Tag Archives: voiceover

More Mastery of Keywords for Voiceover Success

If you want to book voice over jobs, you need more than just a pretty voice.  Way more.  Acting chops.  Good timing.  Articulation (but not too much).  And an understanding of the voiceover script.  This tells the writer or producer that you GET IT.  How exactly will they “hear” that you “get” the script?  You tell them in each and every sentence by emphasizing the most important words.  How do you know what the most important words are?  (cue the ironic laugh here)  You cross your fingers, pay attention to what you’re reading, and learn a little bit of detective work here at Voiceover Gurus.  Today we’ll go over some possible strategies (and why there is no “exact” strategy) and we’ll also dissect a few scripts.  Ready to peel some voice over onions?  Let’s get started!

First, let’s talk about the “ish.”  There is no specific formula for understanding what the key words are in each sentence, and this is mostly due to the fact that none of these thousands of writers are following an exact formula themselves.  Writers are creative, which means they go by the beat of their own drum, or pen.  Or laptop.  But after casting, coaching, and analyzing my way through thousands of scripts, I’ve begun to compile a few tools for identifying keywords that amounts to a method…of sorts.  Method-ish.

One aspect to finding what is at the heart of the sentence is to determine what is good about the product….what the benefit is.  This aspect usually only applies to commercials, so I promise to cover aspects that are universal to other voiceover genres as well.  These keywords can be adjectives, point out an aspect of the product that is unique to the market, or perhaps even speak to a solution it provides to a common problem.  These are just a few of the possibilities to keep your eyes open for.  While you want to focus on as few keywords  as possible per sentence, there will be exceptions.  Sometimes writers are looking for drama.  This means emphasizing a few words that seem to drive home the point harder.  Another case will be when there are commas in the sentence (see the Traditional Medicinals example below).  Commas are essentially used as a pause, when a writer has a separate, but connected point to make.

One thing that is most likely NOT a keyword is the word “you” or “your” (with a very limited amount of exceptions.)  The reason for this is that most people who are listening to a commercial automatically know that they are the potential “you” that is being addressed.  But what they are really listening for is what’s IN IT FOR THEM.  That means you haven’t arrived at your keyword yet on an empty word like “you.”  Same thing goes for words that are repeated – by the nature of their repetition they are already being emphasized.  It also sounds awkward when you emphasize the same word twice in one sentence, almost as if the listener may be dumb and didn’t “get it” the first time.  Example:  “The phones you want, for whatever you want.”  Try reading it out loud emphasizing just the “you’s” or just the “want’s”.  It will sound absurd.  Now emphasize phones and whatever (the product and its benefit).  Better?  Let’s get back to more of those keywords we want to find….here’s a commercial script for Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea:

If, like us, you’re vocal about sustainability, you’ll like that we partner with rural Appalachian families who harvest limited amounts of slippery elm by hand to help, well, make you even more vocal.  Literally.  Plant power for a better you.  Traditional Medicinals.

So – we’ve got our work cut out for us here on this first monster sentence.  Several commas mean several individual points being made by the writer.  If there’s a stand-alone word then obviously it gets attention….you don’t really have to “punch” it or emphasize it in any special way since the pause after it that comes with acknowledging the comma will be sufficient enough to put it on its own platform.  After that you have a choice between the words like or us.  Given what comes after it I would choose us.  The first reason is that they’re clearly creating a connection between their company’s stance on sustainability with your own.  If you’re not convinced, I covered that as well on my second reason – I read it aloud and punched the word like instead.  It sounds as if you’re using it incorrectly, as if you’re talking about someone “liking” them.  It didn’t stand up when actually tested.  The best way to believe this is to record yourself.  It’s hard to hear yourself while you’re in the act of performing/being.  Next I would say the heart of the whole spot is here in the word sustainability, however I would also raise my inflection up higher on the word vocal, as it creates a leading sound….it creates expectation on the part of the listener.  It makes us perk up (thinking…vocal about what?!).  Next I would choose limited and by hand.  I think Appalachian families are important, and we’ll still hear it no matter what, but the exact execution of that sustainability they were promising comes in the form of the “limited” and “by hand” points they’re making.  The last point in that sentence comes in the word more.  It can’t be vocal, because we’ve already made that point.  It’s redundant.  As was just saying that.  The last line before the product is mentioned may break some rules.  It reads like a tag line, and that usually means they’re making their biggest, most memorable point.  The most impactful here if made to choose would be plant and better, because it sums things up in a concise cause and effect manner.  Let’s explore more possibilities with this ad for Naturtint:

Unlike most dyes, Naturtint’s ground-breaking formula brings maximum color and shine to your locks without harsh chemicals like ammonia and resorcinol.  Enriched with natural ingredients like non-GMO corn, oat, and soy, Naturtint provides strength and vitality to even the most damaged hair.  With 29 exclusive shades, what color will you choose?

First keyword here is most, as they are setting up a comparison.  Next would be Naturtint,  maximum, and without.  It obvious we are speaking about color and shine when we are speaking of hair dye, but THEIR dye brings out the MAXIMUM effect.  Same goes for the chemicals.  There are common chemical culprits in the world of hair dyes, and the benefit to using their dye is that you don’t have them(without!). I ignored empty promises like ground-breaking in favor of the RESULTS of that formula.  Same would go for the next sentence – I would favor the actual ingredients over the promise of “natural ingredients” – non-GMO corn, oat, and soy.  Then it would be strength, vitality, and perhaps damaged.  Lastly,  we have 29 and exclusive (every dye company offers shades), and then (rule breaker alert!) YOU.  The reason is that color is a given, as we know, and choices are obvious given the “29”, so by default you can assume they just want to draw the listener in and give them ownership of this possibility.

For one more example of keyword dissection, as well as an understanding of what else it takes to nail a voiceover performance, check this out:  http://www.voiceovergurus.com/guru_blog/?p=80

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.

Delivering your Voiceover List

Reading voice over scripts takes a lot more than sounding professional. Actually, if you’ve read any of the previous blogs here you would already be in the camp that believes sounding professional is NOT at all the direction to head in. But that’s another blog for another day. We’re here today to talk about lists. You see them all the time in commercial scripts for a reason. Advertisers have very little (and very costly) media time to tell their potential customers why they should buy their product. Because of this, even the best copywriters can get caught up in the voiceover list. Here are a few examples:

NY Tourism

Looking up’s for the dreamers, for children who haven’t yet outgrown their surroundings, for anyone wide-eyed enough to believe New York still lives up to its namesake as someplace new.

Natural Remedy

These natural remedies can lower your cholesterol, relieve depression, overcome anxiety, fight sleep problems and treat the flu as well as other diseases.


Energyville from Chevron is an online game that lets you choose from a wide range of energy sources to meet the demands of your own city. Alternatives. Renewables. Oil. Gas.

Crunch and Munch

Mmm…..popcorn, peanuts, and real buttery toffee. Crunch and Munch would sure taste good right now.


That’s the general idea. You know lists are inevitable in voiceover. Now let’s review how you manage them in your delivery. The key to making lists listenable is a sweet spot between your inflection choices and variation, balanced with your general pacing. We discuss pacing in more detail in this previous Voiceover Gurus blog, but the gist is that many beginners make the mistake of doing lists way too slow, because they are honestly just trying to honor all the commas the writer put in. The problem with that is that the listener’s patience will be tested greatly, but also that this slow pacing doesn’t reflect how we as readers would naturally flow through that material if we were reading it on our own. We’d go faster. We’re all pretty smart, right? We don’t need it spelled out. We need it to move and flow. The sweet spot lives within honoring the importance of each word in the list through changing your inflection a tiny bit from one word to the next, and by not lingering more than a tiny bit of time between each of them. It’s a splitting hairs thing (hence the use of “tiny-bit). I’ve pointed out to students that they’re going to slow and then the next read becomes a run-on sentence, which essentially “throws-away” the importance of each thing in the list. Split those hairs, practice the above scripts, and avoid these pitfalls. Your sweet spot awaits.

“Do i have a shot in Voiceovers?”

The most misguided question in voiceovers has got to be a combination of timing and naiveté. It is the one that comes before any training at all has ensued: “Do I have what it takes?” Granted, when most people think about the voice  over industry they naturally assume the talent, the skill, the “everything it takes to make it” is all in the actual existing qualities of the voice itself. But there’s a reason they call it voice acting. I would say the voice itself factors in only in certain specific genres such as animation and perhaps when the copy is so short you can’t help but notice the voice. When storytelling is involved, when acting is involved, when relating on a human scale is involved, only a sense of authenticity and dynamism will engage the listener – fabulous voice be damned.

So, when I am asked right up front before any commitment to learning the craft is involved whether they should pursue voiceover or not, I gently remind my prospective students that voiceover is actually no different than any other field – it is a skill that must be learned. I, nor any coach out there cannot predict one’s propensity for learning the skills involved upon an initial conversation because again, this is one of learning, not of voice quality. In a way, it’s no different from piano lessons. You cannot ask a teacher if you have what it takes by just showing them your long, strong, and elegant hands. Imagine a football player walking onto the field and throwing the ball for the first time. It could very well be a terrible throw. But wait! Show that guy how to grip the ball properly, show him the proper way to extend his arm before, during, and after releasing the ball. Now let him try it again and again and again. Now you may tell him whether he might have a shot in this sport. There are no guarantees of success in any field you choose to pursue, but at the very least there must be some TRYING first before you’ll be able to gauge your chances, yes?

So you want to voice cartoon characters in animation?

It’s rare that a prospective voiceover student calls me saying, “I want to use my regular old speaking voice in commercials….can i can i?” It’s not a crazy request, but when we are talking hopes and dreams here, most people want to use the craziest and most repressed parts of their personalities and channel it through a cartoon character in some sort of animation project. I don’t blame them. Who doesn’t want to “play” in some way? It’s the human condition. Our soul needs to be fully expressed or it gets itchy or moldy or something inside, right?

I was reading a Voices.com blog featuring voice over experts which put the focus on this as they interviewed voice coach Sunday Muse. Sunday had some great points about teaching kids (or anyone, really) how to bring a character to life. She makes a point about “becoming the character” which is really the essence of success here. If you are just “doing” a voice it is empty, no different from “reading” any script. To truly bring it to life means to start imagining yourself AS this character, not “voicing” it. Sunday refers to an expression the character has on its face at some point. She asks the student what it feels like on their own face, telling them to imitate it. As we all know, your physical expressions always manifest into the sounds your voice makes. It is all connected. Sunday acknowledges this by bringing it into the body as well. She asks the student directly, “what is the character doing right now?” They are shoveling? Do it then, she requests of them. This “active” talking brings them into the moment in a concrete way and instantly gives energy and authenticity to the actual voice over. Think about it, if you are going for an energetic read, your hands in your pockets is not really going to let that energy out very well. Simultaneously, if you are going for a warm and sincere read, your arms flailing around in front of you will distract from the soothing tone. It all connects. Your voice lives inside your body and they can’t really tell two different stories at once. One last thing I’d like to point out about Sunday’s perspective is regarding script analysis. This is something I talk about till I’m blue in the face. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you are reading lines and nothing more. The way Sunday poses it is similar, but it’s always nice to hear someone else beat the same dead horse with different words from your own! She notices kids reading, just reading, going line by line by line. She hears it as flat, like a song with one note. No one likes a song with one note, as they are pretty boring. For a character voice over who is telling a story, or for any story at all to be of interest, it needs variation, all kinds of notes, crescendos, and emotional weight.

This next article I reviewed on voiceover animation discusses character voice strategy from two perspectives, a casting director at Nickelodeon, and a cartoon voice actor. The casting director, Sarah Noonan, points out that being truly aware of the voice style the project is asking for is crucial. Many people refer to the generic cartoon voice when they think of doing a voice for animation, but it’s not the case every time. Some projects these days look to natural voices to create an interesting complement and/or “relatability” to these characters on screen. Listening is a HUGE part of booking any job. Listen to exactly what the writer, producer, or director is telling you she wants, or be the one who misses out. You are a voiceover puppet initially, there to do exactly what they want. Don’t take this personally. This is the same skill that makes that same Casting Director you are auditioning for good at her job. She listens to exactly what the client wants and strives for exactly that during her casting session. The number one key to winning over almost any client in any industry is doing what THEY want, and listening will get you there. Bob Bergen is a voice actor who has some good ideas about staying in the game in a different way. He suggests covering your bases in an audition. Maybe you listened to that director carefully but he didn’t have much to say, and you’re left unsure of how to perform. Submit two takes in these cases – one more natural and one in your best cartoon voice that fits for the job. Another suggestion he makes is to take risks when you’re going for a character voice. I have heard this many times in many ways and it is great to hear it constantly reinforced. Being “halfway there” won’t book the job. Be all the way there and then some. Bring some magic to the performance. Bergen’s expression of the rule is wonderful – “They need you to bring creativity to the character, bring it to life. The script’s a skeleton and you need to give it body.”

In this last article on Creating a Character in Voice Acting, the people at Raise Your Voice Acting make some other really important points about the craft. The thing most people forget is that creating a character voice is much much more than saying your lines in order, or in an interesting way. Building a character means creating an entire universe for this character to live in. Your imagination is key to character development. As I’ve said before, sketching your character on paper or in your mind can help, as can writing down adjectives to describe your character or even creating a background story of some sort. RYVA also talks about the classic improve strategy of “Yes, and.” This philosophy means you are living in a world of possibility. You are also priming yourself to accept fully the words and/or world ideas that the writer has already built for your character to live inside of. As with any voiceover in any genre, you must say YES and ACCEPT the world they have presented you to work inside of. Anything less than this is you rejecting a part of your own audition. Suspending your disbelief means you are now at the very least in AGREEMENT with the production team and can now COLLABORATE with them. A quote from RYVA illustrates this concept perfectly – “Who’s to say that a talking sponge can’t have friends under the sea and wear geometrically formed pants?” They go on to betting that many people here did NOT embrace the “yes, and” theory here, but that the show is a success because someone DID. Be the next one to say “yes, and,” and see how much further that takes you than a NO. As a matter of fact, we could all use a little more YES in our life. I say YES to taking a break from typing and going to eat some ice cream.