I’m reading James A. Michener’s autobiography The World Is My Home. In it he offers tips to would be writers and speaks of how simple luck played a huge role in his success. Just change a few of the skills mentioned and you’ve got great advice for the voice over performer:
The only generalization I can offer is that in an irrational world if a prudent course has been followed, you make yourself eligible to capitalize on luck if it happens to strike. If you have not made yourself eligible, you may never be aware that luck is at hand. By this I mean: learn typing, master math, learn to draft a convincing letter, broaden the mind, and do not evade challenges. Making oneself eligible to seize the breaks if and when they come is the only sensible strategy I know. Be prepared to make full use of any stroke of luck, and even if it never comes, the preparation in itself will be a worthy effort.
My agents have a rule about slating which is short and sweet.
Name only. Not even the role. Put that in the file name.
The intent is to curb the behavior of some actors who think that rude noises, mini-biographies, or lame attempts at being funny during the slate will make them more memorable when in fact producers and casting people find them annoying and a time suck.
So what’s a voiceover performer to do? Especially with a name like mine. Two syllables.
Well, more than you might think. Pat Fraley has some notions on creative slating in his audio seminar “Quick and Slick Voiceover Tricks available on Dan O’Day’s website. You also get tips on how to add layers to your “triplets” or those three-in-a-row readings and a discussion on whether or not you should add processing or production values to auditions once in a while, assuming you are auditioning out of your home studio.
Pat has a very entertaining way of teaching and has some nuggets in there for you.
Disclosure: For plugging the audio seminar I receive bupkis. I just think it’s good.
I’ve secured my place at the table for the Marice Tobias commercial and narration intensive workshop in Dallas next month. Marice is one of the premier voice-over coaches working today and has been instrumental in moving my career forward.
You can see other cities where she’ll be holding workshops here.
If you are looking for a voice over coach in your area, Harlan Hogan has a list on his website you should take a look at. Thanks Harlan!
There has been a debate over on the Yahoo! Voice-over forum on whether or not the voice actor should include a headshot with or on the demo packaging or other voiceover marketing materials.
Let’s be clear. Most actors have headshots and video demos for their on-camera careers. The question at hand is about including a photo with your voice-over demo or your on-line profile.
My opinion? Only if your voice and your face are a most excellent match. If you look the way you sound. And local actors come to mind that illustrate the point. The late Harlan Jordan and John B. Wells.
Harlan was known for his “country boy” sound. The first time I met him was in a session where I played a banker and Harlan read the rancher role for a radio spot. He was running late and the rest of us were hanging around the studio making small talk while we waited.
Finally the door flies open and in walks a big ‘ole boy who looked like he’d ridden to the studio in the back of a hay truck. He had on dusty overalls and a big straw hat. Harlan stepped up to the mic with a voice and a read that sounded like Larry the Cable Guy’s dad. A most excellent match.
On the other hand, we have John B. Wells. Those of you who know his work would agree that “deep” doesn’t begin to describe his voice. It’s about as low has a human voice can go and still be audible. It’s in the same category as the late Don La Fontaine, the kind of voice that can blister paint.
But John is relatively young and sports a handsome yet boyish face. One of his former agents told me he studied theater in college and really wanted to have a film career. However, he was told over and over again at film auditions that his voice just overpowered his “look” and to come back in , oh, 20 or 30 years, when he resembled the Sam Shepherd he sounded like. Not a match.
So if you really really look like your voice (Harlan), then maybe include a photo. Otherwise don’t.
I can’t remember a time in my voice over career when I’ve worked with so many new people in the span of a few weeks. Faceless folks to me since I’m meeting them via ISDN or phone-patch in the home studio. Names and voices in my headphones from studios in Los Angeles, Austin, Detroit, and Conneticut.
Besides doing the the best possible work for them, what else can we voice over performers do to increase the odds that these strangers ring our agents again. And again.
Jay Conrad Levinson, author of Guerrilla Marketing, puts it this way:
“The highest form of public relations is human relations. People buy from friends, so it’s crucial to make the human bond before you can make a lasting business bond.”
Read the entire Guerrilla Marketing blog post here. It’s well worth your time.
These can be stressful times especially if you are trying to launch a voice over career. Creative Cow is an on-line community of media producers and Mike Cohen has written a very useful piece about managing stress.
When working out of your private studio, you want noise in your session files like you want geese in your jet engines. Delivering consistently noisy voice over tracks can bring down a career.
The acoustics of my room are pretty good. Room within a room with thick walls, dead space between them, double doors, non-parallel walls, plenty of studio foam and all that.
I picked the Prima LT for ISDN because it has no fan (noise). The computer is a MacBook that sits in a wooden box within a box and is as quiet as an AIG executive with a million dollar bonus check. The pick up pattern of the Sennheiser 416 short shotgun mic is a big help in keeping out noise from the environment. So the last thing I wanted was noise from my electronics. And that’s what I was getting from the mic pre-amp section of my M-Audio Mobile Pre USB.
I get around that by using different mic pre-amp and patch it into the line in/out section of the Mobile Pre. That half of the box is pretty quiet. The mic pre-amps, not so much. Audible hiss.
So needing a USB pre-amp when I travel, and after reading some good reviews, I ponied up for a CEntrance MicPort Pro.
Photo of MicPort Pro
It is much quieter than the pre-amp section the Mobil Pre.
Take a listen for yourself:
The link is a high res mp3 file (oxymoron alert). The first half was recorded with the Mobile Pre USB pre-amps. The second half was recorded via the MicPort Pro. I think you can hear the difference. If you open the file in your audio editor you can see the difference in the wave form.
The last time I was in Guitar Center, the kid said a new generation of the M-Audio Mobile Pre was on the way and it would be quieter. Then a piece of metal fell out of his face and I left.
I like to tell people that the “work” part of the voice over business is getting the work. Doing the work is play time. Unless the script is horrible and the director odious, but that’s not very often.
So how much of our time should we spend marketing ourselves as voice actors? Business author and consultant Scott Ginsburg gives us a good notion. (Hint: A lot)
It’s well worth the read. Thanks Scott!
During my time in the voiceover business I’ve been witness to many different styles of acting before the microphone. I’ve seen actors silently but not so subtley move their entire bodies while doing the read. And I’ve seen the flat dry monotone read done while the actor stands stiff as a statue with hands crammed in pockets.
Looking at session videos on YouTube or Voiceover Universe you also see a variety of hand placements and gestures. Some actors bring energy into the read by waving hands or wagging fingers. Others will clinch a fist against their noggin to help get tension into the material. Ed Grover was famous for clasping his hands on top of his head to help him open up that “sweeping” read he would do for Visa.
If I’m doing a training narration I tend to gesture a lot, talking with my hands in order to help emphasize and draw certain phrases or word groups out of copy that is by it’s nature pretty dry stuff.
While voicing retail copy I try to get a little more energy into the read by rapidly wagging a wrist around behind the mic. I do most of the fast legal reads for Nationwide Insurance radio and for those I stand like a statue with arms up and out and pour the energy into cramming all those words into the shortest space possible.
On the other hand there are voice actors who prefer not to use overly physical techniques and still bring wonderful life to their scripts through emotional connection to the words.
If you are just starting out, practice and experiment. Get training. Use a coach. Find the techniques that work best for you.