Believe it or not, it’s been a full year since we began writing the Voiceover Exchange to help voice actors find and stay the course of success. This month we’re inviting a select group of voice actors and a national TV producer to share personal lessons that made a difference in their careers and could do the same for yours. Their words are precious, indeed. Take them to heart and put them into action.
Voiceover casting directors think visually, too.
The producer supplied this casting spec for the voiceover: “Edward Norton or Kevin Costner.” OK, fine. But wait, neither actor sounds much like anything at all. Their voices are quite vanilla and generic. This happens a lot; we get a celebrity as VO casting prototype. But, somehow, after listening to examples of both actors’ work, I finally got it! They didn’t want me to sound like Norton or Costner…they want me to sound like they look! The clients want my VO performance to produce the same feeling as Norton’s or Costner’s iconic images. The reasonable mistake we make as voice actors is assuming we are being asked for a vocal imitation. Commercial producers and directors think visually, even when casting a voice. So, by channeling Edward Norton’s “devil may care” confidence, but in my own voiceprint, I gave the client exactly what they didn’t know they really wanted, and booked the job! — Beau Weaver, voice actor
Not everyone’s OK with foul language—even in between takes.
I was producing an ISDN session with a VO talent I often worked with in person. In the studio were an engineer, an intern, agency types wandering in and out, and my young daughter. The talent and I were chatting before the recording, and as part of a funny story, some expletives of the should-be-deleted type came from his end of the microphone. The engineer quickly shut him up, but the talent’s words still echoed. He was mortified, and apologized profusely. I wasn’t as upset. (Have you been to a New York playground?) However, others in the room were furious, and someone called the talent’s agent and management with a demand to fire the talent immediately. Lessons learned: Make sure everyone knows who is on the other end of the line. Be aware that not everyone is comfortable with “blue” language. You won’t get in trouble being less colorful—even at the Peacock network. — Miranda Patterson, Senior Supervising Producer/Writer, NBC Universal
Allow your voice to flow freely by simply standing up.
When I first starting doing voiceovers, I was very excited about a job I could do sitting down. So when it came time to construct my home studio, I envisioned a stool, and a microphone stand behind a music stand to place my copy on. One day, I went to visit a friend who had a home studio. His studio was nice, but what really impressed me was this upper shelf that he had built for his microphone to sit on, attached to a desk microphone stand. Every thing he needed to record was on that shelf. The height of the shelf was custom built to his height. We discussed his set up and the freedom he experienced with his body and voice from standing. Today, I have that exact set up in my home studio. I stand up to free my voice and every muscle I need to speak. —Rodney Saulsberry, voice actor-teacher and author
Work outside your comfort zone to expand your voiceover range.
In 2007 I booked Mun2, a brand new bilingual cable network targeting young Latino Americans through music, reality, lifestyle, and gaming. My bilingual skill set was the perfect fit. My announcer read…not so much. The production team wanted me to be a snarky 16-year-old gamer, an urban fashionista, a flying robot tennis shoe, you name it. I had been able to play it safe for years and this was going to take a flying leap of faith in self-expression, tapping into my alter-ego. I took the leap and had so much fun I didn’t have time to think. I just did. My range expanded. Soon after, I booked a bilingual national campaign for a major retailer using one of my honed teen voices. By pushing past my fears and my self-imposed limits, I flew into VO robot tennis shoe heaven and never looked back. Be fearless. —Sylvia Villagran, voice actor and speaker
Make bold choices.
Being brought in to Hanna-Barbera to audition for one of the finest casting/voice directors, Kris Zimmerman, for the animated series, “Swat Kats,” was an experience that shaped my entire voiceover and on-camera career. I met her taking an animation class. She later brought me in for the role of the sassy young fighter pilot, Lieutenant Felina Feral. It was Zimmerman’s first series, too. She came into the booth and whispered in my ear, “Trust me. I want you to swear your way through the second take.” Once they edited out the bad words, my own gritty, funny, authentic self, shined through and gave the character the tough edge Zimmerman was looking for. Experiencing her making such a bold choice helped me trust my choices, helped me to improvise, to act and talk as myself, stay loose, and play. It gave me the permission to bring all of me to a character. —Lori Alan, voice actor, actor, and speaker
Slow down to create tension with the audience.
Very early in my career I was hired to narrate my first real thriller, a “Jurassic Park” knockoff. The pace of it was like a roller coaster ride in its slow and gradual build up of tension, the arrival of the tipping point, and the breakneck speed of the action as the reader plummeted down the track. But when I sped up during the action sequences, my director kept advising me to slow down. I kept assuming I’d mistaken the tipping point, that perhaps I’d started the plunge too early, until he explained: The plunge (the pace of the action) must happen slowly. “When you feel tempted to speed up, do the opposite and slow down,” he told me. This creates tension in the audience. Go too fast and you’ll lose them; slow down and they’ll follow you anywhere. Following that advice transformed my career, so much so that I narrated the sequel to “Jurassic Park” soon thereafter. — Scott Brick, voice actor, author, and lecturer
Wherever you are in your voiceover career, these are the real-world stories from which you can glean extraordinary insights into mastering your craft and determining your destiny. Trust us. These simply stated lessons are rich in experience. Look deeply and then look again. See you next month!
Inspired by this story? Check out our voiceover audition listings!
Joan Baker is the author of "Secrets of Voiceover Success," and the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for commercial and documentary voiceover performances. She is an actor, voice actor, and teacher. Baker trains individuals and groups in the craft of voice acting and VO career management. She has written trade articles for Backstage, Adweek, Multichannel and Broadcast & Cable.
Rudy Gaskins, is an Emmy Award-winning creative director and branding expert. He launched Push Creative Advertising in 2001, after holding executive roles at Court TV and Food Network. His accounts span American Express, Tribeca Film Festival, Lexus and BET. Rudy has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, promos, and marketing campaigns and has directed documentaries for PBS.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards.