When Sammi Grant started out as a voice actor, she realized that she was losing a lot of time in the editing process.
The voice over industry is one that operates on very quick turnaround times, with some clients requesting finalized copies within 24 hours. But, for Sammi, who is legally blind, editing was a process that was a bit more difficult.
“For the first part of my career, I didn’t do my own editing,” says Sammi. “I used Audacity for recording but not for editing – I would send it to sound engineers. But with [having to rely on] another person I had to [work] within their timeline,” she says.
Sammi had to pass on a few jobs because she couldn’t keep up with the timeline of some clients’ needs when outsourcing audio editing. In 2015, Sammi did what she calls a voice over makeover. She recorded new demos and upgraded her equipment to make it more user-friendly for her. “I just couldn’t depend on someone else to do my editing any more,” she says.
Voice acting can be a viable career for people of all abilities. Sammi has carved out a successful spot for herself in the voice over world and here she shares her advice to help you get started, or keep you going!
Tools for Accessibility – Screen Readers
As a voice over and dialect coach who runs her own business, one of the most important tools in her repertoire is a screen reader. Screen readers read everything on your screen aloud and allow users to navigate around sites without having to use the mouse.
There are a few on the market that Sammi prefers. Since she is a PC user, Sammi uses a compatible screen reader called JAWS (Job Access With Speech).
Alternatively, if you are a Mac user, there is a screen reading tool called VoiceOver. Sammi says they are similar with a few minor differences.
VoiceOver vs. JAWS – Which is Best?
Ultimately, the screen readers are similar, so it comes down to a matter of preference – are you a Mac user or a PC user? JAWS is compatible with PC and VoiceOver is a Mac-based application. If you don’t have a preference over PC or Mac and want to make a decision based on the software, here are some features of each that might help make your decision a bit easier.
- Software: VoiceOver is a tool that is already available on all Macs, whereas JAWS will have to be downloaded onto your PC. Since JAWS is an external software, it updates regularly, whereas the VoiceOver version you have on your Mac is specific to that Operating System.
- Voices used in the tools: Sammi describes the voice used in JAWS as a bit robotic sounding, however she has gotten used to it after using it for almost a decade. “I’ve been using JAWS for 10 years. Sometimes, when other people read I feel like they are using too much emotion. I’m like, calm down!” Sammi jokes. There are however, slight intonations that the voice of the JAWS screen reader uses to signal changes in conversation. The voice raises up in pitch a bit to signal exclamation marks and takes on a different tone for capital letters. VoiceOver on the other hand, tends to sound a bit more natural and less robotic than JAWS.
Tools for Accessibility – Editing Software
One of the best editing software packages for blind people is Pro Tools – if you are a Mac user, that is, because you are able to do much more in terms of adding in music, background ambiance and other neat tricks. Sammi tried coupling a screen reader with Pro Tools in the past, but for her it wasn’t super user-friendly and learning the software proved to be a challenge.
“I’m just not used to using a Mac – I was hampered by my ability with the Mac,” says Sammi. “With Pro Tools there are certain functions that are hard to do when it comes to audio editing. It’s a little less exact [when it comes to editing capabilities for the visually impaired]. I was very slow at it but I’m not the most tech savvy,” admits Sammi.
What she found to be the equivalent for her in the PC world is GoldWave.
“What I use now on the PC is GoldWave – $45 one time fee and it’s yours forever,” says Sammi. “It doesn’t have as many bells and whistles, but I don’t need that because I’m not making music and editing can be a bit more exact into minuscule time frames,” she says.
Tools for Accessibility – What Does the Future Hold?
Sammi hopes that in the future, there is more training available to teach blind and visually impaired individuals on how to use editing software and other tools that a voice over artist may need. “I wish there was more training for blind [and visually impaired] people to use on these softwares,” says Sammi. “There is no one-on-one contact. It’s basically a process of trial and error where you have to be the talent, editor and director for yourself,” she says.
Although the tools for blind voice actors are still developing alongside existing technologies, Sammi feels she has come a long way from when she first started out in the industry. “The ability to edit my own files was a game changer for me,” says Sammi. “I’m a stubbornly independent person and I like to do my own things,” she says.
While assistive technologies are still being developed, Sammi has a few tips for blind people looking to get into the voice over industry.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and have someone check your mic setup,” she says. “As a blind person, it’s hard to adjust if I move to a new place and set up my equipment for the first time. Take it seriously. This is your career, it’s not a cute hobby,” Sammi says.
About Sammi Grant
Sammi Grant is a dialect/vocal coach based in Chicago, IL. She has coached at numerous Chicago theatres including: Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Drury Lane, Timeline Theatre, Porchlight Music Theatre, Windy City Playhouse and many more. Sammi also provides coaching to voiceover talent and has 6 years of experience in the industry as a voice over artist herself. In 2017, she made a video with BuzzFeed called “How to Do 12 Different Accents,” and the video went viral within 24 hours. Sammi has recently moved to London, England to start the MFA Voice Studies program at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.