March Newsletter 2015

“The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.”   ― Orson Welles

Door to sky

How to Diversify, Offer Options and Expand Your VO Business

Technique training can be rather tricky. Especially when it’s commonly thought in our field “there’s no single approach considered more effective than another.”

We hope to challenge that with one single notion: Acting is acting is acting, whether you’re acting for film, TV, commercials, industrials, voice-over or animation. Regardless the medium, regardless the genre… every one expects you to perform as a professional actor.

Certainly there are a handful of technical demands you must master with each medium if you hope to offer a successful performance, however nearly all of the same principles, apply regardless of the medium. These principles are at the core of our approach and training at SOUND ADVICE.

This is not to say every talent is appropriate for every style, and perhaps you’re likely better suited to perform in one format over another left to your own devices. All of which may be a dramatic departure from common thought about actors—that every actor should be so versatile as to play anything, in any medium, at any time. (Which couldn’t be further from the reality of what most actors do. Especially successful ones.) Yet, like most artists, we tend to thrive in one medium over another. Perhaps out of habit, or exposure, or interest. Painters may or may not explore photography or sculpture. Writers who serve up their best when exploring suspense may or may not delve into romantic poetry.

Yet, it’s generally assumed actors should be as comfortable being cast in a period drama, such as “Elizabeth I”, as they would be as a voice-over in a Macy’s commercial. For some, commercial voice-over might be considered a dramatic leap, far from the actors’ aesthetic sensibilities. Accepting the realty posed in the script is essential in every medium.

Instead, far too often the actor repels the notion to vary up their approach. They cling, out of sheer performance muscle memory, to their last performance, their most common medium, or simply to the last thing they did… good, bad or indifferent. They cling to it because that muscle memory is a comfort zone. It’s familiar. It feels safe. Or, according to the talent, “It feels natural.” Yet, the performance and style may be the most awkward, clumsy, unnatural thing going, yet… the talent will adhere to this, bad habits and all, out of this impulse we refer to as the “Muscle Memory Delivery”. (Which has absolutely nothing to do with Method Acting’s definition of the term. Instead our use, here at SOUND ADVICE, is more akin to the sport medicine’s definition. It’s a comfort zone, or ‘default’, if you will.)

Having coached literally thousands of talent to date, I’ve managed to define the common denominators the actor experiences, needs to understand and do on any given job. Also, what those who have hired him expect and need from every take—whether it’s an audition or the job itself, and regardless of the medium, but especially when it comes to voice-over. Our coaching offers a number of steadfast tools that improve every talent, regardless of skill or experience level. ›

Your Ongoing Homework: Building Your Frame of Reference

You may have heard the familiar business adage: “Do what you know.” Well, that certainly applies to performance to a great extent as well. Just as there are stage and film styles, there are commercial, narrative and animation styles you need to become familiar with if you hope to play them. Therefore, studying the work you’re best suited to book is imperative.

As your auditions increase you’ll discover the people you’re auditioning for will consistently refer to current commercials and popular TV shows as a frame of reference. Problem is: you may be the right type for the project but if you have no idea what they are referring to you’ll be at a considerable disadvantage. However, if you study at least three of the most popular TV shows a week, commercials and all, you will greatly increase your knowledge of popular culture and stand a greater chance to understand the direction offered and book the job.

Pop culture is the common language of casting directors, producers, copywriters, and directors. They are most likely to describe what they’re looking for by using the most current references they can think of that are closest to the collective artistic vision of the project. This is a grand opportunity for you as a talent—if you’ve done your homework. You’ll be thrown these pop-culture bones and you’re expected to catch them, rather than let them sail right over your head. If you apply yourself to the following form of study you will have a greater chance to pick them up and run with them.

Advertising creatives generally have a tough enough time articulating what they need and want from you at a session. And when it comes to voice-over, you’re likely to be directed by the copywriter, the creative who wrote the spot. (Occasionally, the copywriter will defer to the producer or recording engineer for input). Regardless, these individuals do not always know how to direct, whether they know what they want or not.

This would explain why the greatest post voice-over session complaint most actors have is, “They didn’t give me any direction beyond, ‘It’s a non-announce announce, warm and friendly—go.’”

The truth is it’s our responsibility as talent to offer options at every audition and every session and with every take. This is required of us with little or no direction at all. Therefore we must self-direct to a great extent. We’re expected to offer plenty of performance options within the parameters of what’s being asked of us. They expect us to be decisive in our delivery as we are expected to be a vital part of the creative process.

By the same token, if we are given direction we’re always expected to apply that direction in the very next take. This requires agility, which is what we must glean from training and why we never cease sharpening our skills. The knife cuts both ways.

Nevertheless, on a voice-over session as in any performance, they’re looking to you to bring a pulse to the text, which can appear flat and ordinary upon your first few read-throughs. Initially, the script may seem to lack imagery, emotion, or personal point of view. It’s your job as a talent to bring life to the words. Creatives and various clients typically assume you have something to bring to the table without their input and will leave you to your own devices. You do have a great deal to create with, you know, if you’ve come to play.

You’re paid to have a pulse, so start pumping some life into that dead fish. A script can look pretty flat on the page until you start fleshing it out! So, play! ›


An Email You May Relate To…

C.M: “Hi Kate, (Booked) a voiceover job… I went in to record (as they have their own setup) in office in their building downtown. Very small recording spot but (it) does the job. In my experience, in every recording studio I have been to, you wear headphones when recording. Is there ever a set up where you don’t wear the headphones as it is a small enough space they can talk loudly enough while you are in there? The guy last week seemed perturbed/frustrated with me as I was wearing the headphones and then proceeded to (accidently) give so much feedback that I eventually wore them on my shoulders. What is happening here?! Perhaps he was just bad on the tech side, who knows? Just wanted to see if this (might) be normal, as it was new for me.

My other question was (about) pay-to-play sites. If I have 46 “likes” and 7 “favorites”, but landed none of those, is that normal? I am (trying to) keep positive, but tough certain days.

Kate: I may be stating the obvious, but clearly every session is unique.  There really is no “normal”.  In recording sessions, I recommend you use the headphones for at least the first few takes in a new studio so you can hear what you’re putting on the mic. If you find yourself listening to yourself “too much” or start judging yourself too harshly—take them off, but you should have a better idea of how to address the mic you’re in front of, and the studio you are standing in if you DO wear your headset to begin.

Given this session was done at the client’s office this guy may have over-promised his superiors that he could manage this all by his lonesome, or (as with so many businesses today) they gave this guy way more responsibilities than a single individual can and should handle—and the result was the wacky recording session you experienced.

For the record, the smaller the business, the more micro-managed you will get as a voice talent. And the bigger the gig, the more they expect you to run with the ball without much coaxing (or direction) from their end. They hired you to know what to do! Whatever the situation, this fellow was very likely out of his depth and overwhelmed trying to manage it all. He may have assumed this was a project that “would be fun to do” and he could bang out without a hitch! (He may be a hobbyist-recording guy. Unfortunately, the state of business today dictates more and more people are required to be responsible for things that are well beyond their skill set.  All the more reason you need to master self-direction and “run” your session as best you can to better service your voiceover clients, regardless of their production experience. This way he’s not trying to do your job (by feeding you the performance) while managing all the other aspects of the session, such as production administration, billing, timeline management, casting, script changes and approvals, recording, editing, and so forth.  Expect to go back in for “pickups” and changes.  Sounds like they are almost inevitable.

As for “favorites” and “likes”: obviously it’s your mission to deliver the best possible auditions, and be happy with the impact you’re making on each because you’re delivering your best and challenging yourself with every audition. Keep in mind the best audition doesn’t necessarily land the job. In fact, you have no idea how close you may have come to booking the job! Consider your auditions to be a form of promotion: you’re making yourself known to various producers and possible clients who will remember what you did here, even if they didn’t book you this time around!

Make it your aim to continually be in the TOP 2% of all the talent auditioning! Ask yourself, “Why would I book this job over anyone else?” Because you brought something extraordinary to the table—which is precisely why we want to work with you! THAT’S what makes you valuable!

On the other hand, if you’re not feeling like you’re bringing your best to your auditions lately, or need a little jet-fuel—give us a call and get scheduled for a couple of good coaching sessions. We want you to succeed! ›


Copyright © 2015 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.