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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

6 Ways To Get Over Those Voice Over Practice Walls

6 Ways To Get Over Those
Voice Over Practice Walls

We all find reasons to procrastinate. And practice is very easy to put off.

Here are six practical ways to get over the stumbling blocks that may keep you from practicing every day.

1. "I can't find a quiet place to practice."

Who cares!

For practice, background noise is okay. (It's just not okay for auditions and real jobs.

So if it's too loud where you live:

* practice in a room at a local community center,
* ask your health club if you can use their sales office,
* work in a classroom after school has let out . . .
* even practice VO in the shower instead of singing!

At Edge Studio, people have told us they practice in their car or minivan (quiet, sound absorbent, comfortable). Some in their closets.

One guy even told us, "I stand in my bedroom and speak into my wife's pants, as that prevents echo."

Does practicing with others around make you feel self-conscious? It shouldn't.

You're a professional, doing what a professional does. Others respect that, even if they don't fully understand.

And if you're still self-conscious, consider the guy with the pants.

2. "I'm new at this and not sure how or what to practice."

Practice at least 15 minutes a day, every day, reading not just the kind of VO material you specialize in, but also other copy to prevent monotony and help break you out of bad habits.

Even read your junk mail - there's a steady supply, it's a daily cue, and if you can make it sound real, you're doing well.

Very important: record yourself and listen back with a critical ear.

For practice, almost any mic and recorder will do. But if your recorder's not handy, get your daily practice in anyway.

3. "I'm not a beginner anymore. I don't need to practice."

Granted, Mel Torme and Elvis didn't sing in the shower or hum to pass the time (so it's said). But they sang virtually every day, no doubt.

A-Rod didn't hit all those homers without ongoing practice, either.

You, too, should perform every day.

Obviously, an actual gig is not the time to warm up, flex your pipes, and spot ruts and bad habits you may have developed.

Every pro, no matter how experienced, benefits by keeping in shape and improving or broadening their capabilities. Regardless of your experience level, you need to practice.

4. "I don't have time to practice."

Oh? How do you find time to perform?

Make practice time a routine part of your business day, because that's what your VO career is - a business.

Time of day doesn't matter, but you might take a cue from novelists and other creative writers. Many of them get up relatively early and write for an hour before the day "really" begins.

Or they write from 9 till noon then call it a day.

The good news is, your practice doesn't need to require three hours, nor even one hour. Even a few minutes a day can have a dramatic effect if you're consistent.

5. "I'm just not the consistent, regimented type."

That's not unusual. Okay, practice when you can. But don't put it off.

Here's a trick: you undoubtedly have several "what should I do next" moments in your day. Make VO practice your standard answer.

Then, just do it.

Finding some sort of "trigger" is the way to overcome procrastination, lethargy, or laziness. Like physical exercise, once you get in the good habit of practicing daily, you'll find it much, much easier to remember it and do it. And you'll enjoy it more.

6. "Sorry, there always seems something more interesting or more important to do."

Ain't it the truth. It might be a day job, kids, unforeseen circumstances, anything.

But it's either a daily occurrence that you can schedule around, or a temporary situation you will come back from.

If fitting practice into your schedule is still difficult, make a list. Write your schedule down.

Think of yourself as a business. Running a business involves certain responsibilities, not all of them fun.

The good news? Voice over practice is a LOT more fun than many of the professional responsibilities most other people have! And if you ever doubt its importance, listen to some of your old practice recordings.

I guarantee, if you've applied yourself in regular daily practice, you'll sound better today.

Have you found a practice technique that might help others? Let us know!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

12 Top Voice Over Skills

12 Top Voice Over Skills

What can you do to improve your voice over performances?

Voice over instructor and performer Marc Cashman identifies and describes 12 voice over skill sets that will help you to refine your current skills and develop new ones!

From clarity to consistency to cold reading and more, you'll find new ways that you can leverage your talent and make it shine brightly for all to hear.

Learn more about what successful voice over artists master and the skills that matter in today's VOX Daily.
A Dozen VO Skill Sets

Submitted by Marc Cashman

If a buck dropped out of the sky every time someone asked me what it takes to make it in the world of voiceover, I could retire! So now, finally, I'm going to sum up a dozen top skills that are fundamental to a successful career in voice acting. And amazingly, they all start with the letter "C"!
1) Clarity

A voice actor's articulation has got to be impeccable. Each word needs to be distinctly understood, not swallowed, mumbled or garbled. An actor needs to make sure that they're balancing their enunciation between over-articulation and under-articulation. We don't want to over- enunciate, or we won't sound conversational--we'll sound like pompous asses. We certainly don't want to under-enunciate, or we'll sound stupid or lazy or both. We always need to perform in the "Goldilocks" area of vocal clarity. Employers are always listening for narrators who can speak clearly, without overdoing it or underdoing it. It has to be just right.
2) Cleanliness

This only partly means you have to shower before a session. Cleanliness refers to mouth noise, and if you have a lot of it, you may have a difficult time getting work in voiceover. Some people are blessed with minimal mouth noise--they've just inherited a genetic gift that makes saliva a non-issue. But most narrators have some level of mouth noise: those glottal stops, clicks and smacking sounds -- that they mitigate a number of ways: hydrating (otherwise known as drinking a lot of water); using throat sprays, mouthwashes or herbal teas; munching tiny pieces of green apple (in between narration excerpts), chewing gum or sucking on a lozenge. The less time an editor needs to clean up your V-O tracks, the more chance you'll be called back to do another session. Soon.
3) Consistency

In voiceover, consistency is a highly valued skill. If you're consistent in your volume, energy, pacing, articulation, characterization and your eye-brain-mouth coordination, you'll be every director's dream, because you'll be a voice actor they can rely on to deliver what they want every time.
4) Connected

Being connected to what you're reading is vital to your performance and the believability of your interpretation. A professional narrator always sounds like they're intrinsically interested in what they're talking about, regardless of whether they are. I always pose the question: if you're not enthusiastic about what you're talking about, why should the listener be interested in what you have to say? Being connected also means literally being physically connected to the page, with your eyes scanning ahead to make sure you're moving through the copy or text without tripping or stumbling. Voice actors use a numbers of different techniques to stay connected: using their hands to make points or gestures; inflecting when and where appropriate; making facial expressions to convey emotion and using their body to physically interpret action into their voice.
5) Conversational

Being conversational in voiceover isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes an innate ability to lift words off the page effortlessly, as if you're speaking extemporaneously (because you're an expert, right?). It means reading (and speaking) at conversational speed--the typical pace that we speak in everyday conversations. This skill is the result of not over- or under-articulating, and is key to engaging the listener and maintaining their attention.
6) Cold Reading

This skill is a must-have for long-form narration, particularly in the areas of e-Learning modules, instructional CD-Rom narration, and non-fiction audiobooks. If you're a busy voice actor, you don't have time to pre-read dozens or hundreds of pages of text before you take on a project. The ability to cold read text will save you a lot of time in the studio, not to mention a lot of editing time. The ability to scan ahead, to make sense of run-on sentences, and to navigate incorrect punctuation is a skill that comes in very handy. Solid cold reading is the manifestation of excellent eye-brain-mouth coordination, and can be strengthened every day by constant practice. Reading aloud (to your kids, significant other, parent, dog, cat, bird or bunny) will help you become a great cold reader.
7) Chop Chop

Okay, this was my lame "C" phrase for being quick (I could have written "Cwick", but that would've been much lamer). Speaking fast is, in many situations, as essential skill in V-O. It becomes readily apparent in a commercial, where sometimes you're supposed to squeeze 40- seconds of copy into a 30-second time frame (I call this "shoe-horning"). The ability to get through copy rapidly, but not at the expense of clarity, is a crucial skill that, if you haven't mastered, you need to develop.
8) Coordination

I referred to this under consistency and cold reading, and this is the mental muscle memory that develops when your eyes take in the words on the page, make the connections in your brain and come out of your mouth. I call it "eye-brain-mouth coordination," and it's a skill that voice actors develop after voicing thousands of pages of copy or text over a number of years. Some people are better at it than others, sometimes reading thousands of words in multiple pages of copy before making a mistake. Developing strong E-B-M coordination is possible by cold reading copy every day. It's like a musician who practices their scales every day-- they strengthen their muscle memory; or it's like going to the gym every day to build up your muscles and your stamina. Great E-B-M coordination is the hallmark of a professional voice actor.
9) Characterization

Any kind of voice acting that requires characterization requires acting, and actors understand what goes into giving a solid performance. Many of the skills I mentioned--consistency, conversationality, being connected--in addition to the acting skills of believability, authenticity, emotionality and interpretation--are immensely important in telling a compelling story. The ability to perform solid characters is another arrow in your quiver of voice acting skills.
10) Convincing

I've heard it said, "Always sound like you know what you're talking about, even if you don't." This could be the mantra for narration. No matter what subject you're talking about, the ability to sound convincing encompasses skills of coherent explanation, a measured, neutral (or sometimes friendly) tone, an appropriate amount of conversationality and energy, and an authoritativeness that's believable and approachable. The most convincing narrators are those who, in Penny Abshire's term, "tell, don't sell."
11) Control

Successful voice actors are always in control--of their voice, that is. They can control their pitch, their volume and their breath. They control their pitch by understanding intonation--realizing that there are many musical applications to the spoken word. They control their volume by understanding that volume, for the most part, has to be consistent--it's their intensity that varies throughout a read. And they maintain excellent breath control by constantly replenishing the amount of air they need in order to get through words and phrases competently. And they put all of these skills to use when they need to do any pickup phrases or insertions, so they can match what they've recorded before.
12) Confidence

The best thing you can bring to any V-O session is confidence--true confidence, not a false sense of bravado. Confidence comes from being prepared; understanding the subject, and anticipating the dynamics of the studio session between the actor, director and engineer (and many times, the presence of the client, either in person or on the phone); You can hear confidence in an actor's voice--in their phrasing, presence, and overall performance. Confidence gives you stamina and believability, and makes it easier to work with a director, who may sometimes be giving you a lot of conflicting direction. Confidence also gives you patience, which can really come in handy in many a recording session. I can add three additional "C's" under the heading of confidence: being calm, cool and collected.

There are so many more skills that we bring to a session that makes for a successful performance, and so many more attributes that you need to make it in the world of voiceover. But if we can infuse these skills into every V-O session, then you'll be well on your way to a satisfying and lucrative career. And fun!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Comic books a great tool for character actor scripts!

Comic books a great tool for character actor scripts!

When I was a kid, I loved book-and-records; especially those Power Records releases that included a comic book, with a fully produced drama. Music, sound effects, and voice actors told the stories of Spiderman, Superman, and other childhood heroes.

My favorite of these was an adaptation of Planet of the Apes. I had the whole thing memorized.

My dad loves to tell the story of our long car rides and how I would keep myself entertained in the back-seat by re-enacting the entire Planet of the Apes script-sound effects and all! This was pre-in car DVD, pre-iPod. We kids had to have a little more ingenuity in those days! Looking back, this was my first experience as a voice-actor.

I still enjoy reading comic books, and it was brought to my attention by one of my coaches, Bob Bergen, that comics are a great source of scripts for voice-actors to practice developing characters with. Everything you need is right there on the multi-panel, 4 color page: Heroes! Villains! Action! Drama! Plenty of dialogue, and lots of illustrations to show you what the characters look like, and how they’re behaving.

In fact, when I’m voicing Hammy from Over the Hedge-or Dilbert and his Boss-I’m reading my lines directly from the comic-strips. What’s the point in transcribing a script when you’ve got these beautiful, informative storyboards to work from?

If you want to give it a try, but you don’t know where to begin, I’ve taken the liberty of including some FREE comic book resources in this article. How cool is that? You don’t even have to leave the house or buy anything to get started!

Fans of daily newspaper comic-strips can find plenty of favorites here:

A couple of years ago DC comics published a weekly series starring just about everybody in their fictional universe, but especially the lesser known ‘fringe’ characters. It was called “52” and you can sample pages of that epic storyline here:

Not into capes? How about the gentle humor of Archie Andrews and the gang from Riverdale High School? Archie Digital is a paid subscription site, but they offer a few free preview issues.

Fancy yourself a Vampire Slayer? Check out free issues of Buffy.

Vertigo is an adult comic book…er, sorry…”graphic novel” brand. Great stuff! But definitely not appropriate for all audiences. A few free pages of several titles can be downloaded as .pdf’s here: Again, not kid stuff!

You can find many more resources by Googling ‘free comic book pdf.’

Practice accents with the characters. Age them. Play them over-the-top! Play them real. And if you are a producer as well, record the dialogue and add music and sound effects. Maybe you'll create something you can use on your demo! I'm no lawyer (check with one if you're concerned), but I believe using the material in this way is okay. You’re not selling anything (but your talent); and it’s purely for demonstration purposes. That said, I would change the names of familiar characters because people already know what characters like Batman and the Joker sound like, and if you don’t nail it-you could lose out on a similar gig. Best to use these magazines to create your own unique heroes and villains.

Have fun!

What Makes A Great Voiceover Talent - Not Just A Great Voice

What Makes A Great Voiceover Talent - Not Just A Great Voice
"Saying a great voice talent need only a great voice is like saying a great batter need only a great bat".

I've often heard it said that to be a great voiceover artist, one needs only a terrific voice. While having a great voice is certainly important, taken in isolation it is completely meaningless. Saying a great voiceover artist needs only a great voice is like saying a great batter need only a great bat. Of course it takes far more than a great bat to knock balls out of the park. It takes awesome power, timing, control, breathing, and eye-hand coordination among other attributes. Voiceover is not much different. First and foremost, according to Los Angeles-based voice coach Rodney Saulsberry, it takes a great ability to intrepret copy along with excellent ear-voice coordination - an ability to listen to direction from outside the booth and then make changes, often subtle, in inflection, pauses, speed, microphone orientation, stance, and more. A great voiceover talent has a great voice but also can nail just the right interpretation of the copy to satisfy the client. A great voice talent becomes a "human mixing station" in the studio, according to Nancy Wolfson, a Los Angeles-based voice coach and former Playboy casting director. Someone who can belt out the most melifluously-pleasing words is of no value if he cannot take direction and quickly respond with desired stylistic adjustments. A great voiceover artist must be able to listen intently to those outside the booth for navigation and then set the vocal compass for the client's desired destination. Not to minimize the value of having a great voice. It's certainly a plus as voice acting goes, but a great voiceover artist must have a great ear for listening and the flexibility and range to adjust.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Improve Social Marketing With Custom Audio and Voice Overs

So you’ve got a visual presence, are on all of the social networking sites and send messages like crazy but you’re finding that the human element, although seemingly everywhere you look, is oddly… missing.

How is it that you can have a photo, an about me paragraph, and hundreds of virtual friends but still miss the boat?

One thing probably nobody has told you about social marketing and social networking (that is, up until now) is that you can’t just have a visual presence online and expect to be the beneficiary of overwhelming success because of some strategically placed keywords and an enviable list of hobbies.

What you do need, however, is a way to talk to people naturally to give them a taste of who you are and what you sound like. People enjoy hearing the voices of other people, particularly if that person is of interest to them or has something to of value to offer.

Sounds good, you say, but how can you get down with the crowd when marketing to them without sounding salesy?

Custom Audio & Social Marketing

One way is to record an audio message of yourself talking, perhaps even go as far as making a podcast, and post it on your social networking sites. Places like Facebook and MySpace give you the opportunity to share audio on your profile for others in your circle of acquaintance to listen to.

Listening to someone talk can be very reassuring, and for those being listened to, has the potential to be very profitable.

This marketing technique, when blended with public relations, can be extremely effective. Using an audio recording as part of your approach to deliver a genuine message to spur on your company, product or service opens the door to a greater sense of community and shows that you’re reaching out and want to be part of the action.

What better way is there to build trust, virtually connect with others and develop a following online than to make yourself accessible using your voice, the most powerful tool in your arsenal?

You don’t have worry about too much in the technology department to provide an authentic sample of your personality when recording. You can easily make a no-frills MP3 recording on your own using free audio recording software, but if you want to kick it up a notch, I suggest spicing it up a bit with some music, sound effects and even the help of a professional voice actor.

Voice Overs & Social Marketing

To really give them a treat, you might consider working with an internet voice talent on the recordings, perhaps even using their voice to brand your company.

Now, if you are intimidated by audio recording, production or editing (maybe all of the above), it’s a no-brainer to go with someone who can look after all of it for you while adding significant value and letting you shine.

Your voice is a very important aspect of who you are, and when you’re in the trenches of online marketing and staking your ground in the vast landscape of social networking, it may be one of the only things that sets you apart from competitors in the same field.

This is of particular importance if you happen to be the voice or personality at your company that is known to your customers and the public.