Finding Your Voice
If you have read the previous blog post (Should I become a Voice Over Artist?) and weren't scared off by the list of negatives then - Woohoo! Welcome to the club! You are now taking the first steps towards an exciting, unpredictable and fulfilling career. Like any fledgling business, things aren't going to get off the ground immediately and certainly not without some elbow grease. So, let's get cracking on the basics.
What does your voice sound like?
This is one of the most important questions to answer as a voice over artist and it is probably one that will take some time. A lot of people really dislike the sound of their voice which seems a shame to me as your voice says so much about who you are, where you came from and how you want to be seen by others. You will definitely have to embrace your personal sound as a voice over artist as you will be hearing a lot of it!
I remember at drama school when it came to doing Shakespeare everybody suddenly adopted this hammy, indulgent voice because that is how they thought Shakespeare's text should be spoken. The truth is, back in Will's day his troop of players most probably spoke with a not-so-posh Midlands accent (shoutout to the Brummy side of my family!) so this weird accent we all put on was well off the mark!
In fact, when I talk to people about being a voice over artist they assume you can only do it if you have a 'posh' or RP voice which is totally not the case. When lots of people start in voice over, myself included, they think that you have to 'put on' a voice to sound right. The truth is you just have to sound like yourself. You are the only person in the whole world that sounds like you, so don't waste your time trying to sound like anyone else.
Having said that, figuring out what you sound like and describing it effectively is not easy. If you are struggling to answer the question 'what does my voice sound like?' then take your phone, go to the voice memo function and record yourself reading the passage below. Take your time with it and have a couple of read throughs before you hit record. Be as natural and relaxed as you can, don't 'put on' a voice or cross your t's and dot your i's if you don't usually. Read it as best as you can and remember to just be yourself. I know that this exercise can be quite exposing and feel a bit alien, but the more you get used to your voice the more you can play with it too.
"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?'"
Done? Brilliant! Next, grab a pen and paper and go through the bullet points below, making a note of your voice qualities. As a mark of solidarity I have also recorded the passage on my phone (my inner sound editor is crying at the quality!).
Gender: I know this may seem a bit like, duh! but sometimes it is good to start with the basics. I have a clearly female voice.
Accent: My voice is definitely British. Where are you from? This will be one of the most important descriptors of your voice.
Dialect: This describes the geography of your voice. My voice is somewhere between an RP, Southern and a neutral (or 'non-regional') dialect. Do you sound 'reet Yorkshire? Particularly posh? Mellifluously Welsh? Be exact as you can.
Age: I am in my early twenties and I think my voice accurately reflects that. However your voice may sound a lot younger or older than you really are. The main age descriptions used are: child, teenage, young adult, middle aged and senior. Where does your voice fit?
Pitch: How high or low is your voice? I would say that my voice is probably mid/high when it comes to pitch. Many men have a deeper pitch, some deliciously low. Don't push it though, if your voice is 'normal' pitch then that is no bad thing.
Tone: What's the first word you would use to describe your voice? Soft? Powerful? Smooth? Remember to be positive but honest. I would describe my voice as clear and engaging.
Personality: This is an important descriptor when it comes to getting your voice cast, as you want the producer or director to match your voice with the character. Does your voice sound intelligent? Sexy? Laid-back? I would say my voice sounds friendly and approachable.
Quirks: What are the quirks that your voice has that distinguishes you from everyone else? Are you smoky? Nasal? Plummy? Matter-of-fact? My quirk, though it may not sound like one, is having a girl-next-door voice.
Now let's sew all those together in to a descriptive sentence. If you are brave enough, add your voice description in the comments section below.
"British, female voice over artist Leonora Haig has a young and engaging voice that is clear, friendly and approachable. If you're looking for the girl-next-door for your next project then you are in the right place!"
"Senior actress Mary has a naturally Welsh and delightfully cutesy voice, her sing-song female sound is bags of fun. If you need someone high-pitched and kid friendly then look no further."
"Looking for a deep, mature, chocolatey voice? Then I'm your man! My sexy, smooth Southern American voice is low and slow."
I bet when you were reading the descriptive sentences you were imagining that voice reading it to you. It's like when you read a book, all the characters have a different voice in your head that suits their personality. That is why figuring out your own voice and all of its shades is one of the most important things to do. When you're describing your voice to an agent, producer or casting director you want them to hear all the best things about your voice and then when they listen to your reel they will hear it!
I hope this has helped you along the journey to find your voice. Try it out with different texts like a paragraph from the news paper, a transcript of a tv ad or even an instructions booklet. Hearing your voice reading different types of texts will bring out some different descriptors that perhaps you didn't pick up on before. Keep adding them to the list and then you can pick and choose the ones that you think best suit the character or project you are going up for. But don't say you can do something when you can't, it'll only end badly!
Keep in good voice.