6 Tips for Beginning a Career as a Voiceover Artist
The voiceover industry can be an incredibly lucrative career choice, though many people mistakenly think that if you have a good voice it is a fun and simple way to make a living. Fun perhaps. But make no mistake, the competition is stiff and a trained voiceover artist knows that the art form is far more complex than simply speaking clearly into a microphone. Being successful in the voiceover industry takes deep study and hard work, it takes a theatrical understanding of the human language, and a command of the intricacies of your voice not unrelated to a musician’s skill with an instrument.
This is not a DIY guide to voice recording. This is not strictly a voiceover lesson, nor is it a step-by-step instruction manual to preparing the perfect voiceover demo. It is, in a sense, a hybrid between the two. If you are reading this, it is my assumption that you are likely a beginner seeking information on how to get started, and I applaud you for your proactive effort. Should you choose to pursue a career as a voiceover artist, I hope that you use this information to open your mind to the creative process, rather than to blindly guide you down the path.
Much of my philosophy on the voiceover process comes from my work with a master teacher and professional voiceover talent, Jeffery Dreisbach. For further training, I highly recommend getting a copy of his workbook, Conversation Pieces Out of the Studio: The Voiceover Workshop for Professional Actors.
1. Narrow Your Sights & Be Goal Oriented.
There are many different styles of voice acting—commercial, narration, announcement, and character animation to name a few—and it can take years to master the delivery of any of them. Narrow your sights and concentrate your strengths toward a singular, or decisive, goal in the industry, and you have a much better chance of setting yourself on a path to success. Remember, tailoring a VO Demo is like tailoring a resume to a specific job: Prepare material that is targeted and avoid making a demo reel that is a catch-all.
2. Source Material From Existing Ads, and Tweak for Yourself.
If you are just starting out, you likely don’t have a body of material waiting to be compiled into a demo reel. You will need to record new material just for the purpose of the demo, but don’t write material from scratch. Sourcing material from current ads that have time-tested marketing research behind them will provide you with a polished and professional script to use for your demo.
Take a look at this ad about depression. Using the words included in the ad, we can formulate our own radio commercial spot. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of how you can formulate an ad prepared for voiceover work. Look at the picture, then read my version of the vocal ad.
"When one suffers, we all suffer. Depression can strike anyone, anywhere. It's important to know that help is available. American Psychiatric Foundation.”
A well-written ad is presented to the listener in a basic formula. While the order may vary, most ads typically:
- Offer a problem (in the form of a statement or question)
- Reveal the solution (the product or service)
- Serve a “call to action” (think verbs…”Wake up” or “call now!”)
- Have a tag line (product or company name)
Find the nearest magazine and try condensing the ads into a few of your own voiceover scripts. Be judicious with your cuts. With most ads you have only seconds to make an impact, so don’t be afraid to get right to the point. As a rule of thumb, ads for a voiceover demo should not be longer than 30 seconds. Try scripting multiple versions, one at 30 seconds, then another at 15 seconds, all while trying to maintain the basic formula of the ad. Then ask yourself: “Which words or phrases are necessary to tell the story?” “Does this information give you perspective on how the ad should be performed?”
3. Prepare More Material Than Necessary, Then Cut Back.
The average voiceover demo is no longer than 2 or 3 minutes. Prepare more material than necessary to fill the time, then be prepared to cut ads that don’t showcase your best qualities. It is perfectly natural that some ads don’t mesh with your vocal ability. Discover your strengths, then cut your losses and produce a product worthy of being hired.
4. Speak to the Individual; Not the Group.
Listening is a very personal experience. When performing your spot, speak as if you are talking directly to the listener, not a group. This will add a sense of sincerity to your delivery that people will find trustworthy, which is necessary if you are asking them to buy your product.
5. What are You Selling?
Once you determine who you are selling to, it is important to consider what you are selling. While this seems pretty straightforward, as if it were obvious that a McDonald's ad is trying to sell you burgers and fries, I encourage you to think deeper. While the physical product for sale may be the hamburger, the sales pitch appeals to the reader on an emotional level.
Is this McDonald's ad selling the hamburger, or are they selling a sense of satisfaction and value?
Recall the Depression ad from earlier. Is it selling psychiatric services, or is it offering hope?
Is this Under Armour ad selling shoes, or is it selling better performance? Determining what your ad is selling on an emotional level should give you a strong indication of the appropriate tone to set with your voice.
6. Be Analytical; Make Every Syllable Count.
World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma did not become a multi-Grammy award winner simply because he has the ability to read music. His musical finesse and technical mastery are skills that have developed after years of practice and analytical study. When he plays, he leaves no musical note unpolished. It is this process that allows his music to transcend from simple notes on the page into a world-class performance. Consider this when preparing your voiceover: If the script is the music, then your voice is the instrument, and it requires the same level of finesse to bring the words to life.
In order to improve your performance, you must be analytical about your delivery. Using a pencil, mark your script with notations on inflection, pauses, tempo, and emphasis, so that every word in your script becomes a deliberate choice. Practice it a few times out loud, and then change your notations and try it again. How did your notation changes affect the context of the sentence? How did they affect the mood? Doing this type of breakdown will, in essence, create a blueprint of your performance. With your blueprint in hand, you can make your performance infinitely repeatable and adjustable until you find the winning combination that brings your ad to life.
For a quick recap of the points:
Prepare material that is targeted and avoid making a demo reel that is a catch-all.
Sourcing material from real ads provides you with a polished and professional script to use for your demo.
Discover your strengths, then cut your losses.
Speak as if you are talking directly to the listener, not a group.
Determine what your ad is selling on an emotional level.
Make each word, each syllable an intentional choice.
Best wishes, and keep recording!
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