“We want real people, not actors.”
It’s something we hear almost every time we audition, particularly in the commercial world, but also across the board, from animation to video games. But we know that claim isn’t necessarily true. They want actors. So, what does it really mean?
Whoever’s stating this seems to want a performer who doesn’t sound like they’re reading a script. They do not want a wooden performance. And, to be honest, even the best voiceover artists can give an audition in which they “listen to their own voice” or fall into the trap of where to “place” their voice. The result is often a great smooth voice, but it sounds like they are acting, reading, or just aren’t passionate or engaged. No real emotion. No connection with the audience.
Conversely, the voice can sound like a hundred other good actors, sounding too slick or too polished because they know where to finesse it, pause, or use other delivery tricks. But you don’t want to be different just to be different, either. I think what’s being asked for is this: someone who can interpret the script and move the audience to action. Whether you’re voicing an ad for McDonald’s, a PSA for a public safety awareness campaign, an audiobook, podcast, or animated piece, everyone wants a good storyteller who can get the word out, transform, inspire, or make us laugh.
Let’s look at the art of storytelling with your voice – although it’s not much different from the time-honored tradition of storytelling that goes back to our ancestors from around the globe. From mass media to the family unit, everyone knows the power of good storytelling. A good storyteller has a unique way of telling a story that only they could breathe life into from the way they see it and experienced it.
All stories need a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is the setup, the problem, if you will. The middle is what happens because of the setup. The issue at hand. The problem that the storyteller is going to help you solve. And the end is the resolution. Sometimes in voiceover, particularly commercials, it’s easy to miss that.
Case in point: Joe has weeds. Weeds are ugly and killing off his grass and vegetable garden. Joe needs Whack-A-Weed. Joe uses it, and now his yard is weed-free.
We see it all the time, from films to TV shows to ads in every corner of our culture. But the world doesn’t need another voice actor who sounds like James Earl Jones. It needs voices of all shapes and sizes. And even if you have been called a “James Earl Jones” type, it’s a reference; they are still looking to you to bring “life” to it.
So, know to whom you are talking. What you want, or what you want to convey. The tone. What is the moment before you start speaking? Imagine the setting and scene and maybe even the dialogue before you speak. Are you coming from a question? Considering these aspects will set you apart as many jump right in. Look for places where the portrayal can be interactive, even if it’s a monologue. Are they with you, or not? What do you want them to get out of it in the end?
Remember why you got into this in the first place. And enjoy the performance and the journey.
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.