Written by Michael Daingerfield
BEING SHARP IN VOICE-OVER
In voice-over you have to be sharp. It’s an industry that moves very fast - people don’t like to waste time - studio fees are very expensive and everyone has a deadline.
The best thing you can do is to be is super sharp - meaning that you can take direction really well - that you can make the adjustment required on the next take - not 5 takes later. That’s one of the most common things I see in students that come into my classes - that they’re afraid to go too far - and I think it’s the ego that stops them - the ego is afraid of looking badly, so if the risk is measured - meaning “I know if I only go so far I can gauge how bad I’m going to look - if I go beyond that I’m not sure how it will look and that’s too scary for me so I won’t go that far.” The ego is a big problem in voice-over because it stops us from discovery - and when you’re learning or even at the session and you’re not free enough to really just go for it, then you are limiting yourself and setting limits in performance is a killer. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn how to go too far - then it’s just a matter of pulling back on the next take rather than ramping up in 20% increments and 5 takes later we get the take. As opposed to 2 takes and a much happier director behind the glass. If you’ve driven to Portland from Vancouver - then you know what it feels like to drive to Seattle from Vancouver. Same goes for a read - if you give them a little too much energy and smile on the first take - you’ve already felt what it will take to achieve what they want in the read - on the next take you pull it back 10% and you’ve got the take. Don’t be afraid to work this way - it does take courage and a certain level of control - but you will be loved by the studios and directors around town - because it’s all about getting the take - and if you can help speed up that process - you will get a very good reputation as someone who is very easy to work with.
Another way of being sharp is to be in touch with the zeitgeist. It will help you understand what the client is looking for in the read on the commercial, or the character on the cartoon or the read for the documentary - meaning the more in touch you are with the ‘now’ moment - culturally speaking - the more you can voice that in your reads. I often read up on the product that I’m voicing the next day - so that I’m in the know about what they do - what their impact is on the world - where the product originates - and by familiarizing myself with the brand it will give me more confidence and literally show up in the read. But don’t let it stop there - try to be well read - try to read up on what is going on in the world - it will help you be more current.
When you get hired - the writers, producers, directors and clients all want to feel like they hired someone special for the job - someone who ‘gets it’. Going to the session is not just showing up to voice the gig - it starts with the chit chat before the gig either with the clients, engineer, writer, studio heads, etc. - which by the way is a part of the business. So if you are uncomfortable with this - learn how to get comfortable with it - some clients like to talk to you and see how things are going for you - where you just went on vacation - what you did on the weekend - etc. The biggest thing to remember is that they are just people and you are just “shootin’ the breeze” as they say - don’t make it more than that. Remember they may want to get to know you as you may be doing more work for them. They want to see what kind of person you are - especially if you’re going to be working together for the next two years. The banter can continue during the session and after - so as I mentioned just be yourself - don’t try and prove anything or try to be too funny - they can see that a mile away and that’s just annoying anyways.
How you dress at the session and the audition will also have an impact on how people see you. I used to dress a lot differently when I’d show up for the session - and then one day I realized - all of the people (clients, writers, producers, directors, casting, studio heads) that I come in contact with are judging me the moment they see me - and if I’m sharply dressed - then that’s how they will remember me. Not only was I solid on the mic - giving them lots to work with in terms of reads - but I was mentally sharp, current, dressed well and easy to talk to. This can only work for you and attract more work. The voice-over business is a lot about repeat business with studios, animation production companies, casting, etc - and if you can create the right impression of yourself for the people making the decisions then you will get more and more work from them.
Warming up before you go to the audition or session is really helpful as well - I tend to do my best work on the days that I have multiple sessions- why? - because I am so warmed up and in the zone that everything just flows nicely. Make sure you warm up your body and mouth (jaw, tongue, facial muscles, etc). Doing tongue twisters is a great way to warm up the mouth - over annunciating is good too - and I often will sing in my car on the way to the session to get emotionally connected.
Being sharp is part of being a voice actor - remember you are paid extraordinary amounts of money to do this work. Respecting that by taking direction with ease, dressing well, being up on what’s going on in the world and being someone whose easy to talk to aligns you very well as someone who makes $2000 an hour. Stay sharp and I’ll see you in class!