5 Steps to Mastering Commercial Voiceover Auditions

During the final stage of the audition process—which may have included dozens of submissions—the buyer narrows the field to just a few standouts. Those chosen at this stage have two key elements in common: each has the requisite sound or timbre desired by the buyer, and each demonstrates the interpretive skill to convey the nuances of the script. So, what’s left for the buyer to make a final choice? The answer is the intangibles. The intangibles show up in the unique fingerprint of the voice actor as reflected through his mind, body, spirit and everything in between. The buyer’s final choice will come down to something groundbreaking like, “Oh, I don’t know. This one just has an added something.” In our experience, that “something” is the personal point of view of the actor. Many actors can render a professional audition that delivers on the essential benchmarks of the script, but instilling your personal point of view (your voiceover DNA) is what helps your audition to stand out from the pack. Here are five basic steps that will lead you to a brilliant personalized audition.

1. Be the consumer. Separate yourself from approaching the script as a voice actor. This is easier said than done and requires a concerted effort. Read the script as the everyday consumer that you are, as if it were a random flyer handed to you on the street. After reading it, turn it over and jot down your personal impressions. Do you like it? Would you buy it? Would you recommend it? Does it make you laugh? Keep it personal to you. Now go back to the script and see what additional impressions/thoughts come up for you. Jot down a few of these as well. The impressions you end up with are actually a true script analysis, as scripts are written to connect with everyday consumers, not marketers. You will glean more by feeling the script than by trying to analyze it as some kind of expert. Your impressions, good, bad, and indifferent, will become a palette of possible influences to guide your performance. Should you feel negative feelings toward the script or its content, that’s helpful too. Simply consider someone for whom the product would have positive appeal.

2. Theater games. Theater games are exploratory activities used by actors to inspire spontaneity, creativity, and a sense of play. Here’s one that’s simple and effective: Read the script aloud, but in a monotone fashion, with no attempt to dramatize the ideas. While doing so, notice the words or phrases that call out for special attention. Do this several times. Trust the process. Then read the script, line by line, from the bottom up. Again, notice what shows up and trust the process. What you are doing, along with the impressions you jotted down earlier, is broadening the possibilities inherent in the script without locking in on one particular way of performing.

3. Detective work. There is always something new for the imaginative actor to uncover in a script. Keep searching for the unexpected rather than focusing on getting it right. Consider that there is no right way, only an effective way. A thoughtful search for the clues will open up more possibilities unique to you. The clues you find may be missed by other detectives.

Take note of the brand and product name, as it is the most unique element of the script. Look for the problem that the product solves. Consider the purpose behind repeating words, rhymes, and alliterations. Look at the script formatting and punctuation as directorial guidance. Follow the clues.

4. Create a context for your performance. Identify who you are (your character) and a single person to whom you are speaking (someone who represents a potential customer and supports the premise of the script). Invent a circumstance that motivates you to begin speaking. This is called the “moment before.” None of us speaks until something is stirred up inside of us. Create a moment before that is supportive of the script’s premise. Similarly, when the actor comes to the end of the script there is a “moment after.” This is the moment where you anticipate the response of the listener.

5. The director is in the details. Voiceover scripts are not written in a universal format. Writers sidestep standard rules of grammar, opting instead to best convey the directorial parameters they have in mind. The use of commas, ellipses, and capitalization, for example, become ways to guide the performance. Take your time to see how the writer’s formatting offers direction. If done thoughtfully, the voice actor will hear the direction embedded in the script.

The above steps can be performed in 10–15 minutes. It’s part of a process (not a routine) that allows you to gradually establish a personalized foundation for an audition that is not only on target, but is instilled with your unique point of view—the intangible element that will cut through the crowd.

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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.

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large and Joan Baker Live.

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.

Joan Baker
Joan Baker is 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.
Rudy Gaskins
Rudy Gaskins is 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.