Following Gary are ......

Your Voice Over Questions Answered

As a voice over coach, I spend most of my time responding to enquiries. I always say there is no such thing as a silly question when it comes to our business. Let's face it the industry can seem opaque and inaccessible to newcomers, so if I can help somebody with their query and point them in the right direction,  I feel I have done my job.

Consequently I thought it would be an interesting exercise to share some of the questions that have come my way recently. They are all genuine, but for reasons of confidentiality I have withheld names. However, I've noted the original source of each discussion.

Hopefully you will find the answers useful too, especially if you are just starting out in voiceovers.

My trainer at the radio station says my voice is sing-song. How can I correct this? (phone conversation)

This takes me back. When I was about 10 or 11, I recall doing a reading in class and received some positive feedback from the teacher and was subsequently selected to do a more substantial performance on stage at the end of term concert. My head got bigger, until another teacher told me my performance was too 'sing-song'. 

The comment did me the world of good (although I was upset at the time) and have since been acutely aware of over-modulating - to give the phenomena its technical name. You can sometimes hear announcers reading the news in a predicable rhythm, almost like there is a melody in their voices with repeated inflections. This is what your trainer has heard and she wants you to develop a more naturalistic style. 

One of the best ways  to remedy this is to record yourself speaking normally and then reading a script. Notice the difference? You are probably switching on your radio persona and need to connect back with the real you. Concentrate not on the sound of your voice, but on the meaning of what you are saying... your voice will follow without you even thinking about it. 

What do you think my rate should be for 1,000 minutes of finished audio for an e-learning job? (email enquiry)

Blimey that's a lot of minutes. Crunching the numbers, this works out at about 17  hours of completed audio, but of course it will take you far longer than this to record, edit and review the project. I recommend you allow 70 to 80 hours of your time. So 2 to 3 weeks of very hard work. Remember you will need to take regular breaks (including eating and, er, going to the toilet!). In terms of fee,  I would say in the region of £1,400 to £1,600 for the whole project (e-learning is not the best payer).You will need gallons of water too.

For someone who is a total novice, is there a site of inclusive sample elements to work from? Or is it a case of listen to one and copy it?  (Linkedin message)

Voice overs are all about finding your own voice and when making a showreel you shouldn't be copying others. However I can understand that you might want to get an idea of the form and structure a typical reel might take, so check out some of the voice actor profiles on agents' websites, or perhaps even on the pay to play sites, such as Voice123.

Can you help with my recording problem? On playback the sound is very quiet, almost as if my voice is not being recorded through the microphone at all. Is it my mic or pre-amp? (email enquiry)

Probably neither.  From your description it would seem you have identified the problem already when you say your voice doesn't sound like it's being recorded through the mic. My theory is that what you are hearing is your computer's inbuilt microphone and not your external mic. Check your computer's audio preferences and make sure you select the pre-amp and de-select the onboard computer mic. 

Looking for some feedback on my website! Tell me! (Twitter conversation)

This is a swish looking place to visit. Interestingly your images are not the usual mic or headphones (which are difficult for voice over artists to get away from) and the site resolves beautifully on my mobile device... Google will be pleased! Of course when it comes to voice over websites, the acid test is what do the demos sound like. Yours are great, but with one major caveat: there is a guy - who isn't you - providing an intro to each of your tracks. GET RID OF HIM. It is your voice clients want to hear, not some voice on a stick.

Also have a think about how you are going to promote your website. Decent SEO, social media plugs, signature on the bottom of emails are all excellent ways to attract visitors.

I don't know much about audiobooks. How can I earn money narrating stories? (Facebook)

I would try ACX. Unlike the p2p sites, they are free and part of Audible and the mighty Amazon, so your work has a higher chance of being found. You may also want to take a look at my article: Five Things Every Audiobook Beginner Should Know where I discuss some of the fundamentals and pitfalls of narrating.

Got a question? I'm all ears....

When not answering questions, I spend my time teaching beginners in the voice over studio. 

©Gary Terzza 2015


Warning! Voice Overs Can Damage Your Health

I want to tell you a sad story.

Back in 2005 when I began voice over coaching, one of the earliest enquiries I received came from an enthusiastic young guy called Leon (not his real name).  We spent 20 minutes on the phone chatting about the VO industry and I explained how I might be able to help him.

He was genuinely fired up and said he would love to come along, but needed to sort out his diary first. He didn't.

Then a year later I took another call from Leon. He wanted to remind himself of the nature of the business - would his voice be suitable? How much effort would he have to put in? Could he combine it with his day job? Again he was keen to start his voice acting career as soon as possible and we discussed possible dates. That was the last I heard from him....

... until 2007.

This time I received a friendly email saying he hadn't forgotten about voice overs and would be signing up soon. The seasons rolled on by and in 2008 I received another phone call from him and on this occasion we actually booked a date. Then about a week before we were due to meet, he emailed saying he was snowed under with work and would have to postpone the session.

Leon was right, he did postpone the training.... by four years!

It was 2012 when I next heard from him and he wondered if I remembered him - "oh yes" I said "I remember you very well and I am pleased to hear from you again". I reminded him about the coaching I provided and gave an outline of the voice over industry. Interestingly, things had changed since our last communication  - there was now a greater choice of affordable microphones for home recording and demand was increasing in areas such as videogames, audiobooks and (from the new kid on the block) explainer videos.

He was suitably excited about the prospect of becoming a voice actor and this time put his money where his mouth was. My man was booked in.

The day of his training session arrived; the studio was hired and I was using leading producer Siggi  (his impressive portfolio includes work with Skepta and Adidas) to ensure Leon achieved the finest quality recordings.

The day before our meeting I tweeted to say we were looking forward to seeing him and provided directions to the studio.

Interestingly Uptown Studios  where we record nestles in deepest Parsons Green, a leafy tranche of west London and is secreted within The Matrix, a creative complex that boasts (amongst other enterprises) the management HQ of pop sensation One Direction. My students are often taken aback when teen fans ambush them outside the gates and ask if they "know Harry?!"

My guy was due at midday and as the time approached, I relayed to Siggi the story of how Leon had had been thinking about voice over training for a number of years and how we had had a series of false starts. By a quarter past twelve, I began to get concerned my student had become lost en route.

I tried to call his mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. I sent a text, an email and phoned again. It was now 12:45 and still no sign. I went outside and noticed the sun was peeping through the clouds, warming up what had been a chilly spring day. I wandered up and down the street trying to spot anyone who looked like they might be lost.

By 1:30pm I was seriously worried. More unanswered phone calls and a half eaten prawn baguette followed, but .... nothing.

Needless to say the end of the booking (3pm) came and went and I tried one final round of calls, texts and emails. I did not hear anything from Leon.

Until two weeks' later.

"Hi Gary" said the sheepish voice on the phone. "I'm so sorry I didn't make our session; I had terrible flu and couldn't get out of bed". I was too taken aback to respond with anything intelligible at first, but blurted out that I had been concerned about his no-show. Again he apologised, but said he would be in touch soon to book another date. That was three years ago and I am still waiting for Leon's phone call.

So what lessons can we learn from this tale?

Firstly, it is ok to take your time before you embark on the voice over path, but bear in mind enthusiasm and action are as important as talent. If you keep stalling, year after year, you have to ask yourself some soul-searching questions:

  • Do I really want to do voice overs?
  • Why do I keep putting off committing?
  • Is the fear just too great?

Of course job, family and budget all influence our decisions, but we should also be honest in assessing our conviction to learning something new.

If you don't know whether you want to do voice overs or not.... you probably don't. 

What do you think Leon's next step should be? Should he give up, or try again? 

Gary Terzza is course director at VoMasterClass

Close Encounters Of The Voice Over Kind: Why Do People Find Our Industry So Alien?

I remember seeing a cartoon in a British newspaper depicting the Queen opening a new fire station. As she proceeds down a line of firefighters in uniform, she shakes one officer's hand and says to him "so what do you do?"

Of course in real life Her Majesty would know exactly what her subjects do for a living, but voice actors often find it difficult to explain their work to the uninitiated. In fact my heart sinks when I meet someone new and they ask about my occupation... and I know it is me that has the problem.

By definition we are voice only and so invisible to the general public. Who can blame a stranger being bemused by someone sitting in a soundproof room talking to themselves all day? It's hardly normal is it? But are we doing ourselves a disservice? Should we flag wave more and raise the profile of the beleaguered voice over artist and how should we respond to that question?

Someone's got to do it

Having had a bracing walk around a beguiling part of North Yorkshire and in need of liquid refreshment, I walked into a homely local pub. As I sat sipping my beer, I was joined by a couple of friendly locals and we got chatting about the usual things - the weather, best places to eat etc. Then the inevitable question came up - "what do you do for a living" asked the younger of the two in a rich, rural accent.

"I do voice overs" I said, expecting the usual follow-up questions such as 'what's that all about then?' and 'does it pay well?' Instead my new friend paused a while and replied 'I s'ppose you don't get yer 'ands mucky doin' that'. He was right; my palms were pristine and embarrassingly smooth. No hard work-induced horny pads for me.

It was a rather refreshing response, I thought, and a couple of hearty ales later we had forgotten all about my unusual occupation. However not every encounter is like that. Sometimes you are left lost for words.

You do what?

Unfortunately we tend to define people by what they do - "she works in computers" or "he's a teacher" and we build up assumptions based on our preconceived ideas about these occupations. In reality it tells us little about the person. The software engineer isn't necessarily a geek, nor is an accountant a crushing bore.

Stereotypes abound - and even in our business we get our fair share of nerds and level-headed folks along with the occasional 'luvvie'.

That said, we live in a society where vocation is important and sadly we have to live with that.
In my own case, explaining what I do to earn a buck has got worse - as a voice over coach I spend seven days a week advising students, helping them negotiate fees, critiquing their auditions etc and yet I've had people say to me "yes, but what do you do for a job?" as if I was playing at it.

You may find the same with your voiceover career - even friends and family may regard all your hard endeavours as being nothing more than a harmless pastime.

The tendency is to become angry at this, but I recommend turning the situation to your advantage.

Loud 'n proud

The key is to present yourself as a professional and help explain what you do intriguingly and with panache. "I use my voice to help businesses increase their bottom line" is a more thought-provoking way to say "I record voice overs for commercials". Similarly "I narrate audiobooks" could sound more exciting if instead you said "I tell stories for a living".

These are alternative ways to draw the interlocutor into your voice over world so you can then explain in detail what you do and how you do it.

Let's face it, at the end of the day, it is not important that someone doesn't understand what you do, but explaining your profession with clarity in an assured manner will help you be more confident about your somewhat idiosyncratic career choice.
Being a voice actor really is out of this world.

What do you say to people who don't understand your love of voice overs? 

Gary Terzza specialises in helping beginners enter the voice over industry. VoMasterClass.com

"I Don't Like The Sound Of My Own Voice" - Well Shut Up And Go Home.

Is it necessary to like the sound of your own voice to be considered for voice over work? What if listening back to yourself fills you with dread and makes you cringe? Have you really got to like that weird cacophony emanating from your throat?

As a voice over coach I am amazed at the number of people who want to get into voice overs, but say they do not like listening to the their own voice. I am never quite sure what they truly mean by this - is it:

"I am embarrassed the way my voice sounds"

"I do not recognise myself - my voice seems strange and alien when I hear it played back"

 "I can't stand the tonal quality of my voice (it sounds too shrill or deep) ... I wish I sounded more like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jeremy Irons"
or (the least likely)

"I love my voice and I shall (using false modesty) ask listeners to affirm just how good it is by pretending not to like it"

Little voice

When I was a youngster my parents bought me a second hand portable Philips reel to reel tape recorder - it was to change my life. Along with my best friend Colin, I would record silly comedy sketches (we thought they were funny at the time) and I discovered a way to multi track by masking the erasing head. We had many years of fun creating characters and trying silly voices.

Long before I decided I wanted to go into professional broadcasting, I was well aware of what my voice sounded like and hearing it played back did not phase me at all.

It was not that I liked or disliked my voice, but that I knew exactly what to expect from it. Apart from the first time I heard myself recorded, listening to myself never come as a shock.

But why do our voices sound SO different when we hear them on a video or voicemail?

Oops inside your head

The listening parts of our ears, the eardrum and cochlea, are buried deep inside our heads. As a result we hear ourselves inside out.  The noise resonates around our skull and chest cavity resulting in a distortion of the inherent frequency creating a false impression. However 99.9% of the world hears us as we really are, unencumbered by this filter of bone and cartilage.

Of course mother nature did not intend us to hear our own voices played back through external electronic equipment and this is why, on first hearing our voices, we do not even recognise ourselves.

But once we get used to this strange other person who speaks as we do, then we can begin to appreciate the qualities of our voice.


I recall reading an interview with Tom Cruise in which he said he did not believe other Hollywood stars when they said they did not like being famous or the way they looked.

Tom's reasoning went something like this: how can you do a job where your face is going to be plastered across a giant silver screen in high definition in every major city in the world, if you don't like the way you look? He felt such comments were disingenuous.

Good point. If you are a film star, having your face projected close up to billions of people IS your job. Likewise in our business, how can you possibly be a voice actor if you do not like the instrument you are selling?

If you don't like your voice, how can anyone else?

Make friends with your voice

How do we solve this dilemma? 

My recommendation is learn to accept your voice for what it is.  I don't mean love your voice in a narcissistic way, but learn to appreciate its good and bad points. The more you record and playback your voice (even if it is just on your phone or laptop) the more familiar the two of you will become. 

Ask yourself a few questions - what is your voice like when you become excited? How does it differ in tone when you are downbeat or being authoritative? They certainly won't be the same.

You will need to be intimate with every nuance of your vocal range, because clients will expect you to respond to their direction on command.

I cannot emphasise this enough - accept your voice for what it is and acknowledge that this is the way it sounds.

Sorry to be brutal, but if you are still saying "I don't like the way I sound" then voice overs are not for you. 

Gary Terzza is a UK voice over coach. Professional consultations are available.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Fiendish Words That Make Us Speechless

Once upon a time there was a word. It wasn't a big word and it was used by a lot of people every day. This word seemed harmless, but below the surface it had an evil power that could make grown voice actors cry and have the capability to destroy careers. 

But this word was a shape-shifter, it presented itself differently to different people. For the majority of the population, these villainous terms (for in reality there was more than one) remained innocuous, but to voice over artists they were deadly traps waiting to be sprung. 

The demon in question is of course any word that we have difficulty in saying, especially when reading a script.

What's your poison?

I have spent the last couple of hours reading and responding to some entertaining comments on a Linkedin voice over forum (if you haven't done so already, I highly recommend you join one)  about tricky words that are difficult to say. The initial question asked by US voice coach +Tommy Griffiths was 

"Is there ONE WORD that you consistently have trouble saying?"

At the time of writing, there have been 127 comments citing bothersome words from 'tradition' to (surprisingly) 'opportunity'.

What will strike the casual reader/non-voice actor is how these are often everyday words that would not seem to present a problem in normal, conversational speech. In voice overs, though, they can be nothing short of nightmarish. 

My own personal one is shared by a number of people, including award winning British voice talent Kara Noble - it is 'DIGITAL'.

The problem with these rogue words is that they creep up on you unawares. About 20 years ago I was booked to record a voiceover session for the (now defunct) company Digital Equipment Corporation. As you might suspect, 'digital' appeared liberally in the script, but back in those days it was a term just beginning to come into common parlance and so still had a slightly 'scientific/technical' feel to it.

On my first read through I made a slight trip around the 'G', pronouncing it too much like a 'J'. I realised that I needed to correct this, so tried again. This time, the 'T' got lost, so I gave it another shot. And another. By the fourth or fifth try the word had become a slurred version of its former self. Panic was about to set in.

Eventually, with the help of a patient director, I managed to salvage my reputation with a 'nearly but not quite' delivery. However the 'D'' word had now become my bĂȘte noire

So how do I cope with 'digital' nowadays?

Slaying the Word Dragon

If you have been researching speech improvement on the internet, you will no doubt have come across the cork method.  There are numerous versions of this, but basically the principle is the same - you stick a cork in your mouth to improve word formation and diction.

One of the advocates of this technique is +Marc Cashman. He says 

"The clearer you are [speaking] with the cork, the better you will be without it."

 Does it work? 

My philosophy is, give it a go and see if it is effective for you, but without wanting to sound too much like 'Mr Health & Safety', be careful with that cork!

My own prescription (and how I helped myself conquer 'digital') is to break the negative feedback loop. By that I mean that the issue of mispronunciation is all in the mind. We can see this quite clearly with my own experience: a small accidental slip was magnified out of all proportion as I tried to correct the mistake under pressure.

My brain had effectively sabotaged my performance and 'punished' me for my small error.

As +Tara Tyler says, it is all about stopping that negative voice in your head and taking control of your mind. I would add that you need to forgive yourself for fails and use these as a lesson on how to improve.

At the risk of sounding like psychobabble, I am convinced you should turn bloopers into a learning experience. Also (and it's easier said than done) try and forget about the fiendish word in question. This is what happened... suddenly I said 'digital' easily without realising it.

Being gentle with yourself but strong with the negative side of your brain will really help. 

Gary has a moderately unpronounceable surname, Terzza, which is a derivation of the Italian Terza, meaning 'third' or 'third class'! He does run a first rate voice over coaching course, though.