Come join me this Thursday with Lisa Erhard on Talk Box Radio and learn all about getting in the mind of the copywriter to book voice over jobs: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/talkboxradio/2015/12/10/all-about-voice-acting-with-special-guest-lesley-bailey
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.
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.
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 😉
There are many ways to sound real on your voiceover demo, but the most important thing is knowing yourself. People usually make one of two mistakes when preparing material for the demo. The first is trying to be a jack of all trades and having every single spot be insanely different in terms of personality. An example would be a mid-twenty-something female having this “range” on her demo: young harried mom, crazy best friend, dreamy romantic girl, cosmetic smooth voice, and a driven tough sneakers/deodorant gal. Another might be a guy in his mid 40’s doing friendly caring dad, trusted banker, sarcastic guy, masculine razor/beer guy, and quirky neighbor. Now, by all means if you have this kind of range, show it to the world. But before you “have range”, get perspective from a professional on how you REALLY sound. The subjective and the objective there can be vastly different. My own personal example would be singing loudly to the music and thinking I’m wasting my talents as a voice over coach, but as soon as the music stops and it’s just my voice alone without the aid of Beyonce accompanying me, well, that’s my way of being told by the universe how I really sound. Ouch. I digress. The second mistake made on demos is doing the exact same thing 5 or 6 spots in a row. Yes, there are one-trick ponies out there who do really well with this, but it’s not sustainable for most. It’s not a way to build a career. The secret here is a balance of the two.
I’m going to talk about the balance of personality you want on your demo in just a sec, but I do want to get back to the “sounding real” teaser that I promised at the very beginning of this voice over article. Part of having balance on your demo is actually intertwined with sounding real, so don’t think I’m straying from the subject. You sound “real” by being authentic. You find your authentic voice by, wait, that’s a whole ‘nother blog article. Yes, it’s called Tools for Authenticity. When you have found your authentic voice, you have found your money voice. For people to get a sense of the real you on your demo, you want to have several examples of the “read” that defines the best/most authentic part of you. This way your demo is not giving them emotional whiplash, it’s not Jekyll and Hyde. By having a few spots that slighty repeat the aspect of your personality that most flatters you and is marketable, you allow your listener to actually connect to who you are as a voice actor but also as a person. This builds trust. You’re not duping them in any way, you’re revealing who you are. Sprinkle this with a few spots that maintain that integrity but layer in a few more key expressions of style/emotion and now you make sure you also keep them surprised and interested. Balance. No different than having the right amount of sauce and cheese to the right amount of crust. Apologies, my obsessions often seem to leak in to the best of these voiceover blogs.
Back to what so many of you have really been waiting for – how to sound real in voiceovers so you can book tons of jobs and get rich. Or at least just pay this month’s rent. Or at least just have fun through a means of finally expressing yourself creatively? So, sounding real is at the crux of the modern day voice over. It has been requested so much in breakdowns by producers and writers and directors that it has many names now – natural, believable, authentic, conversational, off-the-cuff, relaxed. Yes, even relaxed has come to mean real. The reason is that it is the opposite of the adrenaline-fueled, big-voiced announcer from long ago that shouted at us with urgency to buy that new Remember that the microphone is not only a recording device but in a sense is an amplifier of sorts as well. Less is more. When you have acquired the necessary equipment, you can easily see what I mean by recording the same spot about four times. Start your first read at an energy/volume/excitement level of 0 and build up in increments to a ten. Play them back for yourself and you will most likely find that somewhere in the middle is your sweet spot. It’s certainly not at a ten. A ten is simply where the headache is born. Once you have heard for yourself what your actual reads sound like through the mic, you can adjust. Now, bring your method acting possibilities in to play here. Recall an experience that mimics in style/tone/emotion where your voiceover spot should land. Really remember what it felt like, sounded like, looked like, etc…..You are faced with the challenge of using these new words to apply those feelings through, but the feelings are yours alone, and that is authentic no matter what it is the script has you “saying.” Always more important than the saying, is the BEING. I truly believe that there is always a “truth” somewhere, even in commercials. That truth most likely comes from the writer, through some subconscious need, unresolved feeling, something….and this comes out through the way they design the tone or story around the product they are pitching. Maybe that writer feels taken for granted by people, or is afraid to be assertive. In this spot he may decide to write the character as a true, take-no-prisoners badass. Does it fit with the product? Maybe not. But you’d be quick to write it off as bad-writing, or fake, or anything else for that matter – if you’re going to audition for the job. SOMEONE will embrace the truth in there, and that someone will book that job. Let it be you. So, find the motivation in the writing, look carefully to pick up the clues. I get more specific in a previous blog about Voiceover Script Analysis, so check it out if you need starting points. There is also a series of blog entries that follow it which break down many individual scripts and go line by line through the investigative work. Back to truth in writing for a moment. I do want to leave some room for the fact that perhaps there won’t always be a truth, or you won’t find it, or something. It could just be one of those days you or the writer were not getting his message connected between the two of you. This is where you must find YOUR own truth in the writing. Maybe it’s a story of a lost puppy trying to find his way home, but you’re not a dog person. Have you ever gotten lost in your entire life? Yes. Of course you have. I remember still being lost in a supermarket even though my mother was most likely aisles away and though it probably lasted two minutes, it felt like 2 hours. There is my instant truth in this story. I’m now instantly connected to this puppy as I have empathy. Truth. In everything. You’ll win every time.
Back to sounding real on your demo reel. Based on everything we just discussed here, make sure when selecting demo material that you choose things where the truth is very clear, upfront, and personal for you. This is the luxury you will have ONLY for your demo. When you audition, you deal with what is there and make the best of it, but when choosing scripts for your demo, you get to be supremely picky. Choose scripts that speak to the highest truth(s) in you as far as personality traits go (don’t get the most sarcastic spot out there if you ooze straightforward sincerity no matter how hard you try), your belief system goes (don’t get that McDonald’s script of you’re vegan), and your energy style can handle (if you are the mellow type don’t bother with the “racing-car” script). Be true to yourself and what your range is, honor it, and you will be practicing authenticity before you’ve even stepped up to the mic. It’s a win win.