After several weeks of working with Lesley, I know that the time is rapidly approaching when I willwant 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 $40per hour to rent studio time for voiceovers. This is absolutely a reasonable option. But given that I amalso 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 yourhome studio. In future entries, I’ll also cover soundproofing, recording equipment, and software. We’llkeep 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 yourrecording studio it is definitely a viable option. The upside to this is that it keeps the cost extremelylow, because it requires no new construction. The downside is that the location of the closet in yourhome or apartment may be less-than-ideal when it comes to soundproofing. Outside walls, pipes, ornoisy neighbors may bleed through. So some of what you saved will have to be spent on upgradedsoundproofing down the road.If you own your home and have even a modest yard, you may want to consider new construction. Aquick 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 behindmy 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. Foradditional 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’sonly $150 more. So far, “finishing” the interior has only cost us $370. Let’s add another $50 forincidentals (drywall screws, etc.) And we’re up to $420. Which, when added to the original $1500 forthe 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 coulddeduct at least some that on your taxes as a business expense. But for that kind of info, I sincerelyencourage you to contact a professional accountant.Next time, we’ll discuss a few additional finishing options as we move into soundproofing.
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.”
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:
- Listen to the professionals.
- Practice and develop your ability.
- 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
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
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.