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Building your voice-over career is like building your body

Edge Studio

So, there we were in a waiting room – waiting – and the choice of reading material was Boring Stuff Monthly and Men’s Health. Already bored, and always seeking to better ourselves personally, we thumbed through Men’s Health. And, glorioski, there among ads for power powders and articles about tightening your whatevers, was an article about improving your performance in voice-over!

Well, not exactly. The article was about body workouts. But although the editors at Men’s Health didn’t know it, their guide was also important to all VO professionals, whatever gender.

The numbered headers are from the article. The rest of the text is ours.

1. Quit obsessing over how you look.

Stop obsessing over how you sound. By and large, casting people and VO clients are not looking for gorgeous voices. To paraphrase the tunafish commercial, “They don’t want people who sound good, they want people who communicate good.” (Pardon our fractured English there.) Your voice should be pleasant (truly obnoxious sounds are rarely desired, even for an obnoxious character), but how you say a line is more important than just how you sound. There is much to be said for technique, but above all, first of all, especially when you’re starting out … just talk. Don’t feel you have to sound like a voice-over, an actor, a great voice, full voice, or anything that you don’t sound like in everyday conversation. That’s especially important when you’re starting out. But with many people it’s just the opposite. Something in the subconscious makes them come across at least a little bit affected. And they finally learn to ignore that impulse only later in their new career.

The more important obsessions are: Are you understandable? Do you sound motivated? Are you motivating? Do you know what you’re talking about? Are you being natural?

And while you’re at it, also take the heading literally. Don’t be shy about how you might look to the director or others watching you. Move as you deliver your lines. Maintain a consistent mic position, but otherwise, use your hands and body language. Those things are also part of being natural. And they come out in your voice.

2. Do anything but nothing.

There is no one way to do voice-over, no one way to learn it, and no one way to develop your skills. There is also no magic plan, so don’t waste time searching for one. Do find yourself a reputable coach (preferably more than one over time) who you have good chemistry with, who knows the business, and who can adapt their teaching to your style of learning. The important thing is to get started and devote yourself to developing yourself, your skills and your career on a regular basis. Don’t fall into the trap of “Ready … set … wait.”

3. Train, don’t exercise

As the article points out, “body building” results from training toward a specific objective, not just a w***y-nilly assortment of exercises, however exhausting they might be. Same with voice-over training. The goal might be your chosen specialty, genre or niche. It might be a certain menagerie of characters. It’s whatever focus will enhance your ability to land clients and do the sort of work you’re after. We learn skills through repetition. It also helps to have an expert trainer and a training plan. You’re unlikely to become a great narrator by practicing a narration script one day, then animation characters the next, and audiobook or karaoke, and … and by the time you come back to narration you’ve forgotten what you might have learned.

That said, just as body builders work out regularly, so should you. Schedule a practice period, however brief, for every day. (Probably best in the morning.) Set yourself up with a practice regimen and pursue it.

4. Change it up.

Did we say don’t vary your practice activities? Not at all. What we said was stick to your plan, and focus. But just as muscular training benefits from cross-training every other day (known as “recovery breaks”), your VO training will also benefit from variety. Except, it’s for different reasons. Variety in your VO training will help break you out of ruts, explore prospective new specialties, and keep it fun. But as you include variety, keep to a plan. It can include occasional exploration.

5. Listen to your body

When training the body, this means don’t hurt yourself. And as you age, you will probably need to adjust the type of workout activities you do. In voice-over training, of course don’t hurt yourself. In loud surroundings, take it easy. Don’t shout, at least not for long (and this is when vocal training and a “full voice” can help!). Experienced actors will tell you, if they go out for an afterparty at a noisy bistro and talk it up all night long, they may not be able to sing the next day. You, on the other hand, might wake up with a wonderfully husky voice, but what can you do with it? You can’t record demos or auditions, because you probably won’t have it tomorrow. And over time, abuse will take its toll.

And that’s the good news. Our bodies weaken as we age and we need to compensate while giving them proper attention. Our voices also change, but many people retain a great voice well into their senior years. The late Peter Thomas (“Forensic Files”) worked professionally until within a few years of his passing at age 91. Tony Bennet is still singing strong. Listen to your body, take care of your voice, properly train it (and yourself), and, fingers crossed, you’ll be able to keep at it, too.

It sure beats being bored.

Strong for Life By Andrew Heffernan, Men’s Health

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