There’s been a lot of talk in the voice over community about where the industry is headed. Unions, Pay-to-Play sites, Casting.
To be fair, the industry is changing. But that’s to be expected. There are many questions this raises…
How will the change affect us? What can we do about it? Should I even be concerned?
In this post, I will give my thoughts on three different perspectives on the changing voice over landscape. Read on below:
Perspective 1: Voice Talent
The voice talent’s perspective may be the most complicated. There are a wide range of genres, markets, and opportunities for work. Opinions vary on benefits of union membership, the role of pay-to-play sites, how to market (or not), etc. Each person’s situation is different, and because of that, it’s hard to present a unified perspective.
This also gets to the heart of a related issue: As a group, we can’t get what we want unless we can agree on what exactly that is. Some would appear to be easy. Fair pay. Safe work environment. Professionalism on all sides.
But even on the agreed items, there is no clear consensus. What does “fair pay” mean to each person? In each market? Are some willing to do work others would consider unsafe or unprofessional?
Because of all of these factors, it may be more beneficial to look at perspectives outside our own.
After all, we are selling something. It may be better to focus on what the market wants, and how we can best deliver it to them.
Perspective 2: The Union
For The Union (Sag/Aftra in the USA), the view is much broader than for any individual.
I am grateful for the benefits and standards that the union offers. And I’m grateful that we have some union folks as advocates for us all, but it seems like they are fighting an uphill battle on many issues.
Voice Acting is only a small part of what the union’s business is about. And even then, the lion’s share of their focus will understandably be on the largest prizes. These are often big budget features and high power talent. For the average working Joe, this often means not being heard at all.
Think about it: if given the choice to focus on one $10,000,000 project or ten-thousand $1,000 projects, which would you choose?
This isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason. There’s only so much time in a day. In order to keep up, the union has to stay relevant in the bigger game.
We do benefit indirectly from this. There are always roles in the big projects for the average working Joe. But we’ve got to be honest with ourselves: If you’re not famous, the union is less focused on your concerns.
It is about business, after all. As is voice acting.
Perspective 3: The Client
Although individual clients may vary, there are many common things they all want.
A voice that matches their ideas for the product or service. Professional behavior. A good price.
In some cases, they may know exactly what they want and how much they’re willing to pay. Others may require a bit more work on our part. Customer service has to include discovering the customer’s needs and fulfilling them to the best of our ability.
All customer’s time is valuable. They don’t want it wasted with idle chatter or by having to track you down for the job.
Hiring union talent may be important to some. To others, it may represent a hassle. Knowing the difference is crucial to landing the job, and getting continuing work.
Overall, customers want the whole process to be as easy as possible. It’s up to us to find out what that means for each one.
So… What Can I Do?
Deliver a solid product.
Quote fair rates for the work, and stick to them.
Focus on the client’s needs.
Take direction well.
Be friendly and easy to work with.
Work with other voice actors on the larger issues. Together, we are stronger.
Below is a recent town hall event sponsored by the VO Agent Alliance, Global Voice Acting Academy, and WOVO.
Lots of great stuff discussed, and great groups to follow if you’d like to work together to make a difference. #VoiceStrong
All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com
But rather than just cursing at the screen, I decided to turn my pet peeves into a learning experience.
Below are a variety of terrible voice over performances, and the lesson that each can provide:
1) The EmPHAsis on the Wrong SylLAble (or Word)
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but a lot of this problem seems to happen in medical commercials. I’ve even seen some commercials that were re-cut because the problem was so glaring… only to have some other problem in the new version.
Here’s a few examples and why they’re wrong:
INcreased risk (this should have an even emphasis over the entire phrase: “increased risk”)
Routine lab MONITORING (“Lab Monitoring” is routine. The lab is not.)
Upper respiratory TRACT infection (similar to the prior. You have an “Upper-Respiratory-Tract”, and it has an infection.)
I have ASSmah (Not sure why you’d pronounce asthma this way. Just wrong.)
Gr-EASY (Greasy rhymes with “Fleecy”. It’s not pronounced like “easy”.)
Lesson: Be certain of your word pronunciation and phrase emphasis.
2) Amateur Hour
For many local businesses, politicians and public service spots, “real people” record the spots themselves. I get it. Money’s tight, and professionals are expensive. But they might be “Penny Wise, and Pound Foolish” in the long run.
When “real people” (ie. Amateurs) speak on camera, they’re often not the same as in real life. The microphone and camera can be intimidating if you’re not used to them. This tends to bring out odd qualities in folks. Primarily, it’s a flatter tone, lower energy (or worse: pushed excitement).
Here’s a couple examples:
ENtroducing (the word is “INtroducing”)
I could lift mah son… high over my head… again (no need for all those odd pauses)
I COULD LEAVE AGAIN!!! (too much excitement. And it’s “Live” not “Leave”. Watch that accent)
The best smahl in mah lahhff. (Accent. Again. It’s “The best smile in my life”)
Even fahr guys dat don like ta cahk! (fake excitement. Should be “for guys that don’t like to cook”)
Lesson: You can actually pick up some excellent accents and regionalisms from watching “real people”… just be sure you don’t pick up their low energy or fake excitement.
3) Product Misplacement
The most important thing in most commercials is the company or product name. Yet in some, they are mispronounced. Odd how that can make it past so many approval layers, and yet… There it is.
In some cases, it may be due to having different pronunciations in different countries. Car brands Hyundai and Jaguar are prime example.
Other brands may have names that are unfamiliar or spelled in odd ways such as Xfinity or Ghirardelli.
Lesson: Take the time to research the correct pronunciations when you audition. If there are still doubts, ask your agent. And in sessions, listen carefully and defer to the client’s pronunciation.
4) Vile Vocals
It’s like fingernails on a chalk board… Vocal Fry. Bad Singing. Missing letters (“buh-uh” instead of “button”). Slurred speech. Mumbling. Over-Articulation.
Few of us get coaching when we first learn to speak. Just learning a language can be a monumental task for a child. However, when you choose to speak as a part of your career, it needs to be one of your priorities.
Lesson: Proper diction is essential to good voice over work. Consult with a speech coach and address any issues that may hamper your future success.
5) Wanna Be Voices
Cartoons were a big part of my childhood. Anime characters also have a very loyal fan base. I’d watch, laugh, memorize and imitate the voices. Lots of kids do that. It’s fun, and sometimes you can get a laugh from your friends, or when you’re older, the people at a party.
However, it’s a gigantic step from having fun imitating voices to a career in voice over.
With cheap microphones and easy access to editing software, it’s become very common for people to make their own videos for YouTube (read: YouActor), and think that that’s the way to break into Cartoons and Anime.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m definitely not talking about audio drama. I’m with several stellar groups, and there are many fine actors who contribute their time and talents to create compelling stories. But they have put in the effort to be trained on stage, or have taken classes or been coached.
Lesson: We all start somewhere. For many people, that may be imitating voices they admire. But a voice over career takes a lot more than just mimicry. Do yourselves a favor and get training in acting, improv and singing. Perform for live audiences. Get direction and coaching. If you wanna get the jobs, you gotta put in the work.
So, the next time you hear some really bad VO, step back and take the time to see why it bothers you. It may alter the way you approach your own auditions and performances.
All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com