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What do you mean "I can't hear"?

I was trying to figure out what my next blog was going to be about when I saw a video post today that gave me a little inspiration. It was by a very well-known International voiceoverist who was giving advice to new talent and there was reference to a conversation that I had had with him early in my training. It got me thinking that there are so many people out there who want to give new talent advice, some for free and some who charge a considerable amount. It is a daunting choice and can be information overload for anybody trying to start off their career in voice over. Who can you trust? Who has the best information? Who is giving you bad information. The question you need to work out is who is going to be the best coach for how YOU learn.

I remember when I first started out in my Electronic Engineering career. There was so much to learn over such a broad range of subjects. It was overwhelming at times and when I left college I was not prepared for a job in the Electronics field. I had a basic understanding of all the principles but no knowledge of how they all fitted together in practice. It was only after I had another 2 years on the job training and experience that I really started to get an overall understanding of Electricity and Electronics in the practical world. That was a total of 5 years before I could confidently say that I knew pretty much what I was doing.

Over this 5-year period I found that there were certain people within my company that could teach me things in a way I understood and conversely, there were some others that were useless although they were just as experienced and intelligent. I also found through research that there were many other sources of information that helped me along the way and there were other sources that just confused the crap out of me! I chose my mentors wisely and constantly used the sources of information that made sense to me to increase my knowledge.

Learning is a very individual skill. We all learn in different ways and react differently to certain teachers. I remember taking Calculus when I was at High School. I was pretty good at math and had previously passed many other math based classes without issue. The teacher was a very condescending, patronizing woman. She spent more time rewarding students for neat writing and good layout then trying to explain this complicated subject. After 3 months, I dropped out of the class as I was really, really struggling. Fast forward 5 years and I was taking Engineering math at University which included calculus. The lecturer was a young Irish man who I will never forget. He had such an easy, effortless way to explain complicated problems that I just found enlightening. Two teachers taught the same subject with completely different outcomes with regards to my learning.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way right now. If you think that you can make a career for yourself in Voice Overs without serious training, I think you may find that you are very mistaken. Voice Over acting is a skill just like learning electronics, calculus or any other craft that you think will have a monetary value. There are many things that you need to be taught to allow you to advance your skills in this line of work. A few coaching sessions with a random person in the Voice industry is not going to cut it. If you are serious about this career then you will have to realize that you are going to need to invest a large amount of time to learning this business and pay a considerable amount of money for high quality training. I am not going to recommend who you should use as your coach. You need to do your research and try a few coaches until you find the one that works best for you. It will become obvious when you find one.

So, if you’re not going to recommend a coach or tell me what training to take what’s the point of this blog I hear you say? Well, let’s go back to the original point about the comment made by a well known voiceoverist. So, what did he say? He said that I could not hear. Yep, that’s right – I could not hear! Rather than take offense to this like many delicate people may, I agree with him. At the juncture I was at in my journey to “voice over enlightenment” I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t listen. There were too many other things going on in my learning that I thought took priority. Where he is wrong in the statement he made was he only pointed out the problem but did not offer a solution. After over 20 years in the industry he seemed to have forgotten that listening critically was something that comes with experience and training and is not usually an inherent gift that is bestowed upon the greatest of Voice Over Talent. If somebody said that an electronic circuit works like it does – because it does – then there is no learning to be gained. But if one is taught where to look in the circuit and how to break it down into smaller components and blocks then it became easier to follow. You have been guided on what to look for.

Hearing is one of the hardest things I have had to learn so far. Initially, I just heard what people were saying rather than how they were conveying the message. I now spend hour after hour each day and week listening to people in the grocery store, people on the street, commercials on the TV and radio and most importantly to a coach that I trust and understand. You start to hear when talent give the impression they are shouting when they are actually using a hushed voice that is full of urgency. You can hear that most commercials these days not “selling” you a product – they are telling you about it like a friend. It is a huge difference. And it takes a lot of practice. Sometimes it can be overwhelming but I just keep at it. Eventually you get light-bulb moments over and over again and it starts to make sense.

So, make sure your coach is telling you what to listen for, how you can improve your listening skills. Search the internet for the myriad of learning available for the Voice Over industry. One of the best things to do is go to a major talent agency website and listen to the talent that are regularly booking jobs repeatedly until you understand why they are booking. Eventually things will start to make sense. Once they make sense you should have a better understanding of what you need to do for each audition and what your demo should eventually sound like.

So, a big thank you goes out to the international voiceoverist for giving me the subject for this blog. I just hope he can remember that some of us are truly trying to learn, but each have different road maps that get us to our final skill destination.

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