“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is no doubt a great Christmas song, but it also alludes to something we can use in every day life: the art of hearing. Listening. For the voiceover artist, and any actor for that matter, hearing what people are saying to you is vital for growth and success. Here are three ways that good listeners make good VO artists in clear, practical terms…
Listening is key when a VO talent is in the studio. If you’re doing a partner or a group read, the old adage of acting in a scene applies – listen and react. I also like, “Just look the other actor in the eye and tell them the truth” – with one caveat: have your ears be your eyes. If you actually look at the actor, you will go off mic, so this is why listening becomes so important.
The director of the piece will inevitably give you direction. Listen to him or her! I cannot emphasize this enough because he or she might be hearing something totally different than what it sounds like in your head, or they may just want another option. The director is the one in creative control of what you’re doing so, listen and be flexible – and “get out of your head!” as some people say. Often in the studio, the person leading the session – a director or producer usually – will play back a series of your takes. Sometimes when you hear it back, the words you’ve said sound different than they did in your head. Other times they will do a playback so you can hear the ones they like, and that lets you know what direction he or she wants to continue in. Have fun with it, and when the time feels right, you can also let the director or producer know you have another idea. Often, they will listen to your thoughts after they’ve gotten what they want.
Secondly – and just as important – listen to your critics. If you’re planning to do a VO demo, before you sign off and make those final cuts, give the demo to a few people whose opinion you trust. They don’t have to be in the business or even familiar with voiceover, but most people can hear ‘truth’ when it’s presented to them. I like to advise my students to give it to two or three people who will be honest enough to tell their real opinion. Then, listen to it again and see what rings true to you. It still needs to be something you stand behind. And your producer should be a great sounding board as well.
Lastly, listen back to your own voice. If you’ve ever heard yourself after being recorded, it’s very common to say, “is that what I really sound like?” – especially at the beginning of your career. Producers and directors will guide you, and trust me when I say, you’ll get use to hearing your own voice and know when you’re on and when you’re not. You’ll also start to make slight adjustments and get excited for how the ‘art of listening’ can be part of the creative process.
So this holiday season, take the time to listen, whether it be music, a favorite podcast, or even the voice of your own thoughts.
Got a question for Kathy about the craft or business of voiceover? Email us your question at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Kathy Grable is an L.A. voice-over prototype with a warmth and sincerity that reminds listeners of a close friend. You’ve heard her in animated shows like Tom & Jerry, Rocket Power, and Futurama and commercials for Pepsi, Disney, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and as the Baskin-Robbins “Talking Spoon.” Kathy was also the voice double for Nicole Kidman in the hit film Batman Forever. On-camera, she’s been seen in Mike & Molly, Harry’s Law, Last Man Standing, and The Wedding Band on TBS. She’s a sought-after V/O coach, director, and demo producer. When not performing, Kathy co-owns and operates a company that distributes e-books, comics, audio dramas, and her own podcast, In My Voice, with guests from all aspects of the voiceover world. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify, or go to https://anchor.fm/kathy-grable0 for all the episodes.