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Know Your Voice

Scott Harlan

In a recent ”Talk Time” discussion, one of the participants asked, “I keep hearing ‘know your voice.’ What does that mean?” I thought it was a terrific question, so I’d like to offer some thoughts on it. ”Know your voice” can be interpreted several ways, and they’re all valid.

For me, the most obvious interpretation involves being familiar with your range across the different vocal components (such as volume, tempo and pitch), and being able to control it.

Another take on it could be that of identifying where in the industry your voice and delivery have the most natural fit.

A third interpretation could include having an understanding of how your voice typically affects listeners; what others sense in your voice when you speak.

In any case, our ultimate goal in voice over is to connect with the audience by delivering memorable, meaningful reads with natural personality, conversational ease, and appropriate emotion and energy. We tend to achieve this — with the least effort — when we are confident and comfortable.

So where do consistent confidence and comfort come from? Knowing your voice.

To start getting acquainted with your vocal range, there are some basic exercises and activities that you can do. For example, with volume, tempo, and pitch, most people can pretty easily identify three different levels they have:

VOLUME: 1-quiet, 2-normal, 3-loud

TEMPO: 1-slow, 2-normal, 3-fast

PITCH (that is, the contrast between the low and high pitches you use): 1-little change (monotone), 2-normal, 3-a lot of change

Now let’s see if you can fine-tune your capabilities. Instead of just three variations, try to develop five degrees of these components. Find a volume between quiet and normal. Find a tempo between normal and fast. When you’ve been able to develop 5 levels, try to develop 8, or even 10. This will do for your voice what adding secondary and tertiary colors to primary colors does for visual art; it gives you a much larger palette from which to create beauty … and have fun!

Now that we’ve addressed the first interpretation, let’s look at the second. Figuring out where you “fit” in the industry is usually is not a task that you can do by yourself. Your best bet is to be evaluated an experienced voice over talent or voice over coach. Also consider feedback from casting agents, fellow up-and-coming voice actors, and others with experience in the industry. But take some advice with a grain of salt. Beware of feedback from radio broadcasters, theatrical actors, and others who may not understand or have good knowledge of the voice over world. While they may have some amazing insights to help you learn and grow, they may not be able to point you in the right direction for a voice over career path.

Finally, the third interpretation … when trying to learn how your voice affects people naturally, one of the best things that you can do is to become your own audience. Here’s a really eye-opening exercise that I love. At a few different, random times, record yourself having a conversation. I tend to just record my side of a telephone conversation, so as to avoid any legal concerns or awkwardness in recording the other party. Do this when you’re speaking to different categories of people; family / friends, co-workers, someone you haven’t known for long, et cetera. Some time later, after the conversation is over, transcribe your side of it into a script. Practice reading it, and see how close you can get to the delivery of the original conversation.

Don’t stop there. Continue looking for things you can do to become aware of how you sound, and ways you can develop more detailed control of your voice. When you’ve spent some time doing this, and you begin to feel truly confident and comfortable, then guess what?

You’ll know your voice.

Scott Harlan is an Edge Studio coach. For more information about coaching with Scott or any other Edge Studio instructor, please call our office at 888-321-3343 or click here.