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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Obstacles Holding Back Your Voice Over Career

I have had a clutch of troubling emails in the last few weeks. Although their content differs, they all have a common underlying issue which many voice over beginners will recognise.

It is the perennial problem of confidence.

In the last ten years I have spotted a trend common to some VO newbies  - they put obstacles in the way of their progress to help disguise their apprehension.

Of course we all face difficulties of one sort or another and there are certainly plenty in the world of voice overs: competition, cost of recording equipment and marketing expenses to name but three. However, these are all surmountable.

You can learn to compete effectively,  microphones can be bought cheaply second hand and there are plenty of ways to promote your voice that won't cost a penny. What I am referring to is something potentially more damaging: self-imposed obstacles.

But are these just cunningly disguised excuses? Let's take a look.

The Health Obstacle 

This is one of the most common stumbling blocks to progress and I often come across people who complain of health issues, especially with their voices.

Let me be clear on this - I am not suggesting serious health concerns should be ignored. Certainly if you feel you have a specific problem with your voice, you must talk to your doctor straight away - your vocal cords are precious and need to be cared for. The British Voice Association has produced this handy NHS voice clinic database which is well worth keeping safe.

I am referring to those vague vocal symptoms that reduce confidence in front of the microphone and prevent us from delivering a great performance. One email I received recently spoke of a 'fuzzy quality' to the voice and a feeling that it was not 'quite right'. He added that a medical specialist had not found anything untoward in the larynx, but the complainant still felt he had 'little control' over his voice.

So what is going on?

My feeling is that this is a classic case of the fledgling voice actor putting something in the way to act as a pretext for not forging ahead with their career. When a friend asks "how are you getting on with your voice overs?"  a convenient answer is always to hand "unfortunately my voice has not been behaving itself, so I can't apply for work at the moment".  Perfect, no need to explain anything further - it sure beats saying "I have lost my confidence and don't know what to do."

On the occasions where I have listened to someone's 'problematic' voice I have invariably found nothing wrong at all.... not the faintest trace of wobble or fuzziness. The confidence gremlin strikes again.

The Reluctance Barrier

When a voice over job came up needing a specific type of female voice, I had the perfect person in mind and promptly alerted her. "Thanks for letting me know" she said "but the job requires me to direct message the client on Facebook and I don't have an account. I don't really like the whole social media thing."

When I suggested she signed up, if only to access this particular work, she declined. The barrier had been well and truly raised. But there was a surprising addendum:

"Do please tip me off about future work Gary."

I did not know how to respond; presumably if leads came via Linkedin, Twitter or any other SM source, she would be refusing to pursue them any further.  I replied with an inadequate "yes I will."

Was this just a case of somebody with an aversion to Facebook not seizing a golden opportunity, or was fear the real culprit? I suspect the latter.

The Technical Hurdle

Earlier I touched on the home recording aspect of voice overs. These days you need to be able to produce good quality audio to succeed and understandably this can be daunting for beginners. One of the emails in my inbox spoke of an unspecified technical issue.

"When I listen the sound doesn't come across correctly. My voice seems too clean and disembodied. I know it's not the performance, it's just that I am never satisfied with the quality."

There was the clincher, "I am never satisfied with the quality" implies that even if the issues of cleanliness and disembodiment (whatever they are) were sorted, this voice actor would still feel something was missing. 

And here is another clue: "I know it's not the performance" is an interesting observation; many of us would say we are never satisfied with our delivery. Knobs, dials and faders can be tweaked to give the desired effect, but performance is more nuanced and human. To be content with this, but never the techie quality is an unusual twist. 

The writer went on to say that because of these concerns, no auditions had been submitted of late. Reading between the lines, I suspect poor audio was not the underlying problem here as this could easily be improved with a few adjustments. I reckon the real issue was performance - upgrade the sound quality and it throws the spotlight directly on your voice over delivery.

Now that is a scary thought.

The Deferment Apology

I often chase up my students who have gone AWOL ie they have not updated me with their progress in a while. Here are some typical responses as to why they have not pursued voice overs yet:

  • I've had a baby
  • I got married
  • I got divorced
  • I have a new job
  • I lost my job
  • I've become an aunty (yes this was a genuine reason!)
  • We moved house
  • We've had a death in the family
Of course life can and does get in the way of a new venture. Starting something challenging can easily be derailed by transformative events, but here is the interesting thing

Many people come to voice overs in the first place precisely because their life has changed in some way. 
In other words, the life-changing circumstances listed above act as a catalyst and inspire individuals to embark on a voice over adventure. Turning these on their head so they become a reason to postpone progress is sadly all too common.

Final Thought

I am going to leave this to one of my students who, when asked for an update on his development, replied "to be honest I have lost my confidence and haven't done a thing." An honest response indeed.

Have you unconsciously put obstacles in the way of your voice overs? Please let me know in the comments below.

Gary Terzza is a voice over trainer

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