Voice Over Education Blog

May 2015

How to sound natural: Easy, right?


If sounding natural were a no-brainer, a lot more people might read a voice-over script passably well. At least it would be good start. But as so many voice professionals know, it’s not so easy. Just watch what happens when any body, professional or not, steps up to a microphone with serious intent.

Of course, there’s more to VO performance than being able to sound natural in an unnatural situation. But it is one mark of a pro. Why is it so hard to accomplish?

Well, for one thing, there’s the well-known “My voice doesn’t sound like me” effect. Most people get used to it, but regardless, there’s often a tendency to compensate. The person tries to sound like they sound to themselves. Their voice (in their head) is generally loaded with low-end tones and is relatively loud. So, subconsciously, they might adjust their voice and boom out a bit. And it doesn’t sound like them to anyone, including themselves.

How to sound natural: Easy, right?


If sounding natural were a no-brainer, a lot more people might read a voice-over script passably well. At least it would be good start. But as so many voice professionals know, it’s not so easy. Just watch what happens when any body, professional or not, steps up to a microphone with serious intent.

Of course, there’s more to VO performance than being able to sound natural in an unnatural situation. But it is one mark of a pro. Why is it so hard to accomplish?

Well, for one thing, there’s the well-known “My voice doesn’t sound like me” effect. Most people get used to it, but regardless, there’s often a tendency to compensate. The person tries to sound like they sound to themselves. Their voice (in their head) is generally loaded with low-end tones and is relatively loud. So, subconsciously, they might adjust their voice and boom out a bit. And it doesn’t sound like them to anyone, including themselves.

Can you use copyrighted material in your demo? Part Two: Can you vs. Should you.


NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!

Last week we discussed copyright issues involved with using a paid job on your demo. Now let’s turn to the situation when you record an audition, or a “pretend” production made specifically for your demo. (And a reminder: This applies to voice talent at all experience levels, because everyone needs a fresh, up-to-date demo and most everyone should continually expand or strengthen their capabilities and client opportunities.) What may you use, and what should you?

If you were not paid for the job, or (more to the point) if it was a demo or a “pretend” production, the issues are more complex. This is where the questions shift from “May I” to “Should I?”

First, the “May I?” issues ...

May you use someone else’s script?

Using a script from (for example) an actual commercial, invites various complications. For one, you don’t own the copyright to that script. The legal principle of “Fair Use” says copyrighted material can be used as long as not directly used to make a profit, but opinions differ as to what constitutes “directly.” You’re not charging people to listen, but your aim is, after all, to land a paying client.

In Part 1, we cited a passage in the book Voice Over Legal by attorney Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr. On that page, he also said:

... there is a popular misconception in the voice over business that once a commercial airs, the copy is free to poach and use on demos. This is NOT the case, as that copy was probably copyrighted by the advertising agent or author of that copy.

Can you use copyrighted material in your demo? It’s not a simple case of yes or no.


NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Click here to read part two!

My, how time flies! In our newsletter a dozen years ago, we wrote a few lines about using copyrighted material in demos. And in Should you write your own demo copy? last January, we wrote about how to write demo copy yourself.

It’s a multifaceted issue that deserves revisiting. In fact, even this article can only touch on the various factors involved. That’s one reason why a coach is so important in producing your demo. Not only does an experienced, knowledgeable demo coach play the invaluable role of director, he or she can advise on the script material you (plural) will choose together. It’s not just what you may and may not do, it’s also what you should and should not do.

First, there two fundamental types of demo material: 1) Jobs you were hired to voice and were paid for, and 2) “Simulated” jobs that sound just as good or better in every respect, and that accurately represent what you can do under pressure.

It almost goes without saying that you typically can use a paid recording on your demo, IF it is okay with the client – and by “client” in this case we mean the copyright owner or their agent, not just the producer or whoever paid you. Clients rarely withhold their permission for work that has been openly published. That is, commercials that have aired, products that have been marketed, or other types of recordings that can be heard by the general public.

6 Easy ways to blow a recorded audition


Use to be, you could fail an in-person audition by talking too much, wasting the audition team’s time. Or by signing in before you’ve read the script and are ready to be called. Or by making too many flubs (and saying “sorry” after each), or even inadvertently insulting the copywriter. Now that the vast majority of your auditions are probably online or sent in as recordings, a lot of those errors don’t apply.

But there are still some simple ways to blow it. The good news is that, once aware, it’s pretty easy to recognize and avoid these pitfalls, so you can concentrate on putting your best foot forward. Not in your mouth.

1. Poor volume level.

Opinions and situations vary as to what optimal volume is. But there’s a point where everyone would agree it’s too soft, when compared with the other auditions you’re competing with.

Your approach to setting volume levels matters. You probably learned in your first recording lesson that your volume should not go above (louder) than 0 dB. We won’t try to give a full technical how-to in the space of this paragraph.

Suffice it to say that here we’re not talking here about your recording volume. You might keep that fairly low, and then bring it up to a “normal” level later. We’re talking now about your finished volume, in the file you submit for the audition. We sometimes get auditions (and Weekly Script Reading Contest submissions) that are barely audible ... quieter than -10 or even -20 dB.

You know what some audition screeners (although not necessarily ours) do in that case? Adjusting their volume might be inconvenient. If they then forget to change it back, the next recording booms out. And do they want to hire someone who can’t send them a recording at the proper volume? So instead, they might just click the “Next” button.

2. Slating incorrectly.

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