Award-Winning Voice Artist Gary Martin Shares His Advice

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Photo Source: Universal Pictures. Pictured – Minions

Gary Martin is one of the most respected and versatile voice artists around. In a 40-year career that began in West End musicals, he’s gone on to create characters and voices you’ll recognise from across film, TV, animation, and commercials. His IMDb page is too long to read in one sitting and he’s forgotten how many blockbuster and horror trailers feature his trademark deep voice. So, as recording-from-home booms in lockdown, who better to chat to than someone with decades of experience behind the mic? 

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
My dad was a singer, my mother was an actor and extra, so I knew I wanted to perform, even as a kid. By the end of school, I’d done a few adverts but needed to get a proper job. I did that for a year but knew it wasn’t right for me. I got a cabaret act together, told a white lie about my age and started performing on a cruise ship at 17. That got me my Equity card and, from there, into the West End with Jesus Christ Superstar. I knew where I wanted to go and it worked out. I was very lucky.

How did you get into voice acting?
I went on to The Rocky Horror Show in the West End and then Little Shop of Horrors. And it was after voicing the plant Audrey II on stage that things really started to happen. I had been doing jingles and ads but then I started doing all sorts of voice work, including becoming the Honey Monster from the 80s onwards. I’m very fond of that character.

What stage experience did you take into your voice work?
Being a singer, you need to learn how to colour and express a lyric and it’s much the same for a good voiceover. Working with Musical Directors and musicians also makes you listen to their skills and improve your own. Pitching a note can help you place a voice. And from stage work in general, I took discipline, focus and getting things done to a time limit. Also, staying adaptable and having the confidence to try new things. 

How do you approach a voice role?
I read the breakdown of the character, then the script two or three times. Once I have ideas of voices, I'll make notes, do some research and, if it needs it, record at home, playback and decide which idea might work best. For auditions, have lots of ideas ready because generally they won’t know what they want. I think of it like a colour chart where you give the client a range and see which they want to mix. 

The most fun is creating voices for animated characters. I like to talk to the director and find out everything, like is he warm, cold or soft? Look at the character, look at his size or shape. Although, that doesn’t mean going for the obvious, big deep voice. If it’s a villain, I like to find out if there’s a sympathetic side to the character, and you can add flavours, like putting hesitation or thoughtfulness in the voice. 

Which voice roles are you most proud of and why?
I am really proud of my first animated character, Zordrak, Lord of Nightmares, from the TV series The Dreamstone. Also, Little Shop’s Audrey II, because I had to produce the vocal goods live, eight shows a week, for two years... I honestly loved every show! I enjoyed Epideme from Red Dwarf, where I sat behind the set with a mic and came up with a character that changes their voice every few lines. Plus, Judge Bergan in Final Fantasy XII and The Tale of Jack Frost – as I got to voice 40 or so characters!

What makes a great voice performance?
One that stays in the listener’s memory, hopefully for all the right reasons. I still remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema and the voice of the computer Hal. It’s still powerful today – this voice that you trust but also has an eeriness – you just know something is wrong. That performance goes to show that even if you have a large range and variety of voices, sometimes less is more. Someone else who I really admire is Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and hundreds more. What’s incredible is that he was creating these voices from scratch, not copying anything that had come before. 

You’ve been in demand for decades. Is there a secret to longevity in the voice industry?You need to be able to think on your feet, be confident, imaginative, approachable, reliable, and adaptable. I’ve learnt how important it is to be open to new ways of doing things and using new technology, especially during lockdown. Never become complacent – there is always someone “waiting in the wings” to fill your place.

What advice would you give someone just starting out as a voice performer?
The first thing people should do is step behind a mic and get used to hearing their own voice through headphones. We don’t do it very often and it can be disorientating at first. The temptation can be to change your voice but just get used to reading or performing in your natural voice. And, if you’re just starting out and looking for an agent, don’t send a bad voice reel. They’ll remember it and won’t listen to the next one. 

For working from home, get a good mic. You can have the most wonderful voice in the world but if your mic is crap, your voice will be too. Get plenty of soundproofing, especially if you’re going to go big and shouty for something. Without soundproofing, it will sound like you’re in a bathroom. And even before you get a job, get used to the technology. There are all sorts of ways of recording now, like Source Connect, which you’ll need to familiarise yourself with. Take the time to learn these things now and be ready to use it. For everything, but especially trailers, put thought into it. Be critical, know when to pull back or when to give it your all. And in general, be versatile, imaginative, prepared to put the homework in. And enjoy it!

Check out Backstage’s voiceover audition listings.