The Art of Voice Acting  by James R. Alburger
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Now Hear This!
by Christopher Carmichael
reprinted by permission www.sdradio.com

Voice Acting James AlburgerYou hear them everyday -- radio, television and inside your head when you see a billboard -- it's the commercials that stands out (Like these gems: ...baby back ribs; Reachout and Touch Someone!; I'm a Pepper...). It's more than a rip-'n-read, it's voice acting and it is fun -- and could provide you a good income. James Alburger stopped by the SDR office and took time to talk .... about voice acting!

SDR: What is a voice artist/ voice actor, James?

James: Technically, a voice artist, voice actor, voiceover talent, or anything similar, is a performer who uses their voice exclusively to deliver a message. Whenever you hear the voice, but do not see the performer, you're listening to a voiceover performance.

SDR: Is there a difference between a d.j. and a voice over specialist?

James: Basically, anyone can do voiceover. A simple voiceover performance is little more than reading out loud or talking for a recording that will be played back later on (like a message on your answering machine). So, in that sense, most people have done some simple voiceover at one time or another. Voiceover is the general term used to refer to this kind of work, but there's a whole lot more involved than just "reading" from a script. VoiceActing.comIn my book, The Art of Voice Acting (Link), and in my workshops (Link), I make a differentiation between "voiceover" and "voice acting." A radio DJ generally does "voiceover". He or she essentially plays him/herself when on the air. Even when recording a commercial, they are still generally using their on-air personality to communicate the commercial message. DJ's usually have a limited range in their performance and most have little or no acting experience. DJ's are generally very good in their environment as an on-air personality, but generally not so good as voiceover talent. On the other hand, a voice actor creates a unique character for every script, based on very specific acting techniques. The performer's real personality is rarely revealed in their performance. Rather, the voice actor uses their acting ability to uncover the details and personality of the "person" (or character) speaking the words in the script. A good voice actor can create a thousand voices because they discover the character in the script and allow that character to come to life through the words, emotions and attitudes present in the script.

SDR: What kind of training would you have to do?

James: Voiceover is voice ACTING! However, the acting skills used in voiceover work are completely different than those in any other form of acting. The major difference is that in all other types of performance, the actor has the benefit of props, scenery, lighting, other actors, stage movement, and other things that support the performance. In voiceover, the actor must communicate the entire performance, in all its subtlety, using nothing more than the sound of the voice. This can be a real challenge for actors trained in stage or film work because they are used to memorization and blocking. In voiceover, we work directly from the script, with no memorization - and we can't move our head away from the microphone. A voiceover recording session usually happens pretty fast, so there is no time to memorize. The voice actor must be able to come up with the perfect interpretation of the script, and create a believable character and voice to speak the words, all within a few short minutes of receiving the script. The Art of Voice ActingI highly recommend some training in acting, improvisation, and even singing, but it isn't absolutely necessary to do voiceover. In fact, we've had many very talented students come through our workshops who have never acted before in their lives. But what they do have is a passion for performing voiceover, excellent reading skills, directable talent, and an ability to speak clearly with vocal variety. There are several approaches to learning how to perform for voiceover:

  1. Read lots of books on the subject. My book, The Art of Voice Acting, has been reviewed as one of the best books on the subject, and is the best-selling book on voice acting on Amazon.com.)
  2. Take a workshop or class on voiceover. The only way you'll learn the unique performing skills for voiceover is to take a voiceover workshop or class.

In San Diego, we teach an eight-week workshop and about once a year we offer a Weekend Workshop. We also bring voiceover coaches down from Los Angeles to teach here in San Diego. For students not living in San Diego, I have compiled a comprehensive list of voiceover coaches around the country on my website at by clicking here. We're also planning to take our Weekend Workshop to several cities around the country over the next year or so.

An excellent resource to learn basic speaking skills and how to use vocal variety is to join a Toastmasters club (Toastmasters.org). Toastmasters is everywhere, and even though their focus is on public speaking, the confidence and skills learned as a Toastmaster are invaluable when performing for voiceover.

SDR: Isn't voice acting always around us? From commercials to your favorite radio or tv program -- isn't voice acting one of the hooks to bring you back?

James: In our society, we are inundated with commercial messages of all types, and voiceover is everywhere we turn. Radio, TV, telephones, computers, the Internet, grocery stores, airports, toys, games . . . you name it, and there's probably some voiceover work very nearby. The thing that keeps people listening isn't the voiceover, it's the emotional connection to the message, whatever that may be. Think about the radio commercials you've heard today. How many of those commercials inspired you to either "tune out," or change stations? My guess is that you can't remember (or don't want to remember) most of the commercials you heard. But, think about a commercial you do remember. What makes that commercial different from all the others? It may be that you were simply interested or in need of that product or service at the time, but more likely, it's the delivery of the message that kept you listening and stuck in your memory. For a message to be effective, the listener needs to have multiple experiences of the message over a short period of time. However, if the message contains no emotional connections for the listener, it will simply be forgotten, or the impact may be negative. Creating and writing commercials that have a positive impact on listeners and that deliver the message in a memorable manner is one of the things we do as part of my production company, The Commercial Clinic.

SDR: How can you help potential candidates? What can they do to contact you?

Penny Abshire Voice ActingJames: My partner, Penny Abshire, and I are both professional speakers and performance coaches. We work with people who want to break into voiceover, and we work with media talent (DJ's, television news reporters, etc), sales people, and other business executives who need high-level communication skills to reach their audience. Political candidates are ideal for our coaching services simply because the techniques we teach can be extremely effective in their line of work. In the coaching side of our business (www.speakingmagic.com) we apply the same voice and acting techniques we use when performing a commercial or creating a character, however, we modify the application of those techniques to the specific needs of our client. For example, a political candidate needs to project a professional image of their individual personality and what makes them different from all the other candidates. We don't want to create a different character, but we do want to improve the communication skills. We can work with political candidates as personal performance coaches, or we can help their campaign as advertising specialists with the creation, voiceing, and production of radio commercials.

SDR: Name a few of your clients that people would recognize.

James: Most of the voiceover work we do actually airs, or is used, outside of San Diego. Locally, we've produced and voiced commercials for IKEA and Mossy Nissan. One of the IKEA spots we produced in 2003 received the "Best Locally Produced Radio Commercial" award from the San Diego RadioBroadcasters Association. My partner, Penny Abshire, and I are also the voices for the Anza Borrego Desert Visitor's Center multimedia show. We also handle the voiceover and production for several websites that feature medical products and drug information. One of our favorite recent clients is a newly formed company named Quizzenkids Productions. In 2003, we co-wrote, handled the casting, produced and directed the production of an interactive CD for children titled "Mr. Quizmee Asks About Animals" (MrQuizmee.com). The Mr. Quizmee CD has already received several major awards in the area of children's audio programming. Many of the projects we've done recently are posted on The Commercial Clinic website at CommercialClinic.com/listen.

SDR: Are most voice specialists freelance; or are there some that make a full-time living at this?

James: Voiceover is definitely a part of show business, and as with most other areas of show business, it is possible to do voiceover on a part-time basis, but it is also often difficult to make a full-time living from voiceover work. There is a learning curve to this business that can take up to several years to master. It involves, not only learning the craft of performing for voiceover, but also the marketing and networking skills that will result in making the connections that will eventually lead to bookings. This can be a daunting process for someone just starting out, so most people who are just breaking into voiceover will begin as part-time freelance talent. Voiceover coaches are not talent agents, and rarely provide anything in the way of leads for voice work. As with all other areas of show business, it's up to the performer to find their own work, or to find a talent agent to represent them. Even with an agent, the voice actor still needs to be actively involved in their own marketing and promotion.

The real key to being successful as a voice actor is having a passion for performing and creating characters. This is a business where we never stop learning, so it is also vital to continue taking classes and stay up to date with the trends of the business. For someone willing to put in the effort, voice acting can be a perfect creative outlet with a potentially profitable future.

Thanks James for stopping by!

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