Some people work for a song, and love it. Should you add singing to your voice-over repertoire?
Feb 27 2015
We know a voice over artist who says, “I’m not a singer, but I play one in the shower.” If that describes you, consider putting singing ability on your resume.
Not that you should do that this instant. Professional casting people will easily see through resume-padding, and even more important, it’s counterproductive to promise something you can’t deliver. But not every song is scripted to be sung by a golden-throated warbler, let alone operatically intoned. If your spoken-voice talent is saleable, there may be additional singing-voice work for you, even if you can only carry a tune. In any case, as with spoken VO, experience through training and practice is makes the difference between padding and true capability.
If you truly have what it takes to be a professional session singer, this article isn’t meant for you. (But welcome, anyway!) You should develop either a Jingles demo (a variety of singing styles within the Commercials genre), or a Singing Vocal demo (a variety of singing genres). Learn more about that in these articles:
Jingles and Singing – How do I get into this?
How do you make your Jingle Jangle? by Carolee Goodgold
For the confirmed Shower Singer with solid spoken-VO experience, you might yourself develop a demo that spans multiple genres, as well as including a singing snippet in your spoken demo(s) for the respective genre(s).
What genres might those be? Glad you asked…
Commercials occasionally involve singing. Although the use of jingles in advertising has declined since the 1980s (when the use of pop songs began to rise), In TV/Radio advertising you’ll still hear an off-camera jingle or song now and then. They’re likely the province of the professional singer. But in a radio commercial dialog, one or more of the characters might sing. In that case, it’s likely that they will sing in a real-person voice. Having a variety of singing styles (pop, rock, serious, etc.) will increase the number of such roles you can pursue. If you produce a singing demo (as with any demo), your first cut should knock their socks off. If you sing on your Commercials demo, wherever on the demo that segment appears, it should also be VO demo-worthy in its own right. Don’t give the listener an excuse to hit the STOP button.
(By the way, did you know the first radio jingle was for Wheaties? A male quartet extolled its qualities, but did not overtly “sell” it – because in 1926, selling stuff on the radio was illegal! As we know, the use of advertising “earworms” grew, until by the creative revolution that began mid-century, some advertising creatives cynically advised, “If you have nothing to say, sing it.”)
Singing is extremely common in children’s cartoons, especially those aimed at young kids – many of the characters sing at times. A prominent example is Haley Faith Negrin, who voices Peg in PBS’s Peg + Cat. She sings well, but the singing of other characters ranges from recitation (a la Rex Harrison) to sounding highly trained. And, since many kid characters are actually voiced by women, it’s a genre for adult talent, too. In fact, since kids tend to sing a few sour notes, if you’re not an expert songstress, that’s probably okay.
Singing might be called for in other animation, and a number of other genres… some where you might not expect it. Song is used even in teaching a language. (For one thing, it focuses the student’s brain on pitches and other sound patterns, rather than meaning. Your singing example needn’t be glorious. Just pleasant and clear.)
Some audiobooks also require voice actors who can sing. In itself, your ability to sing a whaling chanty may not land you the job of recounting “Moby D**k,” but it couldn’t hurt. As with commercials and other jobs, the more important factor is that you be able to sing in character. That you be able to act.
Often, the character is singing as an ordinary person would, even badly. And just as it has become difficult for you as an expert VO talent to read text badly — as an untrained, poor reader would sound – it’s equally difficult for an expert singer to sing badly and sound real. Yes, with a mental change-up, some thought and practice, the expert can do it. But it’s so much easier for a lousy singer to sing lousy, right off. Sometimes in an unpredictable, interesting way.
We should add – a modicum of singing ability is a start. It’s entry-level. It’s not what sets you apart from other talent who can carry a tune. Here are further considerations:
Know your vocal range. And, within it, what is your natural key? This is determined by the pitch range in which you are strongest, and may be best evaluated with the help of an accompanist, coach or teacher. There is also the question of voice quality, or your timbre, which would be more relevant only if you sound classically trained. On your VO resume, you might generically describe yourself as “pure tone” or “‘damaged’ sound” or “falsetto” or such if it applies. But don’t describe yourself, for example, as a coloratura unless you actually are .. or can fake or parody it especially well. For VO purposes, it will probably suffice to know if you are a soprano, alto, tenor or bass – the four vocal pitch ranges designated in choral singing.
Learn and practice in a range of styles. Folk, western, rock, operatic, Inuit throat singing, whatever. Working with a teacher or coach can help you understand various styles and expand your range. A good teacher will also assure you don’t damage your pipes. And the warm-up exercises are also good for spoken-voice.
It may help if you can speak the language of music, the better to take direction if asked to use, oh, a glissando or portamento, or pick up at the coda.
Can you read music? You might not have to — the tune might be played for you, so you can learn it by ear. But what if not? A professional musician will read music in the same sense that ordinary people read text or think in a foreign language – they actually hear it in their head, without a step for “translation.” In contrast, if you read notes painstakingly but well enough to decipher the tune, that’s good enough for this. If you’ve sung in a chorus or choir, you probably have that ability. Freshen it up. You might even look into congregations and theater groups seeking members.
Some experience in improvisational harmony can also increase the creative capabilities you bring to a session.
And even if you don’t pursue musical gigs, singing offers another advantage. It’s great for keeping your voice in shape and enhancing your breathing. After all, actors refer to the voice as their “instrument” for good reason.
As all trained VO pros should know, daily exercise and exploration should be a regular part of your VO regimen. Follow a structured program of reading new material, recording, listening, evaluating, then reading again, for at least 15 minutes a day. But through the rest of the day, singing now and then has several benefits. It loosens your inhibitions and encourages improvisation. It develops your pitch control and range. It encourages good breathing habits and stamina. (Do you find yourself yawning? You’ve gotten lazy.) It strengthens your voice — especially if you’ve been out of practice.
And it’s fun. Especially in the shower.