With the exception of specialized vocal effects that push the dynamic range of the microphone, the mic is not the voice actor’s instrument. The voice actor’s instrument is the voice, mind, body, soul, and talent.
While we appreciate the well-known and dramatic event of letting an expensive, finely tuned, and crafted electronic instrument drop to the floor in a bold display of having confidently delivered a performance, that’s not the mic drop we’re going to talk about here.
1. Don’t focus on “mic technique.”
As a voice actor, you don’t have to be an expert on microphones, period. So called “mic technique” is little more than managing proximity, angle, and volume. With audio technology, the engineer can make you sound any number of ways, based on what the producer is aiming for. As a voice actor, your job is to give the director the raw materials he needs to work with. In the end, he may use your raw audio or what’s left of your voice after filters make it sound like it’s coming out of a transistor radio.
2. Look past the mic.
Touching the minds and hearts of the listener is the voice actor’s primary objective. The mic is only there as a witness of sorts. How you influence the listener (your audience) is dependent upon knowing or estimating age, interests, needs, frame of mind, etc. But it goes further. For example, if you’re doing voiceover for a video that will play on a monitor at Disney World, you may have to match the energy of the park-goers who will experience the video in a high-energy environment. That same message could be written and performed differently as a TV commercial for a consumer watching in the comfort of her own home.
3. Do the research.
The voice actor benefits enormously from knowing the who, what, why, when, and where behind a script. It takes detective work to draw out the veracity of the text. And if you’re working in a home studio, without the benefit of a director, you’ll have to be an even better detective. Sniffing out nuance and meaning is a prized skill that gets at the underlying psyche at play. Research leads to thoughtful, singular, and surprisingly fresh performances that cut through the clutter. Ask yourself:
WHO are you talking to? Determine your audience and then choose a single “real” person who represents this audience. This is who you will direct your message to. This is the person you seek to influence. You are always aiming to have this person take a specific action.
WHAT is the nature of your voiceover? Sales, entertainment, instructional? What is the specific action you want your audience to take and how do you want him to feel about doing it?
WHY are you speaking? This is a question of motivation. You don’t just begin because the script begins. You must conjure the circumstance or event that motivates you to speak. The actor’s performance comes to life when the motivation is defined.
WHEN are you speaking to your audience and when do you need them to act? Is it while they’re multitasking around the house, watching TV, or listening to the radio? Is it while they’re driving? Are they catching up on the day while watching the evening news? Are they captive in a darkened theater waiting for the big feature to start? It’s common sense, but the “when” helps moderate your way of reaching them.
WHERE is an extension of WHEN. Your voiceover could be playing to people in schools as educational material, online as e-learning or as a consumer sales video, at work as an instructional video, or in a car during a commute. Knowing WHERE can help your performance hit the bull’s eye.
4. Nail the conversational read.
Making a performance “conversational” breathes authenticity into your performance. “Conversational” is the way people express themselves in everyday life situations—both mundane and dramatic; it’s another word for good acting. It’s unforced, unadorned, and suited to the circumstances.
All of the concepts we’ve shared for your consideration will come in their own time if you commit to letting them in. However, you don’t have to apply them all at once. The mere act of thinking and negotiating these concepts will foster what we call “thinking on your feet.” When we speak in life, we don’t have it written down as we do with a script. We have to think as we go, gauging our listener’s facial expressions and body language to determine how to deliver our message. When you start to apply the above concepts, the result will be “thinking on your feet” as we do in real life. Remember, voice acting is not about good reading. It’s about generating the ideas and words as if they are your own.