A voice artists shouldn’t just talk. Also listen to yourself.
Mar 15 2018
We can’t stress enough the importance of daily practice. Not only does it keep your voice and your work habit in shape, you can learn a lot in as short a practice session as 15 minutes. Part of that session should include listening back to what you’ve been practicing at. Or listening to some of your past auditions. There are a bunch of reasons – of various sorts — why this helps you. Let’s look at them …
What should you do in your practice session? See our article, “Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice” (March 16, 2017).
Several of the above article’s exercises involve recording yourself and listening back. So these are among the reasons to listen to yourself:
- Can you read something repeatedly, even over time, and still sound as natural as you did originally?
- Did you say everything as clearly as you thought you did? When you listen to a recording after significant time has passed, and without the script in front of you, the occasional mumble or mispronunciation will be more apparent. Maybe even painfully obvious.
Here are yet more reasons to have your recording app ready, even when it’s just for practice, and, in general, to listen to yourself objectively.
A. You sound different than you think you do. Sometimes even seasoned VO professionals forget this. If you’re getting work, any difference between your self-image and what others hear may not matter. After all, clients hire you for your sound (and all the emotional qualities, etc. that you bring to it), you voice stuff, they like it, you get paid. Simple. But what about pitching new prospective clients? How do you characterize what you’re selling? Especially if you’ve been a voice actor for a long time, analyze your old work and your current recordings. Is there a difference? Has your voice changed? Has your delivery? Is it for the better, or worse, or just different? Does your demo reflect how you sound now?
In marketing, follow the advice of Ancient Greeks: Know thyself.
B. Even with headphones on, you’re not hearing how you sound. Headphones are great for catching technical glitches such as pops, mouth noise, background noise, distortion, and excessive room tone. For this reason, some pros – especially when working in their own studio (where there’s no engineer) – use headphones while voicing. Some wear them because they feel it helps to hear and modulate their voice. Some wear them simply out of habit, or because they like to. While it can be helpful, sometimes it’s for worse.
Wearing phones has a number of downsides:
1. It tends to focus you on your voice, rather than on your performance. Especially for voice artists- in-training, this is a huge reason not to use headphones except during playback. The very reason headphones are good also makes them bad. You get hung up, even revel, in the sound of your voice, at the expense of what you’re saying. In everyday conversation, do you think about how you sound? No, your thoughts are focused on what you’re saying.
2. It feels “special.” Cans* remind you that you’re in the booth. At a time when you may need to be emotionally expansive and linked to the scene your character is in, there you are, wearing a contraption linked by a wire that might even constrict your movement. Granted, this issue is very subtle. But so are emotions.
* (By the way, by “cans,” we mean headphones. It’s an old term, from the days when a radio operator’s tiny, tinny headphones sounded pretty much like talking through a soupcan. But their users just needed to hear the other party, or be sure they were on the air. Today’s professional headphones are highly responsive, but we still call them “cans” – mostly out of habit, but it’s a propos, because now some of them are the size of a soup can. How natural is wearing that?)
3. You don’t sound like you. Having already said that, here’s some detail:
Most people think their voices are lower than what they hear when hearing themselves recorded. That’s because when you’re speaking, your ears are influenced not only by sound waves, but also by vibrations through your neck and skull. Sensed by your inner ear, these tend to emphasize lower frequencies, so you think your voice is deeper than it actually is. But not everyone is the same. Some people’s voices are lower than what they themselves hear. Each person’s throat and head has its own characteristics. Some people’s sound pathways to the inner ear accentuate lower sounds, some don’t.
In either case, as a voice-over pro, you learn to ignore or compensate for the difference. Beginners should accustom themselves to doing that. But when you’re recording in a practice session, sometimes use just one one of the earpieces, if only to remind yourself to be real. Which brings us back to listening in general – with headphones or not. As with a photograph you’ve seen a million times, it’s too easy to ignore characteristics that you should stay attentive to. So above all, learn to listen attentively yet dispassionately.
Even do some other activity while you’re listening. Even while distracted, you should still be able to understand every syllable, and feel like the person you’re listening to is talking to you, not just “performing.”
If you want other people to listen to you, give yourself that same respect.
Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to [email protected].
Why Do Our Recorded Voices Sound Weird to Us By Jonah Engel Bromwich, New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017