Tonight, an old friend of mine, who has in the last 20 years been in several very major films (alas, only small parts), complained to me about some feedback he had received from a voice-over agent who had heard his latest demo. She said, to paraphrase, that he was sounding too much like some leading actor and needed to “speak to me.” His reaction is unprintable. My reaction is simple. She was right.
Speak to me. Voice-over has little to do with having a great voice. That’s the first myth. People will compliment you on your fine pipes and tell you that you should be on radio. It is lovely to hear such comments as I can attest for over thirty years. I still dream of that number one radio show. Just a dream.
So many people with lousy voices do well. Barbara Walters comes to mind, but she can persuade by her on-camera demeanor and sharp mind, and kudos to her for being brilliant with a horrible voice. What still puzzles me is how National Public Radio could hire a voice that forces me to turn channels as soon as I hear those lazy r’s: N.P.Rrrrrrrrrrrr. National Public Rrrrrrradio. Christ!
To book jobs, you have to speak to the audience, yes. Be honest. Natural. There is a personality to your voice which you must find. Don’t sell the product. If you do, you will sound like a hard sell announcer. Establish trust. Developing trust with your listener is key. Be relaxed. Real.
Lots of voice over teachers talk about speaking to only “one person.” Sounds good. Sounds very catchy. “Who is your audience?” they ask, as if this question is the key to booking a job. I recall one casting director gloating as he recalled the following: “Ed Asner came in one day to do a commercial, and his first take was lacking. I said, ‘Who is your audience?’ and there was a moment of silence and he smiled and nodded. The next take, he nailed it.”
Really? Maybe. From my experience of booking jobs, I doubt it.
Here is what I have discovered after being givewn a piece of copy.
When you read a piece of copy, read it as if you feel what you say. Be warm. Smiling. Conversational. Read as if you were reading to a group of children, even, wanting to get their attention. Love what you are saying. That’s the art of storytelling.
When you speak too loud, you fall into the trap of sounding like an announcer.
Take your time. Don’t rush to the selling parts of the copy. Every word is a note and it matters. Look at the words as notes. Utilize the silence between lines.
Those who book the product are invariably those who love the product. They sound natural, genuine, real. Whatever you do, don’t go into an audition pretending to be someone else or putting on a voice. The listener will immediately recognize your silly mistake. And that job will be gone.
Put aside what you think you should sound. Forget about the voice. Forget about how great you sound. Focus on the product, and especially how to communicate its very essence in a natural, honest…even loving way.
Ad agencies think about the personality first for the job, not the voice. Those were wise words I heard recently from casting director, Carroll Kimble. Initially, they see the person. They know his character. The sound of the voice is secondary. This means you have to resonate with those characters, find something in yourself that reflects their character, then use your acting skills to make the character real.