I asked Leo if there were any suggestions he had for Voice over tips and he pointed me to one that he had written, asking if I might be able to expound on it and also look at it from the standpoint of the Voice Seeker.
Leo mentioned going to hear Humberto Velez speak. For those of you who don’t know who he is,
Humberto is a gifted and prolific voice actor for Spanish projects. He was the first voice for the Spanish speaking Homer Simpson.
During his talk Humberto mentioned producers looking for voice actors that “sounded natural”. To which he commented, “If they were looking for natural, they were not looking for actors.”
In fact, as a voice talent, I am often hired to be the unpolished guy voice, which takes a lot more acting skills than one might think. You can often tell projects that use amateurs to perform “natural” on- camera or voice over jobs. In most cases they sound anything but natural. However, when you watch a show like “Men of a Certain Age”, you can’t help but marvel at how most of the actors really don’t seem to be acting. The interaction between them seems very real, genuine and not forced. I suspect that this is a result of great writing, exceptional directing, unbelievable trust among everyone contributing ot the overall production, but inevitably, strong and appropriate acting choices.
But looking at the great voiceoversphere of work, it seems that many commercials, voice mail, corporate pieces and so forth aren’t indicative of anything that I would consider “sounding natural”.
I suspect that what “sounding natural” really means in terms of a large part of voice over work, is when the voice over meets or exceeds the expectations of the intended listener (dependent upon the genre of work, script, goals, etc.) Thus, sounding natural means very different things to different people. For voice talent trying to figure out what the voice seeker wants on an audition can be a nightmare. Quite often, typical direction as in the aforementioned “natural sounding” or even referencing a celebrity voice talent, such Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliot, may not properly communicate what you might be looking for. We’re also seeing direction these days, often in all caps, that simply says NO RADIO ANNOUNCERS PLEASE”. How helpful do you think that is? And given the preponderance of voice talent who have indeed had some connection to broadcasting, it tends to be downright insulting. I’ve never been a radio guy, but I’d be less likely to respond to your audition simply because it comes off as somewhat antagonistic.
If indeed what you are asking the voice talent to do is be a particular type of story teller, then it might be best to use as many descriptive terms as possible. If you are considering a broad range, then indicate that as well. Reference people to some potential performances in YouTube that might work, although I would stress that you are not looking for impersonations (unless that is what you want), and use references that are not commercials, but preferably clips from movies or tv shows, talk shows, reality shows, etc.
Consider creating a dialog with some talent. If you’ve hired some actors you’ve liked in the past, ask them if they have suggestions on better ways you could communicate. Talk to other people you know who work with talent and or may direct talent, to get their ideas and opinions. Make sure to give proper pronunciation for key terms and names. Talent may not know that it’s pronounced “Mur IN” county as opposed to “MAR in” county. The name of your client may be tricky, as well as technical, legal or medical terms. If there is a specific way that a script has been written, such as poetically, cynical, fast paced, etc., point this out as well. Indicate words or terms that might be particularly important.
This could be the difference between getting back lots of auditions that aren’t very usable, vs. having to send something out for re-casting or having a very small pool of talent who might have auditions that are presentable.
Photo by The U.S. Army