So You Wanna Voice Act? A Starter For Newbies and The Mildly Curious

So you wanna voice act? Be it mild curiosity, a desire to get a new lowkey hobby or a sincere interest in taking it professional someday...but you have no real experience.

If do you have real experience, stop reading this. You don’t need to be listening to me, you need to be listening to a professional with far more experience. GO. NOW. BYE.

However, if you’re BRAND NEW, maybe you’ve only posted a smattering of reels for fun to YouTube and want to see where you can go from here...I can help you, as I’m mildly more experienced.

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’ve been doing online freelance VO work for independent creator projects for the better part of 6 months and I have learned and grown a lot in my abilities. I’d be happy to share the things I’ve learned with people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Here’s my advice, inspired by the things I’ve learned in the time I’ve been doing this and the things I’ve observed in listening to rookie voice reels online.

Take a seat, make yourself comfortable.

  1. Equipment: First thing’s first, you need good equipment. Your voice is only really as good as the equipment that’s recording it (trust me, Mark Hamill and Tara Strong and the rest of the greats will sound like shit on a laptop mic. It’s not their fault, it’s all the static). Most people also aren’t going to offer you work if your equipment is shitty, because no one wants voices that sound like someone being strangled in a huge spider’s web (if they did, they’ll add that effect in afterwards). Yes, good mics are expensive, but they’re every bit worth the investment and, in time, with persistence, can end up paying for themselves. The Blue Yeti USB mic is what I started out on. It’s not the best out there, but at a retail average of about 100-120 the price is right for the quality of recording. It’s great for a beginner. A pop filter is also a must. Always record with HEADPHONES ON and record in a closed space, preferably a closet. AC and other peripheral noise, like TVs, need to be off. Yes, you’ll get hot. Take breaks.

  2. Emotion: The kind of emotion that each character requires is going to differ. If you’re trying to replicate a voice I recommend listening to the original version over and over and over, practicing speaking with them, make sure you’re matching their tone and mood. If you’re making a new character from scratch, really dig the creator’s brains for what they’re looking for and send as many sample tries as needed to get the effect that they want. Stepping into the character’s shoes, understanding who they are and where they’re coming from is important for doing this properly. Regardless of the fact that a lot of these characters will require an abundance of emotion/delivery, more than you’re used to giving on a regular talking basis, keep it as natural as possible. A lot, a lot of the rookie reels/VO work I run into are so flat and wooden, like the person forgot the entire principle of how to emote normally. It’s, by far, one of the most common weaknesses.

  3. Enunciation: This is another common weakness I run into with rookie reels; slurring, slurring, slurring. I’m, like, 99% sure these people probably aren’t drunk so...why are you not saying your words clearly, folks? Take your time. Do vocal warms up that help with clear enunciation (my favorite? I’m not a pheasant plucker, but a pheasant plucker’s son…). The character is relying a lot (if not entirely) on your voice to get the message across so it’s important that every word is said as clearly and as naturally as possible.

  4. Playing Nice With Others: As you continue on your path, make yourself more widely known and get better at what you’re doing, you will inevitably be asked A LOT to help out with projects. This is, of course, ideal, but it’s okay to be a little selective with the jobs you choose to undertake. It’s important to make sure that what’s being requested of you is within your capabilities, both talent and timewise. Be sure you’re fully informed of everything, the amount of lines there’ll be, the due dates, the subject matter, etc. You don’t have to and probably shouldn’t work with someone who isn’t understanding of your limitations, who isn’t reliable, who promises things and seems to always fail to deliver. As I say of people in any situation, if you see one red flag there will inevitably be others. Work with people that are as passionate and dedicated and honest about what they’re doing as you are.

  5. Do it Again and Again and Again: Do as many takes of a line as you feel is necessary to getting it right. If you’re going one and done you’re most likely not getting the best delivery out of yourself as possible. I understand that some people who freelance from home will get their project director on a skype call and have them direct accordingly. I haven’t tried this yet (coordinating schedules is a pain in the ass) but it seems like it could be helpful for making sure there isn’t too much back and forth. Either way, do many takes. My average is about three for each line, but I might do more if I’m not liking what’s coming out.

  6. Seek Out Criticism:  I still haven’t really mastered the art of accepting criticism; I mean, I do so at face value and I do so gracefully, but inwardly it can still make me feel bitter for awhile (“I DID MY BEST THAT SHOULD BE ENOUGH”). It’s okay, it happens, feel your feels, but no matter how it may initially make you feel, heed it. Sure, not all critical feedback is going to be reliable, some of if you may have to disregard entirely...but do try to take everything that’s said into consideration. Listen to your work over again with this criticism in mind and see if you don’t hear what the person is talking about. Trust me, constructive criticism is crucial to getting better. While hearing what a genius you are at voices is nice, in the end, it will only make you stagnate. For this reason, if you’re passionate about voice work and you want to see where it takes you, I highly recommend asking people outright for honest, critical feedback. Peers, professionals and those who’ve been doing the work longer than you are ideal for this as compared to say, your mom or your husband or your friends (who will most likely tell you that you’re doing great and you don’t need to change anything- they may sincerely believe it, but it’s not the truth. Even the best of us have room to get better and always will).If you want to get better, don’t saturate yourself in praise. Do note, I’m not talking about useless insults you might get on YT videos like “you succ lol”. Anything that doesn’t provide specific insight into what you could improve is a waste of your time.

I know, I don't like ending in a number that isn't divisible by 5 or 10 either, but that's where we are for now. More tips will be added in future blog posts as I grow in my own abilities and learn more. It's been a really fun and rewarding adventure so far, I hope you'll consider embarking on one of your own! 

Never forget that anyone with questions into this should feel free to contact me at any time. I'd love to advise and guide anyone who could use my help! 

My best,

Michelle

Adventures in Voice Acting: My Biggest Hurdle Thus Far

It's been a crazy few months since I put myself (and, more importantly, my voice) out in the public arena. I hadn't been expecting very much, to be honest. Voice acting is something I've always done and always had an interest in doing publicly and now, with a tech-savvy husband who takes pride in his recording equipment and software, I finally had the means to do just that after years of waiting in the wings...so to speak. 

So now I'm here and I've gotten so many fun roles in this short amount of time. Nothing could've been a bigger boon to my spirit than to see evidence of the fact that I'm entertaining people with my voice. 

However, it's also been in a learning experience, one that I'm sure will remain that way as long as I pursue this interest. Given the progress I've made in these short months I'm already noticing my biggest weakness when it comes to voice acting; emoting. 

One of the first criticisms I ever got on my voice was from a fellow VA friend, Joel. His was the first indication that I wasn't putting enough life into my voices. The tone was there, no problem, but when it comes to something like this just sounding like a character isn't enough- one has to also bring the pizzazz.

When I listen to my 'old' work I hear it, that lack of emotion. No matter how 'big' I thought I was being when I recorded those voices it just didn't match. This comes into really sharp relief for me in the Thomas and Friends Need for Speed  episode wherein I played Molly. Opposite a very animated James, Molly (to me) sounds very wooden and ineffective. For my debut on something as amazing as the Thomas Creator Collective I sometimes regret that my delivery wasn't more colorful to match the environment. It could just be me. I'm very critical of everything I do. 

Regardless, it's something I now put a lot of focus into when I'm recording. If I think I'm being big in my delivery, I know I'm not. I have to reach that level of feeling like I'm taking it too far for the animation to be just right; big, animated, everything said 10 levels higher than anyone would say anything in real life. It feels awkward when I'm doing it but when I listen back, I'm pleased. It fits. 

It can be disheartening sometimes to listen back to my old work and be disappointed with what I was once so proud of...but then again, it means that I'm making progress as a VA. It means I'm getting better and honing my talents, getting a trained ear for what a good character voice should sound like.

It's all part of the journey.