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Sunday, January 18, 2015

"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.

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