Same instrument, different way of using it! Learn how to go from singing to speaking.

This morning, I had a meeting with John Nolan from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at UWO for the faculty’s alumni publication, Ensemble. We talked about music and, but also got into a very interesting discussion about how singers can cross-over to voice acting and performing voice-overs.

female-singer.jpgMany voice talent start their careers in music, particularly as classically trained singers. During tireless years of training a voice for singing, a bounty of skills are developed including vocal stamina, projection, breathing capabilities, phrasing, tone, inflection, elasticity, rhythm, sight-reading, posture, diction, interpretation, and characterization.

The voice is an instrument, just like a flute, a guitar, or a drum – however, the voice is a very special instrument, for reasons I’ll now reveal.
The most dramatic difference between the voice and other instruments from the string, brass, woodwind, and percussion families is that the voice is able to communicate using speech, that is to say, language. Whether it be a vocalise sung on vowels, an oratorio by Handel, a wordy patter song by Gilbert and Sullivan, or a pop medley, language is incorporated into the piece, something which even the most convincing instrumental performance cannot convey.

The written word is at the very core of a song composed for a vocalist just as copy is at the core of a script written for voice-over talent. The voice is also organic, that is to say, your voice is a living, breathing instrument, able to phonate (utter speech sounds) as well as function melodically like an instrument, relating one pitch to another. The voice is the most versatile of all instruments and is also the only instrument that is a part of your physical self, making it portable and convenient.

Now, you might be thinking that just because someone has developed their instrument and embodies all of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a great talent for voice-overs. The answers may surprise you. A singer, in many areas, has several practical advantages that help them transition from a career in music to a career in voice-over. With all of the technical aspects out of the way (regarding vocal technique), all that’s left is interpretation of the copy, performance, and a means to record their voice.

Their unique vocal education, vigilant care of their instrument, and ‘polished’ sound are another set of benefits when getting started. Their voice is already pleasing to the ear, it’s just a matter of speaking rather than singing. That being said, the voice-over talent does not live on Easy Street, and a singer shouldn’t expect that making the leap from song to speech will bring automatic success. As in any career, research and private instruction are necessary to fully grasp the magnitude of the profession as well as to learn what is expected of them in this new arena.

Do I record at home or go to the studio down the street? What do I charge? Should I be in the union or not? Do I need an agent? What’s the demand like for jingle singers who can also compose? The same questions enter the minds of any aspiring talent new to the industry. In that way, singers are on a level playing field with colleagues who left professions in other fields such as science, visual arts, journalism, or law.
Have any of you come from a musical background? Leave a comment and share how your musical expertise has benefited you in your voice-over career.

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. Hi Stephanie,
    Good post and right on the money. I have a classically trained voice and sang professionally for several years before making a few detours and transitioning to VOs. I was surprised at how many parallels there are between the two! Although transitioning to VOs was much easier in a technical sense (live auditions are a breeze!, I have the technique down pat, phrasing, breath control, pitch range, etc..) you are still starting from scratch because you’re having to make new connections all over again, get known and build up a client base, learn about studio techniques, and marketing among other things.
    A trained singer however definitely has an advantage over someone with no musical or acting training because all the technical vocal hurdles have been overcome, not to mention singers (and actors) have also had the opportunity to develop and practice qualities such as self-discipline, perseverance and learned to deal with rejection.
    Someone with vocal training also knows how to protect their voice, “place” it properly so as to not tire it as easily and maintain better consistency in vocal production. I was recently in NYC in an intense dubbing session where we worked for 9 hours and all I had was an hour break for lunch. Consistency was key and I was able to maintain it because of my training.
    I also have a very wide range vocally and can twist my voice into many shapes so to speak because of this. I can explore various pitch ranges without having my voice “crack”. My musical training has also helped me develop an inner rhythm which helps considerably when reading radio/TV copy and having to do several takes that match timing-wise. Singing has also helped me have clean, crisp diction which comes in handy for corporate narration and IVR/TTS work. And lastly, a trained singer/actor has an intuitive dramatic interpretive quality that they bring to enhance copy, hence why they often choose famous actors for animated films. Although not all actors are great at VOs (or even on screen but I won’t go there), those who ARE bring a quality to the character that a non-actor may find more challenging.

  2. A wonderful article I will send students to your site to read. I was trained as a classical singer through a Masters Degree at a conservatory and then embarked on a jazz career, then became a jingle studio singer for twenty years but voiceover work paid much better and was more often union rates and pad residuals too while jingles were often “cash on the date” or didn’t pay resids . . . and then, my career started to be “voiceover heavy” and I began to make much more money doing voiceover work than singing. As the years went by, doing voiceovers permitted me to stop singing those hard six nights a week jobs and I didn’t have to perform on the road jobs anymore either, and with my children and their schools and needing to be with them and my hubby nights, voiceovers paid the bills handsomely sometimes. I have taught both singers and voice talents (and actors-speakers) in colleges and privately and in workshops for more than twenty years too! I tell all of my singers to get those voiceover skills honed. Just today, I pleaded with an LA actor (a young man weary of waiting tables!) to get his voiceover demo finished and start trying to get vo work!. Hope he listens. Voiceovers have saved many from having to say, “do you want fries with that??” Get smart. Get into voiceovers all you singers. Oh and one more thing: If you are a classical singer–be glad you had the training and now, get good at singing music you can make money with today!!!!
    Bettye Zoller

  3. Stephanie,
    As you and Maggie have pointed out so well, there are a lot of benefits gained from classical vocal training. I trained to be an opera singer for 10 plus years and those lessons yield valuable fruit in every voice-over session.
    I think the single greatest benefit is in the area of phrasing. Human communication works much of the time at the level of phrases rather than words (too short, too ambiguous without context) or sentences (too long to hold our attention much of the time).
    Learning to shape and connect musical phrases and the verbal phrases they contain has made it much easier for me to figure out how to shape and connect the phrases in a commercial spot or training narration, etc.
    Thanks for the steady stream of thought provoking posts. I always enjoy reading here.
    Be well,

  4. Hello Stephanie and everyone,
    I agree, I am a working professional singer with a large body of work from live performance and jingles, to vocal character work and background vocals on records, most recently I did the American Idol Showstoppers 5 CD.
    Although it was due to my being in the studio doing the songs for a given project that led to my getting voiceover work, I still had to do the footwork as it related to Voice over, such as classes and workshops with other professionals to learn what makes a VO the best it can be.
    Certainly all my voice training and experience helped a lot but Voice over is truly an art of its own and I feel you still have to polish your VO chops the same way you would for singing so you can be really good and compete in the VO marketplace. I do think however having a singing background is a big asset.

  5. I read this Vox Daily with great interest since I am on that threshold of crossing over to VO. During this time of crossing over, I have made some interesting observations. As a musician, the music plays an immense role in “helping” me to keep the voice alive.
    As a speaker, I have been surprised to hear how subdued, almost depressed my voice can sound – without music it does not SING the way it ought to. Also, close-up miking messes with my naturally loud and resonant voice. I find myself getting off the voice way too much, resulting in a “wobbly”, unsupported sound.
    I would love to hear some feedback on how other vocalists, especially opera-sized voices have dealt with this issue. VO is quite different than sailing through “Dich theure Halle”, when I just feel so free and easy and truly at home vocally. But I want to persist with VO, making every effort to learn from all who are willing to teach.

  6. This is in response to Maarit’s post. Maarit, the breath support that you learned so well in singing applies to speaking vocal production in exactly the same way. True, you may not need the super duper power of projection required to sing Wagner but if your voice is well trained and your technique solid, then you should be able to sing pianissimo with the same ease as fortissimo. Think of the speaking voice as being a mp (mezzo-piano) or mf (mezzo-forte). You support a whispered tone with the same technique as you would a scream (which you CAN do without straining the voice, if you know how).
    Hope this helps? 🙂

  7. This is in response to Maggie’s post – you say you CAN scream w/out straining the voice if you know how. I don’t know how but would like to learn; can you tell me how?

  8. I was really interested to come across this post. I’ve recorded voiceovers without the benefit of being a singer and I can see how all of the points raised here would have been a great help to me at the time. I was so shocked to hear that I ‘gasped’ every time I finished a sentence. Fortunately sophisticated sound equipment can soon deal with problems like that.

  9. Hello everyone:
    I’m very much wanting to crossover to voice-over work.
    I have been singing for more years than I’d like to say, but never crossed that threshold to getting “real pro” work as a singer. I’ve performed all my life and performed at countless private events, and recorded on independent artists as background and duet vocalist.
    What is the first step I need to take to really get out there as a voice over artist? A workshop?, a demo?
    I’m willing to travel to D.C. or NYC if anyone can refer me to a good workshop.

  10. I’d tried my hand at stage acting as a kid before spending years developing my singing voice, first with classical training and then with a personal coach who could help me with more the rock/pop direction I was interested in.
    I’d say the biggest make-or-break thing for singers looking to do voice acting is, tuning into the importance of being a storyteller. That holds true even if one has been singing in a lot of different styles (which many singers don’t always do).
    For example, if you’ve been in a punk band for 10 years, hopefully you’ve learned how to not kill yourself regarding placement (in the diaphragm, not the throat), breath control, pacing, mouth techniques for molding different qualities out of your delivery etc. … but in making the transition to voice acting, consider if you’ve basically been playing one “character” that whole time in that band, whereas now you need to be able to play many….
    Also, if you’ve mainly been doing your own original music instead of working as a hired gun, you also need to consider that becoming a voice actor really, really isn’t about your personal expression anymore. There’s an art to it, sure, but you’re producing a product (often to push other products). It’s about the client’s story, not yours anymore.
    Physically a lot of the same things come into play in terms of using one’s body as a tool, also of course studio / tech is the same… but between singing and voice acting I’d say for the most part that’s about it.

  11. I am a classically trained singer and have had contemporary vocal training as well. I have been touring with professional music groups since 2001. The group I’m currently touring with, a Southern Gospel quartet, regularly features my talents as a character voice actor and celebrity impressionist during our concerts.
    The musical background and training I have as a singer has really enhanced my abilities in voice acting: breath control, pitch, placement, timing/rhythm, etc.
    Many other animation voice actors I’ve met at various events and read interviews with also have musical backgrounds: Rob Paulsen, Jim Cummings, Richard Epcar, Cam Clarke, Melissa Disney, as well as several others I could mention. They all have extolled the virtues of a musical background in their careers as voice actors as well.

  12. Thanks for the tips. I believe the fact that if any one has the passion or quality of singing he/she cannot touch the top with out a proper guidance. Efforts as well as an ultimate assistance are the two indispensable things to reach the point as I think. The reason of my thought is that I have experienced the fact practically. I thank to Dubai Performing Arts Academy as they have made my dream to perform on the stage in front of millions.

  13. Thanks for sharing this post. Now singer can enhance their talent by registering for free at the biggest portal for talent named glamtalents. It’s a platform which act as a bridge between talent between talent seekers and provides the opportuntiy to singers, model, anchor, dancer and technician to prove their talent.


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