Tag Archives: voiceover

Perseverance in Voiceover

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

 I’d like to take a break this week from what has become our usual format of discussing equipment and construction to talk about perseverance.
It’s easy to get discouraged when undertaking a new project. This can apply to something as simple as hobby, or as complex as starting a career in Voice work.
The key is to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But if we take the running metaphor one step further (pun intended) we can also say that daily practice will increase your ability, until you are able to make it to the finish line.
Take time each and every day to work on your craft. Maybe an hour, or maybe just thirty minutes. Whatever you can spare. Daily practice will increase your range and the quality of your voice. 
Start with warm up exercises, then go on to read and record samples of the kind of voice work you’d like to do. If you want to do commercials, find and record a commercial script. If you want to do audio books, try to record one chapter a day from your favorite book. 
Continue reading and recording that same commercial, or that same chapter each day until you feel that you have mastered it. Then, move on to the next one.
For most of my life I worked for other people. Then several years ago, I had the opportunity to start my own business. Having never been self-employed before I was nervous. So I went to a friend of mine who has work for many years as an independent general contractor. I asked him “what is the secret to running your own business?” 
He said, “first of all, you need to figure out how much money you need to make each day in order to stay in business. If you could make $100 a day as a supermarket cashier, but only make $80 a day as a plumber then it makes no sense to be a plumber. Figure out what your daily minimum is. Then each day make three lists: must do, should do, and can do. ‘Must do’ are the things you have to get done that day. It might take one hour, or 10 hours, but you don’t get to quit until that list has been completed. ‘should do’ are the things that it would be nice if you could accomplish, if you had the time. Typically today’s ‘should do’ items become tomorrow’s ‘must do’ list. Finally ‘can do’ are the things that could be beneficial but are not mission-critical.”
I encourage each and everyone of you to view your potential career in Voice work through the lens of these two rules. First, don’t quit your job as a waiter or waitress until you are making more doing voice work than you are as an hourly employee. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue a career in Voice work. Just don’t consider it your primary occupation until you have establish yourself.
Then, when you are working for yourself as a professional voice actor make those three lists each day. It will keep you on track and insure your productivity.
I know it can be frustrating. I know it might feel like the pieces are never going to come together. But they will. Believe in yourself. Stay committed. Given enough time and effort, you will achieve your goal.

Voiceover Home Studio Part 4

In a previous post, we covered ways of soundproofing your studio to protect it from external noises. But what about noise being generated inside your recording space?

After I had successfully set up my own home recording studio and began practicing with my equipment, I was surprised to find that there was a persistent hum in the background of all my vocal tracks.

Unwanted background sound has no place in voicework. Not only is it distracting to the listener, but it is also highly unprofessional and may even cost you a job.

I did everything I could to isolate the source of this unwanted noise. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was coming from the fan inside the computer I was using to record my audio tracks!

In order to avoid this problem you have four options: the first is to upgrade the fan in your computer. There are several quiet options on the market, but you may lack the expertise to perform such an installation. The second is to purchase a brand new computer with a quiet fan. This is the most expensive option, and should only be used as a last resort. If your home recording studio is inside your house or apartment, you can simply drill a hole in the wall and place the computer tower outside of the recording environment. but because I opted for a stand-alone structure, this was not an option for me. The 4th auction, and the one which I chose was to build what my friends affectionately refer to as a “whisper box.”

A whisper box is basically a tiny soundproof room for your computer. This post will focus on how to make one. I’ll include links to all the materials we discuss at the end.

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the box. I opted for the greenmade storage tote (see fig 1). In addition to being 100% recyclable, at $12 each it certainly won’t break the bank. And at 30 inches long by 20 inches wide and 14inches of deep, it should provide ample room for most home computers. You will, of course, want to measure your computer before purchasing a box.

After you’ve got your box, the first step will be to cut a square hole in one of the shorter side walls. (See figure 2). I recommend making it square, because it will be easier to cut than a round hole, and also easier to cover with duct tape. The tape will protect your fingers and your cords from any rough edges.

Next you’ll need to choose a method of insulation for the box. I recommend Owens Corning’s “Foamular” rigid foam insulation. A 2 inch thick board sells for about $30. The boards are 48 in wide and 8 ft long, which should be more than enough to cover the inside of your box.

Foamular is very easy to cut using a standard utility knife. Just draw a line with a ruler and pencil, cut, and snap. But make sure before cutting the board that you measure the length of each side at both the bottom and the top! These boxes tend to be slightly smaller at the bottom than they are at the top in order to allow you to stack them inside of each other when not in use.

once you have the dimensions necessary for each of the long side walls and short side walls, cut the pieces and slide them into the box. (See figure 3) Protip: measure twice before you cut & always make the pieces a little larger instead of smaller. You can always trim some off, but it’s impossible to put some back on.

Once all four pieces fit securely inside the box, use your utility knife to cut a matching hole for your cords in the foam board (see figure 4). I did this by leaving the board in place and simply cutting through the pre-existing hole in the box.

Add more duct tape to secure the board to the sidewall, and add an additional strip of tape all the way around the bottom of the board securing it to the base of the box as well. This will protect it from leakage during the next step (see figure 5).

You will have noticed in figure 4 that there are some remaining gaps between the outer wall of the box, and the inner wall of the foam board. In order to truly soundproof the box we are going to fill the gaps with spray foam insulation. I used Loctite Tite Foam. Make sure you buy the can for small gaps and cracks.

Protip: spray foam expands dramatically. So when applying it, less is more.

Another reason why I chose the greenmade storage tote, is that it’s unique lid has a rectangular depression which just so happens to be the same sickness as the Owens Corning foamular board.

We don’t just once to insulate for walls and let the sound leak out through the roof, so cut your last piece of foam board, inserted into the depression in the lid, and secure it with duct tape. (See figure 7). You won’t need to insuklate the bottom of the box, because the ground will absorb any vibrations strong enough to make their way through the plastic.

Congratulations! You are ready to use your whisper box. Put it in place, and run all of the relevant cables through the hole. I recommend plugging the hole with a small hand towel. (see figure 8)

Remember: computers have fans because they are designed to work at cooler temperatures. A computer that overheats will shut itself down. So do not leave your computer running in the whisper box with the lid on unless you are recording. (see figure 9)

Greenmade Storage Tote:

https://www.officedepot.com/a/products/792989/Greenmade-Storage-Tote-27-Gallons-30/

Owens Corning Foamular Board:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Owens-Corning-FOAMULAR-250-2-in-x-48-in-x-8-ft-R-10-Scored-Squared-Edge-Insulation-Sheathing-52DD/202085962

Loctite Tite Foam

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Loctite-12-fl-oz-Tite-Foam-Insulating-Foam-2045981/206310510

Voiceover home studio Part 1

  • After several weeks of working with Lesley, I know that the time is rapidly approaching when I will
    want to start recording demos and (hopefully) commercial work.
    One option is to rent out some time in a professional studio. Right now in Portland, it costs about $40
    per hour to rent studio time for voiceovers. This is absolutely a reasonable option. But given that I am
    also capable of recording and editing audio, I decided to build a home studio instead.
    In this first post, I’m going to go over two options for you to consider when choosing a space for your
    home studio. In future entries, I’ll also cover soundproofing, recording equipment, and software. We’ll
    keep a close eye on budget along the way. No one wants to spend too much, but buying professional-
    quality when possible is important with something that is is intended to make you money. After all this is an investment, like a mechanic buying a fine set of tools.
    “There are three things that matter…location, location, location.”
    Depending upon your living situation, you have a couple of options: For renters, as well as homeowners, converting a large closet into your
    recording studio it is definitely a viable option. The upside to this is that it keeps the cost extremely
    low, because it requires no new construction. The downside is that the location of the closet in your
    home or apartment may be less-than-ideal when it comes to soundproofing. Outside walls, pipes, or
    noisy neighbors may bleed through. So some of what you saved will have to be spent on upgraded
    soundproofing down the road.
    If you own your home and have even a modest yard, you may want to consider new construction. A
    quick web search will give you an idea of some options for having a small shed built on your property.
    Let’s start with the barest bones scenario:
    I was quoted around $1,500 to have an 8 ft wide by 8 ft long by 7 foot 10 inch high shed built behind
    my house. It’s the smallest size available, and ample for a home voicework studio. The other nice thing about it is that since it’s 8 feet wide by 8 feet high it’s easy to do the math on how many 4 x 8 sheets of sheet rock, plywood, or other soundproofing materials you’ll need to purchase to cover the interior.
    After the structure is built, the more labor that you can do yourself the cheaper the price will be. For
    additional soundproofing, and by virtue of the fact that it keeps your workspace warm in the winter and cool in the summer, I absolutely recommend putting insulation up before drywall. There are, of course, innumerable videos demonstrating ever step of this process on YouTube.
    Ten rolls of R-13 “faced” insulation (meaning it has paper on one side when you unroll it) cost about
    $22 each. For a total of $220 You’ll need 10 4 x 8 sheets of drywall. They’re about $15 apiece, so that’s
    only $150 more. So far, “finishing” the interior has only cost us $370. Let’s add another $50 for
    incidentals (drywall screws, etc.) And we’re up to $420. Which, when added to the original $1500 for
    the building brings us to $1,920.
    Just under two grand for a home studio isn’t bad. Especially when there is a possibility that you could
    deduct at least some that on your taxes as a business expense. But for that kind of info, I sincerely
    encourage you to contact a professional accountant.
    Next time, we’ll discuss a few additional finishing options as we move into soundproofing.

Voiceover Student Blog #2

Week 2: “Commercials capture your attention, that’s all.” ~ Calvin Klein

The previous week, Lesley and I discussed the many and various ways in which voice actors can apply their voice acting skill professionally. This week, she suggested that I narrow my focus down to one.

Despite the fact that my passion lies in voicing audio books, I have decided to focus on commercials as they can be more lucrative in the short-term. I still intend to pursue audiobook production as a long-term goal.

So this week we took a look at some previously used commercial Scripts. While reading the scripts, Lesley encouraged me to focus on two things: the “what” and the “how” of each ad.

WHAT is being sold here? We’re not just looking for a one-word answer like “a car.”  We need to know what makes this car different. Also, what is the target demographic for this product?

HOW is it being sold? How do you think this ad is intended to appeal to the target demographic?

Here is just one example of an ad we discussed:

“When everything’s in the right place, you can’t go wrong. Which makes the Buick Enclave such an easy choice. It’s full of features like the IntelliLink voice-activated sound system, the industry’s first front center air bag and available seating for up to 8. Finally, a perfect way to get comfortable with technology. The redesigned 2013 Buick Enclave. It’s your kind of luxury. Discover more at buick.com

What is being sold? The simple answer is “a car”, but if we look a little deeper we see that what’s really being sold here is the concept of automotive luxury mixed with cutting edge technology. That will definitely affect the tone that you will use when voicing the ad. Obviously, you want to sound self-assured. Confident without being smug. You want the listener to identify you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and, as such, believe what you’re telling them about this car.

How is it being sold? Technology can be daunting for some people. Especially the target demographic for this ad. I mean, Let’s face it, we’re probably not selling big Buicks to some tech-savvy 20-somethings. No, this car is being marketed to a slightly older crowd. That must also be reflected in the tone. One example of this is to pay attention to when contractions are being used (versus when they aren’t.) Less formal speech implies an easy familiarity. And easy familiarity is how we want the customer to think of using the technology in this car.

Lesley often says that voice work is two-thirds mental and one-third physical. Meaning that most of the work you will be doing is reading, thinking, re-reading, and making notes before you ever step in front of a microphone. “What is the What and How of this ad?” “What is the tone of this ad?” “What words should I hit a little harder than others?”

We reviewed this exercise several times, with a varied list of products from fast food, to bars of soap. The most important thing to remember about the service that Lesley provides is that being coached is something you need to experience. Your coach is a mirror. Impartial and there to show you what looks good, and what needs to be improved. “Slow down a little.” “That was the right place to pause, but let’s make that pause a little shorter.” “Let’s try it again, but this time, I want you to pretend you’re talking to your grandparents.” It’s amazing how something as simple as visualizing your audience as a specific person will completely change your tone and inflection.

Throughout our session, Lesley encouraged me to read in as natural a voice as possible. While attempting to read a commercial script there is a propensity to try and make your voice sound the way you’ve heard other voice actors sound in similar commercials. Think “Chevy truck month” or that guy who does most of the movie trailers.

But what you might not realize is that the audience hears the inherent lack of authenticity in your voice, and that will not be good for business. So the takeaway here is “Be Yourself. And do the best job that you can do with the voice you have.”

Voiceover Student Blog #1

So you want to be a voiceover professional?

Me too! Hi I’m Jason. I’m a client of Lesley’s, and I’m going to be filling in for a while writing this blog. I’m here to tell you all about my experience working with Lesley, and what it’s like to get into the voice over industry from day one.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always done funny voices. Usually when telling jokes or goofing around with my friends. I also love listening to audio books. So when I started reading chapter books aloud to my kids (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc.) I tried to read them the way they would sound as audio books. After a few years of doing that nearly every night, I started to think that maybe I could do it professionally.

When I truly decided to get into voiceover, the first thing I did was what we all do now when we need info, I Googled it. All of the results had three pieces of advice in common:

  1. Listen to the professionals.
  2. Practice and develop your ability.
  3. Find a good voice over coach.

After another Google Search, I found Lesley . She works with clients from across the country  (via Skype) but luckily for me, we live in the same city so I scheduled an appointment with her via email.

My first session with her was a real eye-opener. I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and friendly approach that Lesley brings as a part of her coaching style. We started by getting to know each other.

We talked about the different areas where people can do voicework professionally such as animation, video games, commercials, audio books, and more. Then specifically the areas in which I would be interested working.

After discussing career options, we went through some exercises. Obviously each client is different in their experience, skill level, and in the areas where they need improvement. Lesley’s abilities as a coach are grounded in her professional experience as a casting director. She knows what to listen for in a successful audition, so she can help you sound your best.

We started as many voice coaches do, with breathing exercises. Its amazing how little we think about something we literally do every second of our lives. I was surprised by how much of good voice work is physical. Controlling your diaphragm, and making the most of the fuel you’re taking in to power your instrument.

Then we moved on to articulation, think of your lips, your jaw, and your tongue as the parts of a machine. They all have to work in harmony to produce the desired sound. As is the case with any physical activity, its always best to stretch before you begin. So to wrap things up, we did some tongue twisters.

After warming up, we moved on to inflectional changes. Many people don’t realize just how much of “voice acting” is actual “acting.” This was the exercise I found the most interesting: Try saying the word “Yes” 3 times each to indicate certainty, indecision, and sarcasm. Try saying the word “No” 3 times to each to indicate certainty, indecision, surprise, annoyance, and delight. Say the sentence “I’ll be there” 3 times each to indicate determination, pleased agreement, surprised, and annoyance. We did more, but you get the idea.

Then I asked her about about demos. I was relieved when Lesley told me that her advice was to wait, work on improving your abilities, and then make a few short recordings targeted specifically at the kind of jobs you’re hoping to get. One of the things I read when researching Voice coaches was that if a potential voice coach wants you to spend money right away making a demo with them, you should treat it as a red flag.

The average casting director makes their decision within 10 seconds of listening to your voice. So you don’t need to do one long recording showcasing all of your different abilities. Just do a quick example of a car commercial. Do a short political ad, etc. Lesley shared some great resources with me, like websites that have a library of scripts from previous advertising campaigns.

Finally, I was given homework. Lesley gave me a guide for how to create character voices. It begins with a voice… Any voice. The next step is to put that Voice through a series of filters. Make it go as high or as low, as loud or soft as you can. Use your teeth nose lips and tongue to change the voice.

I scheduled my next appointment with her and went home to download some scripts and start practicing!

I’ll be back next week to tell you about what I’ve learned, and what comes next