After so many years working in the creative fields there are a few things that always jump out to me, marking out a good voiceover to a great voiceover. Having created copy, voiced a fair few audio projects, directed voices with context and recorded them and engineered their sessions I have seen first hand what makes a great voice talent. With almost two decades of experience, I've heard a thing or two. And all it takes is one word.
In fact, this simple word, elevates something ok to something sublime. There are many skills to develop as a voiceover. Acting, accounting, marketing are among a looooong list. These and many more will help you develop as a talent, develop you as a person and help with you being you. After all that is what a client wants, you, your voice, your take, your version.
But there is something else that takes you from ok to great. What is it? What exactly is that magical word? Intention.
I record many voices and the ones that really and truly stand out to me are those that understand intention and carry through with authenticity. They are channeling the intention of the words, their meaning, the brand/product or service. But what does that actually mean? It means to take a step back, really read the words and understand the subtleties at play behind them. No copy is ever written just to pad space, especially if it is for advertising. Even three simple words will have been thought about and as if captured from the air and pinned to paper, they will have been chosen on purpose. Many words and combinations of them may have been grasped, proposed and mulled over but despite this, the words on the page in front of you are the winning words.
And as that is the case, what do you do about that? You read and become cognisant about what they mean. Then make clear your intention for those words. Make that intention clear and authentic. Are the words relaxed for a relaxed read? Then the intent you have is to be relaxed. Are the words witty or playful or wry? Then the intention will reflect that. Of course there are times when you can Volte face and do the opposite but that in itself is an intention. Figure out what the intention is or ask if you have people present and commit to that intention.
By committing to that intention, you also commit to an authenticity. Being truthful to the words and giving them the power of authenticity means that the audience hears that. The power it creates for the brand or product you are voicing then takes the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. To become a voice is easy, to excel requires effort, passion and intention. Time to talk with intention.
A great voice over has the power to completely transform a video or audio book. Thanks to their speaking skills and acting talents, voiceovers are able to conjure moods, evoke sadness or happy memories, bring characters to life and capture the audience in an almost spellbinding way.
There are no limits for voiceovers with unique gifts, and with so many types of VO work to choose from in this industry you won’t fail to find a genre you don’t enjoy. So do you have voice over talent that’s worth celebrating? Keep reading to see if you have what it takes.
Here I’ve put together a list of qualities every great voice over artist should have to succeed in the industry.
A good narrator or storyteller must be able to capture the audience. To do this, you have to enjoy speaking confidently and letting your creative side run wild. It will be obvious to the audience if the narrator is not enjoying themselves because what they are listening to will come across a little lifeless.
Great voice overs can hold the audience under a spell, taking them on an emotional journey through the highs and lows of the tale. This is where the VO’s creative side comes out too. You should be able to capture the essence of every character by adding your own inflections to the way that they speak. If you are unable to imagine what a character may sound like, then you will struggle to bring that character to life.
2. Good articulation
There is a fine art to articulating a script perfectly. If a VO under-articulates their words they can sound tired and the performance may appear quite dull. On the other hand, over-articulation of words can sound unnatural, over-rehearsed and generally not believable.
Good narration calls for finding a balance between the two and adapting the style to suit the script. After all, a character in an audiobook may not require the same articulation as the voice over for an instructional corporate video.
Much like an actor who rehearses their lines for a play, a professional VO will spend time reading and re-reading their script to ensure they understand what is required of them and what sounds best to fit the story.
3. Intuitive pacing
A good voice actor knows how to pace the dialogue to suit the script. For example, they may use subtle pauses for added realism, or they may speed up the dialogue for intense action scenes.
In an audio book little pauses and breaths can add a human touch to the character, or perhaps extra intensity to a descriptive scene. Alternatively, in a corporate video for instance, the steady speed and slight pauses give the listener time to take in what they have just heard.
A natural pacing ability can help the VOA immerse their audience in the story while making the characters sound more realistic. A VO that has this talent will know the best times to use these pauses and will know not to over do it. The listener should never be aware of these subtle stops because it should sound natural and be in keeping with the pace.
4. Knowing the best time to use an accent
Firstly, it’s not necessary for VO’s to have 20 different accents in their repertoire, but it can help if you can deliver 2-3 different believable accents when required. But again, this isn’t essential because everyone has an accent of his or her own.
Good voice actors know when a character or voice over role is suited to them and have the ability to take their accent out of the narration and deliver a more neutral diction when required.
Some voice over work, such as audio book and film narration, can take several days to complete. One of the pressures voice actors have to work with is fatigue or waning concentration, and how this can take its toll on the actor’s voice.
Being able to provide consistent voice over throughout an entire book or film is a much-admired quality of a VOA. Try listening to a recording of yourself reading a book out loud from cover to cover to see if you have the stamina to produce a consistent performance.
Do you have what it takes?
If you have the above qualities and enjoy bringing characters to life through speech, or you particularly enjoy acting and reading aloud, then voice-over work may be for you.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many different styles of voice acting and productions to get into. If you are interested in creating voice over work, but don’t know which area is right for you, then here are a few ways to try and find your own sound.
1. Practice—Read out loud and then read out loud some more. You can never practice too much. Find your favourite books and perform them as if you were producing an audio book. If there are characters, think about their identity and how they might sound. Have a go at creating accents for them and what the pace of their dialogue might be.
2. Listen—If you’re interested in this industry then you may already be aware of the amount of voice-over work we here on a daily basis. If not, pay close attention to adverts and online videos and listen to the voice over to get a better idea of how they sound. Listen to the pacing, the articulation and subtle nuances. Click for some of my examples
3. Record—If you are keen to get into the industry, it may be worth investing in some quality recording equipment. These days, quality recording equipment is readily available at affordable prices. Start with the basic equipment and practice recording various productions, whether its explainer videos or audio books, then play them back to see how you sound.