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4 Steps to Help Develop Your Ear

Being able to evaluate your own work is a critical component for success in the VO industry. With abundant online casting opportunities and improved home studios, self-direction has become more and more commonplace. It's important for you to develop a good ear for your sound in order to successfully self-direct. You need the ability to hear objectively whether you’ve really dialed in your read to the point where the story is clear, the subtext comes through, and your delivery is authentic and honest. The trick to accomplishing this is being able to listen actively and critically to your own work. In today’s article, I’m sharing four steps to help you learn to listen like a pro.

Step 1. Active Listening

Make an appointment on your schedule. Block out at least an hour. During that time, you’ll actively listen to voice over in the genre you’re pursuing. Commercials? Go to iSpot TV. Animation? Tune into your favorite shows. Corporate Narration? Use YouTube to find some companies you admire. You can also find a voice actor's work that you admire and that has been successfully cast in the genres you are interested in. Make sure to find examples of their most current work. Next, take notes. What do you hear? What is the pacing? Can you hear the intention? What makes it honest and authentic? What is the subtext? This kind of listening takes mindfulness and focus. You aren’t going to have this running in the background while you do something else. This is all you’re doing. Is the voice actor compelling and engaging? Imagine the voice actor when they were recording. Do you think they were physicating? Who were they talking to? Why do you think this actor got cast in this role? Once you start listening with these questions in mind, you’ll be able to hear the nuances and subtle cues that make reads magical. You’ll start to understand what “good” sounds like. Listening is a skill you need to develop over time. Make a plan to do this several times a week while you’re developing your ear. Incorporate active listening into your training schedule. It’s just as important as reading into the mic.

Step 2. Find the Needle

The next step is building on what you’ve learned by actively listening to what “good” professional voiceover sounds like. First, find pro content that speaks to you. For an example, let’s take a look at a Corporate Narration piece you found on YouTube. Listen carefully to the piece and transcribe it. When you transcribe content, you connect with the copy on a fundamental, comprehensive level. Do all the prework, like phrasing and understanding the subtext, and then read the entire script out loud. Step back and look at the copy - what is the backbone of the story? This will help you relate the sentences to each other and understand the story that needs to be told, rather than simply seeing each sentence independently.

Next, pop into your booth and record the copy. Now, practice your active listening. Objectively listen to what you’ve recorded and answer all the questions from Step One - What do you hear? What’s the pacing? Can you hear the intention? What makes it honest and authentic? What’s the subtext? Did you remember to highlight the storyline? If not, go back into the booth and record again. Then actively listen again. What you’re doing is creating a direct connection to the critical elements of the story. You are starting to hardwire an understanding of the essential factors that make a script work.

Step 3. Think About the Client

It’s time for a little role-playing. Put yourself in the clients’ or casting agents’ shoes. Now that you’ve been able to listen to what works, and what gets cast, you can imagine yourself on the other side of the glass. What is important to the client? What nuances are they listening for? What problem are they trying to solve? When you start thinking about the copy from a client's point of view, you become aware of the depth of what’s behind the script. Every word is on the script for a reason - the client wrote it! Are you honoring the copy? Be honest when you listen to yourself read. Would you cast yourself in this role? Why? Or why not? Is there some way for you to read the copy that will help more clearly convey its purpose? Because to the client, it's important - as a matter of fact, they wouldn't have hired you if it wasn't. It’s your job to proactively listen to your read the way the client hears it.

Step 4. Walk Away

Get up, stretch your legs, go for a walk, take some time away from what you’ve been listening to. It’s easy to not see the forest through the trees. Sometimes, you just need to walk away. Even if you think you’ve nailed it, take at least an hour to give your ears a break. The more time, the better. When you do come back to listen, if possible, listen from somewhere physically different. Change your location. If you were listening in your office on your speakers, then pop the file on your phone and listen on your headphones in your living room. When you change your environment and physically alter your surroundings, you subconsciously give yourself a fresh perspective. It’s easy to slip into a rut. You’ll be surprised at the difference a change in scenery makes.

Practice Makes Possible (not perfect)

Above all else, be intentional and mindful. Developing your ear takes time and effort. You may feel like you’re not making any progress. But give it time, you will. Practice, practice, practice. Make time to actively listen, find the essential elements, listen like a client, and then listen with fresh ears. You’ll start to develop the critical self-directing skills it takes to take your reads to the next level.

Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!



About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold.  Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.  



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