Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so I’ve heard. I guess that means that I’ve been flattering radio, television and movie voices my whole life. When I hear a certain vocal delivery that’s unique, without thinking, I attempt to duplicate it. Naturally, I was drawn to doing my own voiceover.
But hearing something and copying it is completely different from creating your own fresh vocal approach to a word or phrase or emotion. When I decided to enter into voiceover work, I knew that I would need someone to help me identify emotion, importance and nuance among the words in the scripts. I asked around and found a coach in Decatur, Georgia. While my coach was very helpful and attempted to unearth my own barometer for the weight and feeling of words in a script, it was only in the everyday practice of voiceover via the Orange Leaders Audio Blog that I began to understand proper delivery.
If I were to start again, I would do a few things differently. Maybe these tips will help you as you start out in voiceover:
Search online, and ask friends who are actors or in production, for voiceover coaches. And though it’s nice to meet face-to-face with a coach, don’t rule out finding a coach online. Many coaches will work from across the country via online video services. As long as you do the (home) work with any coach, you’ll make progress.
Once you find a coach, if you don’t click, don’t feel obligated to continue working with him or her. It’s important that you’re working with a current, working voiceover talent, and that you feel like you are progressing in your skills. Search around for a coach that you click with.
Once you start working with a coach, don’t make a demo for six months. I heard this advice even before I found a coach. And guess what? I completely ignored it. I made a demo too soon, and now my skills have surpassed what potential clients hear on my demo. Had I waited, and continued my daily/weekly practice on scripts and editing, my demo would be far better than what you hear now.
Wait to buy equipment. During coaching, I used my computer and my iPhone to practice and listen back to voiceover techniques. It wasn’t until I felt comfortable auditioning for jobs that I purchased my first set of equipment.
Don’t buy entry-level equipment, nor top of the line. There’s no need to struggle with entry-level, just-good-enough, small-investment-just-in-case-I-quit equipment. Learn from my foibles—my equipment purchases have evolved throught this three-step process:
First, I bought entry-level, “safe”-investment equipment that wasn’t the best for my voice (more about this later), like this:
The AT2020 may suit your voice and if it does, that’s awesome! But if it doesn’t suit your voice, and you’re finding that you’re spending A LOT of time editing your sound files, consider finding a more suitable microphone.
Then I bought really nice equipment—especially for podcasting projects—because I thought that’s what I had to do. Again, the following equipment is used by thousands of people who love it. But the microphone didn’t—say it with me—suit my voice.
- Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone
- BEHRINGER XENYX 1002FX Mixer
- Griffin Technology iMic – The original USB Stereo Input and Output Audio Adapter
- Hosa CMR-210 3.5 mm TRS to Dual RCA Stereo Breakout Cable, 10 feet
- Your Cable Store 10 Foot XLR 3 Pin Male / Female Microphone Cable
- Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom
- Dragonpad USA Pop filter Studio Microphone Mic Wind Screen Pop Filter
- Heil Sound PRSM-B Shockmount
- Monoprice 109299 3-Feet Stereo Male to RCA Stereo Male Gold Plated Cable for Mobile
- Musician’s Gear Heavy-Duty Folding Music Stand
- On Stage MS7700B Tripod Microphone Stand
Next, I bought the mid-range price level microphone that worked for my voice:
- Rode NT1KIT Condenser Microphone Cardioid (Not the NT1-A)
This important note that really needs more attention than the last couple of paragraphs of this section. I’ve said it a couple of times above . . . do consider what type of microphone suits your voice. Some microphones suit low voices better than high voices, and some suit high voices better. Also, some microphones work better for people who have noisy mouths—clicks, pops, etc. Consider stepping into a music store and talking with a knowledgeable audio engineer, someone who can point you in the right direction for a suitable microphone.
Here’s a short story to illustrate my point. I spoke with an audio engineer at a local music shop. I told him about my current equipment, and I described the sound quality and the struggles I’d been having. He bluntly told me: “There’s no reason for you to struggle. You don’t have to wait to ‘arrive’ or get known or achieve some elusive level of experience before getting a higher, better grade of equipment that will make the process easier and more enjoyable for you.” That ignited an epiphany. How many times had I belittled myself with “good enough” products because I didn’t think I was “worth it” yet to pay a little more for better quality?
Now, the flip side of that story is, against my better judgment I purchased a used Neumann microphone for about $800 on that same day. Neumann is one of the best microphones you can buy, and finding a used one, well taken care of and “certified” by this music store was like finding a unicorn. Well, when I got it home and recorded with it, I didn’t like how it treated my voice. Even within the Neumann brand, it’s best to find a microphone that fits your voice. I took it back within the 14-day return policy window and purchased the Rhode NT1, which made all the difference.
As you work in voiceover, you’ll find supplementary products to help you. These are the ones I found I needed for my workflow, process and environment—think sound absorption:
- Post Audio ARF-27 V3.0 Compact Folding Ambient Reflection Filter & Vocal Booth
- Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone (new model)
- Peak Music Stands SMB-02 Mini Boom Arm
- Kootek Clip On Book Lights Music Light Stand 10 LED Orchestra Lamp Adjustable Neck Reading Light Rechargeable USB Desk Lamp
- Auralex Acoustics SonoFlat Acoustic Absorption Foam, 2″ x 24″ x 24″, 16-Panels
- Auralex Acoustics SonoFlat Acoustic Absorption Foam, 2″ x 12″ x 12″, 14-Panels
The key to voiceover is consistently practicing, auditioning and working. That’s how you’ll get better—by trying. And keep in mind that hiring a coach to get you started is only the beginning. You’ll find that throughout your career having a coach—even different ones to help you with different techniques and skills—will help you continue to grow your client base. And as you continue working, you’ll find the equipment and tools that will help your workflow and process run smoothly.
©2017 Jennifer Wilder. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or publish
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