Your tight and loose voice over

A highly talented actor friend recently shared with me some new concepts related to the physicality of the voice, and how to use your body to conspire in your voice over success. I have always been aware of the body/voice connection and have often instructed students to pay careful attention to it. A guy reading with his hands in his pockets is going to a be a bit more challenged than the arm-waver in terms of expressiveness. The woman concentrating so hard on saying everything “perfectly” is going to forget to smile, and the absence of this most basic of human expressions is going to lose her the job. Our voice is part of the manifestation of the story our bodies are telling, and if we are careful to tell the story properly in our bodies, then our voice will follow…. to some degree. Yes, our minds must cooperate as well to balance out the proper understanding of emotional motivation and context of message from the writing. But one thing at a time, and today that thing is the body, and how to use it to your advantage in your next voiceover audition.

When you’re reading your next script, try an experiment. First, read it while sitting down in a straight chair, with your arms still at your sides or on your lap. Keep your face non-animated as you read. Try to not bob your head around and just allow your eyes to follow the words on the page. Make sure you are recording this take. This is your tight read. For your second recording you will stand up. Find a place to rest your script (a script stand or other creative solution) and allow for your hands to do some of the talking. Maybe walk in place a little bit or shift hips from side to side. Let there be a smile on your face and let your head be gently moving as you talk, tilting it from side to side at times as you speak. You can even pay close attention to whether your eyes are opening wide, or crinkling a bit, or otherwise, based on whatever it is you are feeling in each moment that you are communicating something. Most importantly, just let it happen. Let yourself, your body, your mind, your voice, be uncensored. This is your loose read. Your “free voice.” Unless you’re Siri, this is the voice you will use for almost everything, and it will book you jobs.

When you think about it, we are all attracted to “loose” personalities as opposed to (up)”tight” ones. The looser and more freely someone is speaking, the more interesting and animated and authentic they feel to us, which in turn makes us free to be our own truest selves. The “tight” person leaves us wanting, wondering what’s behind the wall, but also too intimidated to want to try and break it down. We just walk away.

If you feel yourself needing to access your “loose” voice, try sounding out your vowels one at a time while walking around the house, jumping up and down, shaking your shoulders, or doing any mundane activity such as putting away the dishes. When we speak to each other, we are never standing in front of a microphone. We are engaged. So until you can “fake it” – trying engaging yourself in life activities. Let the body be first, and the voice be second. If it works for real life, it can work for the voice over.

Voiceover ACTING Part 2

It’s called Voice Acting for a reason, so to continue writing about the best voiceover techniques, I’ll continue writing about the craft of acting. I’m still so chock full of Uta Hagen brilliance, so it’s gonna be Uta Uta Uta for at least this blog article and maybe a few more. I promise you won’t bore of her and her insight into acting.

Insight into acting, for Uta at least, but probably for many acting teachers, is really about the insight into human nature. On a personal level, if you are translating this information for yourself, the pursuit of acting truly begins with insight into yourself. Your character. Your emotions. Your body language. Your voice. Your behavior. Dig deep. As Uta might have said, this pursuit is about finding the essence of who you are and trusting it, respecting it, and working with IT, not putting on a mask. I see this every day with the actors I work with – they all want to be something they are not. They either believe acting is about being something totally different from what you already are (rather, think you are) or they too are subconsciously mistrusting their own selves and what they have to offer, and simply can’t accept that acting may involve their own actual and true selves. I can see the conundrum here perhaps – many actors are in pursuit of a new possibility for themselves, and therefore are trying to escape the very things they don’t like about themselves. But yes, the problem here is that most acting techniques will draw from the well of experience and therefore of developed character that already exist within. Perhaps the very crux then of acting, and therefore voiceover acting, is understanding and acceptance of oneself. Uta elaborates on this problem with self acceptance. She believes this need to stray completely from oneself, to put on a mask, comes from an inherent distrust in our own selves. She suggests that perhaps we all feel we are boring, and that only by becoming something else can we arouse interest from the audience. She uses the example of a cat to illustrate some possible hope in our own depth of character – a party of actors are in the midst of a dramatic moment onstage and yet the audience’s attention is laser-focused on a cat who is following a bit of blowing lint with its eyes. The cat is truly in the moment, and not following any prescribed notions of how to be or what to do. He is in a spontaneous, focused, and forward-moving situation with his attention. The cat is engaged, truly engaged, and therefore captures our attention in a way that the actors onstage who are predictably going through the scene cannot. Uta poses that we can learn from this cat to trust in our own spontaneity – that the only boring thing would be the mechanical execution of our “part”, not the real “us” in action.

For those of you trusting in your SELVES already, I’ve stumbled upon a new site for voiceover auditions and other information related to the voiceover universe at Behind The Voice Actors. I haven’t fully vetted it but I did notice an award given on the site to an excellent voice actor I knew when casting commercials in NYC –John DiMaggio. John now lives in LA, is constantly busy voicing projects such as Futurama, Adventure Time, and Penguins of Madagascar. Here’s to John, who most likely is bringing the best of HIMSELF to his voice work.

Voiceover ACTING Part 1

In the next coming months I’ll be teaching you voiceover technique from the acting side. What I mean by side is that there are two major “ways” you can get to your voiceover mastery. One way is the left-brain strategy employed by many in this business. These are multiple strategies that have many different names but they’re generally categorized as such: pacing, inflection, volume, energy, projection, pitch…..the list goes on, and some of these might even be considered redundant, but either way this is not the focus right now. The focus will be on that other side….the acting side. When I refer to some of the acting strategies with my students I’ll often just use the word intention. I’ll ask them to forget about raising their inflection on the second syllable of the third word in the fifth sentence, because it’s not working. Instead – I ask them to remember what they’re intention is. In one case it may be to convey confidence, in another…warmth. Intention is what grounds you in your person. It’s what allows you to BE, instead of read. It’s acting. Let’s make it work for voice acting.

Uta Hagen has taught us so much about what it means to be an actor. She focuses on the fact that we are not actually hiding behind some façade, some character, that is not US. In fact, when we discover the many many facets to our own selves, is when we truly begin the work of acting. She has seen so many people write themselves off as “quirky” or “aggressive” or “cuddly.” I am so NOT that, she hears. But when faced with a brand-new puppy, does that person get down on their needs, raise their inflection higher, and get very, very affectionate? Yes. This person is in fact cuddly, they only needed to recall the situation that brought it out. Our own image of whom and what we are can get dangerously pigeon-holed by us, which is to our own acting detriment. Allowing ourselves to see those parts of ourselves that we have forgotten or denied will expand our acting toolbox. Everyone has these facets. What Hagen stresses here is that accepting them, analyzing them, and deeply knowing them will grow their emotional repertoire dramatically. It is when we fight those parts of ourselves that we find distasteful in “real-life” that we lose the incredible opportunities to channel them and capitalize on them in our acting life. The final key here is to understanding the feelings and emotions involved with these traits and aligning them with the actual behaviors we witness accompanying them. In Voiceover, this means at the very least noticing how fast or slow we speak, how high or low, how loud or soft, etc….when experiencing a certain feeling. This will channel the voice into conveying the proper personality trait.

To reinforce those last few points, recall a recent emotional moment. It could be anything from an argument with a family member to getting excited over some great news. We often can recall the feeling that accompanied the situation with ease, but it is the behavior that ensues during that accounts for filling our technique toolbox. Do you speak with gritted teeth and a low serious voice when angry, or do you launch into a loud and aggressive monologue? HOW are you when angry? How do you act when you are excited? Does your pitch go up? Do you talk faster? Do you pace? Do you speak positively but with a bit of whisper as if it is so exciting that you feel the need to control your response so you don’t get over-the-top? The feeling is for you, the behavior is for the audience, and you must use it. Start by paying attention to your own body language, your facial expressions, your voice. Notice how it changes based on the situation at hand. Start taking notes that detail the behaviors. Noticing is half the work, so get started.

Voiceover Top Ten “Outside the Box” Tips

Sounding conversational in a voiceover script is all the rage, and i’ll give you those top ten voiceover tips in a sec.   The natural style of “announcing” has been popular for a while now. This is either a smart and sensible idea or simply the backlash to all bad trends, the “announcery” and “phony” style in this case being the bad “trend.” It amazes me all the time, and my students as well, that sounding like you do every day when you’re talking to a family member, a coworker, a friend….is the hardest thing to do in a script? Why is it easier to “announce” than it is to simply “talk?” I believe the answer lies in a combination of both our training (hearing those old-school announcers for so long as children) and the fact that when faced with words that are not our own, and that have an agenda of sorts, we sense the falsity of it and become false ourselves. But, these are excuses. This doesn’t mean it is not challenging to overcome, but it is possible. It’s called acting.

I don’t believe acting is something you can throw in to a voiceover lesson as a sort of side dish. I tell all my students that yes this is called voice acting for a reason and encourage all of them to get acting training separately from voice over training. Voice over is a combination of solid acting, strong control of the voice (pacing, inflection, register etc.), and script analysis. The art of voice-over is not black and white, and that is already redundant after using the word “art.” As such, there are conventional and non-conventional ways of approaching the script with success. Do you lean more towards your right brain or your left brain? I elaborate on this concept in Your Voiceover Brain…..In either case, this list of alternative ways to get into more of that loose, less-formal place with your delivery may help. Consider it the domino effect – by engaging yourself in activities which are fun, relaxing, silly, real, etc…..you are able to transfer those FEELINGS to the script you are reading:

  • Wear sweatpants
  • Read while sitting comfortably on the couch
  • Read back and forth with your best friend
  • Have a glass of wine
  • Read it over the phone to a friend or family member
  • Add words to the script
  • Listen to a joke before you read
  • Watch one of those cute animal videos on YouTube
  • Stutter slightly for some of your words/ideas
  • Picture someone you like to say this to
  • Make 5 silly faces in the mirror first
  • Dance like crazy for a few minutes first

(loosen your body, domino effect, loosen your mind, loosen your voice)

You’re welcome for the extra two 😉