OTM Essay 7: Being Sharp in Voice-over

In voice-over you need to be sharp. It’s a fast moving industry, studio fees are expensive, everyone has a deadline and nobody wants to waste time.

The best thing to be is super sharp. This means taking directions well and adjusting right away, not 5 takes later. It’s common to see new students afraid to go too far, which is why they avoid taking direction. The ego is afraid of looking badly, it thinks “I know if I go too far, I’ll look bad. I don’t want to leave my comfort-zone.”

The ego is a big problem in voice-over. Listening to your ego stops you from making discoveries. When you’re learning or at a session and listening to your ego it stops you from being free and just “going for it”. Setting limits in performance is a killer. The best thing to teach yourself is how to go too far. Make your first take too big so that it’s a matter of pulling back, instead of ramping it up small amounts. If you go too big you can get it done in 2 takes, but if you start off small you’ll be doing 5. Which do you think a director prefers?

Give too much energy on your first take and end with a smile. You know you have what it takes to get the read right, the next take you pull back about 10% – and there’s the take. Do not be afraid to work this way. It takes courage and control, but studios and directors love it. It’s all about getting the take and if you can do that quickly and speed up the process you’ll have a reputation as easy to work with.

You also want to be in touch with the zeitgeist. It helps you understand the client’s needs, be it for commercials, cartoons, or documentaries. Being in touch with the cultural  “now” will only help your performance. When I’m going in for a commercial read, I will read up on the product the day before. I go into the studio knowing what they do, their impact on the world, and where the product originates. Doing this helps my confidence because I go into the read knowing what I’m talking about. Go beyond that, try to be well read and keep up to what’s going on in the world, it helps you stay current.

Writer, producers, directors, and clients all want to hire someone special for the job, they want someone who “gets it”. When you go to a session, it’s not just about showing up to voice a gig. It all starts with chit-chat before the work even begins.  Get comfortable talking to clients, engineers, writers, studio heads, etc. Some like to talk with you and see how you’re doing, what you did this weekend, plans for the rest of the day, etc. All of this is just “shooting the breeze” so don’t make it more than that. Always remember: they want to get to know you in case you’re doing more work for them. They want to know what kind of person you are – especially if you’re working together for the next 2 years. Small talk can continue during and after the session, so be yourself. Nobody wants someone trying too hard to be funny or prove something, it’s annoying and obvious.

People judge you the moment they see you, so dress well. I used to dress differently when I’d show up to a session, but one day I realized that everyone else involved is judging me the second they see me. If I show up looking sharp – that’s how I will be remembered. Now only was I solid on the mic, gave them lots to work with, I was also mentally sharp, current, dressed well, and easy to talk to. You can only benefit from these things and it will attract more work. Voice-over is all about repeat business with studios, production companies, and casting. Create the right impression of yourself and you will get more work.

Warming up before going to an audition or session is also helpful. I tend to my best work on days that I have multiple sessions. Why? Because I have to stay warm and in the zone, so everything flows nicely. Make sure you warm up your body and mouth (your jaw, tongue, facial muscles, etc). I like to do tongue twister, over enunciate my words, and sing in the car on my way a session.

Being, looking, and staying sharp is a big part of being a voice-actor. You are paid extraordinary amounts of money to do this work. Respect it by taking direction, dressing well, being current, and by being someone who’s easy to talk to. All of this will make you someone worth paying $2,000 an hour for!

Stay sharp, see you in class!

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