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Authors: Alan Smithee

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BOOK: How to Be a Voice Actor
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The Script and Specs

 

Auditions take place at one of
three places: at a casting house, at your agent’s office, or from your home
studio. And it all starts with the script. When a client (usually a creative at
an ad agency or a producer at a network) is looking for voice talent for a
particular spot, they’ll submit a script to an online site or an agency for
prospective talent to read. In addition to the copy, they’ll provide “specs” at
the top, which indicate the kind of person they’d like to hear (e.g.,
male/female, age range, attitude and sound, etc.). A typical set of specs will
look like this:

 

“Looking for a male voice,
30-40. Sounds like a friendly dad or neighbor. Should sound relatable, like
speaking to one person. No announcers, please.”

 

That last line is something of
a joke in the industry, because nearly every commercial copy you get will have
some variation on this. This is because, as we’ve said earlier, no one wants to
hear announcers*; instead, they’re looking for a casual approach. This is what
you’ll learn in any voiceover class you take. There are several ways of finding
your natural sound. Usually, it’s a variation on the Stanislavsky method.
Roughly, this means putting yourself in the mental and emotional place wherein you
care about what you’re talking about. Very few people care that much about
shampoo, so you may wish to substitute something in place of that that you do
care about, in the appropriate amount. So if the script calls for you to get
really excited about shampoo, they don’t want to hear fake emotion; they want
to hear you to get genuinely excited. So think about whatever gets you
there—music, cars, whatever it may be—while you’re reading the
copy.

 

The other key approach, unless
otherwise directed, is to talk to one person. If you’re reading at an agency or
casting house, there will usually be a casting person or engineer recording
you. Sometimes it helps to talk to that person, maybe making eye contact.
Another trick is to take out your cell phone and read the script with it up to
your ear, as if you’re talking to someone on the other end.

 

If you have an acting
background, you may wish to treat the voiceover audition as a monologue.
Because in essence, that’s what it is. Voiceover acting is acting. Let your
training come into play.

 

*There are exceptions to this,
of course. Sometimes a creative will want a “big” sound, which usually means an
announcer voice. Often this will be for a humorous spot that parodies the Big
Announcer Voice. Also, some casting directors and/or clients believe that what
they really want is a natural, relatable sound… but when you book the gig and
get in the booth, they instead encourage you to “sell it” a bit more, and you
wind up sounding… like an announcer. Whatever the case, give them exactly what
they ask for in the audition. That’s how you book the job. Then, once you’ve
booked the job, give them whatever they want.

 

In the Booth

 

When you first receive your
copy, look it over. Take some time with the specs, read it over to yourself. If
you can, find a stairwell or a bathroom where you can read it aloud. Then, if
you’re at an agency or casting house, you’ll be called into the “booth,” where
you’ll read.

 

The engineer will begin
recording and point to you. This is your cue to “slate,” or, to say your name
and the part you’re reading. If it’s a “group read” for a radio spot with more
than one person reading at the same time, you’ll say the name of your
character, in order of your character’s appearance in the script. If it’s a solo
script, you’ll either simply state your name and begin reading, or you’ll say
your name and then say “AVO,” which stands for announcer voice over.

 

After you slate, you’ll read
the copy. If it’s a particularly long piece of copy (spots are usually in the 30
to 60 second range), then you’ll probably be asked to read it just once. If
it’s a short piece, you may be asked to do three in a row, or an “A-B-C.” In
this situation, you’ll want to prepare ahead of time to display some variation.

 

In most cases, you’ll be done
very quickly. If you have experience with auditions for stage or on-camera
work, you’ll notice that the voiceover audition is usually far more low-key.
You can wear pretty much whatever you want (this goes for jobs, as well), and
the people who will be listening to and critiquing your read are nowhere in
site. So relax and have fun!

 

Ad Libs and “Buttons”

 

Remember how we mentioned that
taking an improv class is a good idea? Here’s where that pays off. In
particular cases, you will be encouraged to “punch up” or ad lib lines when
reading copy. You’ll find this when reading copy for radio spots with groups of
other voice actors. Or there may be a script that calls for you to be a little
“over the top.” Or sometimes when reading for an animated character, a little
ad libbed humor is appropriate.

 

Additionally, at the end of
some group reads, someone will “button” the script. That is, he or she will add
an extra funny line or quip at the end. You know you’ve nailed it if you can
make the other actors or the engineer laugh.

 

Moderation is the key. Over
time, you’ll get a feel for where and when you can ad lib and add buttons. If
you’re uncertain, you can ask the engineer before you begin reading. But the
bottom line is, a well placed ad lib can make the client laugh, and therefore
land you the job. And that’s why you’re auditioning.

 

 

Booking a Job

You’ve booked a job! Congrats!
Now what?

 

There are only a couple very
simple rules for how to conduct yourself in a job, and knowing and abiding by
these will get you many more jobs to come (we hope!). The first is to be on
time. In fact, show up early if you can. This will give you a few minutes to
relax, get into the right headspace, and go over the script, if it’s available
ahead of time.

 

The other thing is to be
flexible and open. Some sessions are completed very quickly, because voiceover
is the last thing that needs to be added to a spot or a promo before it hits
the air. When this is the case, the client generally knows exactly what he or
she wants and will want to get it out of you in a few takes.

 

Some sessions may last longer,
for any number of reasons: The client doesn’t know exactly what it is he or she
is looking for and is using you to experiment with different
approaches—this is common when you’re called to do a “demo,” or a mock-up
version of an ad for an agency pitch. Or there may be last minute changes to
the copy, or they may want multiple people to hear a particular take you’ve
done, which requires the engineer sending it off and getting approval while you
wait.

 

Ultimately, it’s your job to
give the clients whatever they want, so stay positive and keep a good attitude.
Remember, the worst day doing voiceover is always infinitely better than the
best day at a real job!

 

 

Website

Not long ago, voice actors sent
out CDs to market themselves. And not long before that, it was cassette tapes.
Now virtually every working voice actor has a website. And while a website can
be expensive to develop, the benefits are enormous. First, you can create and
establish an entire brand for yourself online. You can also include every reel
from every area you specialize in, not to mention videos, a blog, you name it.
And, because it’s on the internet, you can use it as a marketing tool.

 

Because a website is a
relatively large expense (as much as $2000, depending on what you include), we
recommend that voice actors wait until they’ve established themselves a bit
before investing in one. A website should reflect your brand, which is
essentially your sound, and it takes being in the business for a bit to
determine exactly what that is. Also, you’ll want to have at least a couple of
reels to offer, and maybe some audio or video samples of actual jobs you’ve
done. The point is to create something that is compelling and that gives agents
and casting people an idea of who you are as a voice actor.

 

When you’re ready to take the
leap, you’ll want to work with someone who can help you create the look and
feel that reflects you best. Needless to say, there are thousands of web
designers out there, so you’ll want to choose carefully. Interview a few and
review their work to see if they have what it takes. One designer who works
extensively with voiceover people is Denise Biondo, and she’s therefore highly
recommended. See her work at:

 

http://www.biondostudio.com/

 

Also check out
Bob West’s work. He does great websites, and was also the voice of Barney, the
Purple Dinosaur:

 

http://www.thoughtnozzle.com/

 

Also, there’s:

 

http://www.getcreativeinc.com

 

If you can’t afford to have a
website professionally designed right now, don’t let that stop you. Proceed to…

 

 

Website Setup 101

If this is your first website,
our personal preference is that you use WordPress as a content management
system to set up your website. The nice thing about WordPress is that it is
very easy to use and allows you to create static web pages and blog entries, as
well as being extremely search-engine friendly. This makes life easy as you
start wanting to get fancier later on with your branding.

 

Here is the process for getting
your website set up if you don’t have one at all. We recommend that you
complete these steps right away. If you already have a website or blog on a
free service (like WordPress.com or Blogger), you can keep that, but you will
also need to buy and build http://firstnamelastname.com so that you can take
full ownership of your name and branding. You will be reading more about
blogging in Chapter 7, but the answer is yes, you still need your main
http://firstnamelastname.com website.

 

  1. Buy your URL.

Choose firstnamelastname.com or
the closest approximation of this that is available.
GoDaddy.com
has excellent prices for URLs
as well as easy-to-use hosting.

 

  1. Sign up for
    WordPress hosting
    . Make sure you read the
    run-down on hosting companies before you sign up—there are a few
    security precautions you will need to put in place if you go with
    lower-priced hosting like GoDaddy. At this time, Zippykid is your best bet
    for hands-off Wordpress hosting (though, just to warn you, it does cost
    more).

 

  1. Set it up.
    Once you’ve checked out,
    follow the instructions that your hosting company sends you. If you’ve
    chosen Zippykid, they will send you an email with setup instructions.

 

  1. Pick a theme and upload
    it.
    In
    WordPress, a theme (or template) is a pre-built design that comes with
    some default pieces of functionality (widgets). This is the “look and
    feel” of your website, and essentially takes the place of a graphic designer.

In the WordPress world, themes can either be free or paid. Either way, you want
to pick a good theme. Here is our spiel on paid vs. free WordPress themes:

In WordPress, a theme (or
template) is a pre-built design that comes with some default pieces of
functionality (widgets). WordPress is an open-source environment, which means
someone is always updating or creating something new, so this makes it easy to
make your website do what you want it to do without too much hassle.

 

The main difference between
free and fee-based themes in WordPress is that if you go with a free theme, you
give up a certain amount of functionality, plus you’re probably going to end up
with an advertisement somewhere on your site for the company that made the
theme. (Hey, they have to get something for making it, right?)

 

Here are some reasons to go
with a paid theme. (Again, just our opinion. If you feel strongly about free
themes, install one and get going on your site!)

 

Functionality

 

Paid themes tend to have good
built-in SEO functionality. This becomes important when you’re optimizing your
site for search engines. You can get a plugin that does this (like the
All-in-One SEO Pack), but then you run the risk of it conflicting with your
theme. In some cases a technical conflict like this is enough to crash your
whole site, and that is never a good thing. Which leads us to our next reason
to go with a paid theme…

BOOK: How to Be a Voice Actor
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