How serious are you about getting creatively better? Most will say “really serious” and then when I ask them what they are doing to improve, many just say “practicing auditions”. And don’t get me wrong, it is very important to practice your craft. But I truly believe that you must practice with a purpose. Our ears, especially for those new to the voiceover industry, can and will do you a disservice. It takes time to train your ear. There is also the fact that due to human nature, it is very difficult to listen to our work from an objective, external viewpoint. But it’s not all doom and gloom (thank goodness!). There are a few things you can do to become more objective and actively improve your reads.
Practice reading. It is essential. There is no getting around it. If you can’t read a script without sounding like you are reading, then you will never get anywhere in voiceover. Read out loud like a maniac. Road signs, menus, newspaper articles, books, instructions for toiletry items while sitting on the…..well, you know where I was going with that!
Training your eye to read slightly ahead of what you are saying improves the sound of your read and can seriously reduce mistakes. It gets your eye-brain coordination into sync and is truly a learned skill that should be practiced every day.
One of the things I credit to my early success in voiceover was volunteering for Sight into Sound. This is a Houston based charity that has volunteers read magazines, newspapers and much more for the blind community and then broadcast the audio on a public radio station. I read the magazine Kiplinger’s for 30 minutes every Sunday and this really gave me some great practice while volunteering for a cause that is near and dear to me.
Listen to other voice actors. Not just to hear the good ones, but so you can critically listen to others who aren’t quite at the top of their game and find the nuances that you think can be improved upon. And, in truth, we can all improve. If you think you can’t then you are delusional.
Go to the top agency websites and listen to the best of the best. Find some demos that you really like and play them on repeat. Over and over again. Analyze what you like about them. What are they doing that made you feel an emotion? There is something that made you like those particular demos on a human level. Find out what it was and use that to improve your reads.
Don’t stop there. Go to the website of the voice actors you like. See if they have more audio or videos that you can listen to. Have an insatiable appetite to listen. Put all the stuff that you like on an mp3 that you can play in the car on your commute (if you have one), while doing chores around the house or when you are sitting on the………Ok, that’s the second time I’ve gone there!
I promise you; listening is one of the most underrated skills that a voiceover needs. If you program your brain to listen for greatness then it makes complete sense that your brain will convert that into making your reads sound better. Give it a try. Not for a day but for a year. You’ll be amazed how much it helps you.
Know what works. Now, this can be a tough one because it means that you need to be booking some work or paying for an online casting site that allows you to see which auditions that you have submitted have been liked by the client. It is essential that you come up with a system that analyzes the auditions that were liked on at least a monthly basis. I recommend creating folders labelled “liked auditions” and “auditions won”. Copy the mp3 of the associated auditions on a regular basis. But it’s not enough to just create the folder. You must listen to them critically. See, there’s that listening thing again. Listen to see if there is something that ties these auditions together.
I would suggest going further. Create subfolders for each genre that you are auditioning for. Commercial, eLearning, corporate narration etc. That will allow you to then see which folder has the most files in it. This would be a really good indication to show you where your “money voice” is. The stats don’t lie. If you have twice as many liked auditions in a medical narration folder than for corporate narration, then that tells you to focus on medical narration. Many people would say that indicates you need to get better at corporate narration. Nope. Find what you are good at and drill down and focus on that niche.
I would suggest checking the folders on a monthly basis to allow trends to show. And remember, the same is true for the folders that have less files in them. If you truly enjoy that niche or genre and you want to book more work, find out what you are doing wrong. If it is eLearning for example, go to the sites of people you know who are good at eLearning and compare their reads to your. What’s the biggest difference? This is tough because of listening subjectively and that leads me to my next tip.
Get good coaching. This is going to cost money. And so, it should. Most coaches are professional voice overs. They are running their business just like you. Like you, they have studio minimum fees for an hour of time. If they spend an hour coaching you, that is an hour that they are not earning doing voiceover. If you think you can’t afford coaching, then you are not serious about getting better. Sorry. I am not going to sugar coat this for you. You must invest money.
Finding a coach can be tough. Figure out the niche that you want more work in, and then choose a coach who specializes in that niche. There is no point in learning from Nancy Wolfson if audio books are where you want to focus. Johnny Heller probably isn’t going to get you to the top of your game doing animation or video games.
Do your research. Ask fellow voiceovers who they have worked with. And make sure the people you are asking are successful VO’s who have been in the industry for a while and know what they are talking about
Join a script work-out group. This is one of the best things you can do to help improve your reads. Go on one of the Facebook groups and ask for advice on where to find a good group. Make sure there is a good balance of skills in the group. There is no point in joining a group that is full of newbies. That sounds harsh but the direction you get will not be the quality that you need. The other great thing about workout groups is that you have to give direction. This means you must listen carefully to someone else and critique their read. This improves your critical listening skills. See, there’s that listening thing again!
Hopefully you have enjoyed the tips today If you have any questions or need more help on your voiceover journey then please feel free to email me. My email can be found on my homepage. And, until next week, keep practicing with a purpose and I look forward to hearing from some of you. Now, I’m off to read some toiletry ingredients……