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Your Voice Acting Process: How to Direct Yourself

What I’m going to do is show you how to notice where you can make performance improvements that you already know how to do, instead of teaching you new skills. How to make the most of what you already know and do.

However, should you even be trying to succeed in voice over? Scroll to the bottom to read some quick tips about how to succeed in a home business if that’s your primary concern.

And, to learn more about producing great voiceover from your home studio, be sure to also read the Rules or Commercial Demos (or the summary).

Follow a process for the best results: First, warmup. Second find key moments in the script. Third, perform using natural speech cadence.

1. Warm Up

1.1 Open your energy range when you warm up, to bring out more of your natural vocal qualities instead of having to fake them up through tension. Concentrate on being BOTH energetic and/or a bit “out of control” AND being more energy neutral and sounding off-the-cuff, natural, person-next-door. You need both a very “throwaway” natural kind of sound and phrasing (think “off-the-cuff” or “casual” instead of “flat”) AND a more emotional, starting-to-lose-control kind of approach.

An easy exercise to do is to play both people in a simple scene, like this:

  1. Do the first voice as insane gibberish, the second as hyper-normal.
  2. Be very emotional, but not shouting. Play the voices as two different people.
  3. Make the first voice VERY energetic, the second voice very intimate. Practice making a HUGE energy shift from the first to the second.

Here are two sample warmup scripts. In each script, the bold lines are the first voice, italic is the second voice. Perform out loud:

You will do as I say
I don’t wanna go!
There is nothing you can do!
You can’t make me

I’m excited!
I’m not
Not again
Give me a break!

1.2 Expand the range of speeds you use. We say “rhythm” or “cadence” when talking about speed changes. Make sure that some words tumble out together quickly—often just two or three words that naturally blend together—and that in other places you linger and relax on words. Cadence changes are the easiest way to sound more interesting AND expand your ability to convey meanings and emotions .

1.3 There is a powerful sound generated at the back of your mouth/throat, the pharynx, that can make it easier to bring authority and authenticity to your performance. But relaxing that area can feel uncontrolled or harsh. So be sure to warm up your pharynx so you don’t over-tighten it. Do this by pretending to be a vendor at an outdoor sports stadium calling out to the crowd “POP-corn!! Get your POPCORN here!! POP-corn!!” Let your sound “pop” out a bit. Be loud —project to the distance! This is an exercise to relax your ability to project via the pharynx and regain a sense of easy, authentic authority.

1.4 Get maximum “natural warmth” out of your voice by practicing speaking intimately to yourself—reduce your projection to the point someone only a few feet away wouldn’t be able to hear all your words clearly, and dumb down the articulation slightly to allow yourself some “mumbling”. This is what one of the biggest voices in the business calls practicing your “low slow” to bring out the most relaxed qualities in your voice, with maximum soft palate release for that easy “I love being with you” sound.

2. Meaning and Emotion: Highlights, Transitions and Making the Listener WANT to Listen

Remember that this is acting! You must have an identifiable point-of-view (POV). What the point? How do you feel about it? Why? Technique exists to make the point of your acting easier to get across, NOT as a substitute for acting!

First, to make the most of the performance skills you already have, and to put your effort where it will pay the most dividends, determine:

2.1. What outcome does the writer want? How do you find and combine emotions and meanings into the ideas the writer wants to to convey to the listener? You probably don’t work too hard at this, because you feel there is a limit to how quickly and skillfully you can understand and create outcomes, and so you keep it simple. I’ll show you how to keep it simple AND get more out of your performances. To do this, first ask yourself:

2.2 How can you help the listener “get it?”
How will you “connect the dots” the writer has laid out so the listener catches the meaning, and feels how it combines with emotion to create the ideas the writer is trying to convey? The simplest step here is to take a quick inventory of your fundamental performance techniques. Start with:
(a) Highlights (making words or phrases “stand out”). Examples: the hit; contrast linger; confidence drop; double hit; loving brand linger, etc.
(b) Transitions (showing how words or ideas connect or contrast).  Concentrate on the difference between two sections of the script.
(c) Vocal Qualities such as warm, harsh, quirky, upbeat, etc. Don’t fake these! Warm them up so they will release naturally when you perform.
(d) Acting Process and production workflow: How do you keep your skills “turned on and warm” and efficiently get through a production process? The first step of a process is to warm up.

QUICK TIP on transitions: “Let go” of the vocal space you use when making a transition. When you change from one vocal quality to another, don’t “hang on” to the first quality. One of the challenges in voiceover is to make what you say next NOT sound like what you just said.

EXAMPLE SCRIPT with transition: “…not all the children survived. But thanks to your donations, today’s kids grow up happy and healthy…” This is a problem-to-solution style transition.

In switching from the word “survived” to the word “thanks”, you have to LET GO of the problem voice in order to make us believe the solution voice. Record and listen back to your transitions and ask yourself: What am I hanging on to? Usually it is either tension, speed, pitch or volume. For example, if you speak the problem in a low serious pitch with an even slow cadence, then speak the solution in a high happy pitch but… still use the identical even slow cadence… the listener will may feel your performance of solution “didn’t quite happen” because the cadence was identical. You might simply say the words “your donations” and “today’s kids” as slightly tighter word groups to let go of some of the even slow cadence, and bring some quicker cadence in.

2.3. How can you make the listener WANT to listen? First, by using more of the the natural range of qualities you already possess, your performances will automatically become richer (emotional range), deeper (more meaningful) and more interesting (authentic and varied) to listen to. But second, show us how YOU are someone we want to listen to.

The “spec” (type of voice/personality/approach) on an audition is how the ad agency describes the three types that get us to want to listen. Here’s an example spec that covers those three types (written as something you say to yourself and the listener):

1️⃣ I just do what I want (Freedom / Playful);
2️⃣ Because that’s the best way to live your life (Truth / Conviction);
3️⃣ …and so do you. (Connection / Vulnerability).

To make us WANT to listen to your your performance more, think about which of these three things (or a combination of two of them) you are being at each point in the script. See how the words cluster in the diagram at the bottom of this article for ideas on how to bring out each of these three different qualities.

You are reading version (1) of this article. I’ll be updating it in the next version to dig deeper into how to grab easy gains in these three areas. For example, it’s common with talent working from home that highlights are poorly chosen, and the “linger squeeze style” highlight is over-relied on, when the hit, double-hit and contrast linger highlight styles would be useful more often.

3. Natural Speech Cadence During Performance.

When you first start producing your own voice over, you will reduce the quality of your performance in two ways: You will tense slightly to control your sound, and begin isolating words and word groups to control meaning and emotion.

When you stop working with a coach, or begin doing paid voiceover work where you direct yourself (no live producer), you will begin over-controlling your performances. This means you will lose access to performance skills and types you COULD use, but no longer know how to make work.

These are issues ALL talent have! Don’t get depressed because you’re normal and have to work on the same things everyone else does!

You think it won’t happen to you, but it happens to almost everyone: Particularly if you’re working from home, realize the #1 problem that happens above all else is that you will start to space out your words. No one wants a case of the “S.L.O.W.’s” — Spaced-out, Lethargic and Oddly Wimpy Speech.

The home practice problem is also the #1 performance problem overall: unnaturally spacing words apart from one another. This is what we call a cadence issue: We speak naturally in clumps of words. Well-known example: “Know what I mean” sounds like “no-whuta-meen” in common speech. That does NOT mean you should have bad articulation, but words must blend together as they do in natural speech.

Spacing out sentences/phrases from each other with long pauses is the same problem. Ideas connect and flow in natural speech. Sentences shouldn’t feel like individual performances recorded separately, like lines in a poem.

You have to work on cadence (and accent/articulation) a bit separately from acting. These are technique issues. If you simply try to talk faster and speak clearer you simply sound like someone reading fast and over-articulating. Part of voiceover acting training is learning technique as part of your training. Producers put it this way: “You must have all the technique, and it all has to be invisible.”

How to Succeed in Voice Over as a Home Business

But before working on your performance skills, are you sure you should even try to succeed in voice over as a home business? Ask yourself how well you are doing on these two points to help determine if you are on track:

1️⃣ Having a Medium-Term Income Plan.

While short- and long-term plans are fine, you have to make this work before the end of your third year. If you’re third year doesn’t look much different than your first year, it isn’t working.

This means answering questions such as ►Where will the money come from and when? ►Where is it easiest to make money, where is it hardest? ►Which time/money costs can you put off, and which should you do now?

2️⃣ Growing Necessary Skills.

For improving talent, read from the top of this article (if you jumped down to here without reading the beginning).

In general, you must get good at using an 80/20 mindset MORE than you do now, meaning finding the 1 thing in 5 (20%) that delivers 80% of the results.

We’ve all heard someone say “If that fool can do it, anyone can do it!” at some point or another. Some people are good at doing what causes success, even if they never gain basic skills or understanding.

For example, concentrate MORE on learning which marketplaces have the most profitable advantages for voice talent, and INSTEAD of just developing generic talent and business skills. At present, audiobook marketplaces like ACX and Findaway Voices have the fewest hurdles for talent just starting out looking to build both both short- and medium-term income. To penetrate agency, online or corporate marketplaces can be trickier for new talent: talent sometimes feel taken advantage of in order to benefit the agency, the website owner or the corporation they are trying to work with.