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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Are You A Voice Over Chameleon?

by Gary Terzza.

Are you trying to be all things to all people? Then you could be scuppering your chances of getting voice over work. I want to explain why spreading yourself too thinly is not a good idea.

What exactly is a voice over chameleon? 

Put simply it is a voice talent who tries to do everything. They assume their voice is adaptable enough to attempt innumerable styles and appear to have no awareness about the sound their vocal cords make ..... nor of their own limitations.

If a voice over chameleon with a light youngish voice spies a job that requires a 'Morgan Freeman style delivery' he goes for it, maybe because he once did an impression of the actor at a party! He tries forcing his larynx down to his boots and pumping up his chest to achieve the bass notes required. He fails of course, because he sounds like he is 'putting on a voice'. 

Another chameleon sees a voice over project for a high paying commercial. The age range is specified as 'young mum, 30s'. What the heck, she may be in her late 50s and sound great at being a favourite aunt or kindly grandmother, but she needs the money so why not give it a try? 

Needless to say, the client is unimpressed - it was not what was asked for in the brief and our delusional opportunist has done herself no favours at all.

Both chameleons have wasted their time AND their client's.

Get to know your voice

Having a good, solid notion of what you sound like is so important in voiceovers.

How do you describe your voice? Husky, smooth, light or deep perhaps? Maybe you have a very specific vocal sound, or you might not even know how to give yourself a voice description. If that is the case, you should start now because you need to be confident about what you are offering. 

This video may help you in describing  your voice 

But wait - the voice over chameleon has a misguided view of their abilities and sound. He may know how to describe his voice, but has a misplaced view on his competence.

A voice for all seasons?

Of course there will be people who say 'hang on a minute, a voice actor has to change her delivery to reflect the mood of a piece'. Indeed she does, but that does not mean every voice over job is going to be suitable for her. 

If a director or producer asks you to add more energy and drama to a read then that is what you have to do. You can't deliver every script in the same way.

However, that does not mean auditioning for jobs that are way out of your comfort zone. 

Variety may be the spice of life, but in voice overs you cannot be everything to everyone. Aim to know what your voice is suitable for, but don't guess and don't be tempted to categorise yourself too early.

For example my own style is conversational, friendly and intelligent (that does not mean I'm an intelligent person!) but suitable work for me could exist in lots of areas from corporates to commercials. It is the script that is important when deciding on suitability, NOT the category.

You should develop an intuitive feel about the script (if it is available) and the job generally.
A good starting point is to work your way through a checklist. Ask yourself:

  • Do the requirements match my voice age and style?
  • Could I deliver the words convincingly?
  • Does the fee justify the work involved?
  • Have I actually got time to do this?
  • Are there any 'hidden extras'?

The last three are not directly related to performance, but they do have a significant bearing on your decision. You may be ideal to read a series of  10 audiobooks totaling 500,000 words, but how long is that going to take? The answer is a very long long time. In the case of half a million words I would suggest allowing a couple of months. And you will not be able to do any other work during this period either.
How about those 'hidden extras?' By this I mean you could be asked to provide additional roles to that of straight narrator e.g. characterisations. Some voice over artists love the opportunity to show off their accents and funny voices, but others do not. 

If this kind of challenge makes you feel uncomfortable, leave well alone.

It is about the money, money, money

At the risk of sounding mercenary, pay is important. Be consistent in your pricing otherwise you will send confused messages to your voice over customers. The VO chameleon will do a £3,000 TV commercial one minute and then sell their soul on Fiverr the next. 

This is bad business practice.

If BMW or Audi started selling a cheap car at the bottom end of the market, it would devalue their brand. Likewise if you offer knockdown bargains to clients, but also promote yourself as a premium voice, you could end up falling down the crack in the middle. 

"Find out who you are and do it on purpose"
                                                            Dolly Parton 

I am in no way advocating you stick to a narrow definition of what your own voice can do. We all have to change speed, apply intonation, create different atmospheres and add or reduce energy as required. In fact we do this in the real world anyway without thinking - you don't have the same voice when comforting a distraught loved one, as you do when congratulating a friend on their new job. But this should all be done within the context of your own voice style. 

What I am saying is you can't do every voice over job. You have to pick and choose carefully. Trying to be something you are not and changing your colours at a whim is going to leave you frustrated and confused. 

So shed that chameleon skin and reveal the genuine sound underneath.

Gary Terzza

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