Do you know what your signature voice is?
What does it take to find it?
Can you have more than one?
By identifying your signature voice, you take the guess work out of your brand and give what your client wants to hear.
In Search of the Elusive
A signature voice is, at the very heart of it all, your money voice. It’s the sound and kind of reads that people consistently hire you to perform. While some voice over talent pride themselves in being able to be everything to everybody performance wise, many do choose to brand their voice and serve a particular market or niche within voice over.
Zeroing in on a niche and distinctive read that makes you money is great… but it may take time to discover what other people feel your strong suits are and also what you continuously get hired to do.
How Can You Find Your Signature Voice?
Prolific voice actor Bob Bergen didn’t find his signature voice overnight, but when he did, it was like the light went on for him. Bob describes his experience as follows:
“(Finding my signature voice) Took years in workshops. I’d hear what the teachers were asking of me, to be real, conversational, etc. I was 14 when I took my first class, and over 8 years I studied with every VO teacher in LA. For some reason, the time between what my ears heard and what came out of my mouth, well, I just wasn’t able to deliver. Everything came out charactery… I think because all I’d ever wanted to do was cartoons. But commercials are the majority of the work, and I knew that if I was going to be able to compete in animation I needed to be able to nail commercials. Then one day when I was 17, on a Saturday morning at 9:32am at a workshop in Studio City, Ca., I got it! It was an ‘aha’ moment! I was able to, with ease, be ‘me’ at the mic. No idea what happened, or why. It was just a breakthrough. Honestly, I think it was just time and confidence. But from that point on, I knew I could give a believable, competitive read, with my signature brand every time.”
Are Personality and Signature Voice Related?
Sometimes your voice over work will run parallel to your personality, temperament and interests. For people who fit this mold, it can be easier to identify and hone your signature voice as it may come naturally.
Voice over talent David Kersten found his signature voice through mimicry.
When asked to expand, he reasoned that mimicry is how we as people learn most things, saying, “Mimicry. Imitating a voice or voices I admire, (voices I) feel comfortable imitating and ones that I believe match my sound and personality without making a ‘character’ out of them and me; just being natural about it. My own signature has developed out of it. Still, I’m always learning the nuances of the craft. I enjoy listening to interpretations I hadn’t considered that work as well as the deliveries of others I admire.”
When Your Signature Voice Is More Work Than Play
While your signature voice can be a true reflection of your personality, according to many voice over professionals, their signature voices aren’t always that way… in fact, sometimes the voice that you are hired for most contrasts with your natural self or what you consider to be your “signature” voice!
Kelowna-based voice over professional Ralph Hass cites that his signature voice for sports imaging has always been apparent to him. Ralph offered, “I loved many sports growing up and when you are able to combine a passion (sports) with what you do for a living (talk, i.e. radio, sales, voiceover) that is just icing on the cake.”
That being said, Ralph has always enjoyed variety in his workdays and voiceover is no different, adding that his clients’ idea of what his signature voice is differs from that of his own preferred sports voice, noting that they may prefer his ‘smooth reads’ with interpretation done for longer narration projects for eLearning modules and corporate videos.
Similarly, voice over pro David Cook finds that the bulk of his work calls for a voicing style decidedly different from his own personality.
David shared, “I would say that my ‘sunshiney, energizer bunny’ personality does not always come through. More often than not, I need to dial back and be a bit more somber or businesslike, for example if I’m doing PSAs on smoking or playing a doctor. The two occasionally mesh with certain gigs and that is magical.”
Can You Have More Than 1 Signature Voice?
Given what David and Ralph have shared, you could technically have more than one signature voice… well, couldn’t you?
In a podcast on Voice Over Experts, Cynthia SongÃ© debates the signature voice and questions whether or not it is limited to simply one sound or if it can encompass many different and unique signature voices based upon the creative direction and specifications. Cynthia espouses that your personality is a passport to individuality — the individuality that is at the very core of your performance and the energy that people will respond to. She goes on to explain that you will have different emotional responses for every project, but you have to know who you are and trust yourself to break free from the limitations that may be imposed by having only one “signature” voice.
While the having of a distinct signature voice can effectively typecast you, remember that you are still able to perform other reads… don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new!
Working Multiple Signature Voices
Voice over artist Melba Sibrel has found that she makes money from various signature voices, stating “I do a great deal of ‘character’ and used to think my signature voice was a very middle-aged almost wacky voice — like the quintessential comedy mom. But about 3 years ago, was hired to do a read in an outside studio that has a very ‘bright’ sound to one of their rooms — one in which I had never worked alone. Playing on mic without anybody else in the room prior to the session, I discovered a bouncy, slightly raspy, very young, confiding voice. I used it for that session, felt where it came from and noted how to make it and it’s been one of my ‘money’ voices ever since — it has been a springboard for lots of different sounds.”
Voice talent Mike Elmore subscribes to the multiple signature voice theory, too. He wrote in sharing, “I just did one of promo sessions with a client. THEY see my ‘signature’ as one tone/delivery/cadence package. If I were to ‘sign my voice’ with them the same way I ‘sign it’ with say one of my narration clients… well they might not recognize or reject that ‘signature’… just like I have one signature when I sign a check I have a slightly more refined/legible signature when I sign my daughter’s school agenda. Then there is the natural, real me read for some commercial stuff. I guess to each client that expects one style from me I have a particular signature… but to ME I have 3 or 4.”
Perhaps the signature voice is based upon recognition depending on who is listening and why. In that case, you could (as Mike pointed out) have a few voices that you use on a regular basis.
If you’d like to write in with your own personal experiences finding your signature voice, or the concept of a signature voice in general, please do!
Join the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you 🙂