The Debutante Ball

Do your friends tell you that you have a great voice and that you should try your hand at voice over?

Care BearsYou were certainly born to become a voice over artist! Call the best studios and the biggest production companies right away, they're just waiting for you and have some great sessions already lined up for you. And if you want to continue with the Care Bears, look at the image on the right.

If you opt for the 'real world' version, read on. Your friends are probably really nice but they don't know anything about it, and there's no one waiting for you. The market is already saturated with talented people, and people who think they're talented. Voice over acting is an extremely difficult profession to make a living from. But...

But some people make a living out of it, and the difficulty is an excellent filter for stopping those who don't have enough desire. That said, the uncomfortable, hard-to-swallow truth is that it's not a job for everyone. Some are incapable of doing it.

As far as I'm concerned, despite a real desire to sing (well), the lessons I've persisted in taking and the practice, I'll only be a singer in the shower, breaking the ears of my wife and children. I have a very good grasp of rhythms, but I don't have a musical ear. That's just the way it is.
Some people don't have the vision for the script, and no amount of desire, training or practice can change that. But to see if the potential is there, you have to try. And sometimes, rarely but sometimes, even a seed that seems barren can metamorphose into the most marvellous of flowers. This was my poetic moment, enjoy it, it's rare.

As you're never better served than by yourself, I'd obviously advise you to start by following my Voix Off blog, which talks about the different aspects of our profession. Take a look at the different TV and web spots, corporate films, network imaging, characters and in narration that I have recorded, and listen to my demos. And, of course, visit the websites of my esteemed, established, experienced and respected colleagues. It'll give you an idea of the road ahead, the different aspects of the profession, the different styles of interpreting, the different sub-sectors of voice-over, how to present your work, etc.

As in every profession, we have our own jargon. Don't waste the time of professionals by asking them to explain the terms to you: I've created a voice over dictionary. If you don't find what you're looking for, let me know by commenting on this article, and I'll be happy to add any terms you suggest that aren't already there.

The first dance

So how do you become a voiceover artist? Start by deprogramming yourself. The myth of the beautiful voice? To hell with it: our profession has much less to do with the instrument than with the way we use it.

Voice over is just reading out loud, but in front of a microphone? Yeah right. Voice over artist is actually an extremely demanding job, where talent has to be accompanied by skills and expertise that you haven't the slightest idea of if it's not your job, and as with any trade, these have to be learned.

Does voice over involve talking? Of course, but above all it's about listening - more on this in my article A Question of Organ. In short, the clichés and preconceived ideas need to be swept aside. Start as a virgin.

Are you ready? So first of all, practise reading aloud lots and lots and lots and lots. Over and over again. Read anything (magazines, facebook comments, package inserts...) in all sorts of styles (promo, corporate, soft sell, hard sell, 'everyday', warm, sensual...) Don't miss an opportunity to read aloud.

Using different scripts (Google is your friend), practise diction, over-articulation with a very fast reading speed, with different intentions, different projections, to different (imaginary) audiences, situated very close to you and very far away. You don't address a child sitting on your lap in the same way as a crowd you're haranguing. Record these practices on your phone or anything else, it doesn't matter.

When you're just starting out, you tend to speak too quickly - this often comes from apprehension about the script. Relax in your script, just as you would relax on the sofa. Choose an intention, then read and reread the script until you know it by heart. Read it at different speeds, with different projections, different addresses, different intentions, then go back to the original intention. You'll find that you'll be much freer in your interpretation. Underline the key words in your scripts to modulate your reading.

Gradually correct any defects you hear.

Important 1/ Save these recordings carefully.

Important 2/ Don't ask the people closest to you for their opinion. They're your family, they love you, they're subjective and they'll probably tell you that you're great, even if you... have work to do, and they don't know anything about voice over work.

You can hardly judge what you do yourself. As a mentor told me a long time ago, you can't see with your own eyes. Give it a go anyway, being critical and comparing the result with professional standards.

Listen to TV and radio commercials, on-air spots, billboards, company videos on YouTube, anything you can get your hands on. It's primordial, essential, vital to get an earful. Is that enough emphasis? You need to be curious at all times. You need to breathe, eat, drink, inject and ingest advertising. That, and the institutions, the explainers, the promos - which, for each genre, you also have to breathe, eat and so on.

Also, work on your voice - you'll find some great warm-ups and exercises on YouTube. The excellent vocal coach Stéphanie Dumouch, in particular, has some very good tutorials (in French) on her Youtube channel.

After a few weeks of assiduous daily practice, when you think you're ready, do the recording exercise again - and compare it with your first takes, the ones I advised you to keep above. If you think you've made enough progress, submit these recordings to professionals for their opinion.

Chances are that you're not ready to start out professionally, but you may have reached the right level to do a voice-over course with me or someone else. If the voice-over coach is serious and doesn't think this is the job for you, he'll tell you so. Choose your teacher carefully - I talk about this in my article Voix Off Training, Coaching, Mentoring And ArnaquingI recommend that you read it if you don't want to be ripped off by bogus coaches. I offer training courses - all the info is on the page Voice over coaching.

A word of advice: choose honesty over flattery. You'll have sent us the results of several months' work every day, and if those results don't show that you have potential, it's possible that you're not cut out for this job. But that doesn't mean you should stop being interested - quite the contrary.

If there's a spark, you'll be ready to start learning your new trade. Welcome to the ball, and happy dancing!

When you're ready to market yourself as a professional voiceover actor, don't undersell yourself just because you're starting out. On the subject, be sure to read my articles Hands Of The Loot and Free Voice Over: At What Price?

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