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 😉

How to sound Real on your Reel

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.

More Voiceover Techniques from some of MY gurus

Voiceover Gurus has been misunderstood as a name since the beginning. The lesson here is that we should never assume, and there is always more to a story here. When naming the company, the intention was to imply that everyone can be their OWN guru, their own teacher…..by way of – a teacher. You know what they say, I open the door, but you must be the one to walk through. This was/is always part of the voiceover coaching philosophy employed here – slowly and patiently, through many many questions asked to the student, to have them FIND the answers on their own, as opposed to spoon-feeding them. It’s an incredible process to watch unfold, and every student who found the answer for themselves can be rest assured they will never forget it. Learning that way can be way more powerful than memorization/regurgitation. Back to the reason for the company name – Voiceover Gurus…..what I didn’t realize at the time was that not only do I consider the students themselves to be the gurus because they will in essence be teaching themselves to some degree, but also because they are teaching ME. Every single student I work with shows me a new way of approaching a concept, a new way of communicating an idea, because if I didn’t that student might not get it any other way. This is turn has taught me how to “teach” in so many different Thank you gurus, and in turn, with names changed, I’d like to share some of the voiceover training stories so that the lessons can continue to be passed on.

ANNA – Anna came to me full of strength and intelligence, and best of all confidence. She exuded the delivery style of a powerful CEO who you could actually relate to, while still keeping them up high on their pedestal of authority. She had a lot going for her technique, but I kept getting stuck on how much she still sounded like she was “reading.” Now to be fair, there are many reasons you can sound like you’re reading a script – speaking too fast or too slow are big ones, but speaking with little to no inflection in a flat, robotic way is another, as are unnatural pauses between ideas that shouldn’t require a pause, or at least not one so long. I finally identified, with Anna, that she was just having trouble making it through the script, or through very long sentences. This was causing her to run out of air at awkward and unnatural moments in the dialogue. A simple breathing technique was all it took to correct her problem. Two techniques, actually. The first asks you to breathe in through your nose and count how many beats it takes you for a full inhalation. The exhale is through your mouth and has you double the amount of beats it took you to inhale. Not only does this voiceover/breathing technique relax your entire nervous system, but through the controlled timed exhalation through your mouth, allows you to practice using your breath and extending it for the exact amount of time you will need (for the sentence.) I had Anna use this technique before every single read. She would do a full inhale/exhale sequence two times, and then start her third, but after just the inhale she would simply begin reading the script. She also practiced this technique for a good five-ten minutes each day, to build up strength and endurance in her lungs in general. If I checked in with her today, and if she has continued this practice, I bet we’d see a good example of voiceover yogi in front of us. The second technique utilizes a quick cheat in those precise moments where you specifically need help. It’s what we call in voiceover terms a “quick sip” of air. If you find yourself in between sentences needing to gear up for the next sentence you can use it. If you find yourself running out of air during a very long sentence, simple notice where you are running out of air and go to the nearest place right before or after that where a brief but natural pause would make some sense, and employ that quick sip of air. Breath is the essence of life. If you need it, take it. The alternative is pretty grim. Anna chose well, and her reads went from sounding tight and “read” to off-the-cuff and conversational. She also managed to keep the command in her voice even though her overall read was more relaxed. Anna was now serving up the perfect voice over cocktail, if you ask me.

 

VICTOR – When Victor walked in the door we had a nice long chat. We talked about cats, plants, cooking….basically I must have bullied him into my interests. Nonetheless, I got to know his conversational style pretty well. I always like to engage with new students on a casual level before we begin, because it helps me to point out to them later, when they are doing all sorts of “voiceovery stuff”, that they spoke to me just PERFECTLY when they walked in the door, before a single script was looked at. Victor was no exception. In conversation with me he was relaxed, animated, warm, personable. With a voiceover script he was polished, perfect, smooth, over-enunciated, emotionally detached. Humans have a pretty good sense or intuition about whether someone is being “fake” with them or not. It’s no different in voiceover. That “perfect” performance will go against you in so many ways, but mostly, it will not be believed. What’s believable? Messy, imperfect, stuttering, under-enunciating some of the time, not smiling ALL the time. Much of this is covered in a previous article on the biggest aspects of Voiceover Technique, and is always worth a review. Victor just needed to get back to that first conversation we had and bring it to the script. When I reminded him to use his lower inflection more he sounded like a mid-tempo guy trying to do the big and booming “in a world” voice, and it was quite amusing. We both had a laugh. He eventually found his own footing with his inflection placement…..not too high as to sound like your being “fake nice” and trying to convince someone or sell to someone, and not too low like your putting on a “voice” and announcing, or worse, sounding overly cocky or serious. Yes, it’s a splitting hairs thing, and all the best voice actors know this after being directed by only a few people a few times. We want it not too hard, not too soft, but juuuuuust right. Goldilocks had it easy. I also reminded Victor how great a “talker” he was when he first walked in the door and how the biggest difference was he had a human audience and not a microphone. Normally for this reason I don’t even use a microphone with new students. I had him visualize the person he might share this information with (in this case it was Pyrex cookware so he chose his wife) and look into her eyes. I reminded him that just his connection with her, his true connection to his own imagination, would carry him through it. He did great. It also helps to let go of any and all “techniques” when the struggle is truly to connect to the human believability aspect. I was surprised to find out just how right-brained Victor was, how he responded so well to this type of suggestion. Now, we were 95% there, mind you. The last step was connecting Victor to his message(s) even further. Victor knew from previous work we did that if he didn’t sound convincing, if he wasn’t CONVINCED HIMSELF, there was no point in going for the job. An actor’s greatest skill is suspension of disbelief, and that he could and would find a way to feel that better cookware would make a difference in someone’s life! As a small cheat, just add a drop more smile and a dash more energy. Sounds like a recipe for a booking.

 

BRETT – Once again, going back to those conversations when students walk in the door, Brett was a ball of lightening. Energetic, vibrant, and just plain happy. His reads were slow, dry, and stiff. We had our work cut out for us. Brett confided that it was really hard for him to believe in half the stuff he was supposed to be saying, and that it made it that much harder to pretend. We went through the basic tenets of acting but he needed more. Now, I always let me students choose early on whether to sit or stand. I’m not concerned with the diaphragm at this stage in the game, I’m going for authenticity. But Brett had to stand. And what we found was that instantly his energy “stood up” too. He was free to move his arms around, sway a bit, and basically just be more open and present. Brett was a physical guy and this extra level of expression made such an incredible difference. The next layer to this was reminding Brett how his face could manifest his words into a truer expression as well. If what he is saying feels sarcastic, to remember what that looks like on someone’s face. If the line called for warmth, to soften the eyes, tilt the head slightly. Brett found his cheating angle through his body and was then able to “act” the part. You never know which is the cart and which the horse….

There are many more students, and many more lessons, so until next time . . .