Last week, I had the pleasure of working on a feature film where I was asked to do voiceovers with 10 year old girls. Let me clarify: I was asked to speak in the voice of a ten year old girl, along with actual ten year old girls. As an actor, there is something magnificent about standing next to real ten year old girls and being able to convincingly match their voices and energy!
Ready to do our voiceovers together, the girl next to me turned and sheepishly smiled up at me. In that moment, I was an adult standing next to her. We then stared at the film screen and heard our “beep beep beep” cue to begin, and that’s when the transformation happened… suddenly we were equals as our similar sounding voices lent themselves to a scene with young energetic girls on the screen. We didn’t look at each other, only at the screen, and the scene before us embodied our voices. Such is the magic of voiceover work.
I have often discussed how fascinating it is to me that our voices are capable of both revealing and betraying so much: age, sex, race, class, ethnicity, what country you’re from, what region you’re from, what city you’re from, even what part of the same city you’re from, such as Brooklyn vs neighboring Queens. For those of us who do voiceovers for a living, it is a matter of pride as well as a thrill to be able to convincingly master multiple voices. “It doesn’t matter what you look like!” is the familiar enthusiastic exclamation of every film, TV or stage actor who has discovered voiceover work. Ah, but it does matter what you SOUND like.
Even in voiceover work, there are types. Some voiceover actors may shun my saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway because I’ve found it to be true: Embrace your voice type and the work it brings. Sure, I can convincingly “play” someone 20-30 years younger than I am with my voice (yes, I said 30, don’t do the math) but by the same token, I don’t book jobs where they want a woman my age because I sound too young. I am proud of the fact that I can speak multiple languages and do multiple accents flawlessly, but I can only lower my voice so much, try as I may. My natural speaking voice sounds like someone in her early 20’s. My voice is great for commercial work, not so great for the medical training video audition I submitted last week… which brings me to my next point.
Should you submit to EVERY audition that comes your way? Again, some may disagree with me, but I say, no. I submitted a couple of auditions last week that I sadly knew I wouldn’t book. I sounded great, mind you, but I also sounded too young, and I knew it. Just like actors who work on stage or on camera, there is something to be said for knowing your types (notice I added an “s” there). We actors face a lot of rejection. Why subject yourself to that when you can focus on marketing yourself for the types of jobs you know you’ll likely get? Actors believe they can play any part, but casting directors don’t think of actors as being able to play every part. They think of actors as types. I know this because I worked at a casting agency briefly and gained this valuable education firsthand about how actors are really perceived and cast. The same goes for voices. Brand yourself. Highlight the things you know will likely book the job for you over someone else. For me, there are a handful of things that consistently book work for me: my young, friendly voice for commercials especially, my Southern accent, which I love to do (I’m originally from Louisiana), Spanish and English in the same session since not many actors can do both with zero accent, and my facility with improv that helps with certain jobs such as looping for films and TV shows.
What are your specialties? What do you consistently book? How do others describe your voice? Just as an actor asks others to help him or her to define his or her type, so should a voiceover actor ask others for input as well. Share your demos with others and ask for honest feedback. Then take that feedback and market yourself with it. Take classes and keep expanding your vocal range, try new accents, new animation voices, and so on, but don’t neglect the voices you already do well, the ones that have lead to jobs. The more you embrace your voice type(s), the more work you’ll book!