Voice over instructor and performer Marc Cashman identifies “12 Voice Over Skill Sets” that will help you to refine your current skills and develop new ones. From clarity to consistency to cold reading and more, you’ll find new ways that you can leverage your talent and make it shine brightly for all to hear. Listen to learn more about what successful voice over artists master and the skills that matter.
Transcript of 12 Skills Voice Over Talent Should Master
Welcome to Voice Over Experts brought to you by Voices.com, the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom and techniques from top instructors, authors, and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform, and succeed from the privacy of your own home and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else.
This week, Voices.com is pleased to present Marc Cashman.
Hi, this is Marc Cashman. You know, if a buck dropped out of the sky every time someone ask me what it takes to make it in the world of voice over, I could retire.
So now, finally, I’m going to sum up a dozen top skills that are fundamental to a successful career in voice acting, and amazingly, they all start with a letter C.
First is clarity. A voice actor’s articulation has got to be impeccable. Each word needs to be distinctly understood, not swallowed, mumbled, or garbled. And actor needs to make sure that they’re balancing their enunciation between over articulation and under articulation.
We don’t want to over enunciate or we won’t sound conversational. We’ll sound like pompous asses. We certainly don’t want to under enunciate or we’ll sound stupid or lazy or both. We always need to perform in the Goldilocks area of vocal clarity. Employers are always listening for narrators who can speak clearly without overdoing it or under doing it. It has to be just right.
Second, cleanliness. This only partly means you have to shower before a session. Cleanliness refers to mouth noise, and if you have a lot of it, you may have a difficult time getting work in voice over. Some people are blessed with minimal mouth noise. They’ve just inherited a genetic gift that makes saliva a non-issue.
But most narrators have some level of mouth noise; those glottal stops, clicks, and the smacking sounds that they mitigate in a number of ways; hydrating, otherwise known as drinking a lot of water, using throat sprays, mouthwashes, or herbal teas, munching tiny pieces of green apple in between narration excerpts, chewing gum or sucking on a lozenge. The last time an editor needs to clean up your VO tracks, the more chance you’ll be called back to do another session soon.
Third is consistency. In voice over, consistency is a highly valued skill. If you’re consistent in your volume, energy, pacing, articulation, characterization in your eye-brain-mouth coordination, you’ll be every director’s dream because you’ll be a voice actor they can rely on to deliver what they want every time.
Four, connected. Being connected to what you’re reading is vital to your performance and the believability of your interpretation. A professional narrator always sounds like they’re intrinsically interested in what they’re talking about regardless of whether they are. They always post the question.
If you’re not enthusiastic about what they’re talking about, why should the listener be interested in what you have to say? Being connected also means literally being physically connected to the page with your eyes scanning ahead to make sure you’re moving through the copier text without tripping or stumbling.
Voice actors use a number of different techniques to stay connected; using their hands to make points or gestures, inflecting when and where appropriate, making facial expressions to convey emotion, and using their body to physically interpret action into their voice.
Fifth is conversational. Being conversational in voice over isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes an innate ability to lift words off the page effortlessly as if you’re speaking extemporaneously because you’re an expert, right? It means reading and speaking at conversational speed; the typical pace that we speak in every-day conversations. This skill is the result of not over or under articulating and is key to engaging the listener and maintaining their attention.
Sixth is cold reading. This skill is a must-have for long-form narration, particularly in the areas of E-learning modules, instructional CD-ROM narration, and nonfiction audiobooks. If you’re a busy voice actor, you don’t have time to pre-read dust in this or hundreds of pages of text before you take on a project.
The ability to cold read text will save you a lot of time in the studio, not to mention a lot of editing time. The ability to scan ahead to make sense of run-on sentences and to navigate incorrect punctuation is a skill that comes in very handy.
Solid cold reading is the manifestation of excellent eye-brain-mouth coordination and can be strengthened every day by constant practice. Reading aloud to your kids, significant other, parent, dog, cat, bird, or bunny will help you become a great cold reader.
Seven, chop-chop. Okay, this was my lame C phrase for being quick. I could have written C-W-I-C-K, but that would have been much lamer. Speaking fast is in many situations an essential skill in VO. It becomes readily apparent in a commercial where sometimes, you’re supposed to squeeze 40 seconds of copy into a 30-second time frame. I call this shoehorning, the ability to get through copy rapidly, but not at the expense of clarity. It’s a crucial skill that if you haven’t mastered, you need to develop.
Eighth is coordination. I referred to this under consistency and cold reading. And this is the mental muscle memory that develops when your eyes take in the words on the page, make the connections in your brain, and come out of your mouth. I call it eye-brain-mouth coordination.
And it’s a skill that voice actors develop after voicing thousands of pages of copy or text over a number of years. Some people are better at it than others. Sometimes, reading thousands of words and multiple pages of copy before making a mistake.
Developing strong EBM coordination is possible by cold reading copy every day. It’s like a musician who practices their scales every day. They strengthen their muscle memory, or it’s like going to the gym every day to build up your muscles and your stamina. Great EBM coordination is the hallmark of a professional voice actor.
Ninth is characterization. Any kind of voice acting that requires characterization requires acting, and actors understand what goes into giving a solid performance. Many of the skills I mentioned, consistency, conversationalality, being connected, in addition to the acting skills, believability, authenticity, emotionality, and interpretation are immensely important in telling a compelling story. The ability to perform solid characters are another arrow when you are quiver on voice acting skills.
Tenth is convincing. I’ve heard it said always sound like you know what you’re talking about even if you don’t. This could be the mantra for a narration. No matter what subject you’re talking about the ability to sound convincing encompasses skills of coherent explanation, a measured neutral or sometimes friendly tone, an appropriate amount of conversationality and energy, and an authoritativeness that’s believable and approachable. The most convincing narrators are those who in Penny Abshire’s term, “Tell. Don’t sell.”
Eleventh is control. Successful voice actors are always in control of their voice; that is they can control their pitch, their volume, and their breath. They control their pitch by understanding intonation, realizing that there are many musical applications to the spoken word.
They control their volume by understanding that volume for the most part has to be consistent. It’s their intensity that varies throughout a read, and they maintain excellent breath control by constantly replenishing the amount of air they need in order to get through words and phrases confidently. And they put all of these skills to use when they need to do any pickup phrases or insertions so they can match what they have recorded before.
Twelfth is confidence. The best think you can bring to any VO session is confidence, true confidence, not a false sense of bravado. Confidence comes from being prepared, understanding the subject, anticipating the dynamics of the studio session between the actor, director, and engineer, and many times, the presence of the client either in person or on the phone.
You can hear confidence in an actor’s voice, in their phrasing, presence, and overall performance. Confidence gives you stamina and believability, and makes it easier to work with the director who may sometimes be giving you a lot of conflicting direction. Confidence also gives you patience, which can really come in handy in many a recording session.
I can add 3 additional Cs under the heading of confidence, being calm, cool, and collected. There are so many more skills that we bring to a session that makes for a successful performance, and so many more attributes that you need to make it in the world of voice over. But if you can infuse these skills to every VO session, then you’ll be well on your way to a satisfying and lucrative career. And fun.
This is Marc Cashman. Thanks for listening.
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MARC CASHMAN creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television. Winner of over 150 advertising awards, he also instructs voice acting of all levels through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, CA. Enjoying the distinction of being one of the few voice-acting instructors in the U.S. who is on “both sides of the glass”– he creates, casts and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television clients such as Kroger, Charles Schwab, Quizno’s, Pella Windows and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer among many, many others.
In addition to his production schedule, he’s been an instructor at USC Graduate School and does pro bono work for numerous charitable and public service organizations. He instructs voice-acting of all levels through his online and tele-coaching programs, his V-O classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in state-of-the-art studios in Los Angeles, CA, and produces voice demos. He also has a monthly online column, Ask the VoiceCat, plus blogs and podcasts through Voices.com, VoiceOverXtra.com and NowCasting.com.
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