Shake up your voiceover techniques

Today’s top voiceover tips for honing your technique come first from Anton Chekhov.  There are so many to choose from that we will only dissect a few here, but the lessons from each are each a gold mine of treasure  The shortest and simplest is one I was recently reminded of while re-reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  If you haven’t read this book and you are looking for creative inspiration, to unblock something emotionally or artistically, or to simply expand yourself as an (any kind of) artist, this book is a MUST.  The quote: “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”  This brings back an old blog here that talks about replenishing the well, so to speak.  If you find yourself writing every day, and running out of ideas, go read a book.  If you find yourself doing voiceovers and just going through the motions in a disconnect, go listen to some commercials.  Go listen to some music.  Those emotive singers don’t “disconnect” for a split second, as they are too intensely engaged in their emotional outpouring.  They’re having too damn good a time crying their hearts out, singing with unbridled passion or joy, releasing…..Take your cue from them and don’t bother uttering a single word of that voice over script unless you FEEL it.  Or unless the direction calls for vocal fry.  Bottom line, we can’t take money out of the bank unless we first put some in.  Put life experiences in your bank – ones that inspire, devastate, amuse, warm your heart, make you feel something real.  Now you have something to bring to that script….even the one that’s an emotional vacuum.

The next quote is a bit unnerving, and calls all of us out on our most uninspired moments – the ones we have when we’re on autopilot:  “There is nothing more awful, insulting, and depressing than banality.”  Yep – when we just go through the motions rather than truly engage ourselves, this is what we risk happening.  In life, in a script, everywhere….have an opinion, a perspective, and make a point.

I love this one.  Writers everywhere know this “rule”, yet it applies to so much more:  “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on a broken glass.”  When you read that script, your job goes WAY beyond reading the words clearly, or professionally.  You are there as a force, to bring those words to life, as if in picture, as if in a surge of movement that the listener feels as a call to action, by emoting, by illustrating through tone, pace, inflection, key-words, all that is there and then some.  How else will you stand apart in casting?

Finally, “The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.”  Ok, this one i agree with for the most part, but in regards to voice over scripts you do really want to understand everything as best as you can.  Getting in the writer’s head and knowing what he wants is critical to delivering him just that.  Perhaps Chekhov is referencing the artist who is in charge of his domain, choosing the project and all the details from top to bottom without collaboration.  Not only that, but I imagine he is also putting value on the skill of an artist to bring up questions we the viewer may have and allowing us to form the answers form an individual perspective when viewing the work.  In voiceovers, the voice actor knows that he is there to “serve at the pleasure of…..” – and the way to do that is to answer these questions:

  • What does the writer want in terms of personality, tone, style, mood….?  How did he write the script to reflect this?
  • What are the points the writer is making in each sentence? (so that you can make those points apparent when speaking)
  • Who did the writer direct this at? Who are you speaking to?  What is your message to that person or people?
  • How do you (are you supposed to…) feel about this (message)?

Let’s now take a break from the heady and do some exercises that allow the brain to relax and re-access that truly natural way of speaking and being that we all have and can learn to bring forth in our voiceover delivery to book more voice over jobs.  It’s simple.  It’s just doing the ordinary.  Start by looking around the room that you’re in.  Notice all the objects in the room and start counting them out loud.  Stop when you can’t find any new ones.  Next, look at each individual item and call out its individual color.  You now may start getting more specific, such as “caramel, peach, buttery yellow, olive green,” or any other food-related colors you can think of.  (someone needs to eat lunch!)  Next step, list out loud the items in the room.  You can start out simple if you like – post-its, blender, pillow, couch – or you can begin to exercise your creative muscle here like so – forgetful brain papers, food mixer upper, happy head thing, lazy body friend….  The benefits to these are plenty.  First of is being able to observe ourselves in our most natural state when talking out loud.  We’re not putting on any false pretense.  This is our natural way of speaking.  Next we get to be in the flow, and to notice any natural filler words or sounds we add when we truly are speaking in an unscripted manner and don’t know what we are going to say until we say it.  Lastly, looking at items and trying to understand them from another perspective (an olive becomes a martini mascot) we are practicing our script-analysis skills and trying to see things from a different point of view.   You can record yourself doing these exercises as well, so that you don’t have to take my word for it and can actually hear the examples/evidence of your real self versus your performing self.  Granted, you will speak differently when addressing someone as opposed to just talking to yourself, however these exercises still stand as a strong way to break any over-achieving false announcery habits you might have and help you relax and correct in the other, more grounded direction of authenticity….that being your main goal in all acting endeavors 😉

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