The internet has completely changed the fortunes of professional voiceovers – for the better. These days, we can forget driving round radio stations and recording studios in the desperate hope of finding the odd suitable advert script in the production department’s “in-tray” to record; dismiss to the past a day lost travelling to the city to audition for a single line of a TV advert voiceover where you rarely hear back. Your client base can now be based in an area bigger than your region or even your country. In fact, there are clients all round the world who may feel your voice is perfect for their projects.
You don’t need to physically meet the clients, or even use their recording studios. You can record in your own “home studio” and send them broadcast quality audio files via a file transfer service such as WeTransfer.com. Sometimes clients will want to direct you over your headphones while you record the script, using Skype, ipDTL, ISDN, or one of many other systems available that are quite inexpensive and reliant on just a decent internet connection. But usually, you’re left on your own to record the script sent to you with instructions as to timing, voice truyền nước tại nhà, pauses etc., then you’re expected to edit out your mistakes, optimise the levels and to then simply send the file (s) in the technical format requested. You then wait for any retakes required, then you can send in your invoice; job done.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of full time “staff” jobs in my time working for both the BBC and ITV as producer, director, and I even ran a TV channel once. (Granada Men and Motors if you’re interested, and I gave Richard Hammond his first TV job for my sins!) But for the last 10 years, I have been a full-time freelance voiceover, and apart from a handful of trips to London studios each month, I work from my little studio at home and have never earned so much money in my life, for doing such little “work”. I’m totally independent and I don’t have an agent, so regularly I have to work on the “Search Engine Optimisation ” of my websites, and email or call potential new customers and expand my client base, but if you don’t want to do that, then choose the agent route. They’ll do all this for a % of your fee. Both ways are valid. It’s just that I like to be in full control of my success, but, hey, we’re all different.
There are so many uses for voiceovers, and there is honestly plenty of work out there for voice styles of all types and ages. As well as the obvious TV and radio commercials, the easy low hanging fruit comes from recording corporate promo videos or museum narrations. They may be deadly boring to record, and you need to look up the odd Polish word or acronym, but it’s quite an art to sound enthused about a grommet manufacturing plant in Gdansk! Also, there are telephone prompts for various organisations that regularly need renewing, saying things like: “your call IS important to us… !” and so on.
Also, don’t forget awards ceremony voiceovers that are either recorded or you do them live, so you can adlib when a winner doesn’t tip up… or when a winner literally tips up on the edge of the stage. But the real fun to be had is acting in video games. My voice is now on many video games and trailers playing a wide variety of characters. The top-end games still insist on the voice actors being physically in the studio, and that’s after a rigorous auditioning process.
But for every high profile game, there are hundreds of projects lower down in the pecking order, that still pay decent money and once you record a few samples of your character(s), the games studio just ask you do 3 takes of each line and you just send them one big wav file for them to select the best takes and chop up into smaller files for the coding. It really is quite easy money, as many of the lower end games feature stereotypical character voices and accents that are not hard to manage to any actor worth their salt, and the recording can be much fun to do, especially if you have to do a barrel load of “non-vocal” takes of random mumbling or “dying” sounds and fight grunts.
You won’t just get clients from English-speaking countries. English is an international language, and every country has companies and organisations where videos would need an English soundtrack version as well as one recorded in the home language. You may just get sent a Word or PDF document and asked to record it in the style of one of your showreels. Or you may need to record the English version in the style of a video they provide to you with the original language. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the original language, you’ll be able to get the timing and mood required from watching this, and that’s all you need.
In the week of writing, I’ve recorded such sessions from Germany, Spain, Denmark, Italy and UAE. You’ll get a link to view the “foreign” language version on Vimeo or YouTube, to ascertain the timings and the style of the VO. Then you’ll get a script which should sync approximately to the non-English version. If you can offer a full syncing service as well, where you’d chop up your VO on a video timeline to exactly match the non-English paragraphs, fine, but usually they do this detailed editing at their end.
It is perfectly possible to create a good business over about 6- 12 months from scratch. Life is very flexible, and you’d look to your email “in-box” for your daily income. You’d build up your client base to an extent that statistically you KNOW that each morning there’ll be a good day’s work in the offing, even if you have closed off all jobs the night before. The best thing about being a VO is the variety. Doing silly voices, characters for video games, audio books and training video scripts where you learn so much, plus commercials where every split-second counts, means no two days or indeed jobs are the same.
So are you already an actor or actress? Do you already “do” voices? That’s fine. Recording voiceovers is very similar in that you get into a character voice and stay in character. That character may be of a certain age from a certain part of the world with a certain social status, etc. etc. It’s your job to look at the script and think of the character in your head, even down to what they look like and what they would be wearing.
Many of the scripts may not really be characters as such, but “narrator” voices, but even here, you still need to create a type of person that you are playing. If you are given a script for, say, the tourist board of Romania aimed at future visitors, you imagine you are a professor at the University of Bucharest, proud of your country and its history. You have written many books about Romania and enjoy walking and cycling in the forests at weekends. There… have you a picture in your head?
You may have an industrial safety video to provide the voiceover for. So you imagine that you are the head of health and safety who has just taken to hospital a person seriously injured after ignoring the safety rules at the factory. You want to stop others having to go through the same trauma. You now have the passion and the fire in your belly and this will come across in the words that you read.
Yes – you are giving performances. A different one for every script that you are given, but they are still performances, and you need to be able to snap into one of many characters very quickly and sustain the feeling, the voice, the stance, the reason why you are speaking.
Of course, you could attend acting classes to understand all this much more fully, but you need to crack this technique yourself first. If you playback your recordings and it sounds like you are merely reading a script, then you must tackle this problem as soon as possible. Often I am asked to record TV or radio commercials where I need to sound enthusiastic. In real life, I may not care at all about the silly product that is being featured, but I would SOUND like I really genuinely cared!
So how do you learn this technique? Well, it’s all down to the melody of the “song” in the voice, the timing of the words, the words that are emphasised, the little gaps, the breathing, the slight imperfections that make speech sounds natural and not merely read off a script. The best way to “get” this performance technique is to find a recording of a professional experienced voiceover which you admire, ideally with a voice style similar to your own. Then transcribe the voiceover or find the script. Play a few words and pause. Now you read the script yourself – repeat the way the words are said, find the “tune” of the words, the way they go up and down, the pauses, the words that are emphasized – every little nuance. Now play the next section and repeat till the end. Go back to the start and do this again, mimicking the voiceover as closely as you can.
Now forget the recording and YOU read the script again and record yourself. Are you now communicating the energy, passion, the feeling, the character of the original voiceover? If not, try to picture the original voiceover – what would they be dressed in? Would they be holding the product they are enthusing about delivering to a TV camera, or musing out of an open window on a summer’s day? Get the picture.
The idea is that you “get inside the head” of the original voiceover; after all they got the lucrative gig to voice that national commercial and you didn’t. So, you’d copy them as best you can, do this for other voiceovers and actors that you admire and then with the knowledge in your head, and the ability to use “mental pre-sets” to snap into various characters, you then develop a personal style of your own and you’ll get to know your strengths and weaknesses in vocal acting.