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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Standing Up Or Sitting Down: What's The Best Position To Do A Voice Over?

By Gary Terzza

Aching limbs, knotted muscles - what can cause such stiffness and irritation? A trip to the gym perhaps, or the remnants of a nasty virus? No, this discomfort is caused by doing a voice over!

Voice overs can be short or long .... very long in the case of audiobooks. A 100,000 word novel (not uncommon) would take at least 40 hours of recording and editing time. 

Tolstoy's War And Peace clocks up over half a million words (561,093 in the Oxford World's Classics version) which equates to over 20 hours of listening time, requiring a couple of months sitting in front of the microphone, including the occasional toilet break.

That is a lot of speaking and one hell of a lot of sitting.

So would you be better off standing? Let us look at the implications.

Performance Differentials

One of the tricky issues newcomers have to deal with is energy, or more precisely lack of it. If you are just starting out in voice overs you will know just how tricky it is adding oomph to your voice. No matter how much zip you try to put in to the delivery, it just does not seem to want to come out of your mouth.

Sounding 'flat' is a common experience when reading a script and one of the ways to add bounce and zest to the words is to throw yourself physically into the piece. That could mean waving your arms around (don't hit the mic), pulling faces (don't worry your audience can't see you) and generally getting your body to do the talking.

Bear in mind over half of our communication is visual, so your voice overs (which by definition are audio only) need to make up for this crucial, missing element.

Standing in front of the mic will allow you to bring the energy up from your boots. It also means your diaphragm has more room to push the air from your lungs through the voice-box.

Standing definitely has its advantages when performing hard sell commercials. But what about reads requiring a softer, gentler tone?

This is where sitting comes into its own.

Being seated allows you to create an intimate atmosphere. The philosophy behind voice overs is that the voice actor is talking to one person, not a whole audience - even if hundreds or even thousands are listening.

So there is something to be said for having the option both to sit down and stand...... especially when reading classic Russian masterpieces!

Health Implications

The other aspect worth considering is your well-being. There has been much talk in medical circles recently about the need to stand rather than sitting down. The latest research seems to suggest that our chances of developing serious cardiovascular conditions increase the longer we remain seated.

Alarmingly women may be especially at risk of life-threatening illnesses if they are sedentary and do a lot of sitting, particularly in office jobs. The NHS reports that post-menopausal women who sit for longer than eleven hours a day are more likely to be in the high risk category.

By extension, a long form read such as an audiobook or eLearning project could prove problematic. Although I do not recommend standing to deliver high word count voice overs, taking regular breaks from your recording is essential.

Not only will it clear the head, but  it could save your life.

What the experts say

Notwithstanding the health issues, what do professional voice over artists have to say on the subject? First let's have a listen to pro voice actor +Frank James Bailey as he gives us a  practical demonstration of the sound he achieves when standing up compared to sitting down in his home studio.

I was personally surprised by the marked difference.

Voice acting guru +Nancy Wolfson has definite views on the stand up sit/down debate and certainly does not mince her words in this video.

You would not dare argue with Nancy's direction in the studio!

However there is a more nuanced approach from founder +Stephanie Ciccarelli who canvases opinions from readers, resulting in a real mixed bag of views thoughts and personal experiences.

My own thoughts

What are we to make of all this?

In the last thirty years I have spent thousands of hours holed up in voice over over booths and I have to say that I am mostly a sitting down kinda guy. That said at Uptown Studios in London (where I run my voice over training course) we do it standing up.

As you might have guessed, this is to help our students achieve the necessary performance. 

The important thing in all of this is to experiment. It is down to personal preference, so try it both ways, but always remember to take regular stand up breaks if you are seated while recording.

What do you do? Have you discovered a halfway house between standing and sitting perhaps? Please let me know.

Gary Terzza

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