Auditions Review

If you’ve been on a workshop, one thing they usually recommend is to self-assess your performance and see how you can improve.  Voice Over acting is no different and on the recent Showreel course, they provided a research page with resources to learn from, including TV ads and other artists’ demos.

To date, for my own ‘continuous improvement’ program, I’ve reviewed 357 of my own auditions, 82 television adverts and 33 artists’ demos.  In every review I always fill in a box to answer the question “how can I learn it?”.  I thought I would discover and share the most common responses.  This is for my own interest but also for anyone else who might find these lessons useful.

Audition feedback: 24 times: “Work on flow, through reading out loud and polishing takes” 18 times:  “A bit smoother and this would be a very good take” 17 times:  “Give it life!  Flow and character needed to make this an engaging voiceover” 17 times:  “Closer mic technique with subtle enunciation would life this script off the page” 14 times:  “Gravitas – Flow, melody, but most of all… rhythm and space” 13 times:  “Use appropriate tone, energy and melody for the audience.  Make the words come off the page and not sound read”

TV Ads feedback: 3 times:  “Imagine the audience.  In this example like you’re talking with friends over coffee”

Artist Demos: 4 times:  “Confidence comes from a clear, neutral tone” 4 times:  “Find your signature voice and style and bring scripts to life” 3 times:  “Know your ABCs (Audience, Backstory, Character) and use your voice appropriately and with confidence”.

Afterthoughts: It’s interesting looking through and seeing what thoughts crop up again and again.  With my own auditions, I am picking out specific qualities in the performance, such as flow, smooth tone, character, melody and rhythm (and space). In the TV Ads, the VO Artist often sounds natural and conversational, whilst the Artist Demos have natural and confident voices.  That’s the aspiration, really: provide a natural read; an authentic, fully fleshed-out character that the audience would like to spend time with.  That’s a simplified response I know, but it applies in most cases that aren’t character voices or in-your-face announcers.

The Wisdom of Nancy Wolfson

Nancy Wolfson.  Image from IMDB

I recently found a YouTube clip of Nancy Wolfson coaching voiceover and thought it was really insightful, so I was delighted to find there were more clips available courtesy of her YouTube channel and

one or two participants of her workshops.

They’ve been inspiring me in terms of my thinking when performing a read.  Here are some of the key points she has made during her “How To” videos along with links to the corresponding YouTube clip.  If you like what you read and hear, check out her website braintracksaudio.com for more words of wisdom.

The Script

Cover up the specs. All the things you need to know and feel lives in the content of what’s going to be coming out of your mouth. Check the specs afterwards to make sure you’re on the right page.  Deconstruct the copy; don’t deconstruct the specs.

Underline the things you want the audience to know.  What do they (the client) need me to bring to the people?

Swap emphasis over to the nouns and verb rather than the pronouns (not emphasizing ‘yours’ and ‘you’ at the expense of content)

Physique

Hit the deck, relax and let the voice fall to the back of you back.  Then create muscle memory for that voice when you stand up to do takes.

Stance – One foot in front of the other, grab the ground, bend the knees

The importance of voice when referencing is to compromise some volume to frame a story

Tonality and Volume

Admissions at a hush – Speak into the microphone as if talking into someone’s ear

Active Hush = using vocal tension to give energy to your read instead of using volume, speed or emotional cheerfulness.

Language Sandtrap – when the language appears to exclaim the words (e.g. “this is HUGE!”), less is more, and less volume can make it more dynamic.

Approach to Style

I don’t need you to make me happy about it – I just need you to explain it to me.

If something’s important in the sentence, turn it from a black note to a whole note (lengthen it)

Pretend that you’ve tried it (the product), ate it, bought it etc, and you enjoyed it.  Have the intention of the admission; admit that it is good, like you’re giving a testimonial.

Engage and Sound Credible

Useful tips from Voices.com

So what type of voice is needed to earn money from voice over?  I decided to look at a source that should know; Voices.com links many, many clients with voice talent through their online platform.  As part of this service, they have provided online resources that can prove useful to beginners and experienced actors alike.  I’ve combined this with some YouTube  examples for good measure.

Video Game Characters: The Video Game Developer’s Guide to Voice Actors suggest a good voice actor needs to speak clearly, take direction, listen with objectivity and create characters simply by reading a script.  They can find themselves voicing multiple roles and has the opportunity to be directly involved in how the story is told.

Here’s an example of famed voice actor Matthew Mercer.

Character / Celebrity Voice Over Impersonators The Animation Voice Overs article says the telecommunications industry is heavily making use of this talent in order to help sell a product or service.  Not only does the talent have to sound how the client wishes, but being easy to direct and being able to perform multiple roles is seen as desirable. For examples, listen and watch this excellent presentation by voice actor James Arnold Taylor.

Documentary Narrators Stephanie of Voices.com makes the point that a documentary without narration is incredibly difficult to digest.  A narrator can provide balance, structure and an anchor for the viewers in terms of perspective and how to interpret what they are seeing.  She describes the narrator as being a steady voice able to spur on new thoughts, convey emotion and be the voice of intelligence and compassion.Here’s an example by Tony Schwartz on how to sell a single sentence to the audience.

For Bill DeWees, giving a good read for narration is sound engaged and to sound credible.  He suggestions for achieving this sound are to speak from the lower part of the diaphragm, sounding relaxed and combine that with a speaking at a slower pace and with a downward inflection at the end of sentences.  This helps to sound knowledgeable and sound credible.

Audiobook Narrators The article ‘10 skills to look for in an audiobook narrator’ argues that it is the narrator who can enable listeners to lose themselves in the story, just as they can be the cause for listeners to become distracted.  Unlike most character voice overs, audiobooks is a marathon that requires both artistic and technical endurance.  Not only does the talent have to be right for the audience demographic, this really seems to be an area where experience is expected.  The article lists what Voices.com clients believe a good narrator should be able to do.  This comes down to engaging with the listener consistently whilst bringing the story to life with appropriate inflection, character voices, timing and correct interpretation of the author’s intent. According to voice actor Kevin Clay, you have to want to tell the story. Celeste Lawson of the Library of Congress says the goal of narration is to translate the written word in a way that is consistent as possible with the intent of the author.  The narrator should skillfully convey the sense of the text to the listener.  Both Kevin and Celeste agree that it takes a lot of practice!  Celeste goes on to say that knowledge of how to effectively generate, modulate and manipulate the voice are as important as the vocal quality itself.  But she emphasizes the single most important requirement is a great ear to discern the subtleties of the mother tongue or reproduce foreign accents and languages.

That’s enough to be going on with.  There are many subtleties involved, especially in engaging with the character and directly with the audience.  What does ring true throughout is the need to practice and to perform with conviction. The results will need to convince the director and the audience after all.

Back to Basics

So, after a year of creating vocals online for songs, characters and presentations, I thought it was time to take a look at the many ways I could do things better.  I had recently paid up to a 1 year premium package with Voices.com, a site that acts as an online job market for clients and voiceover talent.  If I’m to sound attractive to a worldwide market and get noticed in auditions, what do I need to take into consideration?

In this first research assignment, I decided to start with Dee Bradley Baker’s website dedicated to imparting knowledge to others, iwanttobeavoiceactor.com.  Who is Dee Bradley Baker?  Well, you probably know him in one form or another.  He is something of a legend in the voiceover industry!

If I’m going back to basics (not far too go), then I may as well start with his Newbie Mistakes article.

Dee lists the following six mistakes:

  1. Overlapping (taking over someone else’s read) is a no-no. It also means leaving a space in between takes for editors and recording engineers to adjust their equipment.
  2. Not acting.  If you are asked to give multiple takes, switch up your read (more voice acting) each time.  Dee generally recommends three takes as a sort of little menu for the creator to choose from.
  3. Distracting Wardrobe sounds.  I didn’t even think of this, but yes, clanging jewellery is not a good idea!  He also recommends losing the watch, bracelets or bangles.
  4. Not being silent during recording.  Walking around, rummaging through a bag while others are recording is definitely not done.  I’ve noticed at home just how much outside noise is picked up on the microphone!
  5. Running takes with your mobile phone or electronics.  The rule is to silence your mobile (cellphone) completely.  It can also be a distraction for you if not careful.
  6. Ruining a take with page turning during silence.  Dee recommends that if you must page turn during a take, do so silently and in between sentences – the space can then be edited out.  Currently I use my Kindle device, which is great in terms of noise and allows me to have it in front of me when recording.

Dee also had a Runners Up list that mentions not moving on when the director is happy,  ignoring direction, not watching shows from an established series, turning your head during a take, giving the booth too many choices which can confuse and slow down the recording/editing process and only notating your script changes in a multi-character scene.

For me, #2 – the not acting and getting the number of takes right was definitely something to work on.  I’ll try and stick with the rule of threes in future and give a little more expression each time.  I’ll think Dee should get the final word on this blog post however.  Here’s what he wrote in response to a reader:

“My first year in L.A. I didn’t book any voice over gigs. This was after a number of years’ experience in smaller markets. As an actor, you get lots of no’s always. I still do!”