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Authors: Alan Smithee

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Another positive is that with
the influx of celebrities in national TV ad campaigns (Ed Harris for Home
Depot, Jon Hamm for Mercedes, Jeff Bridges and Morgan Freeman for… well,
everything), promo is one place where rank-and-file voiceover talent still
reigns supreme, mostly because celebrities don’t have the time required to do a
whole promo campaign.

 

Voice actors who excel in promo
have a natural sense of how to draw people in and make something sound exciting
and worthy of a viewer’s time. They also have the ability to vary the speed of
their reads, because promos tend to move very quickly. Their reads are
sandwiched in between what are called “SOTs” or, literally “sounds on tape”
(which gives you an idea of how old this field is). When a promo voice is
brought in, the promo itself is generally done and the voice is the last thing
that’s needed to complete the spot for air. Thus, because all of sound effects,
music, and the snippets of dialogue are already in place, a promo actor must
work skillfully around these “posts” and fit his read “to time.”

 

In most cases, promo people
work in a studio equipped with a TV monitor, allowing them to keep one eye on
their script and one eye on the what’s being shown on the monitor. This is
called “reading to picture.” It sounds like a balancing act, but after a few
sessions, it becomes second nature. Again, do your homework here. Familiarize
yourself with the tone and attitude the different networks convey in the promos
they air. And more importantly, listen to the promo voice. Then, when you’re
called in to do a promo audition for a particular network, you’ll have an idea
of what type of read they’re looking for.

 

Trailers

 

When most people think of
voiceover, they think of Don LaFontaine. Don was the original “In a World…”
trailer announcer. He was the guy who had the killer voice from the movie
trailers that got you excited and made you want to see whatever film he was
promoting.

 

Sadly, those days (and Don) are
now gone. Most modern movie trailers have little, if any, voiceover. The little
VO work for trailers is now reserved for the ads for films that are run on TV.
Yes, it’s still a voiceover field, but it’s much diminished from what it was.
Usually, any voiceover you’ll hear in film trailers is generally meant to
parody the big-voiced trailers of old. This is not to say there’s not work in
trailers; only to say that it’s not the powerhouse it once was.

 

Narration

 

Besides audiobooks, narration
is where to go if you’re a natural storyteller. Programs that call for
narration are documentary-style, informative pieces that require a narrator to
string all the various information together. As such, narration sessions
require many “cues,” or script points, to read in a given session. And like
promo, narration usually only pays upfront on a per-session basis. That said,
if you manage to land a show that lasts for a few seasons, you can create
steady work.

 

Also like promo, this is
another place where people with more classic, announcer-type voices can find
work (though again, this is also in flux). The key skill here is the ability to
understand the dynamic of a story, with its beginning, middle, and end. Here,
you will also be called upon to read to picture. Again, with a little practice,
you’ll get the hang of it.

 

Animation

 

Animation voiceover people
claim to have the most fun of anyone else in the field, and why not? They get
to do crazy voices, be high energy and over-the-top, and generally be silly for
a living. What’s not to love?

 

As such, the world of animation
is highly competitive, and most of the people who have made it there have done
more than their fair share of dues-paying. This is a field where living in a
major market (LA, almost exclusively) is pretty much a requirement if you want
to make it big. Additionally, it really helps to know your craft.

 

While having a flexible vocal
range is a definite plus, the ability to act is, once again, of utmost
importance. So is the ability to ability to improvise, to create a seemingly
endless array of characters, and, more importantly, to be able to maintain
those characters vocally.

 

If you think of the classic
animation characters, the one thing that’s consistent, is, well, consistency.
The actors who create those voices have the uncanny ability to understand and
play those characters over what is often several hours at a stretch. So not
only do your acting chops come into play, but so does the ability to lock that
particular vocal character into place.

 

For animation, we highly
recommend taking a class, and there are two people whom we highly recommend in particular:

 

Bob Bergen

(818) 999-3081

 

Pat Fraley

(818) 400-3733

 

If you want further proof as to
why should work with either or these guys, just check ‘em out on IMDB. You’ll
be astounded.

 

Videogames

 

Videogames have become a
powerhouse on the entertainment scene, and this trend doesn’t show any signs of
dying down. As with animation, a voice for videogames will be expected to both
create and sustain a number of characters over the course of a given session.

 

The only downside with
videogames is that the talent receives a single check for his or her “session
work,” meaning that, unlike a great deal of animation, there are no payments
for residual sales of the video game the talent performs on. That said, people
who work regularly in videogames can make a great deal of money, depending on
the deal negotiated by the agent who books it. This, however, is usually only
the case for those who book leading roles. For the vast majority of people who
work on videogames, you’re looking at long hours and a surprising amount of
shouting. People who work these gigs often call them “scream-and-grunts.”
Whatever character you play, you’ll be called upon to die, loudly, in various
ways: being shot, being crushed, being burnt to death. Accordingly, these
sessions are usually booked on a Friday, so that the voice actor will have time
to regain his or her voice for any work the following week.

 

Audiobooks

 

Audiobooks stand alone in the
voiceover world, for a number of reasons. First off, a number of audiobook
performers don’t have agent representation; they book jobs on their own,
through relationships they establish themselves. Further, because performers
usually work from their home studio, they set the hours he or she will work on
a given day. And finally, audiobook narration, besides requiring real acting
and storytelling chops, it also takes a great deal of patience. Actors can
spend days or even weeks completing the reading of a book. As an audiobook
reader, you need to give as much weight and attention to the first sentence of
a book as you do to the last, even if you’ve been reading the same book for
twenty hours. Therefore, audiobooks aren’t for everyone. But for a growing
number of voice people who have the skill and the patience, it’s a dream job.

 

Political

 

Every political season brings a
new set of campaigns across the country, and with it, a fresh batch of
political ads. Voice actors who do these ads can adopt authoritative (or
disdainful, or disbelieving) tones. This is another area where those with
announcer-type voices can succeed. In most cases, voice actors looking for work
in political ads are asked to declare a party affiliation, and are submitted by
their agents accordingly.

 

ADR/Looping

 

Any time you see a crowd scene
in a film or TV show, you can hear a loop group at work. That’s because when a
crowd scene is shot, the story is always focused on the main characters in the
scene who are speaking the lines you hear. Believe it or not, everyone else you
see in the background—all the extras—are mouthing as if they’re
speaking; in reality, there’s no sound at all.

 

That means that in
“post-production,” after the scene is shot and edited, it’s up to a group of
voice actors to fill in the sound of random background conversations that
appear to be taking place on the screen.

 

It’s actually more specialized
than you’d imagine. For example, if the show or film being depicted is a legal
show, medical drama, or cop procedural like “CSI” or “Law and Order,” it’s
important that the loopers are conversant in the lingo of whomever they’re
portraying. In other words, if it’s a legal drama, the loopers are expected to
talk like lawyers; if it’s a medical show, they’re called upon to have a
knowledge of medical terminology, and so on.

 

Looping is a fun, lucrative way
to make a living as a voice actor. The major loop groups are in Los Angeles and
New York, because that’s where most TV and film is produced. So if you want to
work as a looper, that’s where you’ll need to be.

 

Voice Matching

 

Voice matching is a highly
specialized area of voiceover in which a voice actor is called upon to sound
like someone else, usually a celebrity. In most cases, it’s for an animated
series in which the celebrity in question is being parodied. But sometimes,
voice actors may overdub lines of dialogue for a film or television program
when the celebrity is unavailable.

 

In either case, voice matching
is usually done by voice actors who naturally sound close vocally to the person
in question. It’s helpful to ask yourself (or ask others), who do I sound like?
If you have agency representation, the agent will usually keep a list of
celebrities whom his clients can voice match.

 

Live Announcing/Voice of God

 

Whether announcing the batting
lineup at Yankee Stadium or introducing speakers at corporate events, live
announcers bring a sense of real-time excitement to the proceedings. Plus, they
have one of the coolest titles in the business: “Voice of God” (or “V.O.G.”).
Live announcers also work on late night talk shows, game shows, and award
shows. Let’s not forget the living legend of live announcers, the Saturday
Night Live announcer, Don Pardo, who is now over 90 years old and still going
strong. Of all of the venues for voiceover, this is the one that almost always
demands the traditional big-voiced announcer.

 

The margin for error is
obviously very slim when voicing as a live announcer, but if you like the rush
of working in front of a live crowd, maybe you’ve got what it takes to be a
Voice of God!

 

Radio/Television Imaging

 

Next time you turn on the radio,
listen closely. In between the music, the commercials, and the DJ are little
snippets of sound effects, music, and voiceover that give the call letters or
brand name of the station. They’re quick pieces designed to establish the
attitude and feel of the station. This is called “imaging,” and voice actors
play a central part in them. Some voice actors work exclusively with companies
that produce the imaging, and can therefore be the image voice of several
stations across the country. For others, it’s a one-shot deal.

 

Television imaging is a bit
different. While there are, essentially, only five major TV networks (CBS, NBC,
ABC, FOX and CW), there are hundreds of network affiliates throughout the
country who carry and broadcast the programming of those networks. And while
the networks produce their own promos (voiced by promo people, as discussed
above), the local stations also have programming blocks that are specific to
their station. Often it’s a block of syndicated re-runs, or maybe a local talk
show, but usually, the main programming a station produces is the local news
broadcast. Whatever the case, these stations hire TV imaging people to voice
promos for these programs. As in radio imaging, some TV imagers hold contracts
for many different stations throughout the country, and others handle single
stations.

 

People who work in radio and TV
imaging almost always have agent representation, but motivated individuals with
a home studio can always pick up the phone and call local affiliates to inquire
about their imaging needs.

 

4

 

CONCLUSION:

This guide is designed to be an
overview of the world of voiceover, but it is by no means definitive. The last
few decades have seen enormous change in the field of voiceover. What was once
the dominion of a lucky few has been opened up to virtually anybody. With the
advent of the internet, home studios, and online booking sites, the field has
shifted dramatically, and will no doubt continue to do so in the years to come.
Therefore, success in voiceover requires the ability to be aware of and adapt
to these changes. Success also requires patience, skill, as well as that great
intangible, luck.

BOOK: How to Be a Voice Actor
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