Learning from others at Showreel

Last weekend I went to London to try and further my voiceover career.  So far I have been learning by auditioning for jobs as well as reading resources online. Voices.com provides opportunities but you are competing against many other artists and do not get feedback if they go for someone else.  Fiverr is an online marketplace where you talk directly with the client.  So a course where the focus is on improving your own vocal talents has to be a good move.

Showreel is run by JP Orr and Mike Charters in a studio in central London.  They have many, many years of experience and JP was very friendly and open in sharing tips and tricks with me and my fellow, budding voiceover artists.  The group on the beginner’s course I attended had different levels of experience up to this point and all had their own reasons for coming on the course. We each had four scripts to read based on own vocal style and any subject matter expertise we had.  The best part of the experience was listening to others; the individual quality in their voices and how they adapted to JP’s advice for the second take was really inspiring.  In this positive atmosphere was encouraged each other and the time seemed to race towards 5pm and the end of the course.

Here are some of the tips I took away with me from the day.  Sight-reading scripts is such an important skill.  The more practice, the easier it will be for the eyes, brain and mouth to work together and produce good sounds whilst you are pouring over the next line.   But just as importantly, the voiceover artist has to be willing and able to take direction and adapt the way they are delivering their lines.  This was very clear when in the studio ready to provide a second take.  Other top tips to take away include using the body to help the voice be expressive, including using the elbows as a physical trigger to help lift or lower the voice and give it melody.

As for me, I was able to experience performing in a professional studio and take direction whilst speaking over a music track.  I’ve also been given some great feedback including the many ways I can improve, which is what I needed to know.  My vocal range is currently 30-40 years and my voice description is warm, charming, calm and considered tones, with a soft-RP accent.

I shall return to Showreel soon to work on my vocal qualities with JP and Mike, but right now it’s time to apply the feedback and get back to auditioning.  Oh, and lots more practice at reading out loud!

For more info about Showreel, you can visit their website at https://theshowreel.com/

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!”