Working Through Your Accent
Apr 16 2014
These days, voice over work can be found virtually anywhere and performed anywhere.
But what if you’re from anywhere — what about your accent?
Everybody has an accent. Even if you’re from the American Midwest, a wide swath of territory where people speak what’s called “standard American English,” you have an accent in the ears of a Southerner, Brooklynite or Bostonian.
In that case, fortunately for you — and unfortunately for talent in those other parts of the country (and the rest of the world, for that matter) — American clients tend to favor the standard American sound. If you don’t naturally have it, do you need to acquire it? And if so, how?
Yes and no.
Note that we haven’t said “lose your accent.” While “losing” your accent is what people usually say (and for simplicity’s sake we will say it here), don’t ever really lose your native accent — sometimes it can be an added competitive advantage. For example, in telephony for locally-focused companies, in local commercials or spots for certain products (e.g., hot sauce), and in “real people” roles, many clients want VO talent to have a local sound. That Deep Southern, Boston or foreign accent can actually be an advantage.
But if you have a distinctly regional accent, or if English was not your first language, you’ll expand your marketing options by learning to “lose” it when necessary.
Here are some tips for losing, or at least softening, a regional accent.
1. Don’t be discouraged by the situation. Besides locally-focused job opportunities as we’ve mentioned, there are character roles, product spokesperson roles, audiobooks, training videos, and many other genres where a specific accent is sometimes sought. For that need, few other VO performers can sound as authentic as you.
2. In some jobs, your accent is not so relevant. For example, to assemble a bicycle, who cares (assuming your performance is otherwise great!) if the video instructions have a New England or Appalachian or Ohio ring? Far more important is that your voice be loose, friendly (or whatever), and clear.
3. If you’re not from Nebraska, it may take a fair amount of training and practice for you to sound like Johnny Carson. But with national TV programming and personal mobility nearly universal these days, the “American” accent is becoming something of a polyglot. Give it sufficient attention and work, and you can probably soften a non-Midwestern accent enough that people at least might not be sure if you’re from Montana, or Pennsylvania, or Upstate New York, or Chicago, Ohio, West Texas, Connecticut, Manhattan, or what.
4. Develop your ear. Analyze recordings of standard American English, and record yourself saying the same things. Are your R sounds harder or softer? How do your vowels compare? (For example, some Southerners say “tin” for “ten.”) Is your speaking pace and cadence faster or slower than theirs? Do you naturally mumble? Do you choose and pronounce certain words differently? (e.g., “aks” instead of “ask.”) When speaking off-the-cuff (not reading), do you use regional words and phrases? (e.g.: “soda” instead of “pop” and “shoulda did” instead of “should’ve done.”) Is your voice placement too nasal (“surfer dude”)? Consider your intonation, your “song” — is it Valley Girl?
5. You might take solace in the knowledge that “standard” English is not always technically correct. For example Midwesterners will commonly say “There’s three reasons I like it …” while some people rightly figure that three things call(s?) for a plural verb form (“There are …”). And if you’re an Italian American New Yorker, you probably bristle at hearing the Midwestern, commercially correct pronunciations, “man ih cotty,” “par meh sahn” and “motsah rella.” Bend to the client’s needs.
6. Work with a qualified coach. It needn’t be expensive … one session might be enough start making major headway, then you can schedule checkups from time to time. Or instead of a private session, consider a workshop. In any case, look for a coach with a good track record in accent elimination work.
7. Use the Feedback Forum at EdgeStudio.com.This free service lets you upload your recorded performance, to receive comments by other VO talent or even a professional coach. If your accent is getting in your way, someone will probably mention it.
8. Practice with your favorite friends. Don’t become tiresome, but a good friend should be happy to listen once in awhile and give you pointers. That is, if they know you won’t be embarrassed or frustrated. (If it become like someone teaching a friend how to drive, enjoy your friendship but forget this route.)
So, there, you have lots of options, and none of them involve speaking with marbles in your mouth. While you’re progressing, remember the double meaning of this article’s title: You can work through your accent in the sense that you learn to move past it. And you can also find work through your accent.
Learning to do both will help you build an even more robust voice-over career than those lucky bums from Iowa who were born with a standard American accent in their mouths.
For more information about Accent Elimination & Acquisition or to book with one of our coaches, please call our studio at 888-321-3343 or email [email protected].