Voice Over Education Blog


6 ways to improve your VO performance, away from the mic

If you keep busy at your mic and computer, you may have no reason to leave your studio, other than to go to the kitchen and to sleep for the night. But unless you get out and about from time to time, you could be losing more than muscle tone. That lack of variety could leave you short-sighted, figuratively, and maybe even literally.

Here are six ways you can improve yourself as a voice artist and strengthen your business, while you're away from your mic.

We've all seen articles by "efficiency experts" who say to, oh, buy stamps online instead of at the post office. Heck, these days you could do the same with groceries and half the other stuff you need.

But go there anyway. You can get more than stamps at the post office.

1. Get acting inspiration. In just about any stable crowd, you can find acting inspiration -- because you see and meet other people of every sort.

So if there's a long line of customers when you get to the post office or supermarket or wherever, don't view it as a negative. Use it as an opportunity. Look at each person around you, and imagine what they're thinking. Come up with a word to describe whatever emotion each person seems to be feeling at that time. In fact, do this with everyone you come across. This mental exercise (or let's call it a game) has been proven to be an effective technique in enhancing your ability to empathize (to know what other people are feeling). Empathy is part of a voice actor's stock-in-trade. Imagining and understanding the thoughts of your audience is helpful, especially considering that your audiences are people you can't even hear or see.

2. Get ideas for voice characters. Leave your earbuds at home. Listen to the voices of the people around you. Now and then you'll hear a voice or notice a mannerism you've never encountered before. Maybe someday you can use it.

Do your voice-overs benefit from your full vocal range?

"Great! Now, read it another way."

Whether or not you've ever heard that from a Director (and you won't always), it's a good direction to give yourself. Because there's more than one way to read almost any VO copy, and there's more than one vocal approach you can use. Which means ...

... there's more than one way to land a job.

Before you start recording, shake yourself up. In fact, you could do that literally – shake your body all over for a few seconds. It helps loosen you up, both physically and mentally.

But you can shake up your "usual" read in many more significant ways than that. Here are some that will help shake up your voicing options.

Who's your character? In an acting framework, this question is often combined with "Who are you talking to?" and "Where are you" and other such situational images. But ultimately, they all come down to "Who are you?" Even if you're narrating, or doing phone prompts, you are voicing a character of sorts. For example, your "character" might be the customer of a department store (the client), or the store's marketing director. Or as a narrator, you might think of yourself as a scientist, or a businessperson, or a teacher. Even as a phone prompt, you might feel like a retail greeter, or the company's owner. They may all sound like you. But each thinks and maybe behaves a bit differently.

Over the course of your career, one of your core characters is "you." Clients come to know your "go-to" voice and personality (or persona); for most talent, it's probably their most saleable voice. But in developing that voice, hopefully you will have given it all the resources at your disposal.

Which leads to another "shake-up" question ...

Not landing the audition is NOT a failure. Yeah, right.

People who know the power of positive thinking realize that failing to land an audition is not really a failure. Nor is it rejection. The positive way to look at it is this: You just weren’t the one person they selected.

Easy to say. Not so easy to feel. So here’s some help ...

Although not landing an audition is disappointing, even frustrating, it's part of the acting business. Another part of the acting business is knowing which auditions to try out for, and understanding what you can learn when you don't get the role.

Nobody ever wins everything. Just as not even the best batter in baseball will hit perfectly over an entire season (in fact, a 30% average is considered good), no actor ever won every role they were up for in the course of their career. The key is to know which roles to try for, and when you don't get the part, learn how to learn from the experience, or (eventually this will be the usual case) simply slough it off and move on.

Is that easier said than done? Probably. But putting missed opportunities into perspective is easier when you look at them as variable situations, filled with gray areas, and not absolutes.

Words-to-Time Calculator: Give better VO estimates, faster

Vocal skill and business sense are key to maintaining a voice-over career, and so is a sense of neighborliness. These attributes work synergistically. After all, ours is a people business in so many ways. In the almost two decades since we at Edge Studio began focusing on the voice-over community, we have grown largely because we treat the VO industry as a community.

So at EdgeStudio.com, we offer a broad range of free VO resources for voice actors and people who work with them. For example, one of our widely useful tools is the Words-to-Time Calculator. Here's an updated look at how to use it to your best advantage ...

The Edge Studio Words-To-Time Calculator tells you how long a script will take to read. It's a valuable tool for working VO talent to use every day.

Scriptwriters and copywriters also use this tool, to estimate how many words fit a certain amount of time. (If, as a voice artist, you've ever been faced with a script that's just too long or too short, you appreciate copywriters who can gauge how long their audio copy is.)

Our Calculator lets voice talent create more accurate estimates, more quickly. The faster you can judge a script's finished length, the faster you can return an estimate. This is especially helpful with a long script, such as a corporate training series or audiobook. Simply specify the number of words in the script, or paste the script, or tell it the average number of words per line, number of lines and the page count – and it gives you the time of the finished audio.

Better yet, it allows you to adjust the wps (words per second) to compensate for a variety of situations.

What we teach kids, voice actors should also remember.

Kids are amazingly natural. They breathe naturally from the diaphragm – and their voices tend to be vocally free – they say what they mean to say, without physical restriction or inhibition. By the time we’ve become young adults many of us have lost these capabilities. As voice actors, we may need to re-learn them.

But kids don’t know everything. Parents need to teach other good speaking habits ... like slowing down, not mumbling, and being sure they’ve been understood. As voice actors, it’s good to review these habits, too.

One of our staffers recalls being told as a child, “If they haven't heard you, you haven't said it.” That pretty well sums up any conversational statement, and definitely encapsulates the goal in voice-over. It’s the responsibility of the speaker to be understood – don’t expect the listener to bear all that burden. In fact, in some VO genres, you can’t even count on them paying attention!

Here’s a list of good speaking habits, and how to relate them to your voice-over delivery.

Get their attention. Parents teach that it’s not polite to shout “Hey!” at the dinner table; there are more polite ways to get someone’s attention. In voice-over, such an obvious attention-getting ploy is a very rare but accepted procedure. For example, a script that starts with “What’s this?” or shouting (figuratively, at least) in a pushy commercial. But in most cases by far, there are more sophisticated ways to capture the ear of your listener. One of the best is to value that first word. Pronounce it clearly, and just a bit more slowly than you otherwise might. Then, rather than pausing after it, deliver the first complete thought (the first phrase) to bring your listener mentally up-to-speed. Consider, for example:

In an audio tour, are you a Docent, or a Tour Guide?

A “docent” is a person who guides people through a museum or such, explaining as they go. So why the heck why aren’t they just called “tour guides”? Why use a $50 word just because it’s a museum???

True, a common word would sound less pretentious, but it would also say less about the guide. “Docent” comes from the word “teacher.” A “guide,” like many VO talent, might just present a script, whereas (in principle, at least) a teacher knows what they’re talking about.

So, are you a docent?

First, let’s elaborate a bit on what we are talking about ...

Another reason for saying “docent” is that the word also has other applications. It often designates an unpaid museum volunteer, or a parent assisting on a school field trip. In some countries, it refers to an associate professor.

Let’s also make clear that this question is relevant to more than museum tours, or tours of any sort. It’s also a valid issue in other genres, from eLearning to industrial explainers, and in online virtual tours, as well.

And while we’re at it, you might like to know that “docent” comes (by way of German, “Dozent”) from the Latin word “docēre.” Incidentally, the English word “docile” – as in “she was a very docile pony” – does not mean “gentle” as some people think; it means “easily taught or trained,” and it comes from the same Latin root.

So now you can docent the word “docent”! (In which case you would also want to know that, grammatically, “docent” is only a noun, not correctly used as a verb. But plenty of people do.)

Where were we?

Oh, the distinction between a “teacher” and a “guide” – that should be obvious. A teacher typically knows their subject intimately. Whether they are holding class in a semester series, or leading tourists through a museum wing, a teacher knows much more about the subject than they are able to tell in such a brief time.

Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice

With the professional baseball season near, we might use it as a metaphor for voice acting – namely this: Pre-game batting practice is often one of the most fun, interesting parts of a day at the park, and it’s an essential part for the players. The analogy works for any performance skill, from musicianship to chess, and certainly includes voice-over.

Pros practice daily. Do you?

Before you made your first demo, you of course practiced intensively, under the guidance of one or more coaches. But – temporarily using another sports metaphor -- that demo was just the on-ramp that leads to the track, so we hope you didn’t stop practicing once you became proficient at consistently landing work. That’s no time to quit. It’s all the more reason to practice, thoughtfully. Every day.

Furthermore, although “learning never ends,” an actual recording job or audition is not the time to learn. On those occasions, it’s important to be free of inhibition, and to use your ability to innovate, but that’s not the same sort of learning. Confidence and innovation are skills that themselves require learning, and these skills are in turn comprised of others. Practice makes them ... professional. And pulls them all together.

To practice well, you need four things.

1. A recorder
2. Scripts
3. Discipline
4. A plan

The first, of course, you have. Scripts, you can get. Some people find it harder to come by the necessary discipline, but try. Consider practice time to be just another part of your business, and you will find a way to build-in the time required.

What makes these all come together is the plan. It can vary according to your personal preferences, genre and schedule, etc. Here’s one to consider ...

Voice-over work (and all else) got you uptight? Relax!

Almost everyone’s voice sounds more relaxed in the morning. In fact, a well-known voice artist once confided to us that – even though he is prolific throughout the day – he sometimes reserves the top of the day for jobs where he needs to sound especially deep. Another voice actor has told us that, early on (when his VO career was only a hope), he figured he’d make an appointment at one of those massage franchises for a neck rub before each job. Fortunately, as soon as he got some training he dissuaded himself of that approach. There are more practical ways to shed the tension that comes with a day’s physical and emotional trials.

Which of these might work for you? And why is this important?

To continue reading, click here.

Let’s answer the second question first. Relaxing your voice gives you many advantages. One major advantage is that it’s more appealing. When you are tense, your listener hears and feels it. But, like sincerity, vocal ease is not so easily faked. To sound comfortable, you should actually be comfortable.

A relaxed voice also gives you greater tonal range, has more endurance, enables you to follow direction more accurately, helps you enunciate better, adds to your confidence, and simply makes VO work (even) more fun.

So, how to achieve that state?

Method-to-Improv: What are the major acting techniques?

As a voice-actor, you encounter many stage and screen actors and are likely to consider at least a bit of formal acting training yourself. There are many ways to approach the task of acting. The lay person has heard of "method acting, " and that's about it. (And they're usually wrong as to what The Method is!)

Here’s a list of techniques. Many of them are similar to each other in some ways, very different in other ways. And none is nearly so simple as we’ve described them here. Hopefully, this will be of some service to you, even if something of a disservice to them.

Stanislavski. Developing the shift to modern acting, Constantin Stanislavski incorporated a range of natural behavioral influences, including emotional memory and self-analysis. The focus is on “experiencing” rather than “representing” the character, employing a holistic approach to performance and breaking down the text into “intentions.” The goal is to be aware of an objective, a problem to be solved, rather than be inhibited by the actor’s awareness of his or her artificial surroundings.

Method. Stanislavski had his “System”; Lee Strasberg developed it into his “Method” shifting the focus. Although it is not true that Strasberg’s called for an actor to stay in character even between scenes, the Method does focus more on psychology, using a range of rehearsal and practice techniques, including improvised situations. Emotional memory recall, “sense memory” is at the heart of it.

Stella Adler. While Stanislavski and Strasberg would have you draw on experience from your own life (whether an action or emotion), what if you never had such an experience? Often you can try to apply a feeling or situation similar to the one your character experiences, but that may seem too limited. Stella Adler called for actors to imagine the character’s circumstances and react to those.

Listen, just listen, to all the people all around you.

Have you listened to your world lately? Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton has surveyed the North American aural environment and found that virtually everyplace has some noise pollution. According to him, in the entire United States there are only a dozen places where you can stand for 15 minutes during daylight hours and not hear a man-made sound.

But even in those few places, there are natural noises. Hempton studies those natural sounds. But let’s turn it around. What might happen if you were to study the unnatural sounds -- specifically, the voices in various environments all around you?

Hempton’s thoughts were explored in a recently aired episode of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast, On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. The hour, titled “Gordon Hempton — Silence and the Presence of Everything,” was recorded in 2012.

Hempton reported that the least amount of noise pollution is found among the world’s tallest trees, in the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park. He calls it a cathedral. But while he calls it his “church,” it’s not where he first got this spirituality. That conversion, at age 27, occurred when he pulled off the road into a field to rest.

As he tells in the interview (emphasis ours), “While I lay there, and the thunder echoed through the valley, and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it’s then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it.”

When should VO actors act? And when not?

Is every voice-over artist an actor? No. Acting is of course part of voice-over work, but is also a profession unto itself. Or let’s call it an art form, a skill, or a calling. It’s all of those. And just as not all acting skills translate directly to voice-over, there are some voice-over skills that would not ordinarily be called “voice acting.”

As we (and others) have said many times here, acting skills can be applied in the vast majority of voice-over work -- in most genres – but there are times when a voice artist, even the voice actor should not act. When do you suppose those are?

Let’s answer that by first asking, how can acting skill help you in a voice-over?

Acting smarts can be helpful just about anytime. Even genres as seemingly cut-and-dried as telephony and announcements sometimes are (“For sales, press 1 ...”), or as stylized as promotion (“... that’s Thursday on this channel”), there are plenty of situations when empathy or imagination come into play.

But most of the time, when we talk about acting in voice-over, we mean genres such as audiobooks, animation, characters in commercials, videogames, and such – situations where you’re clearly called upon to play a character or express emotion.

Another such situation is narration. Sometimes the narrator (in a book, a video or whatever the story) is a character, either literally (as when Ismael narrates Moby Dick) or stylistically (as when Charles Dance sets the mood in Nat Geo Wild’s “Savage Kingdom”). In fact, even when the narrator of a video, book or other tale is not a character, it can help to think of yourself as a character, if you can do so consistently and credibly. By adopting the mindset of a credible character, you’re able to present the story more credibly. It also expands the range of tones you can choose from in conveying the story.

Using Peripheral Vision in VO – that is, in the wider sense

In a recent article, we discussed how to enhance your script-reading ability by using peripheral vision. To review explicitly why it’s helpful: it enables you to see the big picture and avoid mistakes. By anticipating what’s next, seeing more of the line helps everything flow, thereby making you feel more comfortable.

Maybe that’s so obvious that it goes without saying. But the obvious things in life are sometimes the very things that benefit from fresh discussion. So, let’s enlarge our view still further, and (with a full sense of the irony) focus on the various other ways your voice-over performance and business can benefit from exercising peripheral vision.

We’ll segue here by addressing another aspect of performance ...

Use peripheral vision not just to see what’s coming next in the copy, but also see what visual cues might exist in your acting environment. Are you working with a director on the other side of the glass? Intent on listening to you, they might seem to be ignoring you ... but they might instead be smiling at you and directing while you speak -- as does an orchestra conductor. A conductor doesn’t hum the tune or lead the musicians through every note (it’s the musicians’ job to already know the notes and play them with feeling). But a conductor will sometimes indicate a change of pace or subtle shift in mood, or confirm that things are going well. Similarly, the voice-over Director might indicate that you could use more smile, or they might play the role of the person you’re speaking to, or indicate that they like that little thing you just did.

How can you look at both them and the copy? Peripheral vision.

Acting a VO character is more than a vocal quirk.

Holiday Time! The perfect opportunity to observe seldom-seen family members and friends, and take inventory of all the great mannerisms and vocal types, for a lot of great new voice-over characters. Right?

Wrong. If Uncle Harry or Aunt Gladys inspire a character, great. If a quirk or habit can be integrated into a new or existing character, use it. But there’s more to character-building than an eccentricity or a quick imitation.

Character acting isn’t about being eccentric. It’s about being a character.

To be sure, we’re talking here in a different sense from the way “character actor” is sometimes defined in the movies. We all can name many wonderful character actors who sometimes steal the show with their odd behavior or unusual characteristics.

But, rather than focus on their eccentricities, focus first on their characters. Note how many of these actors often play very different characters (often supporting parts) from role to role. Some character actors are eccentric, but their characters are more than a quirk.

In contrast, consider that many leading-role actors tend to play characters relatively close to their own personalities, or a certain on-screen persona. Cary Grant might be considered such an example. For awhile, Adam Sandler and Paul Giamatti were said to be in that group, but have since (as did Grant) also shown themselves very capable of expanding out of their popular type. (And, for a classic example of the opposite approach in a career, Meryl Streep is both a lead actor and a splendid chameleon.)

We should also caution at the outset that this discussion is somewhat theoretical, and the differences might be thought of as a matter of degree, not absolute.

What stage acting, screen acting and voice acting have in common. Part 2 of 2.

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Once upon a time, before the age of microphones, singers had to make themselves heard. In a band setting, some (like Rudy Vallee) even resorted to using a megaphone. But along came Bing Crosby, who became famous for his ability to sing with a new form of expressivity, thanks to his using a microphone. However, they had one thing in common. They could sing.

Similarly, actors on stage, on screen and at a microphone all face differing arrays of challenges. But all three disciplines also have many factors in common.

Acting is acting. All three types of actors are working in an artificial situation. Whether on a stage, or isolated in a little room, or in a real setting with a camera in their face, they need to convey the appearance of reality in that situation. The stage actor must learn to ignore the audience, yet sometimes play off them. The film actor may need to create an audience – the person they're speaking to might not even be in the room! And the voice actor needs to envision the listener (be it an audience or a character), so they are not, say, speaking words of love to just a pane of glass, foam wall, or the engineer.

Professionalism. There's more to acting than "acting." The actor should be able to take direction. And to do so without taking it personally. Actors need to show up on time and respect their peers, and it helps to be generous. They also need to conduct themselves as if they were a business. Because they are.

Expand your voice-over world – to a Workout Group!

With the voice-over business so heavily focused on home studios these days, and with you probably self-directing most of your projects, how do you stay fresh? How do you acquire new ideas and learn techniques? For that matter, how do you stay sane and get some “fresh air,” literally and figuratively?

One way, as in any profession from plumbing to surgery, is continuing education. A voice-over pro should know, more than anyone, the value of taking advanced courses and continuing to work with a coach from time-to-time. But there are other ways, too. Do you know about “workout groups”? Whether you’re a beginner or an established working pro, a workout group is a great way to get feedback and firm up or expand your capabilities.

The concept is simple. Various VO talent meet and take turns performing, with the others providing feedback. This has long been a practice among stage and on-camera actors. They get together and do scenes. Same with voice actors, but it’s easier for voice artists to get together and perform.

Workout groups vary in nature. Many meet weekly, some less often, for maybe a couple of hours. Some are large, some small. Some are an informal collection of peers; others are led by a coach and might be more like a class. You might find a group that’s free, or (more likely) there is a charge (typically by the week or month), but usually, any charge is nominal. For the benefits you receive, it will probably be a bargain.

There might even be various frills. Some groups record the performances, not only so that the artists can hear themselves, but so that after receiving suggestions or direction, the talent might wind up with a better audition to send off to their agent, or a track to update their demo.

The swinging, swirling world of Telephony. Yep. Telephony.

When you first looked into a voice-over career, did someone ask what kind of VO you want to do? It’s an understandable and reasonable question, but if a coach asks you that at the outset, it should be just to get a sense of where your head is at. It does not mean you should immediately charge down whatever path you mentioned, because -- until you’re aware of all the VO genres and their opportunities, and your own potential and capabilities -- how can you know what would be the best professional path for you? After all, there are well over two dozen VO genres to choose from.

Many people initially answer “Commercials,” or “Animation,” or “Audiobooks” or “Narration.” Relatively few people start with dreams of Telephony. Yet, voice artists who specialize in Telephony love it! Here’s why.

What's "Telephony"? In terms of voice-over, it's any voice recording that is heard over a telephone, as broadly as "telephone" has come to be defined technologically these days. Mobile phone, Internet phone connection, copper land line, fiber optic, cable, no matter. If it involves a telephone and/or a phone number, it's "Telephony."

Telephony can actually be “glamorous.” Yes, glamorous. It enables you to make your mark on society. Like some other VO genres, you may be anonymous to your listeners, but your voice could be heard all over. And, if you land a Fortune 1000 company, or an especially innovative client, imagine how that rubs off on you.

It’s very important to clients. Whether they are a Fortune 1000 company, a regional retail chain, or a small manufacturer, you are their voice. You are the first impression of that company when people call. That’s as important as doing a commercial, maybe more, because it’s likely to be ongoing work.

How backstories make artificial beings more human

In this Halloween season, let’s talk about something scary: Artificial Intelligence (“AI”). Did you realize you have much in common with people who build robots?

“AI” is similar in ways to “AC,” a term we just coined for “Artificial Character” ... in other words, any character that you’ve made up. Both can be intimidating to the people who create them and creepy to people who encounter them. But they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, AI and AC both are characters, and both become more real, more interesting – and less scary – if you take care to “humanize” them. One of the best ways to do that is to give them a backstory.

Backstories aren't news to experienced actors, including voice actors. They’re especially common in animation (and sometimes gaming) where a characterization might be especially rich. What would your favorite superhero be without their backstory? Suppose you’re called upon to ad-lib in character – do you laugh readily, or reluctantly ... and what of any other emotion?

As we noted in our article on “Newton’s Third Law of Physics as applied to Voice Acting,” an actor with no lines nevertheless reacts (and on screen or stage might even upstage the speaking actor), with “extraordinary things to say, just choosing not to say them.” Okay, in voiceover, your audience can’t see you react. But when it comes time for you to speak, where is your tone of voice coming from? Perhaps its shaded by something logical and relevant, but which only you will know. Because your character has a backstory.

To bring convoluted copy to life, merge its voice with yours.

Most people talk in short sentences or sentence fragments. Much of today's writing, whether informal advertising or a scholarly tome, is also composed of relatively short sentences, compared to the way people wrote and delivered speeches 150 years ago. Today’s structure --short, step-by-step progressive thoughts -- is much easier to follow, and people from copywriters to politicians have come to realize that. (To be fair, so did Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address.)

But what if you’re handed a script that for some reason does NOT have short sentences? In fact, it may ramble on for several lines, and even include asides and other distractions. In print, a reader can go back and forth to make sense of it all. But in an audio format – which is linear and ephemeral – that is not an option (or should not be relied on). A professional narrator can probably make it sound “intelligent,” but that’s not enough. How should you – how can you – make sense of a rhetorical maze, for true communication?

Let’s get to work on this passage, which is “only” three sentences long:

In VO, it’s important to communicate, not just read

We recently came across a saying, “The art of communication is understanding what others understood.” We don’t know exactly what its originator intended (or when that was), but in a voice-over context, it has rich meaning. One meaning is literal: in voice-over work, sometimes the person listening mishears what was said, and thus could misunderstand. Other meanings are broader; the concept of “communication” means many things. It’s important for any voice talent to understand the value in all of them.

When you read a script, do you “communicate”? And do you and your listener really understand each other? Maybe yes and no. Consider how many types of communication there are.

Literal communication. What you say should be what the listener understands. Communication becomes miscommunication if the listener can’t make out every word you say, or if they think they have caught every word, but heard something incorrectly. That latter situation is arguably worse than the former because the listener might remain relatively inattentive and thus not be aware that they misheard a word or phrase until some time later, when they might be misled or hopelessly confused. Does that mean you should mumble and mispronounce words so that your listener will listen more closely? Of course not! It does mean that you should enunciate, in a natural way, and speak so that your listener catches every word correctly in the first place, on the first time, though.

Incidentally, in Advertising, there’s a principle that the truthfulness of an ad is determined not just by what it says, but also by what the reader or listener understands it to say. The same is true of personal relationships. (Ask any married couple!) So, even in the literal sense, understanding is an essential part of true communication, as our title suggests.

Understanding is enhanced by the other various forms of communication.

How to fine-tune our site’s free Words-to-Time Calculator

Have you used our Words-to-Time Calculator? It’s one of the many free resources at EdgeStudio.com. If you’ve ever been faced with a script that’s just too long or too short, you appreciate copywriters who can gauge how long their audio copy is. This can help with that.

But our Calculator is also a valuable tool for working VO pros to use every day. For example, on a big job (like a long corporate video or an audiobook), it lets you quickly gauge the finished length of the script, so you can just as quickly return an estimate. And it’s even more helpful when you know how to tweak the results.

As we all know, scripts vary greatly from genre to genre. A video documentary narration is likely to be much more deliberately paced than some radio commercials. The pace of a script can also vary according to the audience, or the nature of its content. An audience of non-native English speakers (or whatever the language), or technical matter, for example, will need a bit more time to sink in.

So our Calculator is an average. Currently, our Calculator gives three choices, representing an extremely wide range: either 1, 3 or 5 words per second. In the span of a minute that’s a huge difference ... potentially a lot of copy to fit, or a copy opportunity wasted. So the first thing is to understand the typical needs of the genre you're writing in.

1 wps: Extremely slow, representative of some narrations, telephone prompt systems, and English as a Second Language (ESL) or other scripts aimed at an audience not fluent in the language. Even at the slowest possible read, you’re unlikely to slow down to one word per second. But this estimate includes time for some moderate pauses. (As we mention below, it’s also simple to mathematical adjustments when you start with this.)

Enter and follow our Monthly Audition Contest. It’s smart!

EdgeStudio.com’s Script Recording Contest is going monthly, so now it’s easy for everyone to fit it into their schedule! Accordingly, we’ve also changed its name, to the Monthly Audition Contest.

On each month’s first Monday, we publish a short script. [This week, it starts on Tuesday, due to Labor Day. - Editor] You record it and upload your recording. The next month, we’ll announce the winners, explain why they won (including you, maybe), tell why others didn’t, and give Tips on how to improve your reads in the future.

We’ve held this friendly competition for years, and it has proven to be a valuable resource for novices and working pros alike. In fact, as David Goldberg noted in a similar, one-time contest in 2014, many of the mistakes made by newcomers are also unwittingly made by working pros. Better to learn from those mistakes here, than by losing real auditions, right?

(See current contest for up-to-date details and contest rules.)

Actually, there are lots of reasons to enter.

Voice actors are told “Be the animal.” Is that too esoteric?

Played any animals lately? How do you play one? We advise not playing an animal, but rather, being the animal. It may seem like a small distinction, of mere academic interest to only some actors. But it can be an important distinction, especially as you seek to find some quality in an animal character that helps make you unique. Not so important, maybe if your character is just drawn like an animal but meant to sound like an ordinary human. However, it can be very helpful if you’re trying to come up with an original animal character.

The New Yorker magazine recently carried an article about some artist-types who have taken this thinking to the extreme. It opens interesting lines of thought.

The article is about two men who (separately) tried to physically become animals for awhile ... in their real human lives, actually living and even trying to think like a different species. Their experiences provide lessons even for those of us who only need to be the voice of an animal.

In “The Metamorphosis; What Is it Like To Be an Animal” Joshua Rothman relates these individuals’ approaches, putting them into a literary context that goes way back. As far back as Homer, even. (If NewYorker.com archives are not available to you, check out the May 30, 2016 edition of The New Yorker magazine at the library.)

One of these individuals was Thomas Thwaite. You may have heard of him when he made news by building a toaster from scratch. (He even mined the metal and made his own plastic. It didn’t work, but did wind up in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection.)

This week’s voice-over accent is on accents. Just saying.

In the voice-over marketplace, the most widely saleable U.S. accent is the “neutral” American accent (“standard”), typified by the northern Midwest. For example, Nebraska, where Johnny Carson hailed from. But as you’ll see in this Dialect Map of American English, there are a LOT of other U.S. accents, and among the many VO genres, there are various markets and uses for them. When you’re playing a character, or evoking a sound, how do you choose accurately?

Even within this tremendous range, the map’s author (admittedly) lumps some together – including the various accents traditional to New York City. So, for example, let’s look at that...

New York City is not just one accent. But it’s fewer than it used to be.

Out-of-towners might not be aware of some distinctions, so it’s important to note the difference between a “stereotype” accent and an authentic one. The stereotype might play okay in a comedy or a commercial, but there’s the danger of offending the locale’s natives, and mostly likely won’t fool anyone in the neighborhood for a minute.

The value of observing conversational etiquette at the mic

With the U.S. Presidential Election season under full steam, maybe you’ve encountered situations where people you know are talking (or more likely posting) rather heatedly, even to other friends. It might be nice to remind them that there are common rules of etiquette for polite conversation, and even passionate discussion. But that’s not why we mention this here. We mention it because the rules of conversational etiquette can also serve you well in your reads.

We don’t mean “booth etiquette,” such as “don’t adjust the mic” and “take direction.” That’s important, but here we’re talking about the etiquette between you and your listener. The fact that you never actually hear them makes it even more important.

Listen, don’t just talk. This may be Rule #1 for having a rewarding conversation. Obviously, it’s a hard rule to follow when your listener can’t respond. But you can follow it in spirit. Before you begin your read, imagine your listener’s situation. Where are they? What were they doing before you started? Are they still doing it, or have the stopped to pay attention? Do they agree with you, or disagree, or are you just irrelevant noise in the background of their day? Do they know the subject your script is about, or are you bringing them up to speed? Knowing more about your listener will give you clues as to your best choice of tone and use of emotion.

(Note also that, although your “listener” is often a wide array of people in a great many situations, most reads should be person-to-person, not like a PA announcement; that’s why we use the singular, and why you should try to identify whatever qualities your audience may have in common.)

What does your voice say, about what you say with it?

Has the demise of the “goldenthroat” been premature? For decades now, clients in the voice-over industry have trended away from seeking “great voices,” instead favoring “real” voices from people who know how speak conversationally. In short, casting pros want actors, not announcers. Where the VO world once relied on a deep male voice to convey authority (a form of credibility), now the industry wants talent with the acting chops to produce credibility of a different, more personal sort.

But research has shown that, even today, in everyday situations a deep voice is more credible than a higher voice. How does that square with “reality”?

The simple answer is this: Some people have naturally have a deep voice, and so, for them, a deep voice is natural. If you happen to be one of them, lucky you. But you still need to be able to use it well.

And for those tenors and sopranos among us, we should look at this more meaningfully.

First, let’s look at some findings. (And we remind our reader that these are general findings; there are many exceptions.)

How to read VO copy inhumanly fast on purpose. Part 2 of 2

NOTE: This is the second post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 1!

Last week we discussed ways to speed up or slow down a read while still making it sound natural. But there are times when copy has to be squeezed into a timeframe that would not be humanly possible to fit without some technical manipulation.

When you know your read is going to be sped up – a lot – are there things you can do to make the end result more intelligible and at least more natural?

Yes, there are. Edge Studio’s David Goldberg discusses them in his classes, which includes feedback from other voice professionals who have been in such situations. Here’s a sneak peek at his advice ...

Did you miss last week's article? Click here to read last week's article — 6 Ways to read VO copy faster or slower, still naturally.

However, first some background. Contrary to what you might think, many tags and disclaimers are not presented unusually quickly. Actually, many sound natural. Because they blend in, they tend to go unnoticed, which is often a good thing as far as the advertiser is concerned, considering that disclaimers are by nature “negative.” People typically only notice unnatural things.

But, as we’ve all heard, there are times when a natural read just won’t fit. “Fast talk” is required. And, although the words may go by the listener so quickly that they won’t all be caught, let alone remembered, it is nevertheless important that they be understandable.

6 Ways to read VO copy faster or slower, still naturally. Part 1 of 2

NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 2!

When a producer hands you the script, they may specify how long your recording should be. This is especially the case in the Commercial and Promo genres, not so much in Narration (such as telephone messaging systems, training films, audiobooks, educational material, and long programs.) When timing is specified, your “internal clock” should automatically turn on. It’s up to you to bring in the finished recording at the desired length. In a recent article (“Put time on your side...”), we discussed the importance of being able to do this, and ways to tune your sense of elapsed time. One of those ways is to practice reading faster and slower.

Now let’s discuss how to actually do that – to read faster or slower.

Note: Digital recording enables you or the engineer to adjust speed up or slow down a recording by as much as 10%. However, sometimes the sound quality is degraded, particularly when pushed past 6 or 7%.

How to alter your timing

Method 1: Speed up or slow down the entire read.

When the script is a poem, how should your read roam?

A while back, EdgeStudio.com’s Weekly Script Recording Contest involved a radio commercial script that was in limerick form. Although “Poetry” as such is not a distinct voice-over genre, there may be times when you’re asked to read a bit of verse. In Commercials, for example, copywriters sometimes resort to rhyming, often in silliness. You might also encounter poetry in Audiobooks, where authors sometimes use poetry or song lyrics to convey a character’s personality. So let’s revisit this subject in a bit more detail than we were able to include in our contest comments.

First, let us hasten to mention the obvious case – an audiobook version of a poetry collection. If you’re hired to read a long poem or a collection of serious poetry, or are seriously interested in pursuing such a project, you probably know a bit more about poetry than we’ll deal with here. (And you should also check our past article, “ How To Read Poetic Copy Poetically.”)

Here, we’re dealing strictly with drivel (no offense intended; it means “silly” or “nonsense”) – poetry that should be read poetically, but not necessarily as serious poetry. In fact, if it’s in a commercial, the writer may have taken significant liberty with the poetic form, since the product name and message are generally paramount.

Our contest (a simulated audition for a hypothetical client) was such a situation. Here is the script: (Incidentally, “Llawn” is not a typo; it’s a hypothetical table manufacturer.)

5 reasons many people read voice-over scripts too fast

Do you read copy too quickly? Many beginners do. Even experienced entertainers do. It’s a natural phenomenon when under pressure in a new situation. As Jay Leno has advised comics, "If you think you're going too slow, slow down."

But maybe that advice is too easy. It needs to be part of your psyche when you’re on the job. So let’s think a bit more about why people read too quickly – why you might be reading too quickly, particularly in the case of narration. Maybe understanding the reasons will help counter that urge to speed up.

Reason 1: The job is exciting. To a voice actor, that’s good. A VO job – every acting job -- should feel exciting. Translate that feeling into the energy that helps you engage your listener. Energy also maintains their interest – and yours.

Reason 2: The text is exciting. Whether it’s about otter moms, a murder mystery, or new technology, exciting subject matter may seem to merit extra enthusiasm in the form of speed. But speed is not the only way to express enthusiasm. More important is the expression of “thought.” Emotion. In fact, if it’s a narration, it generally requires a bit slower approach than some other genres, because the listener needs time to observe visuals, share in the emotion, and let the thoughts sink in.

Confidence in your VO performance. Build it up, not down.

You can tell when a performer lacks confidence. It shows in many ways, all of them detracting from the read, and perhaps hiding the voice actor’s actual capabilities. The read might be halting. Or the voice constricted. Or safest options were chosen. Uptalk. Lack of energy. Unnecessary apologies. Whatever ways insecurity manifests itself, it can be overcome. Be confident of that.

There are three “C”s in voice-over: Control your voice, be Comfortable, and be Confident. The last of these even affects the others.

It’s natural to score low on your confidence meter when in any situation you’re not used to. Especially when the pressure is on. Especially in an artificial situation like acting (and all-by-yourself at the mic, yet). But don’t run yourself down. If you’ve trained for this, be confident in your ability.

Lack of confidence causes you to judge yourself before you’ve even done what you’re judging! Whatever you’re called upon to do, go for it. Often the director (or writer or client) will be very happy with a certain read when the talent doesn’t realize how good it was.

But unwarranted, “false” confidence can be just as harmful. It stands in the way of accepting direction. It leads to the formation of bad habits. And it can cause you to represent yourself as something you’re not. Don’t confuse “confidence” with a lack of self-evaluation, even self-criticism. Those are important capabilities, especially when self-directing and producing in a home studio. The key difference is in knowing when and how to evaluate your work. And to build with your observations, not let them limit you.

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