Subscribe to my YouTube Channel

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Perfection Is Killing Your Voice Over Work

by Gary Terzza

Is your pursuit of perfection scuppering your chances of voice over success? Are you losing jobs because the desire to be perfect is getting in the way? If so, you could be sabotaging your VO career.

I remember the session well; I was working with a supportive director on a rather dull corporate script. My delivery had been going pretty smoothly and we were at the playback stage when, on hearing a piece I was unhappy with, I piped up "please could I re-do this? I know I can do a much better read". The director indulged me on this occasion and we recorded a re-take.

The result? A delivery that was worse than the first one. So I asked if I could have another stab and even though I could almost hear the eyes rolling skyward in the control room next door, I attempted take number three.

On playback, everyone - myself included - detected an audible tone of frustration in my performance. As I was about to request take number four, the director cut in abruptly on the talkback: "Gary, let's just go back and listen to that first one you did". 

We did and guess what? It was fine of course. The director then suggested we wrap up and go home.

So what was going on? Surely I was right in trying to give a better read.

Who is perfect?

Many of us want to give the best we can and this is especially true in voice overs. It is totally understandable that we want to give an impeccable delivery, but I know some aspiring voice over artists pursue this as a primary goal. They are true perfectionists and want their performances to be pristine and blemish-free.

I was trying to achieve a better delivery of the words at this particular session, but I was deluding myself. I wanted perfection, but failed. Perhaps I did not know what I wanted. 

Voice overs are performed by human beings who are chockablock with imperfections - they have faults, some of them endearing some of them not. Listen to any conversation (record your own) and you will hear plenty of 'umms' and 'ers' , diversions and tangential thought processes spilling out into the dialogue. It will be a typical human way of speaking ..... rambling, the odd slurred word and full of individualism.

Ah, you say, but a voice over cannot have any of these vocal impurities - it needs to flow and be easy on the ear. This is true, but it does not have to be perfect.

 "Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it "  Salvador Dali

What is perfection?

Your definition may not be the same as mine or the next person's. We all have a different opinion. Remember voice overs are an art, not a science - clients choose a voice because they like how it sounds warts 'n all and it is based on a highly subjective evaluation.

Likewise your attempt to achieve perfection in your script reading is doomed to failure (like mine was) because your interpretation of what it means to be flawless is unique to you. Often people send me demos where they highlight their own imperfections some of which I can hear, others which I can't. They focus on something they don't like (a lisp or accent for example), but which I either don't notice at all, or think to be a positive attribute.

Excellence is not perfection

Let us be quite clear, I am not suggesting for one moment you should stop trying to be a good voice over artist, or even a superb one. Learning from previous mistakes is a great way to learn and improve your skills. Practicing every day will really help, but your energies should be be directed towards making your performance better - don't zoom in on every little breath and slight imperfection. If the error stands out, by all means re-record or edit out, but make sure you are not missing the bigger picture.

Aim to be the best you can and accept your imperfections.

In my view getting better at your job is preferable to pursuing an elusive goal. You may even be doing the latter as an excuse NOT to do voice overs  - 'Only when I have perfected my VO skills will I apply for work'.

Learning to let go

Part of being a professional is knowing how to editorialise and admit when your performance can't be improved. You are not aiming for a self-imposed A+ but rather working closely with your client. When I asked to do another take of the read I was unhappy with,  my motives were honourable but misguided. I was doing the re-take for me and not for the director. He thought the first read was absolutely fine and let's face it, he is the boss. 

My personal high standards were not the same as the paymaster's and at the end of the day, my opinions didn't matter much. A voice actor's role is to take direction and produce what is required, not to indulge in personal goal setting.

Set the bar too high and you will always fail


Be the best you can, but accept your limitations. Be honest about your weak areas - are they really an issue or something that is niggling you? Bear in mind that people hear your voice differently to how you perceive it. You can never achieve 'perfection' - it resides at the end of the rainbow.

Are you a perfectionist? Is it it harming your voice over career or something to be celebrated? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Gary Terzza

Post a Comment