20 tips to get ahead in voice over without being hated by your peers...
while being loved by your clients!
The voice over trade has its good practices to follow, its ethics to respect, its dos and its absolute don'ts. Here is a short, non-exhaustive list.
You'll see that haven't wrapped my words in cotton wool. I'm sure you'll forgive my bluntness, and that you'd prefer to have clear, precise information. You're probably familiar with some of the following information, some might not apply to you. In any case, I hope you'll find some of this advice useful.
1. If you have little experience, refrain from giving advice to other voice over talent. Your enthusiasm is well-founded, but in trying to help them you run the risk of giving out false information and misleading them, which is never the best way to earn the respect of your colleagues.
2. If you're seeking advice or feedback from experienced colleagues, don't play the frightened virgins when the feedback isn't as glowing as you'd hoped. Were you asking for flattery or honest criticism of your work? Did you want your ego stroked, or to progress in your trade?
3. Be grateful - and express your gratitude. If you don't like the feedback you receive, don't blame those who give it. And when I say 'give', I mean that it's usually a service that's provided free of charge. By professionals who are usually very busy and generous enough to help you. Nobody likes people who have a diva attitude, and behave as if everything is owed to them. So whether the comments are complimentary or not, do them the courtesy of expressing gratitude by thanking them - publicly if your request was public. Yes, it does count.
4. Like all jobs, voice over acting has its own jargon. Learn it. There's nothing more irritating for a client who's paying you to have to teach you your job and explain what they're telling you because you don't understand. I've even put together a voice over dictionary - you no longer have any excuse for not being fluent in voice over!
5. When you read an article, a post, an email or a private message and you come across words you don't know, don't mistake the author for Google and immediately ask them to 'translate' them for you. Consult the dictionary mentioned above and do your research. The person who wrote what you're reading has spent time helping you, so it's your turn to invest your time in helping yourself. Of course, if you still can't find what you're looking for, don't hesitate to ask!
6. Don't pretend you can do what you can't do. If the casting asks for a young medium voice and yours is more mature and deeper, accept that it's not for you and don't apply. This is a topic I develop in my article on voice over demos.
If the casting calls for a native British voice and you are fluent in English but not NATIVELY British, again, don't apply. NEVER claim to be a native speaker when you're not, it's called taking people for fools, and people generally don't like it.
Forget the 20,000 different accents, the imitations and the chameleon voice, unless you are exceptionally gifted in these specialisations, which is extremely rare. By pretending to do what you can't do perfectly, you waste the time of the caster, who has very little of it. The result? He gets annoyed, you look like an amateur and you're put on his red list.
7. Don't undercut prices in the hope of getting the jobs - people will find out and you'll become a pariah in the profession. Nobody (including clients) respects people who don't respect themselves. You will be chosen if you have the voice and the skills required. I deal with this subject in my article Hands Of The Loot.
Of course, it's tempting to start by offering to work on the cheap. But you have to understand one thing: people who want 'cheap' will always find cheaper. Quality doesn't matter to them. A subject I address in my article Free Voice Over: At What Price?
8. Be on time, be collaborative, be polite to everyone. If you know a colleague who's always late for sessions, or has a rotten attitude, or thinks he's a diva and treats everyone in the studio apart from his client like shit, or who trolls colleagues on social media (I'm not making this up...), don't worry, he won't last very long in our profession. Fortunately.
9. If you send out crappy sounding files, recorded in your kitchen on your laptop with the microphone built in, you're going to kill your career before you've even started. Take your time before going professional, and only do it when you're ready. Being a professional also means having high standards for the work you do, and therefore having invested in your craft.
10. Warm up before your session. I'm obviously talking about your vocal cords, mouth and lips, but also your whole face, neck, shoulders, stomach, pelvis, buttocks and legs. Don't know how? Tip: Youtube doesn't just have videos of cute kittens, it also has lots of tutorials that cover the subject really well!
11. Develop your breathing technique. Before you start recording, breathe in peacefully through your nose, without forcing, starting from your belly. Hold the air you've breathed in for a few seconds, then breathe out again peacefully through your nose, about twice as slowly (6 seconds of breathing out for 3 seconds of breathing in, 8 seconds for 4 seconds, etc.), finishing with your belly. Once all the air has been released from your lungs, hold a pose for a few seconds, then repeat. Do this a few times.
12. Before a take, breathe in without forcing yourself, wait for an eighth note, then record. This makes it easier for the sound engineer to remove the breathing-in. And treat him like your best friend. To make his life easier, if possible, finish your sentences neatly and move on to the next one as explained above.
13. During sessions where several voice actors are in the same booth, breathe in through your mouth while your colleagues are recording - breathing in through your nose makes noise, which ruins the take and you won't make any friends!
14. When recording, whether you're sitting or standing, use your body, not just your mouth and tongue. Believe me, you'll hear the difference. That said, too much gesticulation can lead to overacting: when you're talking to friends, you don't flail around like Joe Pesci trying to convince us that he's innocent. The key word: natural.
Warning: the noise generated by your clothes can be heard if you gesticulate - or if you slap your thighs to support a sentence (I won't name names...). Synthetic clothes are the villains here, so opt for cotton or fleece. And don't slap your thighs. I really don't.
15. Speaking of movement, once you've sat down in front of the microphone and the session has started, don't move your chair. Changing location changes the sound: not good, so isound engineer not happy - and remember, he is your best friend.
16. When you're recording in a commercial studio and you fluff, don't wait for the sound engineer or session producer to interrupt your take. Everyone makes mistakes, there's no need to be ashamed of it and pretend it never happened, it won't impress anyone. Stop, say why you stopped if the producer or client didn't hear the fluff, and start again.
17. Beware of plosives, sibilants, fricatives etc. Targeted exercises and practice will enable you to eliminate them, as will your position at the microphone. If you are in a commercial studio and the sound engineer has placed the microphone for you, DO NOT TOUCH his microphone. J- A-M-A-I-S. It's a cardinal sin. Yes, it is.
18. Your script (if it's printed and not on screen): don't hold it in your hands. Paper often rustles when you move it.
Still on the subject of the script: prepare your session and don't hesitate to annotate it.
Still on the subject of the script: NEVER change it without first discussing it with your client - I talk about this in more detail in the article Hands Off My Script, which I strongly advise you to read if you want to keep your clients.
19. Food and drink.
a) Never start a session on an empty stomach: a gurgle in the middle of a take is a shame.
b) Drink water to keep hydrated, and apple juice or lemon water if you are prone to mouth noises produced by saliva.
c) It sounds obvious, but believe me, not to everyone, so I'll just say it: no alcoholic drinks before a session. Ever.
d) Avoid coffee, which promotes these mouth noises (geek info: coffee is an intimate mixture of water and oil extracted from the grind. This oily mixture thickens saliva).
20. Hygiene - yes, hygiene. And odours. Do what you like in your private studio but when you go to a commercial studio for a voice over session, or ADR, or dubbing, or video games, use deodorant. Your colleagues will thank you.
21. Be relaxed. Be positive. Be professional. Be epic. Be fabulous.
I know, I said 20, but this is the bonus gift, to thank you for reading this article, and for practising point number 3 in this article by sharing it with your friends and colleagues using the social networking buttons below!
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