21 Jan “I’ve Got a Good Voice, Don’t You Think I Could Do Voiceovers?”
All too often at parties, someone overhears that I am a voice-over Agent and the inevitable question or more terrifying actual on-the-spot audition ensues, “I’ve got a good voice, don’t you think I could do voice-overs?” Within this almost clichéd exchange lies a rub; the assumption that voice-overs is something anyone can do. Yes, you’ve got a voice. But do you know how to use it? You may have the golden pipes of a god(dess) but if you don’t have the education, skills and the illusive “ear” forget it, you might as well be a no-finger cartoon character trying to play Chopin. So what separates you, itinerant party-goer, from someone who is a professional voiceover Talent? And what is the professional voiceover business?
Professional voiceover is a wide-ranging business. It covers commercials, narration, broadcast promos and movie trailers, animation, gaming and interactive voice response or IVR. Within these simple categories of professional voiceover is a myriad of sub-areas, from radio, television, online, documentaries, technical content, books on tape…
As vast as the categories, so are the specialists, the professional voiceover Talent and the professional voiceover agencies, Casting Directors, websites, Producers and so on, turning words on a page (or a screen) into professional voiceover performances that you hear “completing” a piece of content. In many cases, without this key component, commercials and videos you see from your television to your computer screen would be moody montages of images or mini-storylines without a narrative that ties it all together and that compels you, the viewer, into a mode of action. These actions can range from a test-drive to a fundamental understanding of how to get your dishwasher to start.
Professional voiceover Talent are the story-tellers, the guides and even the proxy voice in our heads (sometimes over PAs in an airport). They are nuanced professionals that understand the proper cadence, turn-of-a-word, timing, tone and inflection to make words land and resonate and most importantly, communicate.
Where do professional voiceover Talent come from? Many are actors pursuing professional voiceover as a complement to their stage and screen careers. Others are technical experts who have a pleasant voice and are effective at delivering large amounts of complex verbiage on industrial, medical, business and technical subjects. Some are editors who by virtue of seeing the images and understanding the specific cadence of certain reads, for example move trailers, have an “ear” for the right sound and easily slip into the Talent chair to provide the perfect complement to on-screen imagery. The one thing in common with all of these “types” is that they are professionals. They have learned a craft through coaching, research, practice and experience. They pursue this as a part-time or full-time profession.
You’ve mentioned “ear” a few times. What is that? It’s the secret sauce. It is what separates our earlier star-bound partygoing discovery and the folks who really “DO” this on a daily basis, from the professional voiceover Talent and industry. The kinds of folks who are handpicked to be on sites such as VOICEOVERS.com and represented by Talent agencies and sought out by Casting Directors to be presented to Producers to audition for jobs and secure real work in the real professional voiceover world. The ear is the innate talent, the ability to take a word, apply control of air to the voicebox and evoke a sound and feeling that is simply “right” for a particular moment. It is the ability to know what kind of gas to give the communicative vehicle of a script.
So you think you’re ready to jump into the world of professional voice over. Ok! Time to get some coaching, learn to prep scripts, practice vocal control, hone your signature, create your demo(s), build your resume and website, grow your professional voiceover network, get on the marketplace casting sites such as VOICEOVERS.com, start doing auditions, get an agent and DO regular gigs. Oh, yeah, there are some steps from the moment of conception to that place where you are living the life of the professional voiceover – and as in life, everything starts with the first one. Good luck!