Ramblings

So You Want to be a Voiceover Artist?

It’s very unusual for me to offer “voiceover tips” (or indeed tips of any kind), but as I have created an Appendix to my latest book, as a summary of everything I’ve learned during almost 20 years as a voiceover artist in London (time flies!), I thought I’d share them here.

(If you’re curious about what the ordinary life of a voiceover artist in London is like, sign up here and I’ll let you know when my book is out.)

Book_about_voiceover_life

I’ve written this section for those of you who are thinking of going into the industry or who are at the beginning of your career as a voiceover artist. Some of what I’ve learned along the way might come in useful to you (although everyone’s experience is different, of course), so I thought I’d summarise it in this section.

(Note: Remember that I am a Spanish voiceover in London, so my experience will differ if you’re a national.)

Forget about talent.

Yes, of course you need a voice that people want to listen to and you have to be able to lift the word off the page, but being a successful voiceover artist relies on you being on time for your recording and being ready to work straightaway. Most jobs last only an hour, so every second in the studio counts. Time really is money. If you are late, or if you take ages to “get into it”, the client might end up having to pay for extra time in the studio. You must be ready to perform at your best as soon as your slot starts.

Making voiceover work your main income is tricky.

Work is erratic and you need to be available at very short notice. It’s not unusual to receive a phone call with a booking for the following day. In some cases, you might just get a few hours warning. National voiceovers probably have more access to better paid work (i.e. adverts) than us foreign voices, but in any case, work fluctuates and it’s extremely difficult to predict when the work will slow down or pick up. You might work a lot one summer and be happy you didn’t spend August on holiday, while the following year, you might wish you’d gone on some wicked holiday abroad as the work has dried out.

Your sight-reading ability is crucial.

Yes, you might receive the script a couple of days before the recording, but you can’t count on it. Sometimes, the producer or engineer might bring the script out to you while you wait in reception. Other times, the first time you see the script might be when you sit down in front of the microphone to start the recording. You need to be able to work without any preparation. You can only do that through practice.

Your diction has to be flawless.

I know that’s a given (I’m talking diction, not accent) but I thought it’s worth mentioning here. You never know how fast you’re going to need to speak, you your vocal clarity has to be, well, flawless.

Work on your breathing.

You might need to speak fast and you might need to deliver long sentences, so keep working on your breathing. I know that singing and Pilates have done wanders for my breathing muscles.

Use your body.

Following on from the above, you know that your posture affects your breath. But I’m not just referring to monitoring the way in which you sit or stand. Our voices don’t exist in isolation from our bodies and our movement, our gesture, will affect the voice. So don’t forget that your body is free to move while you are voicing, especially if you are bringing a character to life. It will make your job more enjoyable and your reading sound more truthful.

Food and drink.

Food and drink affect us all differently, but it’s worth staying away from coffee and caffeine-based drinks before you go into a session, to avoid your mouth from being dry and producing unwanted smacking sounds during the recording.

Auditions.

Use auditions to learn, not to impress. Sometimes the client already has something in her head that she’s looking for, but might not be able to communicate it properly. Don’t put too much pressure to get it right, especially when you’re just starting out. Take it as an opportunity to work with someone new for a while and see what you can learn from them.

Phone auditions.

As more and more clients ask voices to record tests at home instead of auditioning them in the studio, it’s worth balancing the time invested in the test with your chances of getting the job. Do a great job, but don’t spend hours trying to perfect something, when you can’t really be sure of what that “something” is. At the same time, if you’re struggling to record something of quality, you might need to rethink whether you are the right person for the job. I was once asked to send a song as an audition sample. I just couldn’t get the song and I sounded truly awful. After trying for twenty minutes to come up with something I could listen to without cringing, I gave up. I emailed the agent and told her I wouldn’t be sending the test through.

Successful auditions.

I haven’t tried this one myself, but if you get a job after auditioning for it, and a lot of time has gone by, it might be worth seeing whether you can get hold of the audition files, to refresh your memory.

You can’t always be creative.

On a least practical and definitely least glamorous note, voices are sometimes the last element to be added to a production, which means that there’s not much room for creativity for us artists. If you’re dubbing from another language, you’ll probably feel be restricted by time and even by tone and delivery, as you try to match the original read. I sometimes know that I could do a better job (or at least a more creative one), but time is limited and sometimes the client absolutely knows what they want. That’s ok.

You might also have to deliver lines without having much context. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to ask the producer to give you a bit of information, but sometimes you might be working without a producer, or with someone who is clueless. That’s ok, just of your best.

And finally, pick your battles. Clients usually have a strong idea of what they want. It’s not that your opinion doesn’t count, it’s that in this case, too many opinions spoil the job.

Can I make any changes to the script?

There will always be an element of script tweaking in the studio. You will need to gauge how much you should interfere with the script and how much of your opinion will improve a script, as opposed to how much it matches your own preference. If you’re working on a translated script, you might need to make further changes. Often, scripts are translated in a bubble, without the translator understanding that the text will need to match the picture or be time-constrained. In all honesty, when working in a script that’s not working, I try to estimate how much care has already gone into the project and then adjust my own “going out of the way” contribution to that. At the same time, you need to balance how much you care about a job with the fact that the job just needs to be done, within a certain timeframe. But if something is unreadable, say so.

Know where you fit in.

If you get the chance, find out about the production process. It helps you see where you fit in and it’s just good to know more about your industry than what you see from behind the glass. If you get the opportunity to direct in the studio, or to script-follow, do it. And if you have a good relationship with a producer, maybe even ask them whether you can sit in at some point while they work with another artist. It’s good to get a different perspective.

Learn from others.

I’ve learned a lot from watching others and from listening to feedback from the director to other actors and voices. When working in a group, stay on the ball, take that opportunity to learn from others. You can check your emails later…

Always carry a book with you, or your phone, to pass the time.

It’s not uncommon to have to wait in reception past your booking time, especially if you’re part of a job working with many voices on the day. But don’t sink into the sofa too much while you wait: you have to be on full form after waiting for ages in reception.

Keep up.

Language evolves fast and new products and brands keep hitting the market, so it’s always a good idea to listen regularly to the radio and TV, to make sure you know how to pronounce any new words that come up. (This might be specially relevant to you if you are a foreign voice.)

(If you’re curious about what the ordinary life of a voiceover artist in London is like, sign up here and I’ll let you know when my book is out.)

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