Why Are Voiceover Classes Necessary?

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Dan Balestrero
Los Angeles; Mastering Voiceover, www.masteringvoiceover.com

Many people who are actors ask me, "Why does an actor need to take voiceover classes to work in voiceover?" Acting skills certainly give a person an ability to deliver lines, so what's the difference?

There really are many differences and demands. Let's say there is a need for additional skills. The art of voiceover, or voice acting, requires a knowledge of voiceover styles and the ability to change cadence, tone of voice, range, and the rise and fall of your voice on demand in order to deliver what the client wants. You have to have control over your voice, so you don't get fired because you can't take direction. For example, the direction in a voiceover session usually consists of requests to slightly change the tone of voice here, go faster there, take the pitch down on the end of that sentence, speak in a lighter tone on that next phrase, highlight this word a bit more, etc. In acting, they are rarely scrubbing every line reading for you. It can be a bit of a shock at first.

We are always trying to comply with the request to avoid any hard sell, to make it more conversational. Yet as people back off, the energy drops and the read sounds unconvincing. Very real is often simply very dull. So it creates a bit of a contradiction. The reads must be completely natural and yet maintain enthusiasm. This requires vocal skill. Those skills are taught in voiceover classes. Voiceover classes provide the workshop where a person becomes aware of the harmonic geography of his or her own voice—the "day voice"—and how to best use the voice to sell different kinds of products.

Another reason to take voiceover classes is that it will greatly improve an actor's cold reading skills for auditions. Voiceover is another great way to practice the art of sounding like you're present, sounding like you mean what you're saying.

Andrew Wade
New York; voice teacher, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, www.stellaadler.com

I'd say often the demands of voiceovers are such that they are way out of the realm of the demands of conventional acting. You might not have the script in advance, so the skills of quick responses to a text and a rapid interpretation are essential.

You may often be working with a technician more than a creative director—someone who truly doesn't understand the actor's process—and therefore you may have to be very skilled at interpreting instructions and adjustments that to an untrained person can be baffling. Often you may have the product person listening, such as Kraft or whoever the advertisement is for, and requesting changes that for most actors require rehearsal over time to achieve without training. But here in this world, it is expected that you can produce voices of different qualities, moods, and probably speech rhythms and accents instantaneously.

There is always the threat you can be fired and replaced because you are not producing the goods immediately, so stress levels are higher than in any other area of theater. It requires voice control and sensitivity that are extraordinary, and therefore training at a high level through voice coaching is very important indeed.

Warren B. Meyers
Los Angeles; voiceover coach, www.wbmvo.com

The secret of voiceover success is being able to create a 360-degree, three-dimensional character with one's voice alone, a persona that walks out of the speakers of your car radio or TV set that is both likable and believable. Many an accomplished stage, screen, or TV actor lacks that ability, because it has its roots in radio dramas, which are no longer in vogue or even available.

However, the techniques for making your voice alone accomplish successful readings of advertising copy do not constitute rocket science and can be mastered in a relatively short time, provided you have the God-given talent within you for becoming an accomplished voice actor. No teacher, however inspired, can teach someone how to be talented. But assuming the presence of enough God-given talent in a student, a good teacher can maximize that student's capacity for becoming truly competitive in this most competitive and overcrowded field.

David Zema
New York; Voice of Success, www.voiceofsuccess.com

First of all, having a good voice isn't necessarily enough to get you work. If it were that simple, voiceovers would pay minimum wage, because there are thousands of resonant or even interesting voices available. Therefore, training gives the performer credibility.

In addition, many who work regularly in voiceovers have reached expert level. If you want to be competitive with the best and be considered for work, you will need training. Some beginners put their foot in their mouth by doing a demo before they have had adequate training. Then they wonder why they aren't getting auditions after sending out their demo. Casting professionals know from the first few seconds of hearing a demo whether to throw it in the trash or submit it for work.

Voiceovers are very competitive, and auditions are brutal. You have to earn a second take from some casting directors. Recently I timed one of my auditions, and I was in the room with the casting director for less than four minutes. That's just enough time to read one 60-second spot twice, to respond to a few seconds of direction, and to say a brief hello and goodbye. Training helps you to quickly analyze commercial copy or a character and make your choices in the brief time you have to look at the script in the waiting room.

Classes and coaching are the best preparation you will have for the demands of voiceover auditions and jobs. Training also helps you keep up with changes in trends in advertising and in presentation styles in commercials and animation.

Voiceover performance is very specific and nuanced. Working with a coach and going to a class are the best ways to sharpen your skills. It's no surprise that my students who get the most auditions and jobs are the ones whose voices are frequently heard at my studio.