Caveat Emptor - not all coaching is equal!
Social media features so many posts from people offering 'coaching' - particularly in the field of VO. This is nothing particularly new - but the trickle has become a flood! It's natural enough I suppose: work is scarce, and everyone is looking for ways to help make ends meet.
Before you sign up for any coaching course (in any field, not just voice work) a word of advice - proceed with caution. Just as not all 'home studios' are equal (see previous post) neither are all 'coaches'.
I am sure you already know this, but at times like these, where you're probably spending more time online than ever before and feel the need to fill your time usefully then a glossy website, a promotional offer, a tempting promise, a flurry of posts on twitter boasting about 'I just signed up for 'Terry Tonsil's Terrific VO training course, only £25!' can have you throwing caution to the wind - and before you know it, you and Terry are doing Skype sessions! The only problem is that Terry may just be another poor soul in search of a way to earn a crust.
He may have no more idea of what is involved in voice performance than I have in what is involved in flying a plane. - or - though he may be an excellent voice actor himself, he may have absolutely no idea of how to tranfer his knowledge to you! He may have no idea how to teach.
So - what do you do? Caveat Emptor - buyer beware.
There have always been sharks out there who promise much but deliver very little - but here are some questions you should ask yourself before parting with your hard earned cash.
Is he or she experienced in this particular field? Do they know enough about it - all of it - the technical stuff, the marketing stuff, the rates, the performance, how to deliver a script - all of those little things - do they have the experience necessary?
Who have they worked for ... how much work have they actually done in this field?
Who has trained with them? Can you contact others who have been coached by them to seek their opinion?
Do they have a proven track record as a coach - not just as a voice actor?
Are there testimonials from people they've worked with?
Is there a waiting list to get on their coaching course? If they're any good, there probably will be.
Do they specialise in a genre you want to work in!
Have they just started coaching? Of course every coach starts sometime - but ask yourself ... why now? Why in the midst of a global pandemic, is Terry Tonsil suddenly offering coaching. Could it possibly be because his other work has suddenly dried up?
Does what they offer seem very cheap?
Is there a full break down of what their coaching involves? What is Terry Tonsil's commitment to you?
What is your gut reaction? Walk away from the computer for half an hour before coughing up any cash ... ask questions, delve below the surface, have a conversation with Terry (without committing yourself) ask him some tough questions.
What are other people saying about him? There are numerous VO related groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Is Terry a member of any of them? Is he active in those groups? When did he join the group - yesterday - why? In order to post his promotional post perhaps?
Does Terry have a professional profile on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If it seems to good to be true ... then it probably is - as I say... all gloss and no substance.
Caveat Emptor - buyer beware.
The Author's Voice.
An exciting update!
I am delighted to announce that Amanda Rose Smith will be giving tech advice and personal studio feedback to everyone taking the new Audiobook Specific Narrator Coaching Course from Helen Lloyd Audio.
Amanda is a 15 year audio industry veteran with notable projects in the audiobook, gaming, film, and television fields. Amanda is something of an audiobook engineering legend having recorded, edited, and directed over 1000 audiobooks, including 7 Audie nominations. Bryan Cranston, George Takei, and Hillary Rodham Clinton are counted among those she's recorded throughout her career.
After earning a Master’s degree in Music Technology from New York University, she spent time working as a live sound engineer before turning to studio work. She served as ADR engineer for hit shows such as ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘The Good Wife’, and recorded and edited dialogue on video games such as Telltale's ‘The Walking Dead’ as well as directing voice performances for animation.In addition to continuing her studio work, Amanda is audio producer for SerialBox.com and coaches voiceover actors in the NYC SAG-AFTRA voiceover lab.
I first met Amanda in New York when I attended her one of her audiobook technical workshops – she has since been my Audiobook editor of choice whenever I am producing independently, including for ‘But My Brain Had Other Ideas’ which is shortlisted for the best non-fiction audiobook performance in the 2019 One Voice Awards.
I am so exciting to have Amanda working with me and the narrators taking the course. I know her insight and feedback will be invaluable.
B is for ...
As actors we use our bodies to express our mood, our thoughts and emotions - and of course the essence of the character we're playing. Gesture, posture, the way you walk, the speed of your general movement is a powerful way of expressing yourself. The way you use your body speaks volumes to the observer showing your age, your personality and even your outlook on life without you having to speak a word. The way the body works is an essential part of character creation - let's face it, Charlie Chaplin's whole career was linked to his unique walk.
We are all increasingly aware of the value of exercise and keeping fit and while many of us are interested in improving our physical appearance and stamina, traditional keep fit and gym training doesn't necessarily give us the kind of workout and body training that fulfills our needs as performers - needs which are quite different from the kind of physicality needed to be an athlete.
For an actor the emphasis is on flexibility, stamina, expressiveness, characterisation, on motivated movement with purpose as well as on posture, relaxation, stillness and control. But what relevance has this for a voice actor?
An actor’s body is on show and under scrutiny and unless the intention is to draw attention to a character’s particular physical attributes, then the ability to move in an easy and fluid way that doesn’t distract the audience’s eye is a valuable attribute. An actor needs to develop a healthy body and maintain it in good working order - a actor's body needs to have an extraordinary level of control and stillness and be flexible and expressive. For an actor, any exercise regime is targeted on a different set of goals than simply gaining strength or losing weight; strength and stamina are obviously important; acting can be physically challenging – dancing and fighting occur in a great many plays and films! Movement training for an actor will normally include dance (incorporating period dance), gesture, fencing, stage fighting and tumbling.
Dancing, fencing and tumbling have no immediate relevance to voice acting; indeed you may wonder whether 'the body' and its fitness and flexibility has anything at all to do with voice acting. When you're in a small padded room in front of a microphone, you can't move around very much, you can't gesture and no one can see your posture or the physicality of your character.
However - especially for long form narration, stamina is vital - so is the reduction of physical stress which affects the voice, so body training and awareness combined with specialist forms of movement and relaxation such as the Alexander Technique and the Laban method are relevant and play a significant role in a regime that helps to build stamina, good breath control and vocal flexibility - all vital requirements for voice actors.
Your body is part of your vocal equipment and you owe it to yourself to stay generally in as good a shape as you can manage. Being generally fit is a great blessing and an asset to all performers and aids stamina and the ability to breathe properly.
Let's delve a little deeper. . .
Your voice is your voice … or is it?
There is a lot of talk about ‘authenticity’ buzzing around at the moment. Just Google ‘Authentic Voice’ and you’ll see 11,000,000 results. Many of them are about writing, urging authors to find their ‘authentic voice’, but ‘authentic’ also seems increasingly to be seen as a desirable asset for actors. Everyone, it seems, is trying to achieve that ‘an authentic performance’. Surely there can be no such thing! A performance by definition isn't 'real' or 'natural' or 'authentic' - it can never be. It is a performance.
I became ‘bi-lingual’ within a few days of starting school because I knew that if I spoke at school the way I spoke at home, I would sound too different to be accepted by my peers. So I am left struggling with the concept of one voice being more authentic than another - particularly within an audiobook, or any other kind of vocal performance.
We are actors … it is our job to make whatever we are doing believable and authentic. When we act, we aim to create something that is credible and convincing even though we may be playing a character light years away from ourselves in age, in experience and in attitude. And the joy of narration is that we get to play all of the characters - many that we would never be cast as in any other genre - and the narrator's skill is to make every single one of those voice sound 'authentic'.
Does this mean that I lost my ‘authentic’ voice? Does the fact that I (and many other actors and narrators) speak with a neutral ‘RP’ accent, make our voices less authentic than someone a voice with a regional dialect?
I don’t believe so … and actually I am inclined to think that applying the word ‘authentic’ to a voice is just so much gobbledygook!
The narrator's view
'Acting ... Audiobook narration is all about acting'
Performing Audiobooks is a whole different ball game from doing any other kind of voice work - and you might think that 'performing' is an odd word to use. Most people use narration or reading - but to my mind - audiobook narrators are performers in exactly the same way as actors, dancers and singers are performers. There is so much more to reading an audiobook than just reading aloud.
'Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning'.
There is absolutely no doubt that performing an audiobook is a huge challenge - and it is little wonder that so many voice over artists balk at the idea of being shut in a padded room for days on end for such small reward - for there is absolutely no doubt that financially at least, audiobook narration is the poor relation. A thirty second network commercial shown across all networks at peak time for a major brand can command a higher fee than a ten hour audiobook ... and the work will be completed in hours rather than days. People do make money in audiobooks - but we generally don't make very much - and we certainly don't make it quickly - and we earn every penny.
In this article, I am going to look at what's involved in creating an audiobook from scratch from the performer's point of view.
Sun King Media - investigated by Simon Hare on BBC ONE
This organisation has cropped up in various guises - and they're still at it - I recently saw them advertising jobs for Audiobook Narrators recently on LinkedIn - of course they were calling themselves something different, but a little digging revealed it was good old Sun King. And it sounded very appealing ... audiobook narration at a PFH rate of £300 - in the UK? The old adage holds true - it it sounds too good to be true - it probably is!
Reporter Simon Hare of BBC One's Inside Out programme has Sun King Media in their sights ... and his report airs this coming Monday on Inside Out on BBC One at 7.30pm across the Midlands and on BBC One HD - also available on BBC iplayer for thirty days. A must watch (and a warning) to every voice actor, actor, and voice artist in the UK. Watch and Learn.
You can find out more here. HERE
Voice Over Auditions
An invitation to audition for a VO has arrived in your inbox. What do you do? Instructions are minimal. The pay is OK but the deadline is tight. You're not particularly busy but it's not a genre you feel confident in or are particularly interested in - so, do you audition or not? Before rushing to record your submission - bear in mind the wise words of veteran voice actor and coach Johnny Heller
'You only get one chance to make a good first impression ... make it count!'
There are exceptions to this way of working, though not often. However, some audiobook producers and production studios in UK studios still invite actors into their studio to do a sight reading before casting. The drawback of this is obvious ... especially to those of us living outside of London; thankfully there is usually some flexibility and narrators are given the option of recording their sight reading and share it over the internet.
This ability to record remotely and send an audition or a sample read directly via the internet to a client, or agent, or online casting site or producer or publisher has fundamentally change the way we work and look for work. Because it's comparatively quick and easy to record and upload your thirty second read, the temptation is to submit for every job going - a kind of knee jerk reaction - without really thinking about whether you stand a chance of getting it, whether your read is showing you to your best advantage - whether you're playing to your strengths and whether you really WANT the job.
In my opinion ... this kind of auditioning frenzy - pile em high and hope (that simply based on the law of averages) one of those reads will result in a job, is counter-productive and even damaging to your professional reputation.
Don't audition for practice ... practice in order to audition!
A Bit of Background
Almost fifty years after graduating from drama school, (GSM&D) I am amazed by how useful and relevant my formal acting training still is - and even more amazed that I remember so much of it in such detail! As I now work mainly as a voice actor, the rigorous vocal training I received is something for which I am constantly grateful. So I thought it might be interesting to examine some of the things I learned during my training and as a young actor working with some of the best actors and directors in the business. I've moved from the stage to the recording booth now, but what I learned when training for the stage is equally relevant to the voice actor. So here goes .... start with 'A'!
A is for ... Accents
The term 'accent' describes the combination of pitch, stresses and rhythm of someone's everyday speech, as well as how they pronounce their vowels and consonants. Everyone has an accent. You speak with an accent even if you speak like all the people around you and even if you speak modern (or traditional) received pronunciation; defined as: “the regionally neutral, prestige accent of British English",
An accent is not, strictly speaking, the same thing as a dialect though they are often confused and it is difficult to imagine a dialect that is not associated with an accent. Strictly speaking the definition of a dialect is:
‘A dialect (or patois) is a particular form of language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.’"
Everyone has an accent to a lesser or greater degree – no matter in what language they are speaking; French with a Parisian accent is very different from French as spoken in the Marseilles, Catalonian Spanish is different from Andalucian Spanish; The American of the Deep South is very different from the accent of the New York suburbs … and so it is the whole world over.
Even the classic neutral voice as heard in news bulletins and documentary narrations, in theatres and on radio in every country in the world, is in itself a kind of ‘accent’.
We are all judged to some degree by our accent. Some judgements are positive, others less so. Certain accents are seen as more 'authentic' than others - but surely, your voice is your voice. Or are are we all naturally bilingual?
Listen to a child playing with their friends - they will almost certainly speak differently in the playground than they will when speaking with their parents or grandparents. I did when I was a youngster - my Northern flat 'A' 'bath' and 'path' with my friends, 'bahth' and 'pahth' at home. Both are my 'authentic' voice - I am not putting on either - it just depends who I am speaking to - and because of the kind of work I do - the neutral RP voice is the one I use most, though not exclusively..
'A' is for Accuracy
There are two kinds of accuracy that challenge the voice actor. Firstly there is the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the text you're reading, which may contain grammatical errors, errors that change the intended meaning, naming errors where a character starts out as Freddy and changes to Eddie half way through the MS, factual errors, or claims that you believe to be untrue.
Then there are the bloopers - those moments when your eyes, your brain and your mouth become totally disconnected so that you say doesn't actually bear any relation to what you see on the page! Some small errors such as contractions are usually acceptable, the reader says 'it's' when the text says 'it is' for example.
Surely as long as you don't change the sense and meaning, a few slip ups don't really matter do they? Or do they? Here are my thoughts . . .
An Actor's Voice
In addition to that formal voice training all those years ago, I have learned so much from voice coaches, directors, fellow actors and narrators over the years and I'd like to share some of that knowledge. Hence this blog which I hope will be useful to fellow actors (both voice actors and stage actors), public speakers, and indeed, anyone who speaks in public or into a microphone.
So ... I'll be covering all the basics of vocal training and using the voice in performance - starting with the letter 'A'. So I'll be looking at Accents (how and when to use them, how much is too much?); Accuracy (why accuracy is important both in writing and reading); Acting - in particular how to use your voice effectively - and why muttering is not acceptable); Also ... Adaptability; Ambition; Articulation; Audio; Audibooks. and what appears to be the latest buzz-word Authenticity.
I hope you'll join me over the coming weeks.
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!