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12 Ready-made New Year’s Resolutions: Show the world how resolved you really are!

Edge Studio

In most genres about this time of year, business begins picking up – clients have fresh annual budgets, fewer holiday distractions, a fresh set of marketing deadlines, and so on. We hope you used the relatively slow holiday season to work on professional development and promotion, and to prepare your professional New Year’s resolutions. No resolutions? Well, here’s a ready-made list. Find time to do at least one of these each month.

1. Take an improv or acting class. In every VO genre, at least to some extent, clients look for the ability to convey emotion, character, memorability or some other factor that has its roots in acting. And nothing helps you think on your feet in a structured situation like improv. Is there no improv group near where you live? Check with your local college or university. You may even be able to study remotely. At the very least, get a book about improv, understand the principles, and do the exercises and play the games, maybe with family or friends.

2. Review your business plan. You do have a written business plan, correct? If not, then create one. A business plan is not just a start-up tool. It’s a living, evolving document, that you should review quarterly and amend as your skills, challenges, competition and opportunities change, expand or contract. If you’re following everything in your plan to a T, great! But it may be time to ask, “What further capability can I add, and what additional opportunity can I reasonably pursue?”

3. Practice reading to time. The mind has an internal clock. Working broadcasters can tell when a minute has passed, almost to the second. Even if you’re not focused on the Commercials genre, a good sense of pacing will help you react when a director says, “pick up the pace a bit.” You’ll know what picking up the pace by a couple of seconds feels like. (Hint: it doesn’t take much.) By the way, if you used to be a broadcaster but haven’t read spots lately, you’ll probably need to relearn this skill.

It’s interesting to note, although not necessarily helpful here, that people tend to underestimate the passage of time as they mature. That is, when an untrained person is asked to estimate the passage of, say, 3 minutes, a young adult will say “stop” sooner than a 70-year-old will. Yet, in perceiving the passage of calendar time, for older people it seems to pass more quickly.

4. Be curious about everything. We mean everything – you never know how knowledge might become useful. But also focus on things that you can immediately use in Voice Over – that is, things that will help you relate to an expanded range of clients, understand more types of scripts, or help you promote your services more effectively.

5. Practice reading every day. We really, really, really hope you are doing this already, in a structured manner. It strengthens your voice, builds vocal stamina and helps you hone your vocal skills. So let’s put this resolution another way: practice reading every day, and listen back, evaluate your performance and do it again. And if you feel your practice reads are already just fine, you’ve plateaued out. Time to expand the range of challenges you set for yourself. And/or get a second opinion. (For more practice tips, see “4 Tips to Improve Your Practicing,” by Kristin Price, March 2014.

6. Make a list of people you actually talk to. As you engage them in ordinary conversation, listen to yourself and take mental notes. Most voice over work requires speaking in a conversational manner. But there are many different types of conversation, many different conversational situations, and many different types of people you talk with. We’re not saying to distract yourself from listening to what a client or prospect is saying, or to lose yourself so completely that the other person wonders where your mind is. Do this when talking with friends. Maybe (with your friend’s permission) even record your conversation, and see what you both sound like (once you’ve forgotten the recorder is there), and practice those things. Later, when a script calls for you to speak as if to that person in that situation, you’ll have a memory of exactly what volume levels, patterns, pitch, mood, speech habits, and other characteristics the situation entails. (You should be able to emulate all that without thinking about those characteristics individually; you’ll simply talk in the remembered manner.) Then, when you’ve become able to note such things imperceptibly during a conversation (without recording), “expand your repertoire.”

7. Don’t “read.” Instead “speak.” And think. Voice over is not a monolog. It’s always a dialog, an exchange and progression of thoughts. Approaching a script as a series of thoughts – rather than a collection of words – helps you play your role more effectively. It will also help if you imagine what the “other person” is thinking. That will influence what your “character” thinks and says in return.

8. Tell the story in your own words. This is another “don’t read” drill. Rather than read the script, learn it, understand it, then barely look at it. And say it in your own words. This can help you be conversational, and helps assure (yourself) that you really do understand what the script is talking about. Then, when talking about the subject feels totally natural to you, return the script and do it the way you told it, this time following the script verbatim. Note: this is an exercise, not something you should need to do in a session.

9. Practice reading stuff 50 different ways. The great advertising copywriter David Ogilvy said that he would write 50 headlines to come up with one great one. The same is true in voice over. That doesn’t mean 50 takes, but rather, think of many different ways you might approach the first take. In Animation, actors are often asked to read a line dozens of different ways. In your genre, you may never be asked to deliver with more than one or two variations. But the more ways you can imagine before entering the booth, , the better you’re able to make your first take fresh and spot-on.

9. Work without headphones. Working without ’phones may help you speak more conversationally. Sometimes you need them … when working with a director, they may be how you get your instructions. And a good set of sealed headphones can speed your awareness of mic technique (alerting you to optimal placement, pops, mouth noises and other factors). But before long, you won’t need the headphones for that. If you’re wearing them just to hear your own magnificent voice or because they make you feel professional, turn their volume down and set them aside. You might be surprised by how much more you hear.

10. Use your hands. Ever watch Mariah Carey as she “worries” a note? As her pitch goes up and down, so do her hands, in an exact match. Try it with a complex warble yourself. Whether it releases tension, or sets up a hand/throat mental relationship, whatever, it works! And don’t use just your hands – use your body. In voice over, it’s not so much a matter of matching pitch, as it is matching your words. Movement of your body affects your energy level, your emotional expression and your physical vocalization. Reminder: don’t wear noisy clothing, don’t stomp your feet, and do keep a consistent distance to the mic.

11. Listen analytically to top-notch VO performances and recordings. Listen to TV, national commercials, audiobooks, phone messages, whatever. What does another VO pro do that you don’t? That maybe you didn’t even think of? What kind of music did they choose, and how did they use it? How do they handle breaths and pauses? What’s their tone of voice, etc. What’s the tempo? Even record these examples (or turn your head from the picture) and listen again. In other words, develop your ear. It plays a major role in developing your voice.