Thursday, 24 January 2013

Drama School training for Voiceover Artists - are there benefits?

As I've said before throughout my blogs, people enter the Voiceover world from different backgrounds. Some arrive from having worked in radio as presenters, some as experienced producers or sound engineers. Others find their Voiceover niche because they have always been able to entertain through mimicking and creating crazy voices. A great many however, began their careers as actors, and launched their Voice careers after honing their skills and talents at drama school. I am from within that camp, having completed post-graduate Actor Training, and then having worked as a  professional actress for some years. This blog shares with you my thoughts on the benefits of being an actor, especially a trained one, when it comes to Voiceover work. It is not my view that it is completely necessary, just that it has benefits, and may give you food for thought on how to improve certain areas of your voice work.

For me, there's an assurance I carry that I know what I'm doing with my voice. Vocal training during my time studying at drama school helped me gather a strong sense of what works and why. I understand how to shape my mouth and tongue and lips to change my sound to achieve a desired effect. I appreciate the difference warming up my facial muscles makes to a session with the microphone, and those warm ups are ingrained! They are so much a part of my daily routine, that often I'm not aware that I do them. I hum in the car after dropping my kids at school to warm my voice, I stretch out my face. I work on some excellent tongue twisters with the children, all to get the muscles moving, I read through each and every script aloud making full use of every single vowel and consonant (I sound utterly ridiculous and a little bit crazed) and it makes such a dramatic change to the reading I then give into the microphone, makes me focus, and slow down my speech. A wonderful, elderly voice tutor spent hours of her time drilling us students in the importance of clarity in speaking. Who wants to listen to someone who isn't taking the time to enjoy language, who garbles and rushes through syllables and consonants? And she was right. I now find it frustrating to hear people who in daily interactions err on the side of mumbling. Becoming aware of my own shortcomings in my natural speech, makes me determined to ensure my clients get full articulation and clarity from me. If someone has written the script, then they want it spoken properly! Jonathan Tilley has some excellent warm up tips in his highly recommended eBook, 'Voice Over Garden'. Visit to find out more.

The anatomical knowlege of my speaking equipment I gained whilst training gives me the confidence to know when I need to rest my voice when things just don't feel like they should. After all, damage to the voice is a bit of a bummer when you are Voiceover Artist. Every impending sore throat needs a little TLC, and it is important to heed those early croaky warning signs.  It can be hard to say no to a job, but if your voice needs to rest, then you must take a break. I once suffered from some major vocal complications which meant I had to rest my voice for 8 weeks! It was a challenge, but meant that I still have the ability to speak and to have this excellent career. If I had been foolish, and not heeded warnings from vocal and medical professionals around me, life could be quite different. If something isn't working in the way a client wants you to do a reading, if it causes pain or discomfort, have the confidence to speak up. Change your performance or perhaps suggest they could use an effect on your voice instead. Don't take risks. If things don't feel right with your mouth or throat, go see a doctor. Have confidence in your knowledge as a performer, and understand the needs of your body.

And then there are the many things I learned about Breath. Breath control is paramount to a good performance, and knowing anatomically and viscerally how to achieve that makes a tremendous difference. Firstly, I urge you to find a voice class that you can attend, failing that check out some of the wonderful writings by the Royal Shakespeare Company's very own Cecily Berry.
 With my brand of upbeat, enthusiastic, and often fast paced voiceovers, it is crucial that my breathing doesn't ruin a read, and that I have the support to get to the end of a very long sentence without collapsing in a heap! There are many great exercises you can do to become aware of your own breathing limitations and habits, and advice on how to reform yourself towards new positive habits. Do a little research, and see where you can get some help locally.

As an experienced actor, I am accustomed to 'getting into character' quickly and effortlessly. Even jobs which require my 'natural' speaking voice, there always needs to be an idea of who I am, and to whom I am speaking. It is rarely ever just me 'reading the text'. There is an element of performance to almost every read: corporate, narration, commercial and the rest. Having confidence in the character I have created can make a read stand out, make it feel more connected, more natural. This is of particular benefit when working on Audiobooks where a myriad of characters need your voice to be 'their' voice. It is crucial then to be able to adapt my ideas on character when being directed, finding ways to quickly and seamlessly adapt my performance and character to a director's requirements. My experiences in the rehearsal rooms at drama school and my later acting career give me the confidence to play with my character creations. Some things work, some things don't, but I always have the willingness and ability to try something new with a character idea for a script. Why not find a local acting class you can sign up to? Or an improv class? They can be fantastic ways of jumping in and feeling inspired by your own character creations, and you can learn anm awful lot from fellow classmates. The City Lit in London offers some fantastic courses, although most adult education centres will have some form of performance course to get you started.

So, for me, Drama School training has been a real asset, but it isn't compulsory for a Voiceover career. Maybe adding a few things to your Voice Actor toolbox could lead to a huge improvement in your performance though, both vocally and creatively. It has to be worth investigating. So perhaps a full drama school training isn't for you, but it can do no harm to learn a little more about the tools of your trade: your voice, your breath and your performance ability.