6 Inspiring Teachable Moments for Voice Actors

Believe it or not, it’s been a full year since we began writing the Voiceover Exchange to help voice actors find and stay the course of success. This month we’re inviting a select group of voice actors and a national TV producer to share personal lessons that made a difference in their careers and could do the same for yours. Their words are precious, indeed. Take them to heart and put them into action.

Voiceover casting directors think visually, too.
The producer supplied this casting spec for the voiceover: “Edward Norton or Kevin Costner.” OK, fine. But wait, neither actor sounds much like anything at all. Their voices are quite vanilla and generic. This happens a lot; we get a celebrity as VO casting prototype. But, somehow, after listening to examples of both actors’ work, I finally got it! They didn’t want me to sound like Norton or Costner…they want me to sound like they look! The clients want my VO performance to produce the same feeling as Norton’s or Costner’s iconic images. The reasonable mistake we make as voice actors is assuming we are being asked for a vocal imitation. Commercial producers and directors think visually, even when casting a voice. So, by channeling Edward Norton’s “devil may care” confidence, but in my own voiceprint, I gave the client exactly what they didn’t know they really wanted, and booked the job! — Beau Weaver, voice actor

Not everyone’s OK with foul language—even in between takes.
I was producing an ISDN session with a VO talent I often worked with in person. In the studio were an engineer, an intern, agency types wandering in and out, and my young daughter. The talent and I were chatting before the recording, and as part of a funny story, some expletives of the should-be-deleted type came from his end of the microphone. The engineer quickly shut him up, but the talent’s words still echoed. He was mortified, and apologized profusely. I wasn’t as upset. (Have you been to a New York playground?) However, others in the room were furious, and someone called the talent’s agent and management with a demand to fire the talent immediately. Lessons learned: Make sure everyone knows who is on the other end of the line.  Be aware that not everyone is comfortable with “blue” language. You won’t get in trouble being less colorful—even at the Peacock network.  — Miranda Patterson, Senior Supervising Producer/Writer, NBC Universal

Allow your voice to flow freely by simply standing up.
When I first starting doing voiceovers, I was very excited about a job I could do sitting down.  So when it came time to construct my home studio, I envisioned a stool, and a microphone stand behind a music stand to place my copy on. One day, I went to visit a friend who had a home studio. His studio was nice, but what really impressed me was this upper shelf that he had built for his microphone to sit on, attached to a desk microphone stand. Every thing he needed to record was on that shelf. The height of the shelf was custom built to his height. We discussed his set up and the freedom he experienced with his body and voice from standing. Today, I have that exact set up in my home studio. I stand up to free my voice and every muscle I need to speak. —Rodney Saulsberry, voice actor-teacher and author

Work outside your comfort zone to expand your voiceover range.
In 2007 I booked Mun2, a brand new bilingual cable network targeting young Latino Americans through music, reality, lifestyle, and gaming. My bilingual skill set was the perfect fit. My announcer read…not so much. The production team wanted me to be a snarky 16-year-old gamer, an urban fashionista, a flying robot tennis shoe, you name it. I had been able to play it safe for years and this was going to take a flying leap of faith in self-expression, tapping into my alter-ego. I took the leap and had so much fun I didn’t have time to think. I just did. My range expanded. Soon after, I booked a bilingual national campaign for a major retailer using one of my honed teen voices. By pushing past my fears and my self-imposed limits, I flew into VO robot tennis shoe heaven and never looked back. Be fearless. —Sylvia Villagran, voice actor and speaker

Make bold choices.
Being brought in to Hanna-Barbera to audition for one of the finest casting/voice directors, Kris Zimmerman, for the animated series, “Swat Kats,” was an experience that shaped my entire voiceover and on-camera career. I met her taking an animation class. She later brought me in for the role of the sassy young fighter pilot, Lieutenant Felina Feral. It was Zimmerman’s first series, too. She came into the booth and whispered in my ear, “Trust me. I want you to swear your way through the second take.” Once they edited out the bad words, my own gritty, funny, authentic self, shined through and gave the character the tough edge Zimmerman was looking for. Experiencing her making such a bold choice helped me trust my choices, helped me to improvise, to act and talk as myself, stay loose, and play. It gave me the permission to bring all of me to a character. Lori Alan, voice actor, actor, and speaker

Slow down to create tension with the audience.
Very early in my career I was hired to narrate my first real thriller, a “Jurassic Park” knockoff. The pace of it was like a roller coaster ride in its slow and gradual build up of tension, the arrival of the tipping point, and the breakneck speed of the action as the reader plummeted down the track. But when I sped up during the action sequences, my director kept advising me to slow down. I kept assuming I’d mistaken the tipping point, that perhaps I’d started the plunge too early, until he explained: The plunge (the pace of the action) must happen slowly. “When you feel tempted to speed up, do the opposite and slow down,” he told me. This creates tension in the audience. Go too fast and you’ll lose them; slow down and they’ll follow you anywhere. Following that advice transformed my career, so much so that I narrated the sequel to “Jurassic Park” soon thereafter.  Scott Brick, voice actor, author, and lecturer

Wherever you are in your voiceover career, these are the real-world stories from which you can glean extraordinary insights into mastering your craft and determining your destiny. Trust us. These simply stated lessons are rich in experience. Look deeply and then look again. See you next month!


Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.

6 Ways To Rev Up Your Voiceover Career

It’s the start of a new year and many have embarked on new ambitions, fueled by heartfelt resolutions and good intentions. That’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned. Anything that supports you in creating the life and career you desire is something you want to embrace. So what’s out there to inspire success in the world of voiceover acting? We put together a few tips we believe will encourage you to take the actions that will serve your dreams and goals. Remember “Dreams without goals remain dreams.”

Acknowledge that you are deserving. The good news is that you are the one in control of taking the actions that will give you what you want. First, honor the idea that you deserve the life you want and resign yourself to being accountable for achieving it. Many confuse the idea of deserving with something due for good deeds done. That’s not it. You were born deserving! Make this a daily mantra until it becomes part of your spiritual psyche. The idea of not deserving stops you from pushing through when the going gets tough. It’s that little voice in your head that says, “I’m not strong enough, tall enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, talented enough, or good enough.” You were born deserving. It’s an inalienable right. With that, all you need is personal accountability: Say what you mean and do what you say, period. Plan your work and work your plan, period. 

Find your inspiration. Surround yourself with positive, knowledgeable, and supportive people. Outside support reminds you that you’re not in it alone—that you’re part of a network of positive energy. But inspiration is also within and you can tap into it at any time. As human beings we are as much as anything else, the very sparks that make up the universe. We are self-generating engines of inspiration. To have success in the voiceover business or in any other pursuit, get to the root of self-generated action. We have worked with some students who see a voice acting career as a way out of something else; a job you’ve grown tired of, an unfulfilled lifestyle, etc. Whatever that something else is, you are at the heart of it. You are the answer. Continue getting in touch with “you” as you pursue your dreams and goals in voice acting. Start a practice of self-reflection, be it therapy, meditation, yoga, Zumba, etc., and get in touch with the inspiration that lives within.

Respect the new faces of voiceover. It’s smart to look to the experts and experienced pros for guidance on how to launch your voice acting career, but don’t overlook the moves of the emerging new VO talents who are blazing the paths that will serve as the roadmap for voiceover success in the next generation. Their moves may not seem like the ultimate path today, but neither did the humble beginnings of those we deem to be today’s master voice actors. Those who are ahead of their time rarely appear practical in the current time. Can you spot the emerging tigers who will be tomorrow’s breakthrough talents? Are you making similar moves? Sure, learn what you can from the masters, but also learn from the future masters who are rising right beside you.

Get into acting classes. Voice acting is a subset or category of acting. As such, take advantage of immersing yourself in a traditional acting class where you practice the craft and technique of human sensory and emotional recall along with the interpretation of words, ideas, and human circumstances. Acting classes are fun and enriching in their own right, and will ignite a fiery blaze under your voice acting skills. Traditional acting training will not only enhance your nimbleness as a voice actor, it may give your talent agent reason to introduce you to their on-camera department, increasing the number of auditions and jobs that come your way. It may come as a bit of a surprise, but when you chose voice acting, you chose acting. Embrace it, baby.

Treat auditioning as your job. Last November, during the 2014 That’s Voiceover™ Career Expo, Sondra James—who founded and directs the infamous SpeakEasyADR loop group out of New York and is herself, an actor and voiceover artist—rendered the most revealing and powerful remark of the entire event: “Your job is to audition.” You will never hear truer words. You can soak this in for the rest of your career and it will always be new and regenerative. Most people look at the booking as the end game. Not true. Jobs are events that happen in the throes of a life auditioning. Avoid the trap of looking at auditioning as a necessary evil where rejection awaits. Auditioning is the work, the practice, the life blood of your career. The sooner you recognize the affirmative nexus between auditioning and employment, the sooner you’ll fall more deeply in love with your voiceover career. Consider that auditioning is acting. That it’s called auditioning is a designation for what the casting directors do. Casting directors audition actors. The actors, on the other hand, act! 

Manage your expectations. Don’t get caught up in the fantasy that becoming a successful voice actor is going to be easy. Nothing worth having comes easy and a fulfilling career is no different. We’ve met many who, at the start of their training, claim they fully understand that voice acting is a tough, competitive business that takes time to master. Then, four weeks into training they’re chomping at the bit to produce a demo reel and solicit an agent. Though they’re not ready for either, it’s easy to see how their personal timeline and expectations are out of sync with the rhythms of the industry.  Read “Secrets of Voice-Over Success” and you’ll see what it took for 21 diverse voice actors to achieve success. Getting clear about the realities of the voiceover business will help you manage expectations. It will maximize the time and money you invest in developing your career. With a little patience, you’ll find that you have everything you need to have everything you want. And you deserve it!


Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.