Voice Over Education Blog

Voiceover

When to call yourself a "voice actor," and why. Part 2 of 2.


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

As someone who performs voice-overs, what should you call yourself? In our last episode, we discussed various terms: announcer, voice-over, voice-over talent, voice talent, voice-over performer, voice-over artist, voice actor and others.

There is no standard definition for any of these terms, and no hard lines between them. But you should probably settle on calling yourself one or another. Your decision might be based on marketing, or simply on your frame of mind. It's up to you. In most cases, we prefer "voice-actor." Here's why ...

Did you miss last week's article? Click here to read last week's article — Are you a "voice actor," a "voice talent," a "voiceover" or what?.

To begin with, "actors" are what casting professionals generally seek.

Actors are versatile in role-playing, and skilled at expressing emotion. An actor can react to direction constructively, even artfully, adding unique qualities to the production. And except for voice acting and readings and such, an actor works without holding a script. Being able to read as if you're not voicing a script is, overall, what our profession is about – sounding natural, like you're simply talking. Even in a voice booth, talent often does better by not staring at the page.

One popular definition of acting is, "appearing real in an unreal situation." What is more unreal than being alone in a sound booth?

So, why not call yourself an actor?

Are you a "voice actor," a "voice talent," a "voiceover" or what? Part 1 of 2.


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

Some time ago, we discussed the issue of how to spell "voice-over," and concluded that, except maybe for Search Engine Optimization reasons, it doesn't much matter, as long as you're consistent. And that the SEO reasons are diminishing and secondary.

But what about "voice actor" and these similar descriptions of people at the mic? It's more than a question of spelling. Is there a functional and/or industry distinction between a "voice talent," "voice actor," "voice-over artist" and other variations? Does it matter what you call yourself and what you do?

Yes and no.

There's no hard dividing line between any of these terms. Each is just a slightly different shading of the others. Yet, each has certain connotations, which might be important to you and/or to potential clients. Consider it a matter of "positioning," in a marketing sense, or as your personal mindset. Or both.

Announcer. This is on the list because it's the traditional term, still found on many scripts. But, although a traditional "announcer" style involves certain qualities and skills (and is not necessarily bombastic or stylized), it's not what professional casting people generally want today. They usually want more than a perfect voice and clear speech. They want authenticity (which we'll talk more about, below.) Unless your target is broadcasting or stadium PA work and such, calling yourself simply an "announcer" limits your employment opportunities.

How to voice a run-on sentence comfortably in a single breath


So there you are, cruising along in a script, sounding natural and vocally free, and suddenly the Director stops you. You've been narrating in moderate-length phrases, taking breaths just often enough that you can sustain a comfortable delivery, not chopped up by too many breaths, yet not straining to finish a phrase. Now you're told, "Don't breathe during this phrase. Say it as one continuous statement, without pause, and don't rush it. Oh, and keep the easy, natural sound."

How do you deal with that?

Let's back up ... The rule of thumb in voice-over is to phrase the script in ways that don't require you to strain. If you try to extend a phrase too far, yes, you might get the words out, but the listener might hear you straining to find the breath – no matter how expertly you try to hide it. But at the other extreme, that doesn't mean you have to speak always in short choppy phrases. Even in a genre such as video narration, where relatively short phrasing is often the norm (so as to let the video play out and sink in), variety is the spice of authenticity.

Sure, the engineer could edit out a breath, but if the Director wanted to do that, she wouldn't have asked you to take a shot at it. Or she may not have thought about it, or might not realize how easy such an edit usually is.

There might be a good reason for not pausing. For example (admittedly one contrived to avoid embarrassment), suppose the client insists that their advertising slogan not be broken up, and their slogan is:

"The place to go when you just don't have the hang of
hassling with computers and today's high-tech electronics."

(This example is even more challenging because, look at all those H's! An H sound uses more breath than average. See our footnote.*)

The solution?

Turn print text into VO demo scripts in yet more genres. Part 4 of 4.


NOTE: This is the fourth post in a 4-part series. Click here to start at Part 1! Click here to start at Part 2! Click here to start at Part 3!

In this series, we've looked at the various parts of a print ad, and which of them can be used in a Commercials demo script. Then we looked at the process of cutting a script for time. And last week, we showed how to convert print copy into demo copy for Narration, Explainers and Telephony. Can you also do this for Animation and Games, or Corporate Narration, or even Museum Tours? Let's see ...

This process works for almost any genre. Sometimes the difference is in the type of source material, and what you pull from it. Here are three more, just for example.

Writing Animation and Game characters

SOURCE:

  • Reader's Digest
    http://www.rd.com/jokes/funny-stories/


    “I got asked about punctuality. I went on about how it was good to speak clearly and politely, and it was nice to use proper grammar in speech and writing.”

SCRIPT:

    Ask me anything. I know about periods, and commas, and semicolons. I'm the champion at a madcap dash. You wanna hear me use an exclamation point!?? Yessiree, I know everything there is to know about punctuality.

NOTE: In telling a joke, it's usually best to put the "surprise/payoff" word last. So we moved the reference to "punctuality."

Can you turn print copy into a VO demo script for any genre? Part 3 of 4.


NOTE: This is the third post in a 4-part series. Click here to start at Part 1! Click here to start at Part 2! Click here to read Part 4!

Previously, we demonstrated how to turn a print ad into copy for a radio or TV commercial, and how to cut it down to the mere 5-10 seconds you'd want for your demo. You can start with almost any decent print text, such as a magazine ad, a brochure, information in an encyclopedia, corporate training manual – whatever seems interesting, well suited to you, and right for the genre you're demo-ing. You'll also want to have some variety in your collection of clips.

How can you do this with any genre? How do they differ? Let's take a look at turning various types of print copy into an explainer, corporate presentation, a telephony script, or whatever you need.

First, decide what type of information would be typical of the genre you're aiming at. Then think broadly. What kind of work would you like to do? And what would show you in your best light?

There are two differences between a Commercials demo and most other genres.

How to distill a script to the right length for your demo. Part 2 of 4.


NOTE: This is the second post in a 4-part series. Click here to read Part 1! Click here to read Part 3! Click here to read Part 4!

Last week, we demonstrated how to turn a print ad into a radio or TV commercial demo script. But for a Commercials demo, your cuts should each be 10 seconds (or so) at most. So now, let's look at how to distill it down to the mere 5-10 seconds you'd want to use. (Note: Demo cuts in some other genres tend to be a bit longer.)

You'll also see how, as in preparing a sauce, this "reduction" process often makes the script tastier!

As we demonstrated in Part 1, you can start with almost any decent print text, such as a magazine ad, a brochure, information in an encyclopedia, corporate training manual – whatever seems interesting, well suited to you, and right for the genre you're demo-ing. You'll also want to have some variety in your collection of clips.

How to cut copy down to 5-10 seconds

The original:

I have a problem when it comes to ice cream. I can't make an ice cream cone with less than 5 scoops. Because every time I start scooping Froball ice cream, I start thinking of all the reasons I love it. How do I lick this problem?

Now get out your blue pencil (or, if you used to work at Time Magazine, a green one), or your delete key, and weigh every word:

Turn print copy into a commercial script for your VO demo. Part 1 of 4.


NOTE: This is the first post in a 4-part series. Click here to read part 2! Click here to read Part 3! Click here to read Part 4!

In our May 7, 2017, Talktime! session (that's our free call-in discussion on various topics each Sunday evening), the question arose as to where to find demo scripts. Various tips were offered, the most fundamental being that your demo coach should be able to guide you. (You do have a demo coach, right?)

But another good source is to convert print copy -- such as magazine advertisements, brochures, encyclopedias, corporate training manuals, and so on -- into an audio track for a radio commercial, explainer, narration or whatever you need. Just how does the average non-scriptwriter go about that?

The simplest answer is, "Write how you talk." That's what NPR advises its on-air journalists. In this article summarizing NPR guidelines, they demonstrate how a print news story is often not at all written the way you would tell it personally in conversation.

See the NPR article for details. To summarize, here's their list of how people talk:

Turn print copy into a commercial script for your VO demo. Part 1 of 2


NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Stay tuned next week for part 2!

In our May 7, 2017, Talktime! session (that's our free call-in discussion on various topics each Sunday evening), the question arose as to where to find demo scripts. Various tips were offered, the most fundamental being that your demo coach should be able to guide you. (You do have a demo coach, right?)

But another good source is to convert print copy -- such as magazine advertisements, brochures, encyclopedias, corporate training manuals, and so on -- into an audio track for a radio commercial, explainer, narration or whatever you need. Just how does the average non-scriptwriter go about that?

The simplest answer is, "Write how you talk." That's what NPR advises its on-air journalists. In this article summarizing NPR guidelines, they demonstrate how a print news story is often not at all written the way you would tell it personally in conversation.

See the NPR article for details. To summarize, here's their list of how people talk:

What to consider in evaluating your voice-over potential? Part 2 of 2.


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

Evaluating someone's potential as a voice actor involves a wide range of considerations. It's usually not a black-and-white issue. There are lots of shades of gray, and virtually everyone – even trained stage and screen actors – needs some training in order to perform consistently well as a voice-over professional. But there are certain qualities to look for in a prospective voice-over student, and certain things that would rule someone out.

Where can you find such a list?

We happen to have one at our fingertips; it's the evaluation guide we use in our Investigate Voice Over program.

We caution against relying on this list without assistance from a voice-over professional. You might be too hard on yourself. Or too easy. Or, you may not hear what evaluation-trained coaches hear ... in which case you might not realize that you are (or are not) marketable.

As we said, there are many gray areas and qualities that can (or cannot) be easily changed through training and practice. Seriously venturing into the field of voice-over can be a life-changing move. Just as you would not rely solely on a consumer-website slideshow to diagnose your health, you should not simply breeze through this list to determine your prospects as a voice actor.

But you might use it to determine the quality of an evaluation you receive, whoever that opinion is from.

On Excellence in voice-over. Do you dare to push yourself?


These days, it seems everyone is a social media journalist, and there are more in the way of impressive wits, commentators and analysts than you may have thought existed. The same with photography – many of our non-professional photographer friends have an excellent photographic “eye.” In fact, there is a lot of excellent work to be found in many endeavors that today’s technology has opened to wide participation.

So it is, too, with voice-over. The technology is widely available, and quality voice artists abound. That’s good, because it strengthens clients’ understanding and appreciation of our work. But there is also an abundance of marginally adequate talent, because our industry requires more than talent and a bit of technology. It requires the ability to apply one’s aptitude, and that requires voice-over education and experience.

Where is the line between adequacy and excellence? Are you excellent enough to make the cut? And can you take pursuit of excellence too far?

What constitutes “excellence” in the voice-over business, anyway? Surprise! It does not mean “perfection.”

In some fields (brain surgery and astronautics come to mind), perfection must be the norm. But who can say absolutely what constitutes a “perfect” vocal performance? Virtually any script is open to interpretation, invention and creative choices. Excellence may therefore be defined as whatever pleases both the client and the listener.

Unfortunately, some clients are too easily pleased. This might be because, in some genres, more time, money or effort put into a production might not yield a comparable increase in sales or results. Or sometimes the client is not a professional producer or judge of talent. Or they’re the boss of an enterprise, focused on other aspects of their business, and don’t give audio scripting and production the respect it deserves.

Are you addicted to voice-over training?


An Edge Studio student of voice-over asked us, “Is it possible to become addicted to training?” Wow, what a good question. We don’t mean, “Are you addicted” in the way that you’d answer “yes, they’re always fun!” This time we mean, are you so addicted to the point that you don’t let go and take the next step, which is to start your VO business?

It would not be professional for us to say, “No, keep taking all the courses you can.” In fact, it would not be correct, and there are a number of reasons why:

As Edge Studio founder David Goldberg told that student:

“Certainly some voice actors become addicted to coaching sessions,” he said. “Coaching at the beginning of your career is absolutely necessary for learning standard industry practices, preparing your personal capabilities, and building your voice-over business. But once you’ve learned, it’s time to cut the link, because voice actors ultimately need to do this on their own.”

Why do some people hang onto coaching too long? And when is the right time to stop for awhile?

Timidity.

Given the word “addicted,” we also spoke with a clinical psychologist, Bennett Pologe, Ph.D. (He is also an actor, currently recording the audiobook version of his book, “Stop Lying: Getting Un-lost and Un-stuck in Your Life.”)

“People cling to lessons, coaches, therapists, et cetera beyond the time when they're still learning,” said Dr. Pologe, “simply because it's a bit scary to go out and be on your own, without a net ... without asking the teacher ‘is that ok?’. That applies to anything, but especially something as personal and difficult to quantify as voice acting.”

Acting classes for voice-overs: Beyond the introduction. Part 2 of 2.


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

Are you an established voice artist? Is it time for you to become a voice actor? Even if a lot of the jobs you’ve been doing can be properly described as voice acting, there’s always something more you could learn. The added experience could be helpful. It’s sure to be interesting. And if you choose the right teacher, school or studio, it will ultimately be fun.

How should you go about it?

If you haven’t yet read Part One of this discussion, please do that now. Like most things educational, you learn better if you understand what you’re trying to learn and why. You’ll benefit from getting a proper introduction to acting before you really dive in.

In fact, rather than formally pursuing acting further, you might decide instead to broaden your foundation to include voice and speech training, or singing. Or consider adding another genre to your skillset, or working with a business coach to develop a particular specialty that is not genre-specific. All these skills are useful in expanding your voice-over capabilities.

But let’s assume you’ve had an introduction to acting, or some experience in school , and you want to take it further. What should you look for in an acting curriculum or teacher?

Ask around. The best sources are working actors who know you and have had a variety of experience themselves. By all means, ask your VO coach, vocal coach or other people you work with. Agents are another good source (if you don’t waste their time), even if not your own. Check out your candidates online, and if you can, talk to their more experienced students.

Building your voice-over career is like building your body


So, there we were in a waiting room – waiting – and the choice of reading material was Boring Stuff Monthly and Men’s Health. Already bored, and always seeking to better ourselves personally, we thumbed through Men’s Health. And, glorioski, there among ads for power powders and articles about tightening your whatevers, was an article about improving your performance in voice-over!

Well, not exactly. The article was about body workouts. But although the editors at Men’s Health didn’t know it, their guide was also important to all VO professionals, whatever gender.

The numbered headers are from the article. The rest of the text is ours.

1. Quit obsessing over how you look.

Stop obsessing over how you sound. By and large, casting people and VO clients are not looking for gorgeous voices. To paraphrase the tunafish commercial, “They don’t want people who sound good, they want people who communicate good.” (Pardon our fractured English there.) Your voice should be pleasant (truly obnoxious sounds are rarely desired, even for an obnoxious character), but how you say a line is more important than just how you sound. There is much to be said for technique, but above all, first of all, especially when you’re starting out ... just talk. Don’t feel you have to sound like a voice-over, an actor, a great voice, full voice, or anything that you don’t sound like in everyday conversation. That’s especially important when you’re starting out. But with many people it’s just the opposite. Something in the subconscious makes them come across at least a little bit affected. And they finally learn to ignore that impulse only later in their new career.

The more important obsessions are: Are you understandable? Do you sound motivated? Are you motivating? Do you know what you’re talking about? Are you being natural?

How to use peripheral vision in reading voice-over copy


Did you know that 99% of our vision is peripheral? It is, if we define “peripheral” as the part that we don’t see sharply, the part not captured by the central part of the retina called the “fovea.” The structure of the eye is such that the only truly sharp part would be like a large coin in the middle of a big, wide-screen TV. We see the “big picture” sharply because the eye moves around, incredibly quickly, and the brain pieces the sharp parts together in a way that would make Photoshop jealous. It’s a good thing to know. Because by expanding your peripheral vision, you can expand your ability to read copy, in several ways.

In everyday life, increasing your peripheral vision has been touted as a way to improve many things, from increasing your reading speed to combating the effect of aging on your vision. We’ll leave it to you to peruse such discussions online. Beware, peripheral vision may also be used as a way to sell software for improving it, which we haven’t evaluated and some of which might be rather dubious. (For example, although speed-reading techniques appear to work for some people, they may not work for everyone, or at least not to the same extent.)

But there are some ways to use and enhance your peripheral vision when it comes to VO.

Since we started this discussion in the literal, physiological sense, let’s stick with that. How can you use and even enhance your peripheral vision when reading copy?

Stage, screen and voice acting. How do they differ? Part 1 of 2.


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

Every actor should understand that there are significant differences between acting on stage and acting to camera. And probably every trained actor does. Similarly, there are differences between either of those forms and voice acting – where it’s just you and the microphone.

Those differences are not so widely known, among even experienced actors. Generally speaking, acting for the screen (whether it be silver, TV or computer) is more like voice acting than stage acting is. But among the three, the differences and similarities extend in three directions. Let’s take a look.

Use of voice. A stage actor, whether the theater is large or small, must project to be heard by everyone in the audience. Distance and theater acoustics also require extremely clear enunciation. Suspending disbelief, the audience quickly perceives it as “normal” speech, but it’s anything but, even when speaking in “hushed” tones or using a mic. On-camera, the actor, truly does use a normal speaking voice. In fact, some very accomplished film actors are known for scenes in which they speak more softly than a person normally would. It increases dramatic tension, but if, for example, you were really speaking to someone across the table from you in a noisy diner, you might normally speak a bit louder. In voice acting, generally, you speak exactly as you would in real life, talking to one person standing near you in a quiet room. A "full voice" is sometimes used, but generally, it's limited to animation, or commercial characters and other situations that call for a “cartoony” or stereotyped voice, or a historical representation.

Audiobooks or printed books: One better than the other?


The Audiobooks genre continues to grow by leaps and bounds. While printed book sales recently dropped for several years in a row (they’ve more recently picked up by a few percentage points, but not enough to have fully recovered), and e-book sales have fluctuated in inverse proportion, the audiobook market has been booming. Why? Because busy people like listening to audiobooks of all types – fiction, non-fiction, how-to, whatever. What does that say about us as a society? And does it say anything about our brains?

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that audiobook downloads increased by more than 38% in 2015 -- about 2.9 million downloads. Membership at the audiobook publisher Audible.com grew 40% (year on year). That’s 1.6 billion hours of audio content (vs. 1.2 a year earlier), according to Tracey Markham, Audible’s country manager in an article by CNBC.

Globally, the audiobook industry is valued at 2.8 billion dollars. In 2015, 43,000 new audiobooks were released. Two years earlier, the number was just 20,000.

Distribution follows various models. The publisher of Scholastic Audio has said, “The traditional audio customer will find your titles wherever you offer them.” To target the non-traditional audio user and first-time audiobook customers, publishers have added new models, such as subscriptions, bundling, and sampling.

Splat Fact: Jack Riley was very funny and a very nice guy.


You may know Jack Riley’s voice as the father Stu Pickles on Rugrats and All Grown Up! Or his face as the sour patient Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show (the 70s one, although Riley also appeared on the later one), or from countless other TV shows, films and commercials. Jack passed away last week, of pneumonia at the age of 80. For decades, his voice was so much a part of the entertainment world; the air will sound a little different without him.

Riley’s career started in Cleveland radio. Well, no, really he started by being drafted into the army, where he toured military bases in comedy shows worldwide. It was after getting out of the army that he became one of the many popular air personalities and funny people that Cleveland radio turned out in those days. (Among them: Alan Freed, Tim Conway, Dick Orkin, and Jim Runyon. Don Imus also passed through.) He and his comedy partner Jeff Baxter peppered their show with sketches and voiced a variety of unusual characters.

When Tim Conway moved to Hollywood, Riley followed in 1965, on the promise that Conway would find him work writing comedy sketches. Soon Riley was finding his own work as an actor, plenty of it, including a semi-regular role on the short-lived sitcom Occasional Wife, and he often appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, sometimes as Lyndon Johnson.

He appeared in 49 episodes of The Bob Newhart Show. Making psychology patients the subject of humor could have been awkward or offensive. But thanks to the direction and the actors’ skill, quirks, and (in the Carlin character’s case), dry, disarming manner, we could laugh without guilt. (Nevertheless, real psychologists of the day noted something wrong with that show: Nobody ever got cured.)

Indeed, Carlin went on to reprise the Carlin character, or someone like him, in the later Newhart show, on St. Elsewhere, and other programs.

“Voice Messages”: Film-in-progress has interesting voice


Every voice, trained or not, is powerful. The voice has been said to be humankind’s most effective tool. Six-time Emmy™ Award winner Martin Zied is making a film about it.

Fascinated by the emotional power and beauty of the human voice since childhood, Zied has worked with a wide range of voices in his career, both as a singer in various choral genres, and as a producer, director and writer. For his film he has interviewed vocal stars and authorities ranging from Linda Ronstadt to otolaryngologist Robert Sataloff. He is currently filming further material, hopefully for release in summer 2017. And let us add – above the fold – that he welcomes financial contributors to the cause.

Zied became enamored of the human voice when, as a third grader, he heard a sixth-grader sing in a school production and was literally moved to tears. Embarrassed at the time, he later realized that it was the sweetness of that tenor voice itself that had had such effect. Most people rarely think about voices (if at all), but from that point, Zied was hooked on voices.

His documentary has a broad field of focus, spanning aspects of singing, speaking, science, sociology and history in examining the human voice’s power and beauty.

“It’s about all the ways in which we use our voice,” says Zied. “We use it to soothe our children, we use it when we’re angry, we use when we would like to be seductive, we use it to sing and entertain. The film also covers the sociology and biology of the voice and how it ages. So there’s a lot of information about why your voice might sound old (so to speak), and ways in which you may be able to maintain a healthy voice throughout your entire life.”

Yet, sometimes even the best and most of care, a voice can falter. Readers may be aware that Linda Ronstadt has lost her singing voice to Parkinson’s Disease. Zied says that eventually she will lose even her ability to speak.

There's audiobook narrators, and then there's Johnny Heller


I love audiobook narrators.

In my voice-over travels, I have never met a more talented, dedicated, caring group of people. They are extremely generous when it comes to sharing their time & insight with authors and fellow narrators. There are online groups dedicated to asking questions both artistic and technical as well as sharing war stories, triumphs, and challenges in the audiobook narrator community. Barely a minute goes by before a post is answered with thought and consideration. It makes me proud to be an audiobook narrator.

And then there’s Johnny Heller.

Johnny, as my mother would put it, is a mensch. And mishpachah.

In other words, he’s a good man and part of my family. Not just the audiobook family or the Edge Studio family, but my Sunday dinner please-don’t-swipe-my-crescent-roll family.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s a feisty son of gun who always speaks his mind and never spares the rod. That makes the audiobook industry love him all the more for his candor, his wisdom, and his unique sense of humor. Among his many contributions (500+ titles narrated, multiple Audies & Earphone Awards, his "For The Hell Of It” blog, and esteemed Edge Studio coach) is his modestly titled “Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop.”

This year’s Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop, or JWASH2 as I like to call it, was held at Chicago’s East/West University on Monday, May 9th. Over 100 aspiring and veteran audiobook narrators gathered to listen to some of the industry's best talent and coaches wax poetic, philosophic, and instructional.

William Schallert: Ordinary voice, extraordinary man


William Schallert passed away last week at age 93. Along with memorable roles as the TV father of Patty Duke and in Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode, and steady TV, film and stage work over seven decades, he did a lot of voice-over. He was also President of the Screen Actors Guild at a time when the emergence of pay TV began shaking up the industry. He remained active as an actor and union officer into his nineties.

Although he played a goodly share of villains and other characters in comedic and serious roles, employing a range of accents and mannerisms that came to him rather readily, his go-to persona on screen and in the booth was “warm and friendly.” In VO, Bill Schallert was one of the classic yet ordinary “everyday” voices of male authority, a sort of TV father to us all.

“If I could play somebody’s dad,” he later reminisced, “I was home free.” But actually, he was a more complex actor and person than that.

Despite growing up in Los Angeles and being the son of the LA Times’ drama critic, Schallert said he “kind of stumbled into acting” when someone at a party asked him to read for a play. Schallert hadn’t thought he had much potential, as he didn’t resemble leading men like Tyrone Power or Robert Taylor. He was well received in that play (noting that the role was an old man, and that, with a lot of old people in his family, which included a German-accented grandmother and two alcoholics, he had familiar models to draw on). He informally studied acting at UCLA. During the war, stage facilities were scarce, so students worked in a new format -- theater-in-the-round. After WWII, he helped form LA’s Circle Theater, which Schallert later described as a “serious” theater (as opposed to an extension of acting instruction), something rare in LA in those days.

Perform like a pro, in more than your VO performance.


What goes into being a voice-over professional? An obvious answer is, “training in voice-over performance and lots of purposeful practice.” But that’s far from a complete answer. In fact, it’s just the beginning. Being a true pro means performing professionally in every respect, from the way you get work, to the way you bill your services and the way you help your clients all in-between. Professional voice performance is just part of all that.

If you’ve taken even just Edge Studio’s introductory course, you understand that voice-over performance isn’t only a matter of reading well or even good acting. Being a professional actor doesn’t automatically make you a voice-over pro.

VO professionals have specialized knowledge and capabilities. Professionalism entails everything from knowing the specialized jargon of our trade (“give me a pickup at ‘really,’ a wild trio on the call-to-action, and watch the sibilance”) to understanding the importance of enunciation and emotion, and how to achieve them without sounding artificial.

And as we said, that’s just the core.

Professionals are methodical and businesslike in prospecting for jobs. It’s all too easy to take the first jobs you encounter and then coast in that vein. When you’re starting out, it’s great to be working, even if it’s not using your full capabilities. And those relationships might grow. But some peter out, some never having reached a truly professional level, and as a result you find your business in a downward spiral.

Before you leave for a voice-over recording session ...


We recently wrote about what to take to a recording studio session. But except for a pencil, reading glasses and business cards, a lot of it was optional. In many ways, what you do before you leave is more important, and not so easily skipped. One of the most important factors is the avoidance of stress. Having a checklist and a regular regimen can help with that. Here’s a sensible routine to follow.

The night before, have a sensible dinner, with plenty of fluid. Skip alcohol, and especially avoid red wine. Whatever its long-term health effects, in the immediate term it can affect your voice. It could also cause you to wake up with a headache and/or nasal congestion. (Effects of red wine vs. white may vary by person.)

Get to bed on time and have a full night’s sleep.

When you wake, have a glass of water or two, and some more at regular periods. Give it time to hydrate your body, and you won’t be thirsty or waterlogged during the session.

Dress business casual, in soft materials (non-noisy, nothing stiff or crinkly). Polyester sometimes makes noise against itself, so soft cotton is best. Choose quiet, soft-soled shoes, and avoid jangling jewelry.

Read a bit, just a warmup, don’t wear out your voice.

Breakfast should be just enough to tide you over till lunch. But be sure to have it. No grumbling tummy, please! Avoid dairy products, spicy or acidic foods, alcohol and carbonated soda. Coffee and black tea are sometimes of concern. Herbal tea might be best.

Brush your teeth, floss and mouthwash. Shower but avoid perfume or scented deoderant, etc. You’ll be better appreciated (or at least not unfavorably noticed) by those who share the mic or come after you.

Fill your reusable water bottle and close tightly.

Do you have a voice-over studio “go bag”?


You can enjoy a very nice voice-over career without ever leaving your home studio, but plenty of jobs are still recorded at commercial voice-over studios. (We know, because we are one, and our studios are very active.) What should you take to one? Newspeople keep a packed bag by the door in case of far-off breaking news. Voice-over talent should have a bag ready in case of a hurry-up day-trip. Or at least this list...

NOTE: Before taking any medicinal measure, or if you have persistent vocal fatigue, sore throat, dryness, hoarseness or cough, consult your doctor without delay.

Here’s just about everything we can think of that might come in handy at a studio, that might not already be there. You do NOT need to stock up on everything, just use your common sense and what you know about yourself. Above all, Rule Number One is probably “Don’t be late.” So if you don’t have something on this list, don’t waste time trying to find it. Just grab a sharp pencil, the studio’s address and phone number, and go! But hopefully this will help that from ever being an issue.

Studio Go-Bag Contents

Pencil and eraser. These are for markup and script changes. You’ll often need to revise them, so pencil is the way to go. Either bring a bunch of them pre-sharpened, or a mechanical pencil with extra leads. In fact, it’s good to have a spare or two even of those, in case the mechanism fails or the lead is in pieces. A medium-thick lead will hold up better under both kinds of pressure, and might be easier to read. As for the eraser, get a fresh one from time to time (they tend to harden after awhile), to make it erases cleanly.

Pen. For contracts, notes and whatever.

Highlighter. Optional, and not erasable, but some people like to mark scripts this way.

Reading glasses or bifocals. You may need to see the both the copy and the engineer, director or client.

The Language of Dubbing


Dubbing isn’t the most active, populated VO genre, but with the continuing impact of electronic communications, expanding genres, and international markets, it’s more relevant than ever. Or at least, more relevant since the early days of Talkies, when dubbing was its original heyday. Some dubbing terminology dates back that far, some is new. And some (surprise!) have been replaced.

ADR (Automatic Dialog Replacement, Automated Dialog Replacement, Additional Dialog Recording) – The words behind the acronym vary because the objectives and methods vary. But essentially this is the modern version of what was originally called “looping.” A short segment of film (or video) is looped, to repeat again and again. The actor speaks the line until able to say it exactly in synch. Using this technique, only about a dozen lines can be recorded per hour.

Rythmo Band – No, this has nothing do with R&B musicians. It’s a technology where the script and various vocal cues (e.g., laughs, breaths, lip smacks, whatever) scroll in synch with the video. This enables the actor to record many more lines per hour, but takes a lot more time to prepare, so acceptance of this process varies.

Job– This means the same thing in Dubbing as in any genre. But the nature of the jobs varies. Sometimes the original production is in another language. Sometimes it’s because the background was noisy. Or the script was changed, or the actor mumbled, or has the wrong voice or accent, or ... well, there are a lot of opportunities.

Lip flap – Lip movement. When dubbing, your words should match the movements of the original dialog. Sometimes it calls for skillful revision of the script. Sometimes it involves the actor adding various non-verbal sounds such as “um,” or “eh” or a grunt, in a natural-sounding way.

Remembering Stan Freberg: “Are we going to go out on that?”


The United States’ recent celebration of Independence Day was exciting as usual, but also a reminder of the passing of Stan Freberg last April 7, at age 88. Among Freberg’s many contributions to popular culture was a hilarious, Broadway-worthy LP entitled “The History of the United States of America, Volume 1 (the Early Years).” It’s a classic, but hardly his whole legacy. A self-described “guerrilla satirist,” Freberg was influential in the voice acting and advertising communities, in so many ways. He voiced cartoon characters. He lampooned popular culture and political issues on hit 45’s and radio. He was an original practitioner (some say the inventor) of the humorous, even satirical TV commercial, bulldozing ground broken by Bob and Ray. And his humor, timing and voice-acting style influenced the likes of Jim Henson, Harry Shearer, Weird Al Yankovic, Penn Jillette, and George Carlin (and countless personality DJs).

Stan Freberg began his comedic development doing cartoon character voices for Warner Brothers, working with Mel Blanc and other greats. Some readers may recall a largely improvisational hand-puppet program in the very early days of TV, called Time for Beanie. (Not to be confused with the later animated version.) It featured a seasick sea serpent named Cecil. Freberg co-created the show and voiced Cecil and other characters. That’s already impressive for a guy barely out of high school, but had his career ended there, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Next stop: Hit comedy records.

Focus on the sound, not on the tool: Gate terminology and how to use it.


We recently encountered someone who’s been using gating terminology exactly backwards. Yet, from their perspective they were using it “correctly,” and have been for a number of years. (Luckily, they are an user of audio processing, not a tech coach!) Once we sorted it out, it was interesting to see the logic behind their misunderstanding. It turned out to be a lesson that goes far beyond the mechanics of noise reduction. It reflects a principle of good production overall.

To get everyone up to speed, let’s define what an audio-processing “gate” is:

A gate is an audio-processing tool that eliminates noise between words. It does this by allowing louder sounds (such as your voice) to be heard, and softer sounds to be silenced. Using the gate’s one main adjustment, called a "threshold," you set the level between your softest wanted sound (such as the very end of a word) and the loudest unwanted sound (such as room noise, computer fan, soft breaths, or low-level mouth clicks).

In the case of room tone, your first thought should be to eliminate or reduce any noise from a computer’s fan, ventilation hum, minor hiss, etc. But no room is 100% silent, except for hugely expensive test chambers. Ordinarily, that little bit of remaining background noise is hidden or masked by your voice, or music, etc. ... or at least, the casual listener is distracted from hearing whatever small level of noise exists. But when you are not speaking, such as between sentences, the noise can become apparent, along with those mouth clicks, breaths, etc.

That’s where the gate comes in. If set correctly, it works very nicely.

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.

Who voices illegal robocalls? Should you remove certain telemarketers from your list? - PART ONE


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

Since September 2009, it has been illegal for a telemarketer to make a pre-recorded sales call to a consumer unless the telemarketer has the consumer’s prior written authorization to do so – regardless of whether the consumer has registered on the Federal Do Not Call list.

Yet, as you may be painfully aware, such robocalls continue to be made by the billions. The Federal and state governments vigorously enforce the laws and lay traps for violators, but the pace has hardly slowed.

It affects you as a consumer. How does it affect you as potential telephony talent?

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This article summarizes an evolving situation. We believe it to be correct, but it is not legal advice, the laws and regulations may have changed, and there are additional details not mentioned here. This article focuses on calls made to personal landline numbers in the United States. There are other requirements for calls to other types of numbers (e.g. business or mobile), or to other countries, or manually dialed calls.

Also, this article mentions some of the many legitimate reasons for robocalling. We assume the vast majority of legitimate businesses adhere to the extensive requirements, and do not intentionally call illegally. (The law provides them a measure of “safe harbor” in case of inadvertent error, oversight or misunderstanding.) The sheer volume of flagrantly illegal calls and scams are what reflect badly on this channel, and it’s those “marketers” whom talent might try to avoid.

12 Ready-made New Year’s Resolutions: Show the world how resolved you really are!


In most genres about this time of year, business begins picking up – clients have fresh annual budgets, fewer holiday distractions, a fresh set of marketing deadlines, and so on. We hope you used the relatively slow holiday season to work on professional development and promotion, and to prepare your professional New Year’s resolutions. No resolutions? Well, here’s a ready-made list. Find time to do at least one of these each month.

1. Take an improv or acting class. In every VO genre, at least to some extent, clients look for the ability to convey emotion, character, memorability or some other factor that has its roots in acting. And nothing helps you think on your feet in a structured situation like improv. Is there no improv group near where you live? Check with your local college or university. You may even be able to study remotely. At the very least, get a book about improv, understand the principles, and do the exercises and play the games, maybe with family or friends.

2. Review your business plan. You do have a written business plan, correct? If not, then create one. A business plan is not just a start-up tool. It’s a living, evolving document, that you should review quarterly and amend as your skills, challenges, competition and opportunities change, expand or contract. If you’re following everything in your plan to a T, great! But it may be time to ask, “What further capability can I add, and what additional opportunity can I reasonably pursue?”

Advanced Mythbusting 201. So you don’t bust your butt in the wrong direction.


When myths in our industry are discussed, the misunderstandings are usually those held by VO wannabe’s. In other words, Mythbusting 101. For example, “you need a deep voice” or “you’ll make a lot of money really easy.” Edge Studio students (and readers/users of our website) are quickly set straight about such things, right from our Introduction to Voice Over classes. (We don’t accept everyone, and among those we do accept, we want our students to be realistic in their aims and expectations.)

But some major myths still lurk among experienced VO pros. Here are some of them, of interest to voice over professionals and students alike. Think of it as Mythbusting 201.

“It’s all about acting.” Yes and no. What makes this interesting is that the statement is a valid response to “you need a deep voice.” What most clients and agents seek is real voices, from people who can relax and express genuine (and relevant) emotion while talking into a metal tube. That’s acting. But success in a voice over job – and especially in winning auditions – is not ALL about acting. There are also various practical technical techniques that help make a performance effective and distinguish itself from the friendly competition. Our Chief Edge Officer David Goldberg often surprises even established voice actors with observations about things such as pausing, sibilance, timing, etc. -- small changes in technique that, once you’re aware of them, can make your acting a whole lot more impressive to voice over casting people.

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