Tag Archives: voiceover strategy

Voice Acting in Portland, OR or other smaller cities

Doing voiceover in Portland has changed dramatically due to the internet, technology in general, and the pandemic. Whether you’re just starting out and looking for voice acting classes, a voice over coach, or are ready to find work, we will cover all the areas that address how you’re impacted by being here as opposed to a bigger city or the middle of nowhere. If you want to achieve success in Portland, OR voicing commercials, animation, video games, or narrating audiobooks, Elearning and education videos, corporate, or countless other genres in voiceover, keep reading!

Twenty or thirty years ago, it behooved voice actors to be in big cities like New York or Los Angeles, because there was so much work there and it all functioned as a local operation. There wasn’t nearly the same level of home studio action that there is now. You went in to your talent agency, auditioned there or at several casting houses in the area, booked auditions, and recorded them at the production studios. With advancements in technology, the more successful voice artists started building home studios and doing their voice over auditions, as well as those jobs they booked, from home. The pandemic solidified this way of operating and therefore kind of equalized the playing field of opportunity to be spread out amongst small and big cities alike. So now that you know being in Portland, OR or any other mid-size or even small city still keeps the doors wide open for your voice acting success, let’s get down to how you achieve that exactly. 

There are many steps for how to find voiceover auditions, but in the interest of addressing both beginners and veterans, we will lay it out step by step. Some of the steps will be blatantly obvious, and yet people still skip these steps.  The main reason is that many people believe that voice acting mainly involves having a “great” voice, and/or speaking really clearly or professionally. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Maybe 40 years ago this was more relevant as we were in the “age of the Announcer” but these days it is about being real, being believable. This is why we call it voice acting and not voice announcing!  And voice acting means learning how to break down a script, understand the message, the emotional tone, identify the key words, and ultimately, sound like you’re talking, not reading. Ok, yes yes, the step by step guide to working as a voice actor in Portland or elsewhere!

1- Learn the art and craft of voiceover with a coach.  Who should you study with?  Lesley Bailey is a 30-year veteran in the industry, with a background in talent representation, casting, and coaching. With NYC training and experience, combined with Portland pricing, you’re in great hands.  She comes highly recommended with incredible reviews/testimonials. See for yourself and try your first voiceover lesson now!

2- Make a great demo. Your VoiceOver demo tells the world you can prove how great you are. Many people start with one demo, and often add on several more as they continue to grow their voiceover career. A commercial voice over demo is a solid first choice as there is so much work in that area. 

3- Make a website. Simple, one page, demos and contact info.  Maybe a small info piece  covering your experience.  

4- Create a marketing plan. This can involve direct marketing to producers or studios.  You can try and get agents to represent you. You might be able to get multiple agents across the country, as long as they don’t demand you sign an exclusivity contract. Another popular option is to join a pay-to-play site. These cost a few hundred dollars but will guarantee auditions in your inbox on a daily basis. 

* Somewhere in-between steps 2-4 you can be working on building a home studio. This can be as simple as dragging your computer and a microphone into your closet or as complicated as building or buying a full-on enclosed VoiceOver booth. 

All these steps can be less intimidating if you start with the right voice over coach, as they can guide you through each part of the process correctly. 

Get excited, and good luck!

Pronouns and VO

You, I, we….these are words we use pretty much every single day. Which means for the most part they are a GIVEN. They are just a necessary stepping stone to get to the point we are making when we talk with someone. We would never say directly to someone, “Do YOU wanna go for a hike?” It would sound more like this: “Do you wanna go for a HIKE?” We focus on the message, the point, the new information – not the obvious. If someone asks us what kind of burger we like, we don’t respond with “cheeseBURGERS” but rather by emphasizing the NEW part of the information: “CHEESEburgers.”

So next time you see a sentence in your voiceover script containing pronouns, which will be all the time, remember what you really need to emphasize. Don’t let the pronouns steal the spotlight from the actual message.

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.

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 Keyword Strategy – Finding the “Payoff”

I will gladly repeat this Voiceover Strategy concept till blue in the face – if you don’t understand what you’re saying on the deepest level (as deep as commercial copy can or will go!) then you are just READING. Remember when you wrote essays in school? Every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard you had a point to make. You never wrote a single sentence without making a point. It’s kind of impossible, really. Look at the most basic sentence: Sally jumped. If, in the context of the story, you were already on the subject of this Sally gal and all her amazing abilities, then here the point is that she also knows how to jump. Your keyword is JUMPED. On the other hand, if you were talking about some of the other characters doing some jumping , then in this case your point is that now Sally did it. Keyword: Sally. Yes, so simple. But time and time again in voiceover training sessions I hear people reading. When I ask what they’re talking about it takes them way too long to answer. If they didn’t know right away, it meant they were reading. Announcing. Not understanding. It’s work, to identify what’s important in each sentence, especially since they’re someone else’s words. Today I will explain how to make the job of understanding your key words (aka the words to emphasize when you are conveying this information) a little bit easier. It starts with seeing the common link between the goal of most keywords, and the goal of most sentences….which is often the same thing.

We’re going to take a look at a bunch of commercials and break them down sentence by sentence, but first let’s take a look ….at what it is exactly we are looking for. As a voiceover coach, I take a look at commercial copy and instantly recognize the “sell.” I spent years in casting working with the advertising agencies and the production companies. I can recognize instantly what they’re trying to achieve now every time they create a commercial. Actually, let’s be safe and say 8 out of 10 ten times. The exceptions are those in which bragging about the product gets almost completely thrown out in the name of great comedy. But let’s work within the “more-often-than-not range as it is way more practical and you’ll get way more voiceover-audition bang for your buck. So, more often than not, the KEYWORDS in every sentence of a commercial voice over script will usually speak to the PAYOFF. To be more specific, the payoff is what is great about the product. It’s why YOU is not a keyword. Or WANT. As in: Sometimes you just want a great latte. The payoff here is great. But, great what? Great Latte. Great latte tells you what the reward is for getting this product and not someone else’s. YOU or WANT can’t do that. In most circumstances I will actually push for just the word great, but in this case it is the first line of the script and the concept of the latte hasn’t even been introduced yet, so it’s necessary. Either way, keep looking for the payoff in each sentence and you will have an easier time collecting your keywords. It’s not a hard fast rule, but like I said….more often than not. Let’s take a look at some scripts now and identify those keyword payoff hot spots.

Your journey is about staying ahead of the curve. Equal parts cruiser and sport-tourer, the Honda CTX1300 has a 1261cc V-4 that delivers endless torque for the city and top-end power and comfort for longer rides. Plus, it’s loaded with advanced features like available ABS, traction control, and Bluetooth audio. The CTX1300 is different for all the right reasons.

Ok, 1st sentence. What’s the payoff? Journey? No, you can take a journey in almost any vehicle. When you keep your brain on the payoff path, you will find it pretty quickly. It’s “ahead.” Curve might or might not need a bit of emphasis since that’s what “ahead” is describing, but to be concise with the payoff goal here, you hit on it with “ahead.” Other cars provide journeys and curves, but with this specific car you are AHEAD of the pack. You WIN with this one.

2nd sentence. Yikes. Do you start off at the top with “cruiser and sport-tourer”? Of course not. Now you’re getting the hang of this! Product name? Ok, a little bit, since it’s the first and only mention of it – but DO NOT get hung up on saying it too slowly, too loudly, or with any pausing before or after it. It is a mentionable in the middle of a natural conversation. So the payoff here is what it delivers, which also covers the beginning of the sentence we threw away importance-wise: Endless torque and top end power and comfort. Yes. Of course you want that right? In the next paragraph, emphasize your keywords as a voice actor with a writer’s mentality, which is to show, not tell. To tell would be to focus on the “loaded with advanced features” part. To SHOW would be to emphasize the actual features: ABS, traction control, Bluetooth audio. To SHOW is much more powerful. There’s support in it….evidence. Lastly, you focus on the word RIGHT. Different can be taken in a negative context in certain situations, reasons is empty with no other support words, but right is, well, right. When is RIGHT ever bad? Ok, ok, yes, when I’m trying to BE right in a “chat” with my husband. Moving on to the next VOICEOVER revelation.

Next script:

Introducing new Valspar Reserve interior and exterior paint with HydroChroma technology. Stain-resistant and fade-resistant. Now the colors you love stay the colors you love. Valspar Reserve. For whatever life throws at it.

Is introducing important? No, it’s a means to start talking. Is the product, Valspar Reserve important? Yes, but. Yes, you are mentioning it for the first time. But wait. We’ll get back to that. This sentence has a goal, and it’s to show you the payoff you get with this particular paint. Yes, it’s that HydroChroma technology, with the big bump on the HydroChroma, since they did capitalize it. Perhaps even trademarked it. The next sentence is perhaps the even more specific payoff/explanation for what HydroChroma does…..resists stains and fading. Emphasize STAIN-RESISTANT and then the word FADE, not that second resistant. They get it. Now let’s get back to the product name you have been itching to emphasize. It’s its own entire sentence this time. Nothing to compete with. Clearly, when the writer puts the product as its own sentence, they want it to be on a pedestal. Do it. Say it with pride and confidence, preferably in your lower inflection so you don’t sound like a cheesy car salesman. Finally we have the last sentence and I will say here the overwhelming word or me is WHATEVER. Funny word for payoff, but in context, it can withstand tomato sauce splatters, mud, WHATEVER. With the word whatever people get to fill in all the things that screw up their painted walls and see the problem vanish.

Here’s another:

Wrigley’s Extra Spearmint Gum. So refreshing it’s like your mouth’s on vacay.

Short but sweet. Perhaps catering to the younger crowd. The one that abbreviates words like vacation. That tells me instantly that the voiceover strategy or technique here is to cater to that crowd in a super cool but very casual way. Smile, smirk even, but keep it loose and conversational as opposed to overly bright and bubbl. I digress. We are here to talk keywords. Same rule here on the product as entire sentence line. It is all part of the product name so don’t throw away any of those 4 words, and say them as if this was the greatest and most important gum ever. Without raising your volume. Volume is one of the biggest voiceover mistakes around. People use it in replacement of all sorts of voiceover techniques like inflection or emphasis as a tool to express an emotion. Don’t cheat. Always see if there is a more authentic way to express that excitement, sarcasm, sincerity, or intelligence other than with volume – especially RAISING your volume. No one wants to be shouted at, unless they are listening to someone in danger or winning the lottery. Save your energy. Yes, digression. This second sentence is tricky. I’d go with REFRESHING and a slight hit on VACAY. They’re both positives, they’re both payoffs. They both make me want to get on a plane and go to a Caribbean island. Immediately. Now that’s good advertising.