Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice

Edge Studio

With the professional baseball season near, we might use it as a metaphor for voice acting – namely this: Pre-game batting practice is often one of the most fun, interesting parts of a day at the park, and it’s an essential part for the players. The analogy works for any performance skill, from musicianship to chess, and certainly includes voice-over.

Pros practice daily. Do you?

Before you made your first demo, you of course practiced intensively, under the guidance of one or more coaches. But – temporarily using another sports metaphor — that demo was just the on-ramp that leads to the track, so we hope you didn’t stop practicing once you became proficient at consistently landing work. That’s no time to quit. It’s all the more reason to practice, thoughtfully. Every day.

Furthermore, although “learning never ends,” an actual recording job or audition is not the time to learn. On those occasions, it’s important to be free of inhibition, and to use your ability to innovate, but that’s not the same sort of learning. Confidence and innovation are skills that themselves require learning, and these skills are in turn comprised of others. Practice makes them … professional. And pulls them all together.

To practice well, you need four things.

1. A recorder
2. Scripts
3. Discipline
4. A plan

The first, of course, you have. Scripts, you can get. Some people find it harder to come by the necessary discipline, but try. Consider practice time to be just another part of your business, and you will find a way to build-in the time required.

What makes these all come together is the plan. It can vary according to your personal preferences, genre and schedule, etc. Here’s one to consider …

Warm up with vocal calisthenics. Actually, our batting-practice analogy isn’t quite perfect, because in the big leagues, pre-game “batting practice” is misnamed. It’s more of a warm-up, that includes exercises for limbering and coordination. (Actual practice comes in spring training, or on an off-day or in the morning. However, whether it’s a warm-up or focused training, practice is part of the pro’s daily routine, and should be part of yours.)

To warm up, start by taking several long breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Do whatever f****l, body and vocal exercises you may have learned (e.g., from yoga or vocal training). Record some lengthy tongue-twisters. And, especially if it’s later in the day, relax.

(In addition to the relaxation tips given in our article “Voice-over work (and all else) got you uptight? Relax!,” here’s another, from Edge Studio’s Voice Actor’s Performance Guidebook: Imagine yourself in various audience situations – for example, a high-pressure creative team, or a low-pressure audience, or receiving conflicting directions from the client team – and nevertheless read in a calm manner, drawn from your inner self.)

Read aloud. Read anything. Yesterday’s junk mail, a magazine article, scripts from the Edge Studio Practice Script Library… anything that hones and maintains your ability to read smoothly, without stumbling and in good voice.

Be natural. Make a “reference recording” of yourself talking in normal conversation. Write down your “lines” from that recording, and now and then, record yourself reading them. Does your latest read sound just as natural? If not, you’ve fallen into some sort of habit. Until you get out of that habit, or can discard it at will, you have something new to work on.

Review something you know. For example smiling. Have you ever read, smiling, while watching yourself in a mirror* (or in a selfie video)? Is it the smile you intend? Can the visual feedback help you vary your smiles? Does each variation sound slightly different, nuancing the emotion? Or, when you’ve done that, review and experiment with body language. Review your coaching notes and you’ll probably find other things you have forgotten, maybe even some you skipped to work on later. It’s later now.
NOTE: Use a mirror only in practice, because a big, hard surface can adversely reflect your voice into the mic.

Try something new. This is your “spring training,” except you do it throughout the year. What “something new” should you do? That’s where the plan comes in. It might be a new style that another professional has. Or it might be a genre that you could sensibly add to your repertoire. Or a new specialty (such as reading quickly). Or something new in your current niche (e.g., if you specialize in medical scripts, read from a medical dictionary). The point is not necessarily to expand your market … working toward that may require more of your day. As far as practice time is concerned, this is to expand your range and confidence.

VERY IMPORTANT – Always record your practice and listen back, even if the exercise doesn’t technically require it. For example, did you really say the tongue twister as clearly as you think you did? Do you detect a pause you didn’t intend? The ability to “hear” yourself is as much a matter of practice as speaking is.

There is lots of room for variation and “cross-training,” so practice should never get boring. Rather, if you approach it imaginatively and with a constructive attitude, it should actually be fun.

Neither should daily practice take long. When you have it down to a routine, it can be as little as 15 minutes. Half an hour at most. That will assure that you do it every day. Like a pro.

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