Finding Your Voice
One of the most common responses to a person saying they are a voice actor is the request to do an imitation. “What voices can you do?” What should the answer be?
So, with the last two blogs, we’ve covered what your “plan of action” should be to obtain your goal of becoming a Voice Over Talent / Voice Actor and how to warm up your voice.
At this point, I hope you have been able to watch at least one or two of the free seminars I shared with you previously and hopefully have found a coach. I am not about to even attempt to share vocal techniques in terms of delivering great auditions or final audio for your clients. That sort of deep, enriching advice really should come from someone with years of experience in the business and hopefully from someone who has also had training in coaching/teaching. Seminars and Webinars are definitely beneficial but nothing beats One-on-One coaching to really solidify your strengths and determine your weaknesses.
That being said, however, I have been asked similar questions and so I thought I might touch on this briefly, from my personal perspective.
Through all of this self-discovery during the training phase of your career, you will begin to realize what your wheelhouse is and in turn, create an amazing demo to show off your strengths. For me, that would be: Youthful characters, like young girls; Perky, Upbeat, energetic characters that are mostly used for mobile app games; and the sultry, femme fatale. Below is my Animation demo which illustrates this.
Note that this is when it comes to Character voices and not so much one’s Commercial voice. I’ll touch on that in just a moment.
Likewise, you will also have your weaknesses pointed out. Perhaps these are things you can overcome with training; an example might be a dialect coach or speech therapist. However, you may just discover that you just can’t do a certain tonal quality. There is nothing wrong with admitting your current limitations; in fact, this will help you weed out auditions that you know you are not right for. For me, I don’t speak Spanish and my accent is atrocious. One day, I do hope to learn Spanish. But if an audition pops up today, I’m not even going to attempt it.
And that leads into something both Commercials and Animation have in common; authenticity. Back in the day, voice over was done by big, booming, radio voices. They were very kitchy and over-the-top and they were very clearly trying to sell you something. Nowadays, clients are looking for a more genuine sound. They want to speak to their customers as friends; the product comes second. Why? Because if you build trust and an emotional connection, you’re more likely to get a more loyal customer. You’re not ‘talking down’ to them; you’re talking to them on their level.
This idea relates to all aspects of voice over now. Why hire someone to fake a Spanish accent when there are hundreds of talented bilingual actors ready for the part? Granted, occasionally budget will play a factor. If an actor is hired for one role in a cartoon or video game, it is usually cheaper to have them play a second or third character than it would be to hire one or two additional actors.
Almost all auditions I have seen have always specified that the read should “sound very conversational” and “no announcer voices”. When applicable, with an “authentic accent”. For Commercial reads, they want to hear you. They might give you direction on what “you” you need to be portraying. Are you a parent in this scene? A doctor? That definitely plays a big part in what sound you deliver. But ultimately, you are usually not tasked with putting on an exaggerated caricature of a person – they want an honest, genuine you.
So again, determine your strengths and admit your weaknesses. Then decide if these ‘weaknesses’ can be corrected or improved, or if that’s just not what you bring to the table.
Going back to the opening concept, imitation itself is a subset of voice acting. Certainly, there are professional mimickers, who make a living doing impressions. But in the world of voice, more often than not, what a client is looking for is your own voice.
I won’t lie; I have seen auditions that request a “sound alike”. It’s usually for a parody and they need an imitator of a celebrity. Possibly, it may be for a character that was originally played by a movie star & now they need a talent that can fit a smaller budget (this usually happens when a movie gets a tv show spin-off). However, for the most part, when a client “name drops”, they are actually just trying to capture the same tonality and ‘feel’ of a voice they like.
Think of your voice like a painting or a screenplay; you can pull inspiration from other great works of art but if what you present is an exact replica, you’ll be told “we already have that.” We don’t need a Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta is still going strong.
Once you’ve found YOUR voice – your strengths, your wheelhouse – you are ready to fill your potential clients’ needs. You can, and should, always strive to improve and expand your range. But now you will have a better understanding of which direction you need to grow and focus on.
From there, creating voices is an amazingly wonderful experience. With the help of the illustrator or animator, you are bringing a character to life. That process in itself requires a bit more elaboration and should again be taught by an experienced coach. But just consider your acting techniques to create unique sounds. Find that character’s underlying truth. What makes this ‘happy, peppy’ character different from that ‘peppy, happy’ character?
Here are a few examples (all under a minute) of how I created different voices using very similar directions. I have voiced 10 characters in the Shopkins Shoppies series: Bubbleisha, Melodine, Spaghetti Sue, Candy Sweets, Pia Puzzle, Paige Pencil, Jellica, Berribelle, Chandelia, and Jascenta.
While they all have their own unique personalities, they all must sound like youthful, happy girls. I believe the two closest characters are Bubbleisha and Candy Sweets; Candy Sweets is a bit higher than Bubbleisha but she also talks much faster and is way more excitable. In contrast, Pia Puzzle talks a bit more tomboyish in a lower (yet still youthful) register. Paige is nasally with a bit of a stutter and Chandelia is very posh and melodic. Again, I was given direction like “Melodine should be airy and breathy, like ‘Hinata’ from Naruto” and “Spaghetti Sue has an Italian accent but tweak some of the words when necessary, to ensure the words are still pronounced correctly, so they can be easily understood.”
There is a bit more technique that is involved but I hope this gives a decent, generic overview of what goes into creating unique voices; it should never be too obvious when two characters voiced by the same actor talk to one another. Although I will say, from the actor’s POV, it is incredibly entertaining to hold a conversation with yourself!
For more of my work on the Shoppies series, visit the Happy Places YouTube Channel