Judging by the number of enquiries I get from people asking how to be a voiceover, it must sound very appealing from the outside! Doesn’t it just involve speaking into a microphone after all, oh we can all do that can’t we? “That sounds like a jolly good wheeze, how do I become one, I’ve often been told I have a good voice?!” I’ve lost count of the number of people who have approached me with the latter, so I thought it would be worth while writing this blog post to provide some help.
I am by no means an expert, and think of my own voiceover career as a work in progress. My aim is always to learn something new everyday in the work that I do, and I hope that will continue on an ongoing basis as a journey, as it’s a great motivator for me personally.
Voice over training and vocal technique
There is quite a lot of vocal technique involved in becoming a voice over artist in the first place, which most people are unaware of. Having a lay person tell you that ‘you have a good voice’ is not enough – get an expert to listen to a demo and work from any feedback you get.
Record yourself and listen to it back – what does it really sound like amplified? Once recorded and amplified there is no hiding place for imperfections! When we speak live in real time, people don’t notice these, but it can be a very different matter once recorded! Equally, some people can sound dramatically different on recorded media than they do in real life, which can be a bonus or a disaster!
Learn how to use your voice and develop good listening skills as to what comes out the other end once its amplified. You’ll need to learn how to develop your microphone technique to deal with plosives, popping and the like. How to avoid ‘wet’ noises from too much moisture in the mouth etcetera – these sounds magnify once amplified. Do you have even vocal dynamics when you speak? – do you push certain sounds forward too much, which can be jarring to the listener? Do you have control of your sibilants? Any imperfections become magnified, so you need to learn to rid yourself of as many as possible in order to become a good voice over artist. Even though I’ve been providing voice overs for some time now, I still learn something new everyday, so there are always things to aim for.
You need to be able to read off the page quickly and be able to reproduce it so that it not only sounds like you understand what you are saying/talking about, but that the vocal production is something that people would find engaging to listen to – adding vocal colour, vocal timbre, intonation and phrasing. – these are all really important, and there’s an art to be able to do this, which can only be developed with practise and over time.
Concentration, focus, and taking direction…
Voice over work involves a lot of focus and concentration, often being asked to come up with a whole range of different vocal types/qualities/accents on your feet. Plus, if you’re recording at a client’s studio, creatives in the adjacent producer’s booth commenting on everything you say, some of it great, some of it blunt and to the point – ‘that was crap – can you do it again, but differently?’ not being unheard of. You’ve got to be able to take direction and adapt well on your feet, not take offence – and just get on with it. All this within a sound-proof room which, after a whole day, with little fresh air, will zap all of your energy, but a job done well can be very satisfying!
Understanding the client’s brief and being able to adapt to their needs, will be key to your success in achieving what the client is looking for. You may like your own interpretation, but if it isn’t what the client wants, then you’ll need to be both prepared and vocally flexible enough to take this on board and make changes.
How did I become a voice over artist in the first place?
People often ask me how I was able to get into voice overs? Well, my journey began with developing my singing voice – I trained as a classical singer, and morphed from that into musical theatre, and latterly jazz and swing . I studied Drama & Theatre Arts at university, did my final dissertation on voice production in the theatre and the actor in performance throughout the past few decades. From there, I trained as an actor, which involved an element of voice production, and from that point I started getting booked to do ad-hoc voiceover work, and there are many actors who are also voice over artists for this reason; they’ve already had some training and experience in how to use their voices, plus of course, having the all-important contacts. Being an actor, however, does not necessarily make a good voice over artist.
Bring something to the voice over party, including credibility…
Now, you don’t all have to go on my journey in order to become a voice over, but what probably helps is having something to bring to the party, as well as giving you some credibility. Likewise, there are several other successful voiceovers out there whose background is in sound or audio production. Again, they have something to bring to the party which helps them understand how it works and how to produce the right sound. Equally, there are broadcasters/journalists/presenters who learn their trade, and have already developed vocal presentation skills to add voice over artist to their portfolio.
The other tip I can give you is to find out your strengths and play to them. Are you particularly good at character voices and/or storytelling? Or are you better at straight reads, rubric, or announcements? Maybe you have a current, relatable commercial type voice? Are you better at a hard sell or a soft sell piece? What are your particular vocal qualities? Warm, reassuring, friendly, authoritative, funky, quirky, young, mature, or even another language, etcetera?
Having grasped your technique and discovered more about the sound of your own voice once amplified, then you need a good demo. There are lots of studios who specialise in this. Like many of my colleagues, I did my first voice over demo with Bernard Shaw, sadly no longer with us.
OK, I’ve got my demo – is that it now? World, come and get me!
Voice over work involves not only learning your craft, juggling several clients at once, admin, but perhaps most importantly of all, marketing your voice over business.
Marketing my voice over business?
Once I’ve set myself up, doesn’t the phone just start ringing then? Isn’t it a question of just doing the voice overs?? Don’t I just get an agent to do all this for me I hear you cry? Well, you could, but getting onto the books of a top voice over agency takes time – the good ones are oversubscribed and places are usually taken by very well established voice over artists, and/or celebrity voices, such as the brilliant Stephen Fry. It’s great to be on their books, but don’t rely on them, otherwise you’ll literally be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring!
You have to get good at self-promotion, go out there and market yourself, particularly online in this day and age. Make use of social media, and any other relevant listings sites you know of.
You’re essentially running your own voice over business
You’ll need some business skills to start and run your own business. That’s not only marketing, managing your website, admin and invoicing, business development, and networking (whether in person, email, and/or social media).
Voice over work can be feast or famine, just like any business and it can be a great life doing what you love and getting paid for it, but the hard work is both in learning your craft, and developing your business on a continuous basis. Like any business, if you work hard enough at it, you will succeed…however, if you just hang around waiting for the phone to ring to book you for your next voice over job, you might be waiting a long time!
Going back to the title of this blog post…’Becoming a voice over – it’s easy – ‘innit?’…maybe it ‘aint, after all?!
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