Do your voice-overs benefit from your full vocal range?

Edge Studio

“Great! Now, read it another way.”

Whether or not you’ve ever heard that from a Director (and you won’t always), it’s a good direction to give yourself. Because there’s more than one way to read almost any VO copy, and there’s more than one vocal approach you can use. Which means …

… there’s more than one way to land a job.

Before you start recording, shake yourself up. In fact, you could do that literally – shake your body all over for a few seconds. It helps loosen you up, both physically and mentally.

But you can shake up your “usual” read in many more significant ways than that. Here are some that will help shake up your voicing options.

Who’s your character? In an acting framework, this question is often combined with “Who are you talking to?” and “Where are you” and other such situational images. But ultimately, they all come down to “Who are you?” Even if you’re narrating, or doing phone prompts, you are voicing a character of sorts. For example, your “character” might be the customer of a department store (the client), or the store’s marketing director. Or as a narrator, you might think of yourself as a scientist, or a businessperson, or a teacher. Even as a phone prompt, you might feel like a retail greeter, or the company’s owner. They may all sound like you. But each thinks and maybe behaves a bit differently.

Over the course of your career, one of your core characters is “you.” Clients come to know your “go-to” voice and personality (or persona); for most talent, it’s probably their most saleable voice. But in developing that voice, hopefully you will have given it all the resources at your disposal.

Which leads to another “shake-up” question …

Where’s your voice? The production of your vocal sounds involves many parts of you (your vocal folds, lungs, nasal passages, tongue, etc.). You can vary your sound by emphasizing – in your mind, at least – various particular parts. For example, a “full voice” (like an opera singer’s) comes from the chest (in fact, the entire torso); Kermit The Frog comes from the back of the upper throat (more or less; think of having a bubble back there); bring Kermit’s pitch down, and you have something more like Ray Romano. Other voices can be even more nasal, and yet another voice is focused in the front of your mouth (often an excellent choice for VO clarity).

Since the specifics of these are best pursued through practice and work with a vocal coach, for now, here are some exercises you can do, without requiring a lot of study. We emphasize that these are for PRACTICE, in order to expand your physical vocal range and to find whatever characters and attitudes lie hidden within you.

Read in the voices of various characters. For example, Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. Yosemite Sam (a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy). Tweetie-Pie (a canary). Porky Pig. Ooops … those are all voices created by the late Mel Blanc. You may not have (nor need) so many voices as that immortal master, but it demonstrates our point – one person can have a variety of sounds.

They do not have to be famous cartoon characters. They can be anyone, real or imagined. The point is to experiment with different voices and, as you do them, note how you are producing them. Once you’ve got it, write it down, so you don’t forget. (Otherwise, we can almost guarantee that until you get the hang of this, you will forget some.) It doesn’t matter if your notes are anatomically correct. This only has to work for you, so think of it in terms of whatever will help you replicate the sound.

What’s your natural pitch? Everybody has a different range of vocal pitch. Some people’s range is wider than others. (That is, they can reach higher and/or lower notes than other people.) With thought and training, you can probably expand your range.

But everyone also has a natural range, the pitch that they tend to gravitate to when speaking in normal conversation. Exercises such as the character and vocal exploration above help widen your range, and thus give you options as to your natural pitch. But unless you speak in a full baritone voice and sing in a falsetto (for example, like Mandy Patinkin), you, like most people, are stuck with the natural pitch you were blessed with. No amount of work will make everyone sound like James Earl Jones or Meryl Streep.

But you don’t need to. We’ll explain why, in this scenario:

So, how do you apply these exercises to an actual voice-over script … one that is an “ordinary” read that calls for a real voice? (That is, it’s not a script that calls for a character voice, as an animation, game, commercial dialog or audiobook might.)

The first two exercises help you expand your range and express emotion more clearly. For example, voice placement. Suppose you have a line like this:

Our coffee tastes richer, smoother, simply much better
than any other coffee you’ve ever tasted.

Suppose you voice it with your natural voice, placed at the front of your mouth for clarity, but on the word “smoother” you move it back, more toward the chest, and a bit lower in pitch. Not so radically different that it sounds like a parody, just a natural transition that makes the word “smoother” stand out. It even “sounds” smoother!

And on the second part, suppose you mentally conjure up a bit of, oh, Bugs Bunny, without his accent. Still in your voice, but with Bugs in your head. It’s likely to shake up your pace, your attitude, your energy. You’ll sound like you’re really enthused about this coffee! (Your choice of “mental character” may change the results.)

And as for the “lower in pitch” part, that’s where the third tip comes in.

Instead of forcing your voice lower or higher than natural (which will sound forced), take advantage of your natural range. For example, if the script (or your interpretation of it) calls for you to speak a word or a line in a lower register, start the line a bit above your natural pitch. This will let you lower the pitch where you need to. The listener will hear that you went low. That’s the important thing. Few people out there are taking notes as to how low you can go!

There’s more to voice training than this. A lot more. But the point isn’t to make you an opera singer or a 19th-Century actor. It’s to help you approach a script in various vocal ways — by expanding your vision and frame of mind, you’ll expand both your ear and your voice.

And that will expand your options.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to [email protected].

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