Becoming a voice over artist takes time and talent, but more than anything, it boils down to hard work. If you commit yourself to improving your voice and increasing your range of skills, you’ll find jobs in this industry and build your reputation as a reliable professional.
Which skills do you need to become a voice over artist?
1. Recovering Quickly
It’s the New Year again and you decide you’re finally going to get in shape. You strap on your Nikes and hit the sidewalk at a jog. By the time you get home, you feel like an 18-wheeler ran over your legs. Five days later, you still can’t walk straight.
Just like runners, voice over artists have to shorten their recovery periods. At first, an intense session at the microphone leaves your voice as rough as that of Tom Waits. As you gain experience and take care of your throat, your endurance improves, and you can return to work faster. Such speed is essential for delivering work on time and generating a living wage.
2. Interpreting Material
Each time you get a new voice over job, you have to evaluate the material and decide how to approach it. Voice actors don’t just read from the page; they inject emotion, urgency, reassurance, and other qualities into every word. Which quality you choose depends on what the material demands.
Read sample voice over scripts and study the performances of notable talent in the field. You’ll develop an ear for which voice qualities lend themselves most effectively to different types of scripts.
3. Developing Passion
You can’t succeed as a voice over artist if you don’t love the work. You need passion, dedication, and commitment if you’re going to make it through each project.
Figure out what you love about the work, then write it down somewhere. Refer to it every time you wake up with a sore throat or a client issues negative feedback. You’ll thank yourself for the reminder.
4. Opening Your Throat
Writing for Entrepreneur magazine, Your Voice Coach president Douglas Anderson warns that anxiety and nervousness can lend a squeaky quality to your voice. Practice opening your throat and calming your nerves even under pressure. If you sound like one of the Three Chipmunks, you’ll never gain the career traction you want—unless, of course, your lifelong dream is to voice tiny cartoon characters.
5. Honing Your Default Voice
You don’t need the verbal repertoire of Mel Blanc (of “Looney Tunes” fame) to succeed as a voice over artist, but you need a powerful, appealing default voice. It’s the voice by which potential employers recognize you, and it defines your signature style.
Practice with different inflections, accents, and delivery methods to find the default voice that will serve you best. Ideally, it should reflect your natural speaking voice, but with more power and emotion.
6. Finding Your Rhythm
Every voice over acting job requires you to read at a pace that fits the material. Some scripts require long pauses for dramatic effect, for instance, while others demand faster reading to create a sense of urgency.
Not only must you develop an ear for pacing, but you’ll need to interpret client feedback to adjust your rhythm. When your client asks you to vary your tempo or add a dose of whimsy to your voice, you have to bring those notes to subsequent readings.
7. Performing Consistently
The greatest actors in history share one important skill: They deliver consistent performances every time. Whether they’re playing a swashbuckling pirate, a lovesick child, a media tycoon, or an 18th-century escort, they hit all the right notes every time they show up. As a voice actor, your clients depend on your consistency, too. If your voice changes halfway through a read, you’ll throw off the listener and frustrate your client.
8. Reading Cold
It’s like the ninth-grade math test for which you never bothered to study. You sat down at your desk, read over the questions and started guessing at the most likely answers. A voice over artist needs this skill.
When presented with unfamiliar material, you have to channel your inner teenager and make sense of it as you go. As you gain experience, cold reading will become more natural, and you’ll develop a sense of what should come next during a performance.
9. Getting in Character
When you accept a voice-over assignment, you’re asked to embody a specific character. It could be a character in a film, audio book, or animated short, but more often, you’re becoming a character who represents a business, organization, or customer.
Ask your clients to sketch your character on paper—not a drawing or painting, but a list of characteristics and values that you can bring to your reading. If you can adopt a character at the drop of a hat, you’re well-suited to voice over acting.
10. Taking Care of Your Voice
When was the last time you saw a concert violinist toss his or her violin into its case at the end of a performance? It doesn’t happen because violinists need their instruments to succeed. As a voice actor, your instrument is your voice. You must care for it with no less love and devotion than a NASCAR driver devotes to his or her vehicle’s souped-up engine. Otherwise, your instrument will give out, and you’ll be out of a job.
11. Controlling Your Breathing
Have you ever heard a Broadway musical star chop off a final high note three seconds too early? It’s because of breathing control. Singers need it—and so do voice over artists. Learn how your diaphragm can lend your lungs support as you read. Focus on taking modest, natural breaths throughout a session. That will eliminate the need for those hasty, rapid-catch breaths that disrupt your performance.
12. Honing Your Confidence
Just because you don’t stand in front of a 50-member crew and act out a scene that millions of people will see doesn’t mean you’ll never experience performance anxiety. Voice over artists need to know they can nail a performance even before they see the material. You’ll develop more confidence over time, trusting yourself more with every successful job, but you need at least a minimum of confidence from the start of your career.
13. Perfecting Your Pronunciation
Every voice over artist encounters those six- and seven-syllable stumpers that defy understanding. You might not know how to pronounce the word “otorhinolaryngologist,” but you need to find out before you try to read it. Additionally, find words and phrases you frequently mispronounce. For instance, you might say “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes.” Find those quirks and iron them out.
14. Developing Your Skills as a Voice Over Artist
Now that you know which skills matter most to a voice over artist, you’ll need a way to develop your skills and make yourself more appealing to potential clients. Start with your demo. Create 10, 20, or even 30 demos, then listen to them all. Compare and contrast them. What works? What doesn’t?
Listening to your voice helps you acclimate yourself to the way you sound in a recording. You might find that your voice acquires a nasal quality when you say gerunds (words that end in “ing”) or that you sometimes rush compound words (e.g. seashore, lifeguard, keystroke). Everyone has vocal tics and nuances that can disrupt a voice over performance. You just have to find yours and eliminate them.
To improve your skills at thinking on your feet, try improvisation. You don’t have to frequent a local comedy club. Gather a group of your favorite pals and conduct an improv session in your parents’ basement. You’ll have a great time and expand your skill set at the same time.
There you have it! You might not have thought that a voice over artist career would require much preparation or experience, but now you know differently. Put these skills and tips to work in your career to achieve your goals.