If you want to talk for a living, hone your listening skills. Listening is part of your preparation. Preparation helps you audition and perform with confidence. Nothing ruins a voiceover faster than self-doubt. The microphone amplifies your doubt like a megaphone. Developing your ear expands the ways your mouth can make money.
Listening is just as important in voiceover as it is in any kind of acting. First and foremost, you need to listen to voiceovers. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I am constantly surprised by people who want to do voice work and don’t follow this simple rule. When actors say they don’t watch television, I feel they’re missing an opportunity to be informed. This is the work of your colleagues and you can learn from it. Commercial work is probably not the reason you became an actor but there is art in it, and frankly, it beats flipping burgers. If you’re fortunate to have a successful commercial career, it can free you from soul-deadening day jobs and give you the means to pursue passion projects.
Listening to voiceovers is not only important for sharpening technique, it’s crucial to keeping up with current styles and trends. In auditions, casting directors will often reference other voice work to get you in the wheelhouse quickly. If you’re not familiar with the reference, it’s going to be a lot harder to take direction and book the job. Different kinds of voiceovers also make different demands on the actor, so it’s important to listen not only to commercials but also to audiobooks, animation, industrials, and video games so you can get a feel for various arenas.
I often close my eyes when listening to voice work to really focus on the subtleties. Part of what’s exciting and challenging about voiceover is the sensitivity of the microphone. Small adjustments make a big difference in how something plays. You may not hear these nuances right away, but with a little practice, you’ll be surprised how much you do notice. Listen for differences in voiceovers for radio and television: when there’s no picture, the voice often has to do more work. Listen for shape and phrasing ~ how the performer finds a beginning, middle and end in a matter of seconds. Keep an ear out for how a voice cuts through or interacts with music in a spot. Tune in to how multiple voices in a piece interact with each other. Make note of things that surprise, entertain, and move you, so you can develop similar skills.
Record and listen to yourself to determine if you’re competitive with working talent. You don’t need a high tech set up to accomplish this, and it’s the best way to get on top of unhelpful vocal habits and to discover your strengths. Record yourself reading a variety of copy: commercials, novels, anime roles, etc… You’ll not only improve your cold reading ability, you’ll hear for yourself where you need development and where you shine.
Fiona Jones, actor/writer/producer, is fortunate to work with amazing, imaginative agents at CESD. She’s the proud founder of NYC’s Estrogenius Festival now in its 13th season & she serves as Creative Director for Dream Out Loud Media.
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