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Why Good is Never Good Enough in Voiceovers

How good are you at voice overs? Can you get away with being 'ok', 'not bad at all' or 'above average'? I want to explain why I believe not aiming higher is hurting your chances of success. 

I love trawling through the various voice over groups on platforms such as Linkedin and Facebook - they are full of useful titbits, helpful advice.... and bile. You may be aware of the recent harsh criticism meted out to the pay to play site Voices.com

Contributors piled in to spit venom at the company's apparent lack of regard for its subscribers. People relayed tales of hundreds of auditions and little work to show for all their hard graft.

One malcontent said he had recorded over a thousand demos for potential clients, with an ROI that equated to less than minimum wage. A thousand? That is more auditions than hot dinners. 

The mob were angry - they had paid their money and deserved to see a return on their investment.


These complainers think they deserve to be rewarded with voice over work simply because they paid a fee? Where does talent fit in to this? Is there no room for skill?

As the posts and comments took on a life of their own, I decided to wade in myself and brought one interchange to a juddering halt. I'm not showing off by this remark you understand; I did not say anything earth shattering or offer a jaw dropping insight, I just asked a simple question.

When one voice actor complained about always being turned down for jobs despite having a great mic and his own VO booth, I jumped in and said:

"But what is your performance like?"

Suddenly there was no response. What had happened to the tales of woe? Why did he not respond with "I've recorded some cracking auditions, so that can't be the issue"? No one else piled in to back me up or knock me down either. You could see the tumbleweed blowing down the thread.

Performance really is the elephant in the room.

I moved on to a different group and there I quickly found another contretemps on the same subject: masses of auditions and no jobs. Suddenly I spotted an enlightening post from a guy who named an actual project he had been rejected for (along with scores of others).

He said he would have been ideal for the job in question as his voice matched the description the client was looking for and he had worked hard at perfecting the demo.

Then, underneath, someone else surprised all of us as he wrote that HE had been the talent who had been awarded this very gig.

He even included a link to the completed work which was available on YouTube.

Wow - it was a terrific delivery.

Engaging, stylish and conversational it certainly hit the spot.

Everyone in the post agreed and especially the voice actor who had posted the original comment and failed to secure the assignment. In fact he conceded that the successful candidate had provided a far superior delivery and deserved to be hired.

This example confirmed my theory that a lot of the voice over artists who moan about not securing work are missing the point. They are not getting booked because their auditions and demos are simply not good enough.

Upsetting isn't it?

Meanwhile back with the conversations on Linkedin, someone had posted 'isn't there a middle way?'. I interpreted that to mean 'can you get away with being mediocre?'. To me this epitomises some talents' attitude to their delivery skills.

They spend good money on their mic and marketing, read all the right books, but they ignore what they are there to do: provide a compelling voice over. If you aren't aiming for this, you are in the wrong business.

Go for gold

No one wants to be told their performance is below par, but always bear in mind that somebody is being awarded the work.... it's just not you. So what can you do to raise your game?

First, be honest with yourself - how good are your voice overs? What was your last audition like? Was it the best you could do? From my own experience as a coach, some hopefuls practice far too infrequently and when they do, they don't think carefully enough about the script.

When you are presented with a script, do the following:

  • Proof read the piece a couple of times. 
  • Imagine what the words should sound like. Can you hear the voice in your head? What tone and pace are present? Does the voice sound convincing?
  • Now have an initial read through and try and match that internal voice
  • Get under the skin of the script
  • Record and playback - what are your first impressions? You know it could and should sound better
  • Now record again
  • .... and again
  • Keep going until you have performed the best read possible

Remember you need to create a captivating performance, even if the script itself is quite mundane. You cannot expect to be hired unless you are exceptional at what you do. Put simply, you need to be better than the best.

You should also audition within your comfort zone; if the job spec requires the voice of a Medieval Knight, but your talents limit you to a Call Of Duty commando, leave well alone. 

Stick to what you know and do it well.


How do you make your performance better? Please let me know your thoughts.

Gary Terzza teaches the art of voice over at VoMasterClass


Does Changing Your Name Help or Harm your Voice Overs?

Actors have stage names, authors have pen names and pop stars have alter egos, but what about voice over artists? Under what circumstances should you ever go under a different moniker? 

I was talking to someone this week who thought her name was a bit dull and wanted to change it. In truth, I thought it was rather distinctive and advised her to stick with what she had.  However there may be occasions when a 'VO name' might be something to consider.

You may be toying with the idea of a voice acting persona that differs from your given name, but is this a positive step or could it backfire?

Why Change?

When I worked in radio, several of the presenters went under pseudonyms. I secretly thought this was for vanity reasons, but in reality there was often a practical rationale behind the decision. For starters it was often the station that insisted on the alias and with good reason. Most of the jingles were sung and not all names scan well when sung. 

Among the surnames were a Mould and a Robottom (imagine those being sung on a jingle), neither of which fitted the showbiz image the station was trying to project. Then there was the issue of duplicates.... a clutch of Garys meant some had to adjust to new personas becoming Paul or David (I missed the cull and was allowed to keep mine) whilst others found too many syllables were just not acceptable and consequently found themselves with an a.k.a. whether they wanted one or not.

Apart from a request asking you to change, under what other circumstances might you want to adopt a nom de guerre?


People enter the voice over industry for all sorts of reasons: a desire to do something creative, boredom with their current job, or the chance to start over again by doing pursuing a radically different path following a life-changing event such as divorce, illness or the death of someone close to them.

Not everyone wants to be known by their given name and this could be because their employer might disapprove of their extra curricula activities, or simply because they may be embarrassed if colleagues or friends find out.

This is understandable.

You may fear failure and don't want to fall flat on your face in front of acquaintances and family who may not be sympathetic. I have old university friends who still ask me after 30 years, when am I going to get a 'proper' job!

In these instances, the adoption of a nom de plume may not be such a bad thing. 

Of course you may be a lawyer, doctor, police office or have a business unconnected with voice overs but which is strongly associated with your name and this would certainly be a legitimate reason for having an anonym.

What name should you adopt?

Have you ever played that game where to find your pen name, you put together your middle name and the street in which you grew up? There are many variations on this procedure (including a rude one, which is definitely not recommended for your professional branding) and going through this process is a good way to get 

I would throw lots of ideas around and remember this gives you the chance to begin afresh, enabling you to have the name you always wanted - so let your imagination roam freely.

Once you have a shortlist, the next task is to rule out duplication.

First, do some research. Look online and see if the name you fancy is already taken. A great place to start is the marketplace Voice123 as thousands of voice talents from around the world are registered here. For example if, for some inexplicable reason, you want to be called Gary Terzza enter voice123.com/garyterzza and you will see there already exists a profile in that name.

If your second choice is the far more memorable Barnaby Shuttleneck, type in voice123.com/barnabyshuttleneck and the site will throw up an error message, which in this case is good news because the name is not taken... at least not by a voice over artist.

In the UK it is also worth doing a secondary check on Spotlight, the actors' directory.

It is also a good idea to Google your preferred sobriquet to rule out a name that might be associated with criminal or other undesirable activities - you never know, Barnaby Shuttleneck may have been a notorious bank robber. Once you have your name sorted it is time to start getting used to using it.

Can Changing Your Name Make Your Voice Overs Better?

Let's be honest, an alternative handle is not going to turn you into the finest voice actor that ever walked into a studio. How you perform has nothing to do with what you call yourself, but in some ways a different name can mean a new beginning and this might just give you added confidence.

Gone is the old you and along comes this pristine voice ready to conquer the VO world, but be careful because at the end of the day the way you sound is still essentially the same - only the wrapper has changed.

The Perils of Becoming Somebody Else 

There is a tendency for beginners in voice overs to hide behind a vocal persona, putting on a voice that isn't really them. This is often because they are unsure of the sound of their own voices when reading somebody else's words, but don't worry this gets better the more you practice. However it is an issue you should be aware of especially when adopting a new nomenclature.

Your individuality (ie the real you with your natural accent, tone and style) should shine through whatever name you use.

Before changing to a professional name for your voice over business, make sure you 

  Do not create a false voice to go with the alias.

☛  Keep email addresses, website URLs and invoices consistent with your adopted name, not your old one
☛  Inform your agent (if you have one) of the change.

☛  Let your trusted inner circle of friends know what you are doing (they could get a shock otherwise). 

☛  Print business cards in the correct name. 

  Have a separate business phone number/mobile that you answer with your voice over stage-name. 

Consistency really is important because this will reflect your authenticity, give you credibility and make you sound professional. Imagine answering the phone to a prospective client using your real name by mistake and then bumbling your words whilst you desperately try and remember your new name - now that would be a ux pas.

Have you changed your name for voice overs? Please let me know in the comments below. 

Gary Terzza (yes that is his real name) is a voice over coach based in England.

Disaster Strikes: Why Your Voice Over Career Is Vulnerable & How To Protect It.

How safe is your voice over business? What hazards do you need to guard against and how exposed are you to danger?

Am I being alarmist? I don't think so and here's why.

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with one of my voice over students working on a grant application. He needed the extra investment to buy new recording gear and pay for marketing costs. We were filling in the form, ticking boxes and answering the usual questions about his outgoings and expected earnings, when we came across an intriguing query:

"What are the threats to your success?"

Hmmm, I pondered, that is a strange enquiry. What could possibly go wrong in voice overs? No one gets hurt if you mess up a script, or mispronounce a place name. You are unlikely to face legal proceedings if your breaths are too prominent or need extra time to record a project.

And yet the deeper I delved into this issue, the more I realised there are actually quite a few perils that could scupper our best laid plans.

Backup and survive

When I worked for a major network TV company, we would periodically have to decamp to another studio complex on the far side of town as part of our 'disaster recovery' practice. The back up facilities ran in tandem to the main channel 24/7 and cost in excess of one million pounds a year ($1.6m), yet had never been used for a real emergency. Many people were sceptical about the rationale behind this service. Surely such expenditure was hardly justified?

Then one day the building opposite our HQ reported a gas leak and everyone evacuated the building. The well rehearsed procedure immediately swung into action like a military operation, resulting in a seamless transition from one transmission centre to the other.

The result? 

The viewers didn't notice a thing and not a single commercial was lost. Had the ad breaks failed to be broadcast during this time, the loss in revenue would have been several million pounds - more than justifying the auxiliary service.

Do you have an alternative in place?

What would happen if, in the middle of a voice over job with a tight deadline, you (or even your next door neighbour) had a gas leak and you were ordered to evacuate the house ? If there was a power outage in your area, how would you cope?

My advice is to make friends with your local studio. Get to know the sound engineer/owner and book them a few times for work or record some demos with them. See how flexible they are and explain you may need to hire their facilities at short notice; it will be a relationship well worth fostering, because you never know when you are going to need their services.

Prepare your own disaster recovery plan.

Equipment failure

Another reason for having that studio as a standby is that even the best microphones, pre-amps and computers can go wrong and it is usually right in the middle of something important.

But in this case, hiring an external audio suite need not be your first fallback.

Any professional studio worth their salt will have a back up mic and so should you. Even if you are thinking to yourself 'but I've just spent a small fortune on my gear', you should prepare a contingency. 

A good quality USB mic may be no substitute for a Neumann U87 with a Focusrite Liquid Channel processor, but when a client is breathing down your neck and there's an untraceable buzz coming from your equipment, at least you will have the reassurance of the standby microphone.

Even if you only have a cheap and cheerful set-up as your primary recording system, you should seriously consider a substitute USB mic to hand. Accidents will happen.... and when you least expect them.

But it is not just the techie stuff that can let you down.

Also look at buying a decent second laptop running your recording software. As we all know, computers have a habit of failing at critical times

Vocal Health

Of course being human means we are vulnerable creatures, especially when it comes to our health - colds and sore throats can seriously impede our voice over performance. Is there anything we can do to help offset the negative effect of these inevitable maladies?

In short, not really (apart from rest), but we can make provision for their occurrence.

When you quote your turnaround time for a job, always give yourself lots of headroom. This is especially true with long-form work. For example an e-learning project may be 10,000 words, which is about 60 minutes of finished audio, but the production time will be nearer 4 to 5 hours in total.

To help guard against the unexpected,  it is best to allow a large margin of error - so in this example you may be able to do 2 hours recording a day and your initial thought might be 'I'll quote 48 hours turnaround', but I would advise adding in another day when you provide the client with an estimate. In this case 72 hours (or perhaps even longer) will build in a 'recovery buffer'; chances are you won't need the extra time and you can deliver earlier than the client anticipated.

But there is one risk factor which can really cause your voice overs to crash and burn.

Reputation Damage

Many businesses face a constant battle with online reputation management - one bad review can have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. Now, I have not heard of any voice actor being publicly castigated by clients (unless you know differently), but in our business the damage is usually self inflicted.

Here are my tips for keeping your voice over services in good standing:

✥  Don't turn up late to bookings,

✥  Refrain from bad mouthing other voice talent on social media,

  Resist the temptation to share dodgy pictures of yourself especially on professional sites such Linkedin,

  Never publicly criticise companies you have worked for. You never know when you might want to work with them again.

It is common sense of course, but you will be amazed at the number of people who forget themselves and do something they later regret.

Do you feel your voice over business is vulnerable? Please let me know the risks that concern you in the comments below.

Gary Terzza is a voice over trainer. Check out his services on his Google+ business page.

Who Needs a Voice Over Coach? How To Get Training For Free!

Voice Over lessons can be expensive, but there are cheaper alternatives.

Now this may seem an odd topic coming from a voice over coach who makes his living out of training beginners  - you may even consider it nothing short of career suicide as I give away coaching secrets, but I don't see it that way. Let's face it, not everyone can afford to embark on an expensive course.  

That said, you cannot get away from the fact voice overs require talent, hard work and tenacity. There are no short cuts. It is highly unlikely a newbie will be able to phone an agent, the BBC or a production company and say "I'm available Wednesday morning at 10am for your next voice over project" and for them to reply "great a complete novice, untrained and with absolutely no experience ... just want we want, see you then."

Voice overs look easy because the pros make them sound easy. To succeed you have to develop your performance skills, learn your craft, record a showreel and market your voice.

This all takes time and.... money.  Or does it?

Well, yes it is possible to break into the industry without spending too muchbut you will certainly need to invest plenty of effort - there is simply no getting around this.

However, that said here are some steps you can take to help you learn the art of the voice actor... and they won't cost you anything except your time.

 Join a drama group

There is a large overlap between acting and voice overs, although personally I do not subscribe to the view that you have to be an actor to be a successful VO. My own stage experience is limited to a couple of school plays and a short pantomime season playing Wishee-Washee in Aladdin (some of you may conclude I was simply I was just playing to type!) 

That said, if you are on a shoestring joining an amateur drama group will help you -

1. Develop performance skills and character voices
          2.  Interpret a script's meaning
          3.  Become more confident in your vocal delivery
Above all, you will have great fun.

Here is the link to the UK Drama Groups database that you should find useful. You may also find some free improv groups in your local area, so well worth doing a Google search.

  Use videos

There are lots of free voice over training videos on YouTube. American voice actor +Frank James Bailey has recently written a pithy Google Plus post on this very issue and you will find helpful luminaries included such as Bill DeWees and Terry Daniel, plus other experts in the field. Frank also adds his own insightful vids for good measure.

As this is my blog I hope you don't mind me mentioning my free training on YouTube too. Of course my advice is from a British perspective, but elements are still relevant globally.

These instructional tools deal with everything from recording at home and finding work to vocal care and performance tips. The great thing is, unlike a coach you might see on a weekly basis, you can simply pause and rewind when you want to hear the instruction again.

Whoever you choose to watch, and it is worth dipping into all these guys, they are great teaching resources... gratis.

  Radio training

If there is a proving ground for future voice over artists, it has to be radio. The sheer intimacy and directness of the medium means the voice has to engage with the listener. Broadcasting will help you learn the art of talking to one person - an essential attribute in voice overs.

However, trying to get into radio is tough. 

Thank goodness for community, student and hospital stations. 

Many of these not-for-profit broadcasters are crying out for volunteers and even though you will be starting at the bottom (which after all is the best place to start) you will learn everything on the way up from microphone technique to recording and live presentation.  You may even end up doing news reading or sports commentary.


Here are some helpful resources (Great Britain and Northern Ireland only): 

  Business and marketing advice

It is very important to run your voice over career (even if part-time) as a business. You are selling your vocal services to producers, authors, video game developers, training providers and companies so you need to be professional.

There is plenty of marketing advice online, but you may want something more hands on where an expert can provide guidance, support and recommendations. One of your first points of contact should be your local Chamber of Commerce.

Many of these have business venture support teams which not only provide free consultations for startups, but can also show you how to access cheap loans, which you may need to help with recording equipment and advertising (yep, even if your training is free you are still going to need to make investments to move your voice over business forward).

If you are aged between 18 and 30, unemployed or working fewer than 16 hours a week, then an excellent source of free business training courses, mentoring and funding is The Prince's Trust which is a charity set up by Charles The Prince Of Wales.

But what about more mature people?

Realising that it gets harder to begin a new venture as we become older, Prince Charles has recently turned his attention to the over 50s. He has set up The Prince's Initiative for Mature Enterprise  a charity whose aim is to support people who have been made redundant or are at risk of redundancy and provide them with first class help in becoming successful entrepreneurs.

If you are over 50 and out of work (or about to be) then this organisation will be able to give you the guidance you need in setting up and promoting your voice over business. 

What about the showreel?

I have deliberately left out voice demo production, because in this article I wanted to concentrate purely on the training aspects, but if you want to make suggestions as to how you would produce a voice-reel at no cost then please enter them in the comments below.

That is also the place for further advice on achieving free coaching - all ideas welcome.

For those on a tight budget, I hope the above links point you in the right direction  - good luck!

Gary Terzza runs VoMasterClass a voice over coaching programme for beginners

Is Hesitancy Allowed in Voice Overs?

I have recently been following a conversation on a media site in which a radio professional criticises a presenter for using too many 'ums' and 'erms'. The exchange has divided opinion so much, the thread has been sizzling with lively comments for well over a month. 

For one contributor this style of presentation is best described as a 'curse' that needs to be eradicated with proper training. To be fair, they are referring to a broadcaster on a local community station and the poor radio presenter they are castigating is most likely a volunteer who gives up his spare time generously and freely. 

However, it does raise interesting questions about this type of speech interruption. Is it really undesirable and should we all be pursuing a silky smooth delivery?

Of course it's not just the 'ums' and 'erms' that cause speech patterns to be ruptured; punctuating our delivery with 'like', 'actually' and 'literally' is often regarded as unwanted sentence intrusion. In public speaking such jerky dialogue can be attributed to nerves, but the effect may be to diminish the authority of the speaker.

You may have noticed a lot of people start a sentence with 'so' and I know personally I have a bad habit of dropping 'I think' into my speech... usually when I am not thinking at all!

But, surprisingly, these linguistic tics can help improve your voice over delivery.

The good news is that in voice overs the words are there on the page clear as daylight, so aberrant terms and phrases are simply not on the script. The voice actor does not need to know which thought or idea is around the corner, because the sentences are there in front of her eyes. The difficult job is to bring meaning to those words in an interesting way. 

But voice overs are changing.

The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in what clients want from a voice over. No longer the mannered polished delivery of old, but rather a subtle, natural, more nuanced approach is often required. In short, conversational or un-announcery.  

Directors and producers eschew 'voiceoverman' or 'voiceoverwoman' in favour of the neighbour next door or the fellow parent we may chat to at the school gates. Not all voice overs are like this, of course, particularly where characterisation is required, but the mainstream has now seen a marked move towards an easy, 'normal' style of reading.

Ordinary is the new distinctive.

This begs the question - should we now be adding hesitancy into scripted copy, so as to reflect natural speech patterns?

Have you ever watched BBC News presenter Huw Edwards?  As he reads the teleprompter, he pops in the occasional 'ahm' or mini-pause. This loosens up his anchoring style, so it is less formal and more natural. He is giving the impression of talking to the viewer as an equal, rather than delivering the news in an announcer style at them. It is very effective, but the irony is you need bags of experience to sound 'everyday'.

"Ah" you will be thinking "that's all very well, but I can't really put ums and erms in an explainer video or e-learning script - the client will have a very dim view of me taking such liberties."

The answer is - it depends how you do it. 

Peppering your VO performance with ill-considered 'ahs' and 'ums' is not going to go down too well with your director, but judicially applied in a spontaneous way can enrich any prosaic copy. My advice is not to overdo the 'erm' intervals, but to let them out when you feel they will work. 

In fact 'feeling' is an accurate way to describe the process. Although I usually suggest marking up a script before you begin voicing, in the case of adding in these interjections, you should take a more organic approach: if you sense a 'filler word' coming on, let it out - if not, leave well alone.

Don't force it.

Not only do your spurious utterances have to sound convincing, they also have to be appropriate. A corporate project requiring precision and authority will not benefit from your ad-hoc vocalisations, so leave well alone. 

Experiment with these 'verbalised pauses'; as with many aspects of voice over, it is all about trial and error. Record, playback and listen - some hesitations will work, others won't, but if you are sounding false - leave out and stay fluent.

You don't want to lose your, er, credibility.

Gary Terzza has over 30 years experience in the business and runs voice over training programmes in the UK.