I’m a voice coach and singing teacher. The core of my work is about building, improving and fixing issues people have in their voices.
From that point, the primary and highest demanding application of this is for singers and performers using their voice in song. This involves using their voice over the widest range, at the most extreme intensities, often in sub-optimal situations where their performance needs to be dead-on first time.
Other applications of a well-built voice involve acting on stage, on television, voice-over work, stage speaking, professional speaking/voice use, etc. Many of my clients are even school teachers looking to maintain their voice. This is very much a classic example of a professional voice user – it just so happens voice training overlaps very well with their love of singing.
I’ve been getting a lot of interest lately in voice-over work and voice acting. I have had the odd client who goes down this road, but the majority of my client-base falls into the above camp. It seems that many are considering a career-change or even a side-gig in voice acting, so I wanted to pull together some pointers on what it is and what is involved. I will also briefly clarify the difference between a voice over coach and a voice coach like myself.
What is voice acting?
“Voice acting is the art of performing voice-overs to present a character or provide information to an audience.”
When you watch “Peppa Pig”, “The Simpsons”, or listen to radio shows like “The Archers”, the people providing the voice track for each of the characters are professional voice actors. Their bodies are not seen on-screen, so they are required to provide all the emotional intensity and meaning for the scene purely through using their voices. Voices need to be intelligible and of an appropriate character for the given project.
Projects can be extremely diverse. Radio shows, podcasts, animated films, cartoons, educational videos, pre-recorded corporate training, explanations within software, TV or radio advertisements, jingles, TV/radio segues, etc, all can involve the use of one/multiple voice actors. Because of the diverse range of possible voice acting avenues, you can understand why there is no “one size fits all” definition for what makes a good voice for voice acting.
The skills and vocal attributes required for each of these options are very different, and often even very experienced stage and TV actors struggle to get into the world of voice acting due to such diverse demands.
Very often the same voice actor will provide the voices for multiple characters, manipulating their voice to deliver highly specific impressions for each character. For example, in the cartoon “Family Guy“, the creator Seth MacFarlane provides the voices for dozens of the characters on the show, including 3 out of the 6 main characters.
How do voice actors get picked?
Really, it comes down to the right actor for the right role. Just like in films, people have manners and behaviours that lead them to become well-known for delivering a certain type of character well. They know their domain and work at mastering it – they become typecast.
Consider this example: a high-end whisky company is looking to create an advert for their special single malt. The nature of the product and the branding means they are looking for a crisp, smooth, deep sounding male voice for their luxury whisky advert… which means they are definitely NOT going to pick the chirpy, squawky teenage girl voice actor that can deliver 1000 different variations of that voice. They’ll likely take the Morgan Freeman sound-alike over the Nancy Cartwright sound-alike (the voice of Bart Simpson).
In contrast, if a TV production company is creating a new kids cartoon and is looking for a voice actor that can provide multiple lead teenage girl roles plus supporting characters whilst also making them sound distinct and memorable, then you can bet someone like Nancy Cartwright is going to get the callback.
With so many diverse projects that can exist, no one voice can do it all, and that’s OK! That’s perfect for everyone to find and cultivate their own niche.
Many voice actors list samples of their work on voice acting directories online, such as Voiceovers.co.uk. Prospective clients can then audition clips of the voices listed on such directories and narrow down their choices to a few actors they think will fit the bill. It’s very much like an audition process for actors or singers.
What is involved in being a voice actor?
As many voice acting roles are in some way commercial/corporate, even short projects are exacting, as serious money is typically riding on it.
Consider a car advert: typically 30-60 seconds long, with maybe 10 seconds of total voice-over in there, often stating mostly technical details. But that 10 seconds is meant to sell the car and its features.
The sound of the voice is meant to drip desireability all over the vehicle. It has to paint an image in the listener’s mind that makes them want to go check out that car. The voice and tone also has to match the brand, and be relatable to the target market. That’s a LOT riding on just 10 seconds of someone’s voice.
As such, projects don’t just require you to have the right voice, they need you to understand the commercial objectives of the client, and merge all those needs into a convincing performance. After all, we are talking about voice acting.
A voice actor needs to develop the ability to create different characters, to be able to manipulate/modulate their voice to imitate different people, and alter the shades in your voice to give the client exactly what they want. This is something that solid voice training helps instill, and is something that a good voice coach AND good voice over coach can provide insight into.
This is a good moment to clarify something:
VOICE OVER COACH: There are dedicated voice over coaches that help people cultivate their unique sound, and provide technical tricks to help their voices become more like the sound their intended market is likely to want. Voices.com provides many courses and sources of advice on how to get started in this regard.
If you are wanting help to specifically become a voice-over artist or voice actor, you should seek to find a dedicated voice over coach.
VOICE COACH (FOR VOCAL HEALTH AND MAINTENANCE): Manipulating your voice on a regular basis can cause severe physiological damage to the voice when done for prolonged periods. This is no different than singers who employ more extreme manipulations of their voice to deliver their art, and end up with nodules, granulomas, voice loss, etc. Vocal flexibility does take time to develop in voices.
Commercial demands can wreak havoc on a voice, and fixing and training voices to keep up with the demands of their chosen outlet is my domain. While there is overlap with a voice-over coach, our intended scopes are quite different.
Most professional voice actors have their own personal recording setup with high quality microphones and editing software. They will have tweaked and learned how to use their setup perfectly for their voice to get the perfect takes. There will need to be acoustic treatment and other pro setup aspects dealt with as well. This is to ensure that the audio track generated by the voice actor is a perfectly produced product ready to be slotted straight into a bigger project.
In some cases a voice actor may go into a specialist studio/setup provided by the client, e.g. recording for a TV or radio show, or they may be able to hire a recording studio. However, for many smaller scale and shorter projects, or projects demanding a fast turnaround time, having 24/7 access to your own recording setup that is perfectly dialled in for you is essential.
If you are looking to get into voice acting, I’d suggest checking out Voices.com to start with. They have a wealth of information on what is involved, how to get started. They also provide voice over specific training courses, which you can check out on their website.
If you want to hear some examples of professional voice actors doing their characters and craft well, I’d suggest looking for voice acting directories with clips, like Voiceovers.co.uk.
Please note, I am not sponsored or affiliated with either of these sites in any way. I am simply referring you to websites that I have found to provide a great illustration into the world of voice acting.
If you are a budding voice actor, best of luck to you!