The Art of Self Direction for Voice Actors

David Goldberg

As the voice over industry evolves (and it is constantly evolving), one skill that has become absolutely necessary for a voice actor to have mastered is the art of self direction. If the COVID-19 Health Crisis has taught the voice over world anything, it has reinforced the critical importance of solid self-direction and the ability to work remotely from your home studio. Speaking as a coach, mentor, and casting director, I can guarantee that you will be more successful as a voice talent if you work on your ability to self-direct your auditions and even the voice over jobs you book. But why now? What about the current voice over market makes the art of self direction such an invaluable skill?

First a quick history: Many moons ago, voice actors recorded auditions and jobs in commercial studios, like Edge Studio, and they collaborated with a team of professionals during the record. Usually at least one person present was a director. Years later, when voice actors began working from home studios, they still received direction from a director or producer who joined remotely via a high-quality line called ISDN. Then as ISDN began to give way to technology and services like Source-Connect and ipDTL, directors began providing up-front written direction for voice actors and left them to self-direct their own recording.  Could it go further?  Well it did: now, sometimes clients don’t even provide written direction. 

All this means is that you’d better learn how to perfect the art of self direction, or success in the modern voice over industry is much less likely. Believe me, I speak from professional experience as a casting director. In the Edge Studio Production Department, we tend to hire voice actors with good home studios and the ability to decipher what our client wants from vague or no direction. This makes the client happy, and inspires our Production Department to bring that voice actor back in for another job! 

So how do you do it? What is the best approach to master the art of self direction?

Self direction requires an ability to 1) anticipate and decipher what the client wants, even when they’re unclear, 2) record it so the client thinks it sounds good, 3) proof-listen from the client’s perspective, and 4) perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to infuse personality into your recording so the client hears a real human being rather than a stilted, robotic vocal delivery.

Notice the commonality?  “The client.”  It’s all about the client.  Many voice actors go wrong by forgetting this and making it about themselves.  To clarify this, very often voice actors ask me, “Hey David, why didn’t I win that audition? I LOVED the way it came out!”  My response is simple, “Yeah it sounded good, but wasn’t what the client wanted.”  

Figuring out what the client wants and delivering exactly that is paramount. Once you can master the art of self-direction like that, then you can become vastly more successful. For instance, would you deliver the same read for a self-guided museum tour that you would for a beer commercial? Probably not. You need to tailor your read for each client. (Our Monthly Audition Contest often refers to this advice- give the client what THEY want, not what sounds good to you!)

But not so fast, there’s more to it. Because your clients can run the gamut from producers to engineers, copywriters to video editors, marketing teams, ad agencies, interns, CEOs, and on and on, you MUST consider every one of their potential perspectives.

It’s not difficult once you know what to consider, and how to listen.

This art of self-direction has been my favorite topic to teach for years.  After being (for lack of a more appropriate word) the interpreter between literally thousands of clients and an equal if not greater number of voice actors, I’ve likely heard just about every comment a client could have about a voice actor’s recording. These comments range from positive (why a client likes a voice actor’s recording), to negative (why a client doesn’t like the recording), to “this didn’t have to be this way” (generally ambiguities, miscommunications, concerns, unnecessary recordings, unnecessary edits, and misunderstandings). 

While I am working with my students, these comments about what a client might be thinking often circulate in my head. I use my experience as a casting director to translate this info to voice actors so they can be more successful and preemptively understand what a client is looking for when they cast an actor.

For success, it is critical that you can figure out what clients want and give that to them. This is where Edge Studio can help. We have webinars like Auditions 101 and Advanced Audition every month that will help you think about the clients perspective, and how to change your reads to meet their needs. Home Studio 101 can give you the basics of building out your home studio for optimal recording quality (check out our friends at Sweetwater if our home studio class inspires you to upgrade your equipment). And coming soon in February, I will be running a three-week long seminar all about perfecting the art of self direction called Self Direction and Cold Reads. Join me for this course, and together we can help you improve your auditions and keep those clients coming back for more.