Podcasts Voice Over Experts Listen, Learn, Lead – Elevate Your Voice Over Game with Nicki Burke
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Listen, Learn, Lead – Elevate Your Voice Over Game with Nicki Burke

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Geoff Bremner
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Nicki Burke goes over a very important and less talked about voice over topic – self directing. Nicki shares her personal and invaluable tips that she’s learned in her decade and a half of experience in the voice over world.

More from Nicki: https://nickiburke.com/

More from Voices: https://www.voices.com/blog/isdn-and-source-connect-explained-for-voice-actors/

Hi, and welcome to Voiceover Experts, your monthly educational podcast, helping you bring your voice acting career to the next level with insightful lessons presented by voices voiceover coaches. This is Nikki Burke, your voices November featured coach. I'm a working voiceover and on-camera actor with over 15 years of experience working in most mediums of voice, including animation, commercial video games, audio books, narration, and now podcasting. Woo. I've always wanted to do one of these. I also do on camera. From time to time with my foundation established and acting for film and tv, I have over 150 plus commercials for film, tv, theater, and digital media under my belt with a holiday Best Buy commercial out right now and a tely and then Government of Ontario Multis Spot. Coming out soon, my animation accolades include a 40 episode run on Nickelodeon's female superhero show, mystic Kons as Zaria Moon Wolf.
A 23 episode run on total dramas, the Ulus Race and villain Evie in Kingdom Force just to name a few video games as well include Dead Rising Far Cry and League of Legends. I specialize in producing and directing demos. I host quarterly in studio workshops in downtown Toronto and pride myself on getting my one-on-one clients to their next level with my passion lying in the winds of my students. This month's topic is listen, learn, lead, elevate your voiceover game. In this episode, we're going to chat about a topic that's rarely touched on self-directing, reflecting on your auditions is the last line of defense and is what may be holding you back from getting that callback or that booking, and I'm here to give you tips and tools used for listening back, training that ear and tightening up your reads. So you got an audition. You've broken down the script, whether it be animation or commercial.
Built a character from the ground up, made some choices and created a dynamic read. You lay down a few takes and listen back. Well, what are you listening for? How do you know if it's good? How do you know if you're in the right pocket? If you made strong choices or if your operative words are landing, if it's hitting all the specs in the direction you were given, if it's conversational enough while still being dynamic for those commercial reads, and is it natural and grounded whilst having presence and nuance for animation? So many things to think about outside of your performance that you need to be aware of before you send it. Self-directing is a whole other beast when it comes to the audition process and one that once you get a handle on will make you a better, smarter voice actor. So let's dive into my self- directing checklist.
One, listening back, what are we listening for? Training that ear requires you to listen for patterns. The more aware you are, the more you're going to hear them and the faster, more often you'll be able to correct it. Things to look out for include inflection, musicality, not hitting Ts or not pushing the energy to the end of the word line or end of the script. If you're constantly having an up inflection after each line or thought it sounds like you're unsure of what you're saying and then the listener doesn't trust you, this is a very common mistake that a lot of voice actors do when they're starting out as a tool. It's good to note that basic inflection can be up neutral or down, and not every question mark has to go up. For example, if the line is, do you know what your favorite drink is?
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Here are three ways out the gate that I would say that, do you know what your favorite drink is? Do you know what your favorite drink is? Do you know what your favorite drink is? You got to think outside the box. There are so many different ways to say a line. If there's too much musicality, this can also be a problem. Family style commercial reads can sometimes be a trap for this as well as high horizon animation like My Little Pony or strawberry shortcake types of rolls. For example, time flies when you're a kid could be too musical or momish or, oh my goodness, I can't wait to go to Sugar Mountain. There's going to be rainbows and sprinkles. If we do our whole read like this, it's going to get very boring and OneNote pretty quickly. You want to find peak and valley ebb and flow.
Maybe there's a little musicality, but then in the next line you have a straighter delivery. Keep your energy all the way through to the end. Too often we start off so strong and then lose momentum, breath or focus by the end of the spot. Every word counts, and for commercial specifically, the last sentence is usually the tag and the most important as it has a lasting effect. Another common mistake is sliding through the words and not having enough articulation. Hitting teases is a big one as well. For example, the word cement. If we're not paying attention, it might be said like cement instead of cement. You can hear the difference there. Number two, are your takes nuanced, dynamic and with opinion, or do all your lines sound the same? We need to be breaking down each thought and know when we have a new thought or as I like to call it, a switch.
Paraphrasing what is being said in the script will allow you to understand the text and therefore give you a more natural read, which at the end of the day takes the work out of you having to perform and allows you to just be the most important thing that will set you apart is having an opinion. How do you feel about what you're saying? Do you like the product? Is it exciting? Is it gross? Is the person your character is talking to, your bestie or your worst enemy? Are you afraid, anxious, ecstatic? You need to add yourself to your read. Something else to think about is when there's back to back words like, let's go. Let's go, or, hello, hello. You wouldn't say those words exactly the same because that's not how the writer intended, but also not how we speak as humans. You would maybe say it like, hello, hello, or let's go.
Let's go. We are not in the business of sounding like ai, so let's make sure we're bringing that human element to our work. Lastly, punctuation pace and rolling from one line to the other are very important. You want to a choppy read with tons of space in between each line. It makes it sound read and inauthentic. Number three, setting yourself apart. Are you playing the action and adding reaction sounds? A lot of the time, this stuff is not on the page, so it's up to you to try and add a gasp, a yell, a sigh, et cetera for those animation reads. For commercial, it's a smile, a wink, a shoulder shrug, or maybe an eye roll. These don't have to be elongated and gratuitous. Okay, make it real. Are you coming up with something in the moment saying your line like it's your first time every time to help with that.
Having a strong moment before so you know what's going on and who you're talking to is helpful. Otherwise, you float above the read and you're not fully in it, and guess what? I don't believe you. If you're doing multiple takes or alt reads, are they different enough to send in? For commercial, it's important to not only change the tone or opinion of the second take, IE brighter, more serious, more
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conversational, but you also have to change the way you say the lines with different inflection and operative word choices. There are a hundred ways to say something. I think I keep saying that, but it's so true, so get creative, but make sure it still fits the objective of the spot. Get used to saying those tags three in a row, three different ways because when you book that gig, you'll be doing that over and over and over again.
When we're talking about animation, two takes isn't always warranted. If your first take is super strong and ticking off all the boxes and you don't have a wildly creative idea for a second take, then don't send one. The rule of thumb that I use is one for them, one for me, but I don't do anything just for the sake of it. It has to be competitive. Number five, know when to call it. Perfection is not a thing, and this is coming from a perfectionist. This work is rarely quantitative. It's creative. You need to know when you've done your best. When you've crafted an audition that you can be proud of and best represents you, send it and forget it. A few more notable tips include, don't be lazy with your editing. Train your ear to hear those mouth sounds or sibilance and edit out any mistakes.
Your audition should sound clean and be a representation of your professionalism. You are your only competition. You are enough. I often say, do less. Having confidence in your self directing method will set you apart and enable you to be a leading artist in your field of voiceover. I hope this list has given you some things to think about and a few tools to add to your tool belt. As a working actor, I too am constantly learning, growing, and fine tuning my craft to keep up with this ever-changing industry that is voiceover. If you wish to deep dive into more of these principles, get one-on-one training or audition coaching. You can find me online at my [email protected] or check out my professional Instagram page at voicebox dot coaching dot Toronto. I offer free 30 minute Zoom consultations to chat about how it all works and answer any questions that you might have in regards to coaching. If you're in the Toronto area, we run a two-day in-Person workshop quarterly,
And my good pal and amazing coach Megan FBA and I are hosting our last one of the year on December 2nd and third at Rebus Institute Sound and Audio School. Our special guest speaker will be creative director Karen Gora, who brings a wealth of knowledge having been in the biz, working in so many mediums over her 20 plus years. We're super stoked to have her subscribe to voiceover experts for free wherever you listen to podcasts and grow your career today. Thank you voices for having me, and thank you all for listening. I'll see you in the booth.

Geoff Bremner
Hi! I'm Geoff. I'm passionate about audio. Giving people the platform for their voice, music, or film to be heard is what gets me up in the morning. I love removing technical, logistical, and emotional barriers for my clients to allow their creative expression to be fully realized.
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