Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ask G: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Today on "Ask G", Lauren writes:

"i know you are the queen of voice overs and i'm looking to take a piece of the pie. aka make a little cisnash. i'm gonna put together a reel with joel spence (ucb guy here), i think. he charges like $300 bones. i wanted any advice on all of it as it's a realm i've not a whole lot of knowledge."

Dear Lauren,

I'm so glad you asked!  I get that question a lot and would love to share the knowledge I've gained in the VO biz over the past few years.  Voice overs are not only fun, they can be a very lucrative career.

I hate to say it, but I sort of fell into voice overs.  After taking Brooke & Mary's excellent On-Camera Commercial Intensive ( - which I highly recommend for any NYers looking to break into commercials - I was signed with an agency.  Because the agency signed across the board (for on-camera & voice over), they started sending me out on voice overs right away and much to my own dismay.  I say that because I had NO idea what I was doing.  On-camera I got.  Standing behind a mic using my voice and only my voice was a whole new beast that I was none to eager to take on.  About 6-months into the process (being sent out on approx. 4-5 VO auditions a week) I booked my first spot for Jeep radio.  I had one line as "happy neighbor" and it took me all of 5-minutes to record.  I walked out feeling uncertain, sure I'd screwed up the spot and certain my agents would be calling me at any moment to let me go.  Thankfully, though I asked my agents to stop sending me out on voice overs (imagine?), my agent Katherine told me I was good, said I had a "soothing" and "girl next door" voice and continued to send me out.  Since then I've booked National Network spots for Playtex, Dawn, Prego, E*Trade and now I make a living almost exclusively through voice overs.  Thank god I kept going!

The first piece of advice I'll impart to you is taking a little time before signing up for a class (which I recommend, but more on that later) so you can listen to commercials on TV and the radio and recording and listen to your own voice.  Instead of fast forwarding through commercials start listening to the voices.  Where does your voice fit in?  You might be surprised to find out where you fit which is why it's equally as important to record your voice and listen back.  Are you the reassuring mom?  The ditzy teen?  The sexpot?  It might sound obvious, but because you're being represented solely by your voice it's important to be as clear and specific as possible.  What we hear when we speak sounds very different when played back for our own ears, which we all discovered with our first answering machine, right?

After you've listened to a ton of voice overs and have an idea where you fit, find some copy (I know Lauren knows, but copy is just show biz lingo for the words on the page) either online or by transposing the commercials that speak to you (no pun intended).  Then record yourself on Garage Band or the like to see how you sound.  (You can also find scripts here:

Some things to keep in mind:

1. Who are you talking to?
Your voice changes when speaking to a room full of people as opposed to a single person, your mom vs. your best friend, a child vs. a teenager.  Imagine the audience for the spot you're working on, pick someone in your life who fits in that audience and talk to them.

2. Smile!
Your enthusiasm can come across on camera in many ways, but in voice overs you have to actually, physically smile in order to get that across.  So if the spot calls for it, smile!

3. Impressions
Do you do voices or impressions of people?  That's important especially when working on a character or cartoon reel.  Some of my accents come from obscure impressions like my British accent from Jane Carr on Dear John.  Every single voice and accent you do could be usable so work on expanding the character so you can play different emotions and you could end up making a lot of money by booking a series or movie!

4. Improvise
If you're adept at the art of improv then use it, use it, use it.  Don't go off-script willy nilly, but if you can add a cute little button at the end or improvise a funny line you're probably going to book the spot.  Same goes for on-camera, but with voice over it has less to do with how you look so it can really be put to good use.

5. Practice, practice, practice
Like most things the more you do it the better you'll get.  Don't give up because it feels weird - it is weird.  It's not normal to stand in a booth by yourself and act like a sex-crazed grape or a disgruntled sandwich.  It's just not normal!  So be patient with yourself and try to have fun with it.  Pretty soon you'll be an old pro and the residual checks will start rolling in.

Of course, it's not necessary to do all this work before taking a class.  You could find out that you're a natural, but sometimes finding your voice takes a while so why not speed up the process?  And finally, classes.  If you're in NY, Sound Lounge's Carrie Faverty and Tony Mennuto offer a fabulous boot camp and, lucky you, their next class starts November 13th!  (Contact for info.)  When putting together your reel, and professionals correct me if I'm wrong, I believe you should have at least one promo ("Coming up next on HDTV!"), one or two "characters" (which don't have to be cartoony, but just the people talking about the product) and a few announcer VOs.  It should be no longer than 2-minutes and make sure the sound quality is great.  Spending a little money on your reel and putting it up on or is a great option.  You could be cast in a spot based on your reel without even auditioning.  It's rare, but it happens!

I hope this helps, Lauren, and if anyone reading this has information on voice over classes in other parts of the country please feel free to leave them in the comments.

You can check out some of my voice over work and my reel on my website.



Dopey LaRue said...

That's some awesome advice, G. Here in LA I recommend Blupka Productions for classes ( I also really dug the book Word of Mouth by Susan Blu of Blupka. Thanks for the link to find copy! I just use magazine ads, so this is great!

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