so it is going to sound theatrical.  Joe was reading a sentence – “Sometimes you just want a great latte.”  We decided that the main keyword was latte, but great was an important leading word too.  Joe read the sentence and paused after the word Sometimes.  Another time he paused after the word Want.  It was unnecessary, unnatural, and too dramatic for the subject.  I told Joe to think about his keyword “latte” as a restaurant that he was meeting a friend at.  I asked him if he would normally make any stops along the way when driving to the restaurant.  He said “probably not.”  Then guess what Joe?  Don’t make any unnecessary stops on the way to “latte!”  Pausing:  do less of it 🙂

I had another student, Mary, who taught me a great way to think about the process of experimenting and seeing what you can do with a voiceover script and how you can express yourself properly but also creatively through it.  Mary likened it to a child playing in the sandbox.  There’s no way to experience that type of play and discovery without making a mess.  And that’s to be expected.  Recognize that when you are training to be a voice actor, and even if you are already auditioning, that self-censorship destroys the magic.  So many people try to read “perfectly.”  All this does is create tight boundaries around the delivery that leave it flat, colorless, and often without a smile.  Let go, have fun, make a mess, and see how much brighter you sound!  I add to Mary’s analogy that it is like a woman trying to find one tiny thing in her huge purse.  She can’t find it because it’s lost in the cavernous folds of the fabric, shuffling around with a myriad of other objects.  Sometimes you have to turn the purse upside down and dump EVERYTHING out on the table to find what you were looking for.  Back to making a mess.  Shake out your shoulders, smile a bit more, take a risk.  Let it ALL out.  (You can always put back a few things that you didn’t need on take 2.)

My new favorite is from Matthew.  He asked me if it was “ok” to listen to music while recording his voiceover auditions.  OK?  It’s a fantastic idea Matthew, and I’m telling everyone!  So thank you!  The word “ok” also reminded me that there are no HARD rules in this creative world, only “ish” concepts.  Basically, whatever works for you is not only OK, it’s fantastic!  As long as the outcome is authentic.  That’s really the crux of it – there’s nothing natural about saying someone ELSE’s words, so pull whatever tricks you want.  My student Wayne says he grew up in a household full of Scandinavian intellectuals and there was absolutely no emoting.  Wayne could certainly benefit from some music.  Don’t the tears come hardest in the sad scene in the movie when the sad song starts in?

Lastly I want to cover a session I had where my student Liv was just holing back emotionally as well…more so out of inhibitions.  Society tells us to be one thing and then the best voice acting technique asks us to defy that and be everything sometimes.  First I just told Liv it was okay to be expressive, that this was not about sounding perfect in any way, in fact that is what will fail in a performance.  Real life is not perfect so neither is communication.  Get wild, have fun, color outside the lines, stop taking it so seriously – because then you sound SERIOUS!  UPTIGHT!  Nooo!  So Liv, you have permission to do this on your terms.  That was the key for her, just knowing she had permission.  Hmm.  Connected to that idea would be censorship.  She stopped and started a lot during a script.  I reminded her that was her censor-self getting in the way and judging everything and that is a big no for any artistic expression.  BE first, censor later….but I bet you won’t have to at that point – because you gave yourself permission to shine.

Voiceover guest blog, the audition

Before changing careers to voicework, I owned a small business. When I started it, I registered with the state and created an LLC. Luckily, as a performer you do not have to go through the time and expense to create an LLC. You can simply file a DBA or “doing business as” for your stage name, or production company name.

So with newly-minted Vistaprint business cards that showed my professional gmail address and Google Voice phone number, I attended a meeting for a business networking group.

At the meeting, everyone took turns introducing themselves to the group and giving a brief synopsis of their business. I had gone there not just to offer my skills as a voice over artist, but also as someone with a professional home studio who could produce radio commercials or podcasts.

After the meeting, I approached a man who’d said he owned a video production company. I gave him my card. I was contacted by his assistant a few days later, and was asked to audition for a voiceover spot for a skin care commercial. Needless to say, I was very excited! They sent me a copy of the script and we scheduled the appointment for 11 a.m. following Wednesday. I printed it out and read the it aloud several times. And (of course) I sent Lesley a copy.

The day of the audition, I arrived 15 minutes early, clear eyed, and well-groomed in business casual attire. I cannot overstate the value of being punctual and professional. It doesn’t take much, but it will set you apart from half of the people you’re competing with for the job.

I met with the creative director, who had me read for her once or twice. She and gave me a few notes about their vision for the overall tone of the ad. Just like working with Lesley, she asked me to do a couple different versions, “let’s have a happy one”, “let’s have a more serious sciencey one”. In the end, it was so similar to reading ad copy with Lesley that it actually felt familiar.

After we finished she asked me to read another script for her. Once she was satisfied, I went into the recording booth, and recorded three versions of each of the ads. I was complimented on my range and professionalism, and told that Some of the recordings I’d made would be played for the clients, and I would be notified if they were chosen.

All in all it was a great experience. But I am 100% sure I wouold not have felt as prepared, or confident had it not been for the sessions I’ve spent working with Lesley.

The Voiceover Demo – guest blog by Jason Zane

So you’ve been working with a voice coach for a few months now, developing your ability. The time has finally come to record a voice over demo.
When I first thought of a demo, I imagined an elaborate 10 minute recording showcasing all of my various voices, accents, and abilities.

But the days of reel-to-reel audio tape recorders are gone, and with them the all-in-one demo.
Casting directors have neither the time nor the inclination to sift through any number of unnecessarily long recordings in search of one particular skill set.
Based on the sound of your voice, it should be easy to determine your vocal category, for example: adult male, adult female, Youth female etcetera. 
After that you should pick a series ofcommercials that highlight your range within this demographic. Like “talkative neighbor” “wise mother” etc.
You may be thinking “with so many different commercials out there how can I choose the right ones for me?”
I know a guy who is a successful politician. he’s been elected to statewide office several times. One day he told me that’s the best advice I ever got was never to espouse and opinion professionally that he didn’t believe in personally.
I encourage you to do the same thing when choosing commercial content for your demo. Sit down and make a list of products or brands you truly believe in.
For me, it was Carhartt, Toyota, Knob Creek, Home Depot, and a few others.
Then, you can begin looking through all of the commercials for all of the products those brands offer in order to find the ones that showcase your range within your vocal demographic.
For example, you wouldn’t want to read a “Wise Mother” commercial for Tide, or Palmolive followed by a similar one for Dyson Vacuum. But perhaps Dyson has a commercial that would allow you to display your “Lady Scientist”.
After you find the proper copy for all of these commercials oh, you’re going to want to try to whittle them down to between 10 and 15 seconds. Your voice counts should be able to help you do this.
Lesley and I have worked together extensively trimming the fat. Sometimes we remove a word and read the copy out loud, sometimes we replace a whole phrase. If it sounds good we leave it. If it doesn’t, we put it back.
You want to make the best first impression possible with your demo, so give it the time and energy it deserves.

Perseverance in Voiceover

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

 I’d like to take a break this week from what has become our usual format of discussing equipment and construction to talk about perseverance.
It’s easy to get discouraged when undertaking a new project. This can apply to something as simple as hobby, or as complex as starting a career in Voice work.
The key is to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But if we take the running metaphor one step further (pun intended) we can also say that daily practice will increase your ability, until you are able to make it to the finish line.
Take time each and every day to work on your craft. Maybe an hour, or maybe just thirty minutes. Whatever you can spare. Daily practice will increase your range and the quality of your voice. 
Start with warm up exercises, then go on to read and record samples of the kind of voice work you’d like to do. If you want to do commercials, find and record a commercial script. If you want to do audio books, try to record one chapter a day from your favorite book. 
Continue reading and recording that same commercial, or that same chapter each day until you feel that you have mastered it. Then, move on to the next one.
For most of my life I worked for other people. Then several years ago, I had the opportunity to start my own business. Having never been self-employed before I was nervous. So I went to a friend of mine who has work for many years as an independent general contractor. I asked him “what is the secret to running your own business?” 
He said, “first of all, you need to figure out how much money you need to make each day in order to stay in business. If you could make $100 a day as a supermarket cashier, but only make $80 a day as a plumber then it makes no sense to be a plumber. Figure out what your daily minimum is. Then each day make three lists: must do, should do, and can do. ‘Must do’ are the things you have to get done that day. It might take one hour, or 10 hours, but you don’t get to quit until that list has been completed. ‘should do’ are the things that it would be nice if you could accomplish, if you had the time. Typically today’s ‘should do’ items become tomorrow’s ‘must do’ list. Finally ‘can do’ are the things that could be beneficial but are not mission-critical.”
I encourage each and everyone of you to view your potential career in Voice work through the lens of these two rules. First, don’t quit your job as a waiter or waitress until you are making more doing voice work than you are as an hourly employee. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue a career in Voice work. Just don’t consider it your primary occupation until you have establish yourself.
Then, when you are working for yourself as a professional voice actor make those three lists each day. It will keep you on track and insure your productivity.
I know it can be frustrating. I know it might feel like the pieces are never going to come together. But they will. Believe in yourself. Stay committed. Given enough time and effort, you will achieve your goal.