Continuing with the 10 things you need to know when starting out in voiceover.
Number 4: Get out of your head. Before we go any further, I want to let you know that this blog is mostly for those who want to work in commercial, narration and eLearning. It still applies in some respects to animation and gaming but that is not the target audience.
Your brain is a complicated thing. And when it comes to voiceover, it really can get in the way. For so many years, we have been exposed to voices on the TV and radio. These voices seep into our subconscious and we can’t help but have our favorites. For me, the first person I remember doing a voiceover was Bill Mitchell. Bill was best known in Europe for taking over the Carlsberg “probably the best lager” tagline from Orson Wells after Orsen demanded too much money to continue with the campaign he started. He was also a character and features in Peter Dickson’s great book, “The voiceover Man”. The man had a unique, deep gravelly voice. And from all accounts, that is what he sounded like in person too.
The BBC was also a huge influence for me. Growing up in the UK, the BBC was always on the TV or radio. We only had 3 channels in my formative years and the BBC was the mainstay in my house. I can remember listening to the newsreaders and continuity announcers in awe. And David Attenborough captured my young imagination with his nature documentaries. Growing up, I subconsciously wanted to be like them. It even helped shape the weird hybrid RP accent that I have now. Especially when you consider that I spent 75% of my life growing up in Scotland!
Being naturally affected by your surroundings is OK. The biggest issue for many new talent is that they feel that they are not enough themselves. That they must emulate other voices when they get behind the microphone. It happens over and over again when I am in work out groups and group coaching sessions. We all chat together at the start and you get to hear natural speaking voices and then when it is time to perform, their voice changes into something completely different and you wonder “where the hell did that come from?!”.
What we forget. Most of the famous voices in our head are not caricatures. Even people like Robin Williams who voiced so many characters, had a natural cadence to his voice and you know in most instances that it is him talking. What I am trying to say is that most voices that we love, and respect are natural. If you listen to them naturally in a nonperforming situation like an interview, they sound nearly exactly the same as they do while performing. Especially for commercials. Here are some great examples:
And if you needed someone who is not a “celebrity”
Now, yes, there are some subtle differences in some of the interview or podcast voices compared to the commercial. But that’s the point. They are subtle. They are just playing with their natural voice a little to get the effect they want.
That darn microphone! It does weird shit to people. It has something magical that makes people want to “perform” into it. I have written a blog about this very thing. Your microphone should be like a very close friend. Someone who you can have an intimate conversation with. When you record a voiceover, you are not speaking to a group of people, although it may be played to a group of people. Each person assumes you are talking to them and them only. It is similar to giving a speech in front of a crowd. The best speeches are by speakers who make you feel like they are speaking to you. It is why speakers are trained to look people in the eye and connect with them.
Do you a have memorable voiceover that you have heard? I can bet it was memorable because it touched you. It made you feel. It connected deep down. The person who did that voiceover did not know they were speaking to you. They had no idea that you would ever listen to it. They just had a way to connect with the copy and convey it like they were speaking to someone that they knew. I think a great example of this is Tim Allen and any of his Pure Michigan spots. But I like this one in particular. I really feel like he is telling me, and only me, about the wonders of Michigan in the fall. It doesn’t feel like he is selling or pushing us to visit. He is just telling us a story of how beautiful it is. Sensational.
So, learn to love your voice as it is. Embrace who you are. Give in to how you feel when you record. Don’t try to be someone else or sound like someone else. Stop thinking that you are not enough. I can assure you that you are the only one thinking that. Get out of your head. Get to a place where you just make a choice about the copy and go with it. Something that is you. Uniquely you. That is what I want to hear. That is what the casting director wants to hear. That is what we all want to hear.