If you have been in voiceover for any length of time, you are bound to hear someone new to the industry exclaim “All my life I have been told that I have a great voice and that I should do voiceover!” As a matter of fact, this may well have been the jump-start for many of you today who call voiceover your career. And, if you are reading this article, I am pretty confident that you do have a nice voice. It may be smooth, resonant, or friendly. Or raspy, youthful, or articulate. Or any other combination of attractive adjectives. But all of those adjectives don't exactly define a voice-acting career.
The truth is, it’s not about your voice. Really.
Any truly long-standing success in this industry is not about how you sound, it’s not about how well you do impressions, or even how many characters you used to do as a kid. So what on earth am I even talking about?
It's A Trap!
First of all, I'm not saying that your vocal quality doesn't matter entirely. But there is a whole lot more to a "great" voice than just sound and tone. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, relying on having a “nice” voice, (it's all subjective, ya know? ) is a trap. As a matter of fact, focusing on the sound of your voice can actually take you farther away from becoming a successful voice actor. When you concern yourself with trying to sound “good” you add a layer that takes away from the time that you have to focus on acting. It’s almost like viewing yourself from the 3rd person. You may be reading the words on a page and think you are telling the story, but if you’re listening to yourself and how you sound, then you’re inherently not “in” the story you’re trying to tell! You can’t be. It’s like the difference between driving a car and controlling a remote-control car. Sure, they’re both cars, but when you are actually in the driver’s seat, you are immersed in the experience.
Acting! Thank You!
Voice actors are first and foremost, actors, hence the name "Voice Actors" :). If you want to be a successful one, you have to learn the fundamentals of acting. Acting, at its core, is actually re-acting. An actor re-acts to a situation, an objective, or a person. The same holds true in the world of voiceover. No matter if your job is to teach someone how to use the new TPS forms, selling them a hamburger, or putting someone on hold, a voice actor is re-acting. There is always a story in your script, always. Your mission is to find and tell the story.
Cease and Desist!
Morgan Freeman called; he wants you to stop imitating him. You may see in certain auditions the reference to a famous voice actor. The client sends a reference link to Sam Elliot, or Morgan Freeman, or Scarlett Johanson. You think the best route to land the job would be to imitate them, right? Nope. Unless the client is specifically asking for a sound match, they are not actually asking you to sound like those other famous actors, (if they did then I’m sure they are for hire), no, they want you to channel the same energy, or they want you to be able to interpret copy in a similar manner. So channel them, but in the end, make sure you sound like YOU. Remember, you’re the one telling the story.
Don't Look the Gift Horse in the Mouth
I think it is human nature for us to want to "mimic" sounds and melodies and to want to perform copy the way we "think" others want to hear it. It is a constant battle for some to not listen to their own sound and performance. But you can only rely on the beauty of your sound for a very short time, perhaps even only milliseconds. After a short period of listening time, a person has usually assessed the physical properties of your sound and made a decision that they either find it pleasing or not. After that, the listener really just wants to be included and understand what it is that you have to say. And it's even better if it benefits them in some way. For example, if it's something that can help them or something that gives them necessary information, or something that simply entertains them. (See it's not really about you or your voice!) For most listeners, we like to be engaged with the person who is telling a story - we desperately want to feel like we are a part of it. We don't want to listen to someone who is just reading us the words from a Powerpoint presentation. Even someone with a beautiful voice droning on can be boring!
Let it go, Let it go!
Remember that in the end, you need to be a great storyteller. Include your listener and make it about serving and honoring the copy. Stop relying on the sound of your pipes as a crutch. It will only get you so far in this industry, and it will hinder your full acting potential and career growth. No matter what you do, if you’re stuck in the valley of how pretty your voice is, it will be much more difficult to climb above the clouds to see the clarity of the story. Standing in your own way will only make it harder.
And don't feel bad. Here's a big reveal - Voice Acting is hard! It certainly doesn't happen overnight. That is why it's important to get proper coaching to help you to work through the tough things. An experienced coach has seen this over and over again. Find a coach you trust to help you let go and immerse yourself in the story, not the sound.
The Beauty of the Sound is in the Story
Now when people tell you that you have a great voice for voiceover, you can thank them and know that it takes a lot more than just making the words sound pretty. The true gift is when you are able to use your voice to touch your listener's heart through acting and storytelling. Are you up for the challenge?
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.