Earlier this year I wrote a show that got a Government grant and went up at the Sydney Opera House. I played the role of Vox, or narrator, which involved seven hours of vocal recording (a lot of voice acting!). Here are ten techniques I used to help me give the best possible performance I was capable of giving!
When you get a voice acting job, do as much preparation before the recording session as you can. Time is money in a recording studio, and so the pace is fast! They want you in and out! If you have to stop to look up how to pronounce a word this can be painful!
Before you arrive at the studio, do all the work you need to do. Prepare the accent/s you’ll be using. Make sure you know what everything in the script means too! Do as much prep work as you can in the time you have.
2. Practice Recording
If you can, practice recording your sections at home by yourself, where you can experiment. Try different approaches, like being more ‘intimate’ or more ‘formal’ or more ‘colloquial’. Keep practising until you find a vocal style that you like! This will give you a little confidence on the day, and at least you’ll be coming into the studio with some strong voice offers.
3. Voice Warm Up
Make sure your voice is totally warm before you enter the studio. This includes all your tongue twisters to liven up your pronunciation. Get those sirens going to ensure your full vocal range is warm.
4. Physical Warm Up
Voice recording is way more physical than I thought at first. The voice artist usually stands while recording, and while this isn’t a problem for the first hour, going into the seventh it can be a little tricky! Make sure to stretch and warm up properly. Also, to fully embody the role, you may want to move around a little while you’re recording. Ever seen footage of Hugh Jackman recording the vocals for Wolverine? Check that out for physicality!
5. Physical Relaxation
Voice recording is a little stressful. You can pretend it isn’t for like 15 mins, then you’re going to be feeling a little pressure. As the director asks you to deliver the same line for the fifteenth time you’re going to feel that burn. But it’s your responsibility to stay relaxed, and playful! And one way to do this is to physically shake it out! Get up and do more stretches, jog on the spot, a couple of star jumps: whatever it takes to stay warm and loose!
6. Listen Closely to Direction
Come in with plenty of offers, but listen very carefully to direction as the director has a bigger vision in mind, and can see all the pieces of the puzzle. As a voice actor, you don’t really know what the director is planning. Perhaps there’s going to be music playing in the final version of the recording, or it’s a really quiet part of the show. But do also make your offers to the director if it seems appropriate and they are interested to hear them! You are an artist.
7. Listen In
If you can listen in to other people being recorded, take that opportunity! Especially if it’s before your recording session. Offer to turn the pages for the other voice actors, or to get everyone coffee. If you can get into the recording room you will learn so much about what the director wants from the actors, and the style of the production. This will help you to deliver what your director wants when it’s your turn!
8. Prepare For the Long Haul
The best note I got was to be in charge of keeping my own mood high. Recording sessions often take place underground, or deep inside some sound proof building, which can be a little stifling. You have to take responsibility for keeping your spirits up, and try to keep the spirits of everyone around you up as well! This means staying well hydrated, bringing the right kind of food, and getting out into the sunshine periodically!
9. Make Yourself Available For Pickups
If you can, make yourself available for a follow up recording session to do ‘pickups’. This is where you re-record a line that didn’t quite come out right the first time. Hopefully you’ll have a great sound designer who will be on top of this, and pick ups might not be needed! But planning to put a little time aside for this can really improve the final product.
10. Vocal Liveliness & Tonal Range (Experiment!)
The thing that surprised me most was that by staying responsive to the direction I was getting, I found that my voice really had the potential to surprise me. I came in speaking at one pitch, and started to bring much more range into my tone, so that I was almost singing at times. When you’re only acting with your voice it has to convey so much that would normally come across in body language. So just be prepared for some magical things to happen, if you stay responsive to feedback from your director! And then enjoy listening back to the finished product. Don’t be afraid to take those vocal risks! Remember if it doesn’t work out they can just go with a different take.
11. Bonus: Reading Material
There’s a wealth of books on how to use your voice out there. Some of the all time classics include The Right to Speak by Rodenburg, or Freeing the Natural Voice by Linklater. There are books on really specific topics like voice-over work. Have a bit of a click around and discover the perfect book for you! (ask trusted voice teachers or industry professionals for recommendations too) The secret to books in the performance industry is that they are full of things that won’t help you, but occasionally you’ll find something that does (which is usually worth the price of the book): and reading as much as possible doesn’t hurt!
No matter what voice work you get, these tips will help you to be the best vocal performer you can be! Anything we forgot about? Let us know in the comments below…