However, this lopsided discussion is leading us to train voice actors who are less actors and more editors. They sound great! After a little software...
Open a discussion online about mics, and you’ll get a ton of varied responses from people trying out all kinds of gear. Open a discussion about the performance they’re trying to capture, and you’ll mostly get:
“I try to talk to one person.”I hate this trick.
There. I said it. This is probably the most bullshit piece of advice we give new voice actors. It’s a lazy, overly simplistic, one size fits all nugget, and it’s a coin flip whether or not it’ll work in an actual casting or booked session.
On it’s face it sounds like good advice, but the main problem I have with it is we rarely equip voice actors to understand the “why” of it.
Why do we want you to speak to one person?
I’ll tell you, it’s because we want you to create an emotional response or relationship with the person listening to the performance. That’s why, but you’ll rarely hear anyone articulate that. To sell soap, you have to get someone to care (primary reason I hate the direction “throw it away” and NEVER use it). From a performance perspective, it’s a feel-good, method-y way to get newbie performers to think about their performance. Great.
It is not in and of itself a performance foundation. It is a trick. We’re trying to distract voice actors away from the words on the commercial copy page, and trick them into delivering an emotionally connected read. In my opinion this approach (free of experience and a background in other methods of performance) will fail more often than it succeeds.
First off, I often find that the actor’s audience selection is usually wrong.
During a recent one on one coaching, I was working with an actress on a piece of health care copy, about getting preemptive screenings. Each read was more antagonistic than the last, and all were at odds with the copy’s direction of “caring”, “concern”, and “empathy”. When I asked what was motivating her reads, she said she was talking to her sister. On playing back her takes, she was shocked to hear how nagging-ly she had delivered the copy, when in her mind (and heart) she genuinely cared about the audience she had selected. I think it was also a telling psychological peek into the nature of their relationship...
The other problem suffered is the copy.
We don’t speak to each other “commercially”. If you’ve ever had to audition a wall-to-wall 60 second radio spot, we just don’t relate to each other that way as humans (and I’m ALREADY writing the follow up to this piece on “monologuing”).
Face it, you’ve never been motivated to share a brand’s message in an energetic and entertaining way (without sounding announcer-y) while using language like “introducing” or “presenting”, so why do we still hide behind the conceit that an audience of one is going to help?
I get it. It’s a way to shut up a question on performance, without the person feeling like their concerns were disregarded, and leaves the actor feeling like they’ve received some kind of sage advice.
But the truth of the matter, the peek behind the curtain, most of the successful commercial voice actors I work with don’t do this. They simply don’t consciously pick one person they know in real life to talk to during a commercial read. It. Just. Doesn’t. Happen.
So what advice do I have for informing a commercial read?
You’re probably not going to like it.
It takes time. Seriously. Use the trick as a starting point if you must, then over a period of time abandon it. Inform your own technique with experience, but run away from the audience trick as soon as you’re capable.
I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and I genuinely do believe in his 10,000 hours to mastery hypothesis posed in his book Outliers.
The master voice actors I’ve worked with, those seasoned by time, effort, and experience, have all adopted a far more intuitive approach to their individual reads. Often it seems they’re developing an idea of their delivery before they’ve finished reading the copy, before they’ve even bothered to read the producer’s direction, and before they’re rationally analysing the copy.
They’ve been exposed to so much copy that the script analysis and performance sections of their brains can function almost autonomously. It’s a “feeling” based approach to VO we rarely discuss with up and coming VA’s.
“When I feel like THIS, people listening will feel like THAT.”They are never guessing as to the emotional impact they’re creating. They aren’t having to reference their reads after the fact to see if they’ve achieved the proper tone. They feel it when it works, and they know when they’ve missed it.
Rather than perfecting a trick, we should want to get to this emotional short hand. We want to cut out the middle man, and that can only be achieved with time and practice. Give it 10,000 hours of intense study (give or take a year or so).
For all the people I’ve taught, coached, and worked with, especially those only a couple of years into their voice over journey, this is almost always the leading issue I find with people who feel like they’ve plateaued.
Techniques, methods, and tricks are just the beginning. They are training wheels. Use them to find your balance, but eventually you must forge your own path.