How to Voice Match for Biopics + Other VO Projects

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Voice matching is a nerdy-cool industry term for emulating the voice of another person so completely that when matched with their video, people don’t know the difference. For example, dubbing the voice of a movie star who is unavailable for audio dialogue replacement (ADR) in a film. If you like treasure hunts, watch the dubbed (less swear-tastic) versions of Rebel Wilson’s films and tell me which lines are my voice or watch the fun Disney projects featuring Kerry Condon’s voice and see if you can tell which lines are mine. In addition to these types of opportunities, my favorite reason to spend countless hours listening to and repeating another voice is biopics or biographical projects where we have to bring someone real to new life. 

I created my Celebrity Sketches series to show people how I begin the voice matching process which takes months, but let’s walk through the fine points here so you can give them a try when you need to voice match a real person for a project. 

First, I meditate on the individual and ask if I have their permission to embody their essence as closely as possible. I do this to give myself permission to allow the kaleidoscope of Amy Walker to rearrange itself into this “other” shape, or else it will always feel like ac-ting. Then I’ll jump on YouTube and search for the exact samples I need. Video is infinitely better than audio-only, but sometimes audio is all you have. For a video I made where I start off singing “Over the Rainbow” as young Judy Garland and slowly morph through her life, I used three samples: “The Wizard of Oz” and live audio recordings from the middle of her life and her last performance.

Next, I’ll thoroughly warm up my face, voice, and body. Then I close my eyes and listen, letting her tone and timbre fill my lungs, my bones, my throat, and mouth until a sound emerges. I absorb and repeat with completely rapt attention and full permission to expand my identity to include this new way of sounding and being. My body will move of its own accord. There are few shapes that could create the perfect embouchure for Judy’s particular voice to come out, and my body now knows intuitively what to do to support the sound. If you have trouble allowing that freedom, close your eyes, breathe, and relax completely. Place your awareness on allowing that voice wave through your whole body.

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The bulk of the practice is then simple. Record a phrase from the sample, then repeat it, and do that 3–5 times for one phrase of maybe 5–7 words. Then listen back very mindfully to each of the layers conveyed in a voice. The pronunciation: how do they make their S? Is it a bit slushier than mine? The tone: are they more nasal, deep, breathy, and resonating higher in the soft palate? The melody: did I hit all the same notes or was that syllable a fraction higher? The rhythm: was my pacing and emphasis the same, or did they hesitate slightly longer or make that word heavier? And the vibe: what were they feeling and conveying in this moment? 

Check your voice against theirs, adjusting layer by layer, note by note, and record again. Them, me, them, me, them, me, me, me. Dozens and eventually hundreds of times. Literally. After working through several minutes of a sample for a good 30–60 minutes, I’ll start to pick up their patterns. Their cadence, timbre, and melodies will feel more natural to me and I can even start guessing how the next sentence will sound. 

When I listen back to them and me, side by side, and feel I’m really getting close, I’ll pause and meditate on the last layer: the vibe. What were they feeling when they spoke or sang it? What message do they want me to convey? 

This is the last ingredient. I’ll find resonance with an aspect of their purpose and why it’s important to me too. I’ll understand even more deeply why I am the one to convey this new form of their message. Why I am the last ingredient. Because it’s not the same as when they lived it. It’s not a recreation. It’s an interpretation. It's alchemy, and a deeply exhilarating honor. 

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Amy Walker
Amy Walker is an award-winning L.A. actress, writer, singer/songwriter, producer, whose internationally acclaimed work has been featured on the TODAY Show, NPR, TEDx, Inside Edition. She’s known worldwide for her chameleon-like ability to instantly switch between authentic characters, accents, and singing styles. Highlights: record “Discourse On Accents,” with Jack White/Third Man Records; international tour of “Amy Walker: Inside Out”; voicing beloved characters, including Lunara, Elise Starseeker, Miss Nanny, and countless inspiring productions.
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