Author Archives: voice936

No Small Scripts in VO

Short scripts in VoiceOver are often more challenging to actors for a few reasons. Often they are filled with information-only text because they have such a small amount of time to sell a message. This emotional vacuum leaves people wondering how to avoid reading it as an announcer. The most important thing to remember with any script, however, is that regardless of the length of the “story” the delivery with the most engagement and authenticity is the one that almost always wins. This means digging for that subtext. 
Let’s use an example:Sometimes you just want a great latte. Come to McDonalds for free latte Fridays and try any flavor latte, made with bold rich espresso, on us. 
You might think this is an empty short script with nothing “to it.”  However when you examine the first sentence you will see subtext: assumption, familiarity, we all share these things in common, etc…This alone tells you how to approach the read totally. The next sentence starts out with an invitation. We have easy reference for this tone in our own lives when we invite anyone over to our home, or to engage in a positive activity. This is the tone you use.  We also have a tone when romancing something (bold rich espresso) and we chew on those words a little more slowly than normal conversational pace dictates. Two sentences, plenty of personality. 
Here’s another:In 100 years, you may come back to be an eagle, a lion, or even a fruit fly. But I will still be a Red Ox. 
This one is for Red Ox luggage. Clearly the message is that their pieces stand the test of time because they are durable. This tells you to deliver that last sentence with confidence and conviction. Maybe even pride. Because the first sentence shouldn’t compete with that, and because it’s conveying the other possibilities, it can have a sense of wonder, but maybe a little flimsier, and certainly not with the solidity of the product line. Once again, tone!  
When you are in doubt with any script because it is short and/or seems completely information heavy and therefore devoid of any emotional angle, your default can always simply be Engaged. Interested. When you think about it, we can convey anything with this attitude and have an audience because if we are interested, others will sense that there is something interesting being shared and pay attention!  It’s a win. 
The important thing to remember about small scripts is that less words does not ever mean less emotion. Think about how right now you could say just a single word like YES with sincerity, excitement, sadness, or confidence. Just one word, but intention is behind it. Then there’s the tiny little chili pepper, small, but, you know – WHOA. 

Best Voiceover Tips 2022

After casting, coaching, and directing demos for almost thirty years, the awareness around the nuances surrounding a great VoiceOver performance start to add up.  While there are so many techniques in voice acting – that’s the one element right there that counts the most…the acting. So let’s start there. 

What is acting?  It’s make-believe. Yes, it’s the childish way of explaining it, but it is accurate. You must Make yourself Believe.  If you don’t, who will?  So now we get to the script. Breaking down a script on voice over is absolutely essential for nailing the acting. Acting starts with context and then delves into subtext. So you start with the most basic question – “What is this about?”  Make sure you can answer that in your own words and cover as much of the context as you can, whether it’s for a commercial or an audiobook. Knowing the context as fully as possible will also help you connect to your keywords in every single sentence. When we communicate, we have a point to make, which has us emphasizing certain words over others. When you understand the story you are telling you will also be able to connect with those keywords. Your second question is the more challenging one. “What do I feel about this….what is the emotional tone…the mood….my character’s personality?”  This helps you paint the picture of the story with richer color and gives it believability. It has you transcend any possibility of sounding like you’re an “announcer.”  So on assessing context, make sure to never stop with a statement like “It’s just informational.”  If it does feel info-dense, at the very least tell yourself you are interested in it and interested in sharing it with someone. This will have you sounding engaged. This is crucial. You will never sound like you’re just reading if you sound interested and engaged in what you’re saying!  Believe you have these thoughts, these feelings, believe you really want to share this all with someone. This is the acting. Make Believe. 

For you technical-minded thinkers out there we can also add a few other elements to work with. Your tools. These are things that happen when we talk and they happen automatically. They almost always relate to our emotional perspective. These main tools are INFLECTION, PACING, and VOLUME.  We also could classify KEYWORDS as a tool, but assessing these comes from a more intellectual place than an emotional one. Executing the keywords correctly, however, does require putting emotion into them.  Let’s get back to inflection. We all talk in high and low tones, rising and falling inflections, otherwise we would be monotone. Our higher tones often reflect open and positive emotions like excitement, enthusiasm, friendliness, questioning. Our lower tones often exude certainty, confidence, authority, finality. A blend of both is the best of both worlds. But really, they have to reflect the writing and therefore be used accurately. Ending a sentence on a down inflection will give the air of conviction to the listener. It will sound like the speaker has absolute certainty in this fact. Ending a sentence with an up inflection can do many things depending on the context: it could make it sound flimsy, as if it’s not finished.  it could make it sound exciting.  it could make it sound uncertain. Knowing your context and subtext is critical to using the right inflections. 

Volume is a big topic in VoiceOver. For the most part, avoid raising your volume too much unless the emotion calls for it (anger, over the top excitement…) because otherwise you will sound like an announcer or sound too theatrical. We all want to feel like someone is speaking to us personally, not to a stadium full of people. This means using a lower voice. Not a whisper. Just enough to make it Personal. Your audience will LEAN IN TO YOU, as opposed to cringing and pulling back. Again you must use context and subtext. Is it a one-on-one conversation?  That is most likely in vo. Is it exciting?  Maybe a slight bump in volume. SLIGHT.  Is it a sincere conversation?  Lower your volume a touch. Always err on the lower side when in doubt. 

Pacing. Again we assess the pace based on real life. Excited?  Talk a bit faster. Serious, intellectual, warm?  Little slower. 

Also make sure to pause the right amount between sentences and to adjust this as well based on the emotional energy of the script. Too long or too short a pause between sentences will trigger our ears in an unnatural way and we will hear your performance as “reading.”

Let’s address voice acting technique in terms of musicality. Our ears tune in to music, it grabs our attention and concentration. It is the perfect blend of pattern and unpredictability that is so pleasant. Think about a white noise machine. They are meant to be ignored because of their monotone repetition. So make sure you don’t audition for a voice over script this way!  We have natural musicality to our voices based on emotional tone but also on how words connect to each other. This would be called our leading and key words. Here’s an example of a leading word (which goes up as if to say there’s something important coming) and a key word (which goes down as if to say this is it, this is the important thing right here!). It would be the classic “The end.”  Think about it. We go up on The because it’s not important, it’s leading into what’s important. We go down on End because it tells us the important thing we need to know – that this is over.  You can find these pairs in every sentence but the pair might not be next to each other. Here’s an example – “The best way to do it is to just relax.”  Here we see the word Best is leading into the key word Relax. We can assume by the word “it” that we have already covered the subject matter. Regardless, in this way you can see how words are always leading into other words and therefore guarantee a fluctuating  inflection. 

It’s incredible what a set of codes we have embedded into the way we communicate that is so deeply indoctrinated we don’t ever have to think about it when we talk. Except…when we are reading someone else’s words!  So yeah, now we do have to think about it. We talk perfectly natural in our everyday lives, but there’s nothing natural about reading someone else’s words. This is why understanding those words until they become our own is the way to sound natural in voice acting.  One way to try this would be to first read the script out loud but in a quiet voice, as if you’re reading it out loud to yourself to just understand it.  Another way is to read the script but give yourself creative license to add and subtract words, lead in with an entire sentence even. Share the script in a way that feels more like you would say it. Heck, even just read the script a few times until you understand it and then improvise the entire thing. By the time you want to audition for it, you’ll have emotional ownership of the material and will probably be able to read the script verbatim because you first got there emotionally on your own terms. I have some students who always start with a sentence of their own, maybe even including the name of an actual friend so it feels like a real conversation – they just delete it out later.  Win win!  Still feel like a phony announcer?  Read the script with a phone to your ear.  Triggering yourself to feel the way you do when you’re actually on the phone may control your volume and even more importantly have you sound the natural way you do when talking to someone you’re close with. Another win. Talk with your hands. Talk with your face. Your body filters energy and emotion through your voice. If you’re excited, take your hands out of those pockets!  Make sure to energetically align your body with the tone of the script. In the end, it’s about the text. The deeper you understand the intellectual and emotional components of your text, the more jobs you will win. Let the text be your director. Do what it tells you. It’s the boss. 

Voice Over Myths – and why they even started:

I’d like to discuss the three biggest myths in voiceover, because they really distract from the main focus of a truly successful performance. Before that, I’d like to explain where these myths ALL came from. Understanding this will instantly help you understand why they are no longer relevant.
Much of where voice acting began was in tv and radio advertising. Some film narration. The style back then even in film was similar to the style of voice acting. It all connected. It was all – perfect. Polished. Sterilized. Professional. Announced. Perhaps film acting wasn’t exactly like this, but there was certainly a theatricality to it that we now only really associate with stage acting. Film acting, like voice acting, has transitioned into a much more realistic style of expression and behavior. We are in the age of realism in acting now. And, hallelujah to that! We can finally suspend our disbelief properly!

Myth #1: Always stand up when doing a voice over performance.
This one stems straight from those old-school announcers of course. The goal was the booming strong chest voice read. It was all about the celebrated diaphragm! Once again, we are in the age of realism now, and we don’t talk that way ever in our normal conversations. Another factor to support the dispelling of this myth for good is that in real life we talk standing up, sitting down, lying down. The way we should position our bodies while reading a script and doing an audition should reflect the emotional energy of the text. Is it excited? Stand up! Is it warm and sincere? Try sitting. Position your body to feel what you’re supposed to feel energetically, not for fuller access to your diaphragm. This is called voice ACTING for a reason.

Myth #2: Make sure you articulate really well, and sound professional.
Once again, this is an unfortunate carry-over from the days of announcing. When we talk to friends, even coworkers really, we don’t ‘aim’ to sound professional. Our goal in everyday conversation is to convey our thoughts and emotions, period. We are not focused on what we sound like. Therefore we are relaxed. If you want to sound believable in voice acting, you want to sound like you’re not ‘doing’ voice acting the way we used to know it. Just connect with the message. Be there.

Myth #3: You must warm up your voice before your auditions.
Nope. Once again, we talk all day long and from the moment we get up…or at least from the moment we’ve had a few sips of our coffee. Either way, the point is that we are not aiming for a well-oiled machine from which to operate from. We are aiming to service the WRITING. Warm up by reading the script MANY times in your head first. Understand the message. The keywords that emphasize the message. The emotional perspective you have that supports this message.

Acting certainly makes use of “tools”, but let your real focus be on feelings and you will instantly see a greater connection to every script you audition for.

Script Analysis in Voice Acting – Own the Script

You MUST OWN your voice-over script. Here’s how to do it:
Here’s how it commonly plays out when beginner voice actors approach the idea of script analysis:They read the script in their head. Once, maybe twice if they really wanna read between the lines. I then ask them to tell me what it’s about. Here’s where things go wrong. Their choice of pronouns. Let’s use an actual script to illustrate how it goes wrong and how it can go right…

Subaru-I love faster. As in I’m faster than you and there’s nothing you can do about it. I love that around every hard corner is another adrenaline rush. That’s why I love the new 2014 Subaru WRX. So, if you want to feel what it’s like to cross the finish line first…step inside the cage. The 2014 Subaru WRX. It’s a whole new animal. 

Ok, so here’s an example of what they say to me when i ask them to tell me about the script.“They’re saying that the Subaru is fast and it’s a rush and you should get one.”Let’s start with the main point here. Pronoun usage. The opportunity any actor has, actually MUST engage in, is ownership of the script.  The main way to do that?  Remember that YOU are saying these words. Period. So let’s correct the response now. “I love speed, and that’s why i love the Subaru. And if you love speed too it’s the car for you.” Which perspective has PRIMED you better for the performance?  

So, never detach from the script by even acknowledging that it was written by someone else. Understand it as if it’s your own idea, and utilize the proper pronoun to further indoctrinate yourself. Acting is brainwashing!  So, wash your brains well before every performance. 

“Talent is a flicker. Skill is a flame.” Learn the SKILL of VO:

Learn techniques used by all voiceover pros.

Voice over work as something intuitive versus something learned is a concept i often ponder. As with any type of acting, there are so many elements to consider that it gets complicated. Since i can’t help you with the intuition, let’s focus on the skill, and how to vastly improve yours.

First there’s the script, which means you have to now be an English major among other things. Deeply understanding the meaning/message of the script is your first stop. When we talk in “real life” we of course know the message behind what we are saying. This gives way to us emphasizing the correct words in each sentence that really point to the meaning. It also gives way to understanding the way we feel about the message. All this happens automatically in real life, but when faced with a voiceover script we need to now indoctrinate ourselves to fully feel and sound like this is our message, our attitude, our words. It’s the only way it will sound authentic. A breakdown of your considerations therefore, when looking at any script at all, is your bullet point list of questions:

1- What is this about? (message/meaning)

2- How am i supposed to feel about it? (tone/attitude)

3- What are the keywords in every single sentence to support the meaning? What are the tools i can use to support the tone (inflection, volume, pacing, etc.)

Next to consider are the other details that all relate to – yup, how we talk in real life. We are almost always talking to just one other person all day long if we are conversing. Unless you are a teacher, or give TedTalks for a living, this is a fact. We rarely talk to very large groups of people. Therefore, number one on your list is to first check your volume. Are you “announcing?” I know! So fun right?! Stop it. When you hear someone that sounds like they are talking to a massive number of people, do you ever feel like that information is personally relevant to you? Nope. You don’t. But when it sounds like the person is talking the same way they do when they’re having a personal conversation you definitely do…so you lean in. You want your audience to lean in right? You absolutely want the produce or writer or director to lean in during the casting session! So unless the script calls for something high energy or very excited, try tapping in to that exact volume you use when you’re talking to one friend. And then lower it another decibel. There is your sweet spot for intimately connecting with your listener. While you’re at, actually visualize the friend in your head. Pick the one you like the most, feel the most comfortable with … because imagine if someone was taking to YOU in a voice that felt like they trusted you and really liked you? You’d eat it up. Basically, who do hang out in your sweatpants with? Talk to them. Um, for me that just might be everybody. Next, put yourselves in a room. Yes, not just a cloud bubble in your head. Where are you? A living room? The couch? Glass of wine? Or a slow walk on a sunny Sunday in the park? Believe your scene and you will stop performing scripts. You will just be TALKING. And that’s good.

Know what else i would consider a voice-over skill? Taking it WAY less seriously. Here’s the truth: the number one mistake i hear voice actor beginners make is to try so hard at sounding so Good, Perfect, Blah Blah, etc. that they forget the one thing that makes us more likable than anything else, a smile. Think back to when you used to play video games as a kid (or think back to yesterday?). Remember that serious intensity on our faces? Trying to win, to do something challenging, to SHOOT THAT SHIP DOWN MOTHA F—A! Whoa, ok, ahem, i did like my video game dramas. Well, that is what we are unconsciously doing when we are reading a script. Trying to do it soooo gooood. And that backfires. We are concentrating too hard. We sound too serious. Let it go. Be a little sloppy. A little easy. Smile. Don’t make it sound like you’re giving a lesson in advanced physics.
Unless you’re that TedTalker. And even then, at least throw one joke in 😉