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March 12, 2011

Getting Inside the Script


When presented with a VO script, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare to warrant bringing your best acting skills to the table. In my article Getting Started in Voiceovers, I pointed out: "Whether it's a ketchup commercial, an instructional tech video, or an animated Pixar blockbuster, the skills you need to bring to the mic are those of an actor."

Dan O'Day shares this clip of Christine Coyle demonstrating just what I referred to, teaching the kind of text analysis skills needed to get inside any script. (My friend Bob Souer is one of the participants.)

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February 20, 2011

Getting Started: Another Take



Wondering what it takes to get started on the right path to a career in voiceovers?

I've gotten a lot of nice feedback on my article about getting one's feet wet in the voiceover biz. Voice actor Smith Harrison has written his own superb piece on the subject of getting started in voiceovers, so I recommend you add it to your reading list if you're interested in laying the groundwork.

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October 28, 2010

FaffCon2: Atlanta 2011!

The success of the first FaffCon event in Portland has led to FaffCon 2, coming to Atlanta in 2011. Early registration begins November 1st!

FaffCon is a voiceover "unconference"; instead of being locked in to seminar or workshop content dictated by others, you get to choose what aspect of voiceover work gets discussed/worked on/et cetera. Congrats to FaffCon's organizer, Amy Snively, on the success of the (un)conference!

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May 14, 2009

You're Doing It Wrong

 

 

 

Getting an agent to represent your voiceover career requires the following: talent, persistence, professionalism, and at least the ability to gain the slightest understanding of what a Voiceover Demo is.

Then again, this is just my opinion. Maybe you don't really need any of those things. In fact, if you're bereft of all four items, I urge you to plow forward regardless with all haste and fervor! Oh, you certainly won't land an agent, but you'll provide bloggers like me with plenty of compelling material.

By way of example, the fine folks at Voice Over Xtra bring you an e-mail transcript of a recent exchange between VO agent Roger King of PN Agency and "an aspiring voice talent". I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the latter description is probably a bit generous.

 

How NOT To Get An Agent

 

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April 30, 2009

Looking and Leaping Into Voiceover

Actress and author Deborah Puette gives an in-depth, first-hand look at taking the plunge into her first VO demo. Her work with producer/voice actor Ed Cunningham is also documented on video. Highly recommended!

(Courtesy of Backstage.com)

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February 15, 2009

You Oughtta Be In Voiceovers

Ever been told you should be doing voiceovers? Ever told someone they should be doing voiceovers? Here's a brief but must-read article on the reality behind what the next step actually entails.

UPDATE: A fellow voice talent shared her experiences, in a response to this post in another forum. Here are her thoughts:

 

My reality: $14,000 later with a professional demo and directors, agents and actors telling me I'm competitive and the top student in the working professional classes, agents all told me "I have that niche filled." and "I'm sorry, you're too old to portray children. You can't possibly understand their motivations."

An audiobook startup is happy to use me for character work in exchange for copies of the books and a small mixer board they outgrew. My voice is on another "resume job" display in a museum of coin-op amusements.

I return to working on advancing my day job career with dreams of building a studio of my own to record the antique children's books I've collected.

For everyone who makes it big, how many are working with broken dreams?

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July 10, 2008

Helium Happenings

 
 

 
My article on Getting Started in Voiceovers is featured today on Helium's home page. A hat-tip from me to the Helium team.

Also featured are excellent VO articles by Natalie Nicole Gilbert and Doc Phillips. Give those a look while you're there, and take a look at the larger Helium community; it's a terrific resource for articles on just about any topic imaginable.

 

UPDATE (7/11/08): I received a message from a Helium user after yesterday's front-page showing:

 

I read your article on voiceovers (congrats on making the front page of Helium) - you have an excellent writing style, phenomenal understanding of words and their use in the English language, and easily share your knowledge without sounding pompous. Thank you for bringing your talent to Helium.

C.M.Erickson
Coffee sub-channel steward

 

C.M. didn't leave an e-mail address, so I hope it's okay if I offer humble thanks here for those kind words. 

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July 02, 2007

Passing the Savings on to You?

I recently happened across this instructional video at Digital Juice, aimed at giving video producers some pointers on getting the best possible VO recordings. 

It's worth viewing, in that it has lots of good technical tips on basic recording techniques. Unfortunately, the entire theme of the video is summed up at the end: "[Your clients] will probably be pleasantly surprised by your results, and happy not to have to shell out any extra cash for voiceover talent."

To a voiceover artist, the preceding quote evokes this initial reaction: them's fightin' words.

Producers at whom this video is aimed need to realize that hiring professional voice talent is money well spent, and that it will actually save money in the long run. Those producers who are experienced in this arena will tell you that it ends up costing even more money (by way of lost time) when the initial VO is sub-par, because then you're under the gun to complete the project, you've got to find a bona fide VO who just happens to be available immediately, and you end up paying established rates anyway.

Another thing for producers to realize is that it doesn't take a "Hollywood-sized budget" as mentioned by the instructor. There are professional VO artists who will pro-rate their fee after a certain number of pages, and may even offer a kind of "goodwill discount" if asked nicely enough. (This doesn't, however, make it okay to offer $50 for an hour-long narration, as suggested in one of the comments on the page.) 

Having said all that, the video does have solid information on noise reduction, the way a voice track fits into different kinds of projects, and --- this is crucial --- finalizing the script. Unfortunately, pieces of advice like "make sure you understand how to read the script" and "don't drink a milkshake before recording your VO" are unnecessary; professional voice artists show up already knowing this information. (Using a pro VO also makes it unnecessary to use "4" in place of "for" in a script --- an actual suggestion from the video.)

Finally, on a geekier note: the caption next to the graphic of the EV RE20 mic lists it as a "condenser", even though it's a dynamic mic. (The Neumann U87, shown previously, is correctly identified.)

 

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June 29, 2007

Voiceover from the Client's POV

As a voiceover talent, one's job is to serve the needs of the client. Some of us can lose sight of that at times, and a reminder from a different perspective can come in handy. 

A few months ago, I posted my articles on getting started in VO to Helium.com, a site that publishes articles both pro and amatuer, on a variety of topics. Looking around the site to see if any other voiceover-related articles had been published, I found a keeper by Robert Dwyer.

Robert's article is titled similarly to mine, but his piece adds some important information that no aspiring VO artist should be without: don't bite the hand that feeds. It's a bit of advice found all too rarely in beginning-voiceover articles, and it carries the extra weight of his status as producer and director of voice talent for TV.

If you're getting your feet wet as a voice talent, read Robert's article twice and keep it bookmarked.

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October 12, 2006

VO Recording: A Microphone Primer

This concise but informative article on VO recording covers a lot of ground; if you're starting out and looking for basics on getting your home studio going, this piece is a great place to start.

One thing I should note: the article spends a bit of time on microphones, but doesn't point out a key distinction between Dynamic and Condenser mics. While each is just a different method of doing what mics do (that is, take pressure waves from the air and convert them to an electrical signal, to then be converted back to sound), they're two different animals; each type will shape your recorded voice in dramatically different ways.

Dynamic mics have a limited frequency response; this means that they don't capture sound with great accuracy, but it also allows them to handle exceptionally loud sources like guitar amps, drums, and screaming disc jockeys (most of the talk you hear on the radio will be coming from a dynamic mic) .

Condenser mics have reversed characteristics, essentially; they've got a wide frequency response. This means, as you've no doubt figured out by now, that they reproduce sound accurately but can be overpowered (and even damaged!) by excessive sound pressure. Condensers tend to be more expensive than dynamics, and will require phantom power (available on most mixers, but sometimes an external power source is used).

Okay, I've prattled on enough. Go read!

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September 28, 2006

Getting Started, Part II: The Nitty and the Gritty

Intro 

In the first installment, we addressed some general points designed to help the newcomer decide whether to pursue a VO career. If you're still interested, great! We'll now take a look at your next steps, a bit more specifically.

(I'll again throw in a disclaimer: I don't assert that this information is definitive, and exceptions do occur to the "rules" in this Business we call Show. Take this in and weigh it against other articles, as well as your own experiences. Feel free to comment here as well.)


Back to School


As I mentioned before, some degree of training is essential, and it should happen before you begin creating demos and trying to market your services. (It should also happen after those steps as well; as in any other field, VO education is an ongoing process.) If you don't have any acting experience, I highly recommend looking up a local community theatre organization and volunteering; most such outfits are always looking for new faces. You'll likely learn absolutely nothing about microphone technique or how to fit an overwritten piece of ad copy into 30 seconds, but you will gain valuable experience using your body and voice to tell a story and/or sell an idea. 'Informal' or 'Ongoing' education programs are another great way to dip your toes into the acting waters. Many of these programs will even have an introductory-level voiceover class or two, so get to Googling and see what's available in your area.

A recently-developed source of training info comes from voiceover artist DB Cooper (no, not the infamous skyjacker), found at the VO-BB forums. Go there and click the 'Training' link to discover a wealth of terrific VO books and other resources.

In addition to the general acting training referenced above, you need to have plenty of practice reading scripts; you can gain a lot of experience by drawing on exercises found in books like The Art of Voice Acting by James Allburger, as well as several other fine books listed in the VO-BB link. If you've already got a basic voice-recording setup with a microphone and computer, record yourself reading scripts, ad copy from magazines, even stories with different characters. Practice this and listen back until you're hearing a performance that brings the copy to life.

A note: I'm betting that some of you are reading the above and thinking, "look, Dave, I know you mean well, but I've got loads of natural talent and have been 'acting' and creating characters since I was in diapers, so I hope you don't mind if I plan to skip the whole classroom-experience bit."

If so, then please know that I don't mind in the slightest. You can (and certainly should) draw on your natural abilities when performing VO work. My point is that if you haven't had training from a bona fide teacher, it will eventually show in your work. (Again, if you happen to be the exception, and find that you're able to be successful in VO without putting in the work, then more power to you*.)

Momentarily putting aside my earlier point about not being in VO for the money: you're proposing to enter a field wherein, when you're working steadily, you can (potentially) earn as much as a working attorney or physician. The latter two occupations require going to school for eight, ten, twelve years (or more) after high school. There's no real requirement that you attend any sort of formal classes to be a voiceover artist...but you do have to have the same level of commitment as those professionals. If you like the idea of a self-taught accountant doing your taxes, or an untrained mechanic working on your car, then by all means plow ahead in that same vein.

A Seat at the Table

Regardless of how much or how little training you've had, a resumé of acting experience does little when it comes to actually landing VO jobs. You've got to bring something to the table, and that something needs to be your demo. In fact, you'll need several demos in different categories, and each of them needs to stack up against pros who are already working steadily. However, before we put the cart too far in front of the horse...

Don't get too impatient; you need to be ready to perform before you get started creating your first demo. If you've been practicing and absorbing information from VO pros (via the resources and methods listed previously), then you can start putting materials together for the demo.

While you might want to concentrate on completing one demo category at a time, it's important to know what the main ones are: Commercial, Narration, and Character. There are others, such as radio/TV imaging, subcategories of Narration like Medical, Scientific and Corporate, etc., but let's stick to the basics for now.

Finding material for a Commercial demo is easy; while you can contact studios and ad agencies to search for old legitimate advertising copy, you can also find the same material in any magazine or newspaper --- it's simply formatted differently. Look for copy that mirrors the better ads you've heard on radio and TV; by "better", I mean copy that stands apart from the same old advertising clichés, and grabs the listener. (Be honest: Has the phrase "plenty of free parking" ever swayed any of your buying decisions? I didn't think so.)

Narration material is equally easy; go to the website of nearly any large company, and you'll likely find an "About Us" or "Mission Statement" section. It's not uncommon for that same material to be used by the company for training and promotional audio, so take advantage of a ready-made resource.

A Character demo, despite what it may sound like to most ears, is not just an audio clip of you doing funny voices; this is where your acting chops really come into play. Use copy that requires you to get inside the character, and create the voice from within that. (Listen to Pat Fraley's free lessons for more insight on this process.)

Also: the Character demo is something of a "specialty", even within VO work; there are several voice artists who do plenty of fine VO work, without ever pretending to be a frog. If certain types of characters or accents or dialects aren't your strong suit, by all means leave them on the shelf, work on them in the meantime, and let your demo showcase the strengths you do have.

Looking and Leaping

Here's a huge word of caution: unless you're coming to the table with a good amount of experience in audio production, I strongly recommend against recording and producing the demo yourself. Solicit the services of a qualified and experienced producer who specializes in VO demos. If you do decide to record and edit on your own, politely ask for feedback from a VO pro before sending the demo to agents and potential clients. Once again, a friendly evaluation request at the VO-BB Critique forum is a good way to do this. Also, feel free to e-mail me with an evaluation request, and I'll be happy to give you my $0.02.

 

That's all for now! 

 

*This is in no way meant to demean or belittle those successful VO artists who have avoided the theatrical acting/voice-training route; they deserve their success and certainly don't need me to tell them how it should be done. However, even those VO folks will tell that you've got to educate yourself  --- or be educated, by a qualified teacher --- about the business and craft of voiceover.

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September 12, 2006

Getting Started - More Info

...courtesy of voiceover artist Travis:

 VO Magic (mp3)

 

Enjoy.

 

 

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August 17, 2006

Getting Started in Voiceovers: My Take

The more people I meet, both online and in person, the more I talk about my VO business. (Always be networking!) A natural result is that I’m increasingly presented with the question: “How can I get into doing voiceovers?” or “what’s your advice on getting started?”

I’ll do my best to sum up my answers to these questions here. Before I do, let me acknowledge that there are already dozens of excellent articles on this topic to be found online, many written by voice talents and producers with more experience and wisdom than yours truly. Still, I’ve found much of their sage advice to be true from direct experience, and hopefully my own take on this subject will be of value to anyone asking the question(s). So, off we go...

It's Not About Your Voice*.

Usually accompanying the "how do I start" inquiry is the qualifier "People tell me I have a great voice!" The good news? If you're being told this, odds are that those people are correct. The bad news? The reason they're probably correct is that most people have a "nice voice", that is to say, a voice of reasonably pleasant tonal quality that doesn't send the listener into crippling spasms. The worse news? Having a "good voice" means virtually nothing with regard to having a successful VO career. I've received countless compliments on the quality of my voice; while I accept them as sincere, I know full well that the reason I have a voiceover career is that I've learned how to use that voice. If you don't have any acting experience or training, get some. Whether it's a ketchup commercial, an instructional tech video, or an animated Pixar blockbuster, the skills you need to bring to the mic are those of an actor.

This is Serious Stuff.

Another aspect of the Big Question is that it's often asked earnestly but wistfully; you can practically see the questioner's gauzy vision of getting up in the morning, sitting behind the mic for an hour or so, collecting a fat paycheck for the session, and taking off the rest of the day...or even the week. Just to be sure, there are voice talents for whom that's a normal day; that list is pretty short, though, and getting on that last requires lots of time + lots of work + a bit of luck. (Not to mention that those guys stay quite busy.)

How much time? How much work? How much luck? The answer, as with so many things, is different for everyone; in pretty much every case, however, it means focusing on developing your skills. It means spending time marketing your services. In other words, even if you only want to work in VO part time or "on the side", you still have to take it seriously, develop your craft, and pursue the gigs; and to get those gigs, you'll need to convince the (potential) buyers of your services that you're a dedicated professional. (That's getting ahead of the game a bit, however. Moving on...)

This is Fun Stuff!

Lest you think at this point that I'm a curmudgeon about this stuff, think again! This is one of the most fun jobs imaginable, and even the little annoyances are far outweighed by the rewards. By "rewards", I'm not even referring to money; as I mentioned in my previous post, most VO talents will never earn millions upon millions of dollars. This is all the more reason to love what you do. (If the odds against earning vast riches are putting you off of this whole VO thing, or if you've only considered VO because it seems like an easy way to rake in big bucks, you might as well stop reading now.) I mention the hard work involved because it's true, but hard work doesn't have to mean drudgery. Enjoy yourself! Listeners (that is to say, potential clients) can tell, and are more likely to look your way.

Having worked at a number of radio stations, I can confirm that there are times when non-professional voice talents are asked to read copy for commercials and/or PSAs. It happens, especially when deadlines are looming, or when an advertiser chooses to voice their own copy. What often happens is that an otherwise literate and intelligent person delivers a reading that suggests they're still learning the English language. Flat, monotone, devoid of rhythm or pace. This isn't to put down people for not having instant pro voiceover skills; in fact, most people aren't used to reading text aloud on a regular basis, and even though the words may leap off the page and tell a vivid story when they read it with their eyes, they have trouble getting their mouths to perform that same translation.

As a voice artist, your job is to take words from a page and give them life. This brings us back to the need for...acting skills! Words are not mere conveyances of data, they're (potentially) living things that need your help to be fully realized. Even if you don't have formal training, take a chance when you read! Use your vocal range; it's probably wider than you think. Exaggerate, overemphasize, even yell! If the read doesn't seem right, try something else! It's always easier to tone it down from "exciting" than to build it up from "dull". (As VO coach Nancy Wolfson says, "You can rope 'em in, but you can't rope 'em out.")

Do Your Homework

No matter from where you're starting out, be it absolute beginner or somewhat-experienced, you have an advantage going in: the research has pretty much been done; all you have to do is look it up!

Okay, that's perhaps not quite as easy as I've made it sound; it still takes time and focus, but you can find a great deal of information online regarding the VO world. Do a Google or Yahoo! search for "voiceovers", "voice talent", "voice acting", and look through the results. I should recommend a few resources which have been invaluable to me, and will be for you as well: The Yahoo! Voiceovers group, and the VO-BB discussion boards. Both are forums populated with several bona fide professional VO artists; the archives for each group are a treasure trove of information on every aspect of this business. Be polite, and try not to bump into the furniture.

That's all for now. This is but the merest tip of the iceberg when it comes to "getting started" advice for voiceovers. Do some research, keep the right attitude, hone your skills; You'll be on the right track. Best of luck!

Getting Started: Part II

 

UPDATE: Here are a few links to some of the articles referenced previously. These should help fill in some of the gaps left by my piece.


Getting Started - James Alburger

Starting Your At-Home Voice-Over Business - Peter Drew

Cartoon Voices - Mark Evanier

Producing your First Demo

Breaking In to the Business of VO

Tips for Voice-Over Talent
 

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