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The Case For a Bad Habit in Voice Over

Christopher "Zippy" Kaufman

My cell phone never leaves my side; just a bad habit of mine. 

You know how in this day & age, we’re all stuck on our phones 24/7? There’s always another person to text, another Instagram account to get addicted to, and another podcast to listen to

Well, the old heads will tell you that when it comes to VO, your phone is best left outside of the booth. And while I subscribe to that idea when it comes to live directed sessions (nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ more than your wife texting you a photo of your dog dancing to “Back That Thang Up” while you’re on take #27 because you keep mispronouncing the word “module”- TRUST ME), when it’s just me vs. the auditions in my inbox, my phone is my secret sauce.

It’s common knowledge that 74% of people (not a real statistic- totally just made that up) start scrolling through their phones when commercials come on. Our job as voice actors- specifically in the commercial world- is to cut through the noise and distractions and grab the listener’s attention. What better way to practice that task, than to scroll through your phone while listening to your VO auditions?

This is what I mean: After recording a few takes applying all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned through coaching, I press play, and then grab my phone and hit up social media. If nothing in those takes can grab my attention from the latest Trending Topic or viral video, then I know my read isn’t where it needs to be yet. But if something in that read can steal my attention for just a millisecond, then I know I’ve got some aural gold in them thar hills.

Here are three other bad habits that I think are fantastic to have when it comes to VO:

  • Bad Habit #1 – Excessive Drinking: Between the months of June-September, if I don’t have water on me at all times in my no-AC-having-4th-pit-of-h**l-booth in the middle of the actual, literal Las Vegas desert, my voice will turn to stone and I’ll spontaneously combust, leaving my dog to wonder just how she’s going to get into her bag of treats without opposable thumbs. Staying hydrated is *essential* in the VO game, and there’s just no way around it. True- it’s no fun if you’re a fellow member of the Small Bladder Club, but it’s the price we pay in exchange for one of the top-10 most interesting “So, what do YOU do?” responses in the world of ‘moving a conversation out of the awkward small talk phase when first meeting someone.’
  • Bad Habit # 2 – Not Following Instructions: Specs can frustrate me to no end. For every straightforward “conversational, like you’re talking to a friend” that I see, there seems to be a matching “laid-back yet authoritative plus a hint of person-next-door (no, the other one) combined with wide-eyed wonder sprinkled with sarcastic benevolent ambivalence…all in 30 seconds please.” 

It’s enough to make you want to sit in a small padded room all day talking to yourself…wait, scratch that!

My point is that the longer you spend trying to fit all of those buzzwords into one perfect read, the farther you get away from the real game, which is simply giving your best interpretation of the spot. Most of the time, all the spec you need is right there in the copy itself; so why spend all that time trying to interpret the specs, when you can be spending it interpreting the copy? After all, it’s not the spec you’ll be reading if you book the gig. 

  • Bad Habit #3 – Lying. A Lot: Fun fact about me: I’m not a big fan of lettuce- I’m more of an arugula guy. Wherever you normally use lettuce- salads, burgers, sandwiches- it’s arugula all day, everyday for me!

Now with that said, if Big Lettuce showed up at my door with a big money VO campaign, not only would lettuce become my favorite leafy green of all-time, I’d make it my mission to make it your favorite leafy green of all-time. Arugula? More like nahrugula.

And that my friends, is VO in a nutshell. The voice of that major luxury car brand may not even be able to legally drive, but you’ll never know that because they’re selling the lie. As long as it doesn’t go against your morals or is unethical to you, then you’ve got carte blanche to SELL. THE LIE. Embrace the bad habit.

And that’s exactly why I order all of my burgers with extra, delicious lettuce.