Radio as a path to voice acting
Curt Jones sent in this question: I am interested in voice over/radio and television, as well as other forms of voice talent work. In essence, I am interested in pursing most of the various types of voice talent work you mention in your book entitled, "The Art of Voice Acting." I am presently doing radio commercials for a local jazz radio station in Columbus, Ohio. I am also taking voice over training with one of the on-air talent at this particular station. I have submitted voice demos to various radio stations, hoping to get a break to get my voice on the air. I may be getting a break to do traffic reports for a company that does traffic, news, and weather reports for various radio stations. I just have to wait for the green light for them to bring another fill in person.
I say all this to say, what else should I be doing to prepare myself to get into this business? I would truly appreciate any help and/or suggestions you could offer me Sir.
Here's my reply:
It sounds like you're off to a good start in your chosen career. Anything you can do to get your voice on the air is a good thing. However, it sounds like you are pursuing two distinctly different things at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive, but you do need to understand the differences if you are going to excel at either.
When you are working on air as a DJ or Traffic Reporter, you are effectively projecting your individual personality over the air waves. Part of your objective with this type of on-air work is to establish an identity that your listeners enjoy and look forward to hearing. Your on-air personality will often be an extension of your off-air personality. In other words, you are "doing" you. This works great for personality radio, on-camera television, and even radio traffic - but it is not nearly as effective for radio commercials.
In small markets (and many larger markets as well) it is common for radio stations to have their on-air talent voice commercials that are produced by the station. In my opinion, this practice is usually doing a tremendous disservice to the advertiser. The common logic is that by having a station "personality" voice their commercial, the advertiser will benefit from audience loyalty to the personality. However, what often happens is that the on-air talent does little more than read the script with no internalization of the message, and no real understanding of the client's needs. These spots are frequently heavy on information, weak on emotional content, and often sound phony or artificial. The result is that many times these commercials are simply not accepted by the listeners and the advertiser ultimately complains that radio didn't work for them. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but they are relatively few.
For a commercial delivery to be most effective, it is important for the voice talent to realize that the actual speaker of the words is NOT him or her, but is in reality a character that exists within the words of the script. The only exception to this is when the talent is speaking from a script they wrote from their own personal experience. In this case, the performance becomes the voice talent "doing" him or her self.
Since most commercial copy is written by someone other than the talent, it becomes necessary for the talent to uncover the details that will result in an effective performance. This means that a certain level of acting ability is needed in order to truly take the words "off the page". The 5 core elements of The Art of Voice Acting workshops and my book are the keys to doing this. Discover the Audience, Back Story, Character, Desires, and Energy that all live within the words of a script and you'll be well on your way to creating a compelling and motivating performance. These core elements are covered at length in my book, and in the articles at www.voiceacting.com/vo101. In our workshops, we spend a great deal of time exploring these 5 core elements and working with many acting techniques to result in believable performances. Effective voiceover is not about interpreting a script for a "good read." It is about creating a compelling character in an interesting relationship that the listener can relate to.
Studying with an on-air talent is an excellent way to learn how to multi-task in a live radio environment. However, unless that coach has extensive acting experience and fully understands the intricacies of creating characters, you may also want to take some acting and performance classes to expand your performing abilities for commercial work. Most cities have community theater and colleges or universities that offer classes. Other training that is extremely valuable for mastering voiceover performance are classes in improvisation and singing. All performance classes will teach you how to expand on your own abilities and explore your potential.
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