Three Part Voiceover Practice Method that’s Close to Perfection

An athlete practices daily to train for competition. Without practice, the chances of success are greatly reduced. It’s important to teach the body how to move or react to situation so it can do so automatically without having to put much thought into it.

Like an athlete, voice actors should train. Doing so will increase the chance for successful auditions. An hour a day can make the difference between missing the mark or landing the job. Practice will not make you perfect; it will make you closer to perfect.

I start each morning with a warm up that includes body, facial, breathing and vocal areas. After I’ve warmed my body and vocal path and hydrated myself, I start my practice workout.

1. Cold Read

My job as a voice actor is to clearly read aloud my client’s scripts and add my vocal color. So, to improve my ability to read aloud I start my practice session with a 15-minute cold read. I subscribe to a number of magazines, ranging from AFAR to Wired, and each morning I read aloud from one of them. It’s a great workout as I’m challenged to read unfamiliar words and names, strange phrases, words that are written for the eye and not necessarily for the ear and there’s an educational element as well. I record these readings so I can monitor my improvement by comparing how I read a couple of months ago to today. I’m happy to announce that I’ve improved. You should too.

2. Stretch the Range

My voice acting coach, Veronica Weikel, starts each session by having me create as many character voices as I can from the multiple line script she’s given me. I love this so much that I’ve incorporated it into my practice and it’s become my favorite part. The sheet has six sentences that lend themselves well to creative interpretation. Here’s an example:

  • Enjoy a walk on the beach with your favorite super hero and experience your childhood fantasy.
  • Popular? No, I’m not popular. I just act like I am.
  • About 10 years ago, your sister developed the desire for bigger purses. Now, she just carries around a suitcase.
  • With that type of attitude you’d think it was easy being a nude circus clown.
  • Night after night, it’s the same thing. “Igor, get another body from the cemetery.” Sheesh!
  • Winning would be easier if you showed up for practice. The coached is not happy.

For each line, I come up with three different character voices and change pace, cadence, emotion and word emphasis for each one. Like the cold read, I record this and play it back as soon as I’m done. I’m happily amazed by the voices that come out of me.

3. Audition Rehearsal

The final stage of my practice session is to workout with some scripts. I’ve collected a number of them from jobs I’ve done, auditions, and from Edge Studio’s script repository. I randomly select three from my stack and treat each one as an audition. I mark up the script, record three takes with a slate and then listen to the play back. This will train your ear: you’ll begin to notice right away what worked in your read and what bombed. You might have a great idea how the script should be read in your head, but can you get it out the vocal path? This will help to improve that process.

Now that I’ve finished my warmup and workout, I’m ready to take on the day. I’m in the mindset to audition and feel confident that I’m doing a better at my craft today than I did yesterday. Practice can’t make you perfect, but it can make you a better voice artist.

The Angry Click and 7 Must Have Items for Your Home Studio

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro doing voice over work in your home studio, there are a few necessities that are valuable to have in order to be productive. Of course you need the basics: a computer, microphone, recording software and a place to be vocal. But, you also need a few support items to help make your recording sessions easier.

First, a story about mouth-clicks and a pencil. During a relatively easy session, I was having difficulties with mouth-clicks. The script was about 30-words with no unusual phonetics or unfamiliar terms. After my first take, I listened to the playback only to discover my read was loaded with mouth-clicks. So, I took a swig of water, ate a bite of green apple and headed back into the booth for a second take. This time, I read the script twice to make sure I had a clean, mouth-click-free recording.

During the playback of my second attempt and to my disappointment, I found that the nasty mouth clicks were still there. This time they were much more numerous than the first take. Not only did there seem to be more, the tiny obnoxious clicks had gotten louder. It was as if they had taken on a life of their own and were mocking my efforts to get rid of them.

After hydrating myself again, I trekked back to the booth for attempt number three. This time I was going to really pay attention to what sounds were emitting from my mouth. With pencil in hand, I began my read. I put emotion in all the right places and enunciated clearly. I was emoting with my entire body, stabbing with my hands for emphasis. And then that’s when I heard them. Click. Click. Clickity-click. Click. Click!!!

I realized to my embarrassment and relief, the clicks were not coming from my perfectly spoken words, but from my pencil. It was a blue Pentel mechanical pencil that I had freshly loaded with new lead. Every time I shook my hand for emphasis, the pencil replied like a miniature baby rattle. Click. Click. Clickity-click. Yes, it was a pencil and not my mouth, thank you very much.

So, now the Pentel sits on my desk and not in the booth. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the thing even though it made me sound ridiculously clicky, it’s been with me since I was a Freshman in high school. Ah, the price of sentimental nostalgia.

And now, my list of seven must have items for your home studio.

1. Pencils

Wooden No. 2 pencils work the best. You can woodshed or markup your script at will, and erase when needed. Pens allow you to write but most don’t allow you to erase. And, while mechanical pencils look rather prestigious, they are not worth the trouble. Trust me on this!

2. Water

H2O is very important in reducing mouth-clicks and keeping your mouth and throat moist while doing voice overs. I have a 32-ounce bottle in my studio that’s refilled at least three times a day. Room temperature is best, cold water somewhat restricts vocal cord movement.

3. Warm Tea

Along with water, warm, caffeine free tea with honey and lemon is a throat saver. I use a variety of blends, each one is tasty and seems to relax and clear my vocal path. One tea specifically marketed as medicinally appropriate for voice actors, is Traditional Medicinal’s Throat Coat. You can find this in most grocery stores.

4. Green Apples

It’s true. I’ve used them and have found that they do the job of significantly reducing mouth-clicks. One of the first things I do in the morning is slice up a green apple to keep in my studio for the day. It’s easy to chew a piece before a session or audition.

5. Comfortable Work Station

When I’m not in the booth recording, I’m at my desk editing, writing proposals, or replying to client e-mail. An ergonomically adjustable desk and chair will allow you to work more comfortably for longer periods of time. My desk is designed by BioMorph and  my chair is a Humanscale. Without them I’m sure that I would not be able to put in the hours I do.

6. Printer

I print a number of scripts everyday. Before I purchased a printer for my studio, I used one that was connected to my home network. My studio is on the second floor and the printer was inconveniently located on the first. Sure, I got my exercise and it gave me an opportunity to get off my butt. Nothing beats having a printer close by. I settled on a multifunction printer from Canon that gives me printing, scanning and faxing capabilities. I suggest going with a laser printer and staying away from ink jets. In the long run laser is cheaper, quieter, has better image quality, stands up to pencil markups better and is not smudged by highlighters.

7. Good Lighting

You need to see what you’re reading in the booth and at your desk. In my booth I have a Mighty Bright Triple L.E.D light clipped to my copy stand. It’s powered by three rechargeable AAA batteries and gives off an incredible amount of light for its size. The adjustable halogen desk lamp that I use lights up my entire work area.

These are the tools I need and use daily in my studio. What are your “must have” items in your studio?

Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow

One of the most fascinating aspects of voice acting for me is the chance to meet new clients who want to use my voice for their projects.  I’m curious to find out the details about the project and their vision for the end result. I also like to get an understanding of how and where my voice will be used. More times than not, clients are excited about what they’re producing and appreciate that I take an interest in their needs beyond the cost and turn around of my services.

There are five important communication necessities that I believe should take place between my prospective client and myself during the initial stages of the booking process. These easily apply to a any number of freelance jobs and for me, make the process of working remotely smooth and easy.

1. The Handshake

The initial e-mail contact from a client usually comes in the form of a request for an audition and proposal. I consider this similar to an old-fashioned handshake, an introduction that’s friendly and informative. The e-mail usually includes specifics about the project that help  me audition properly and prepare a fair proposal. These details typically include project type, length of approved script, target audience plus how the script should be read (tone, pace, cadence).

2. Audition and Proposal

In most cases, I respond with an MP3 file that contains my audition read of the script and a proposal that details estimated cost, services included and payment terms. At this point I make sure that I clearly understand the timezone differences between myself and the client. This will help establish expectations to e-mail replies and immediate availability should the zones be significantly different.

3. Come to Terms

After my client listens to the audition and reviews the proposal, they might reply with questions or want to negotiate a different rate. When I’ve answered their questions and we’ve come to an agreement on the rate for the project and payment details, I ask for their acknowledgment that we’ve successfully come to terms.

4. Project Confirmation

Following the talent seeker’s agreement to terms, I send a project confirmation that outlines the job as understood by the client and me. This is to make sure that we are on the same page and clearly understand the project. I make sure that the confirmation contains all the necessary contact information for myself and request that they provide theirs when they reply.

5. Schedule Studio Time

After all the documentation and terms are agreed to and understood, I feel confident that we have the basis for a good working relationship. At this point I’ll schedule time to complete my new client’s voice over project.

The Bottom Line

Nobody likes unexpected surprises, so get it in writing!!! Doing so will reduce the chance of misunderstanding and will make the process of completing the job more efficient.

This process works well in my voice over business and I hope that you find something in what I’ve written to be helpful. I’d like to hear about what you’ve done that has made working with remote clients easier?

Five Ways to be Remembered by Your Clients

The next time my clients need a voice talent, I want to make sure that I’m the first person they consider booking. In order for that to happen, I stay in contact with them using a variety of methods. Here are five ways I keep in touch with my existing clients.

1. Monthly Blast

Each month, I send a newsletter that provides suggestions on improving the relationship between talent seeker and the VO talent. In the newsletter I include a short blurb about two of the clients I worked with the previous month. Clients appreciate being mentioned and it seems to have positive, beneficial results for my business.

2. Hello, Again

I take time to send a short e-mail to clients I have not heard from in a while. I might send along a link to an article that is relevant to them personally or professionally. Of the personalized e-mail that I send, about 30% respond and at the very least acknowledge that they received my message.

3. Rekindle Missed Opportunities

It’s important for me to stay in touch with prospective clients as well. I send a very short e-mail to individuals and agencies who have contacted me for a quote. I remind them that I’d still like their business and ask that they pass my contact info on to anybody who is looking to hire a voice talent.

4. Say Thank You!

After each job, I send my clients a handwritten notecard, thanking them for using my voice for their project. I include two business cards so they can easily pass my contact information on to other folks who need VO talent. Aside from the repeat business from clients, I’ve received a few referrals using this method.

5. Get Social

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are useful tools as well. These allow me to get a snapshot of what my clients are doing and provides me the opportunity to interact with them on a social networking level. I don’t spend hours on these sites, but I do take a quick glance to see what’s up.

These five ways to stay in contact work in most client/service relationships. whether it be voice over, copywriting, photography, design, dentist, doctor, carpenter, lawyer and others. Keep your clients aware that you are available for business.

This combination has worked well for me. I’m always open to suggestions that might make my process better and more profitable. What works for you?