What is “Voice Over”?
Voice Acting and Voice Over (or less commonly, “voiceover” or “voice-over”) are sometimes used interchangeably, Both require a skilled actor.
“Live voiceover” doesn’t exist—or it might be called live announcing—since voice over performances are pre-recorded. Voice Acting usually means an unseen actor playing a character that talks to other characters in a video game or animated video, while voiceover usually means an unseen actor is talking to or for the benefit of a viewer or listener.
American English-speaking voice talent are expected to be able to speak Standard American English (also called the General American accent), widely perceived as lacking sub-regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics. The most common pronunciation listed by the a plurality of English dictionaries is almost always considered the “correct” pronunciation in voiceover, though some words have more variability (see the most common alternate pronunciations). Also, different clients may prefer alternate pronunciations of some words (e.g. data: DAY-ta or DAH-ta) in different contexts.
What is Acting?
If you don’t plan to engage your attention, your attention will move to the wrong things.
Acting is convincingly portraying an authentic person while performing scripted words (performing is the thing you do when you’re acting).
But what is an actor thinking of and focusing on that is the action of performing as an actor? What are performance skills?
Julliard-awarding winning actor and voice acting coach Michael Curran-Dorsano sometimes shares a classic instruction to create acting in this way:
“Toss a beanbag (or similar) and catch it a few times. Then look at a short line you want to perform, and use your day-to-day voice to say the line to the beanbag as you toss it again.”
Congratulations! You are now a voice actor. But your attention must be on something other than your performance, something other than your voice. You must not be thinking about how you sound or speak—thinking about performing while reading words often just sounds like theatrical reading (very bad acting).
“Acting is the art of distracting yourself from performing.”
You need to distract yourself before, during, and just after your performance, because you can’t instantly turn it on and off. The best distractions are argued far and wide, but they generally come down to a combination of three things:
- Feel first.
- React and converse with other people, or imagine that you are reacting to and conversing with them.
- Pre-chosen aspects of what it means to be human in a given scenario.
The challenge for new actors is to not settle for less than near-complete distraction. It feels very uncontrolled and vulnerable, and so they ask things like “But what should my voice sound like?” The best answer to that is:
“If you are paying attention to what your voice sounds like as you perform, your acting is bad.”
New actors reject this advice, since they want to do something to create and control their performance. But you cannot create a performance that seems authentically uncontrolled by controlling it.
For voice acting or voiceover, actors usually start by giving themselves something to feel in order to feel first before beginning their performance. Determining the genre and scenario when performing by studying the script and script notes is a common starting point. Then it’s time to decide who you will be talking to, and what scene you will be in with that person.
Every experienced voice talent will also tell you you will need a lot more body language than you think if you want to be a voice actor. But body language is not enough on its own to distract you.
Start with Scene, then choose from such contexts as Discovery, POV, Stakes, Character, or Conversation Mode.
After a voice actor thinks of whom they are talking to, they may then choose one of four Conversational Modes they will speak to that person in (assuming the scripted line is “This matters”):
Mode #1: Me: Your POV
“This is what I think: This matters.”
Mode #2: Me about You: Your POV on their POV
“I see what you mean—this matters.”
#3: Me sharing Them: 3rd party POV
“Your sister is smart, you should listen to her. This matters.”
#4: Us about Them: 3rd party does NOT share the POV
“We’re smart, but your brother doesn’t get it. This matters.”
Many scripts follow a problem-solution-gratitude journey. On that journey, you must decide what kind of Discovery Contexts you will experience:
- Your pre-existing POV guides you;
- You discover a new POV (often best);
- You are taught an existing POV via the journey.
We are each built a certain way, then grow through experience. We experience concern for others, self-interest, and rules guiding success and failure. Every Point-of-View (POV) is made of a combination of three “flavors” that give us the Archetype Triads leading to our POV. The three triads are:
- Connection: Conversation, Warmth, Worry about others; about what they think, their condition, and their class rank (Superego)
- Conviction: All things are logical, factual and understood rapidly; Judgmental Authority and Importance (Ego)
- Playful Mischief: Acting on urges; Immature self-interest; Doing what you want to do (Id)
As we grow wiser, we gain a better balance of all of these qualities, acknowledging our own needs and the needs of others as well as keeping in mind factors that contribute to success and failure. Agencies often want you express all of these qualities, with one being foremost—the main genre. Example spec statements that combine all POVs yet focus mainly on one, expressed as Archetype Labels:
- “Powerful, yet warm, with a hint of levity.”
– the Wise General
- “I do what I want because it’s the best way to live your life, and so do you.”
– the Edgy Charismatic
- “You get it! Why don’t other people? I need this.”
– the Friendly Rascal
To feel first, we chose and combine these POVs in the right ratio to set our intention. The most common combinations of these are:
- Wisdom: Connection + Conviction
- Passion: Mischief + Conviction
- Joy: Connection + Mischief
Combining the primary archetype triads often leads to one of the following character archetypes: Everyperson • Sage Mentor • Caregiver/Helper • Leader • Professor • Rebel • Warrior • Seducer • Jester • Ruler • Outsider/Wildcard • Creator/Planner • Hero • Innocent Child • Magician • Lover • Bully (who usually transitions or gets their comeuppance).
Awareness, not Technique
New voice talent are unaware that three characteristics of natural speech disappear when they try to force a performance or think about how they sound—you need to work to keep these happening:
- Expressive Vocal Traits and Quirks “not your neutral voice”. This helps you avoid patterns of false intensity (raising and holding the same speed, pitch or volume sound annoying and fake).
- Less-Energetic, thoughtful Moments (not all the time, but moments), usually following a more-emotional, strong POV statement; the two parts together are sometimes called a Drop Beat, or Off-the-cuff drop.
- Natural Cadence (always speaking in short sound groups/chunks of words)
So becoming aware of these three aspects of natural, authentic speech can help a performer check their results and adapt their performance.
#1 is usually best experienced by creating a few character voices—talking like someone who doesn’t sound like your usual day-to–day voice. As you do, you will notice how vocal traits expand to become more expressive and quirky. Finally you will feel how these traits help you convey different POVs. So learning to be more expressive helps you share a stronger and more authentic point of view.
To begin exploring the more expressive, character-like aspects of yourself, try saying the words in bold as if feeling the italicized word: No… Hesitant • No! Angry • No? Surprised • No. Sarcastic • You did? Disappointed • You did? Curious • You did? Very Surprised • You did? Angry • You did. In Agreement. Play around with increasing and decreasing what you do to achieve each emotion
2. Range and Intimacy
In order to have a natural energy range, new talent need to explore their less-energetic, more intimate performance, because this is the first thing they lose when they try to perform using effort or force. Experienced actors move naturally from medium-high energy to low energy on a moment’s notice.
The more intimate range is where many more authoritative reads are produced from, so this helps build not just awareness, but skill. A simple way to start exploring this is to do a couple of relaxed breaths before throwing the ball and saying your line.
3. Clump your Words: Natural Cadence
All English writing can be spoken as a series of 2-5 word chunks (also called sound groups). Occasionally some individual, single words will be lingered on as well, representing a single word sound group. When you start isolating words or reading in a run-on style, natural speech is lost.
This is just the briefest overview of the things you can distract yourself with to produce an authentic acting performance. Determining how to raise the stakes and choose POV (point of view) and POV context are others.
What is Performance Competency?
TASK Competency points out that performers of all kinds must reach stage 4 competence, but most get stuck at stage 3—which doesn’t work for performance skills:
The “Four Stages of Competence”:
- Unconscious incompetence (Ignorance)
- Conscious incompetence (Knowledge)
- Conscious competence (Skill)
- Unconscious competence (Awareness)