Tag Archives: voiceover

Newest creative voiceover tips

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on the subject of voiceover technique.  If you feel like skipping this moment while I muse on how I came to write this particular set of voiceover tips, you can go to the next paragraph and you’re forgiven.  What has happened to me over the years of voiceover coaching is that I have learned so much more about coaching, about how to TEACH.  In the beginning of my career it was all about sharing how much knowledge I had about the various ways to book voiceover jobs, about how to use your inflection, your keywords, your volume, your pacing, etc.  What I have added to my resume since then is the even more important ability to teach.  This concept comes through a bit less powerfully in a blog article to a general audience, but when coaching an individual voice actor it is magic.  We all learn differently because we all think differently.  Some of us need a push to let the emotions out, some of us need our right brain to be taught to because our left has gone on vacation…and now I see that this is truly what teaching is about.  It is as much about teaching to the INDIVIDUAL PERSON as it is about teaching the material.  So here are the interesting teaching moments I have experienced through many individuals who have given me the opportunity to teach them and learn from them in less traditional ways.

I have a student, let’s call him Joe, who struggled with his pacing/pausing.  This is one of the many ways we can communicate  (or fail to) authenticity in a performance.  When we’re excited we talk a little faster, when we are being serious or sincere we go a little slower, etc.  This is what we do in real life and therefore it becomes critical that we use the appropriate pace required of the emotional subtext of the writing.  Pausing is a part of this as well.  We really only pause in real life if it is grammatically necessary (to separate points in communication).  We also pause for dramatic effect, but not that often in everyday conversation.  But oh do you voice actors loooove to pause! It’s fun, indulgent, and dramatic!  It helps you breathe through longer sentences!  But it’s not what you do in real life, so it is going to sound theatrical.  Joe was reading a sentence – “Sometimes you just want a great latte.”  We decided that the main keyword was latte, but great was an important leading word too.  Joe read the sentence and paused after the word Sometimes.  Another time he paused after the word Want.  It was unnecessary, unnatural, and too dramatic for the subject.  I told Joe to think about his keyword “latte” as a restaurant that he was meeting a friend at.  I asked him if he would normally make any stops along the way when driving to the restaurant.  He said “probably not.”  Then guess what Joe?  Don’t make any unnecessary stops on the way to “latte!”  Pausing:  do less of it 🙂

I had another student, Mary, who taught me a great way to think about the process of experimenting and seeing what you can do with a voiceover script and how you can express yourself properly but also creatively through it.  Mary likened it to a child playing in the sandbox.  There’s no way to experience that type of play and discovery without making a mess.  And that’s to be expected.  Recognize that when you are training to be a voice actor, and even if you are already auditioning, that self-censorship destroys the magic.  So many people try to read “perfectly.”  All this does is create tight boundaries around the delivery that leave it flat, colorless, and often without a smile.  Let go, have fun, make a mess, and see how much brighter you sound!  I add to Mary’s analogy that it is like a woman trying to find one tiny thing in her huge purse.  She can’t find it because it’s lost in the cavernous folds of the fabric, shuffling around with a myriad of other objects.  Sometimes you have to turn the purse upside down and dump EVERYTHING out on the table to find what you were looking for.  Back to making a mess.  Shake out your shoulders, smile a bit more, take a risk.  Let it ALL out.  (You can always put back a few things that you didn’t need on take 2.)

My new favorite is from Matthew.  He asked me if it was “ok” to listen to music while recording his voiceover auditions.  OK?  It’s a fantastic idea Matthew, and I’m telling everyone!  So thank you!  The word “ok” also reminded me that there are no HARD rules in this creative world, only “ish” concepts.  Basically, whatever works for you is not only OK, it’s fantastic!  As long as the outcome is authentic.  That’s really the crux of it – there’s nothing natural about saying someone ELSE’s words, so pull whatever tricks you want.  My student Wayne says he grew up in a household full of Scandinavian intellectuals and there was absolutely no emoting.  Wayne could certainly benefit from some music.  Don’t the tears come hardest in the sad scene in the movie when the sad song starts in?

Lastly I want to cover a session I had where my student Liv was just holing back emotionally as well…more so out of inhibitions.  Society tells us to be one thing and then the best voice acting technique asks us to defy that and be everything sometimes.  First I just told Liv it was okay to be expressive, that this was not about sounding perfect in any way, in fact that is what will fail in a performance.  Real life is not perfect so neither is communication.  Get wild, have fun, color outside the lines, stop taking it so seriously – because then you sound SERIOUS!  UPTIGHT!  Nooo!  So Liv, you have permission to do this on your terms.  That was the key for her, just knowing she had permission.  Hmm.  Connected to that idea would be censorship.  She stopped and started a lot during a script.  I reminded her that was her censor-self getting in the way and judging everything and that is a big no for any artistic expression.  BE first, censor later….but I bet you won’t have to at that point – because you gave yourself permission to shine.

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.”