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What Happened to All the Commercial Work?

Posted in For Pro's by Administrator on the February 13th, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
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Lots of professional voice-over talent, including me, have a long history of doing voice overs for radio and television. As you may have noticed, though, that long history is pretty much… history.

Why? The immediate answer is, lots of advertisers are abandoning traditional media in favor of reaching their markets online. OK, but that answer ignores an obvious point: There’s still plenty of advertising on radio and television! So how come you’re not getting those gigs? Here are three big reasons why:

- There are fewer local advertisers
- Local media is retail-oriented
- Most local advertising is produced for free at the station

Disappearance of local advertisers

Let’s start by acknowledging that for most of us our commercial gigs were with local advertisers – barring the occasional national Budweiser job (Oh… that wasn’t you? Damn, it sure sounded like you).

Sadly, many of these advertisers have disappeared. There are two main reasons why. First, with the exception of cable, the local media have boosted their prices beyond the affordability of many of the smaller advertisers. And second, many companies that used to be independent and locally owned have been either swallowed up or driven out of business by larger regional or national companies.

Think, for example, of all the banks in your town that used to be locally owned. Or the hospitals. Or the restaurants. Gone! That means that the advertiser pool itself has shrunk – and the ad agencies that served them have shrunk or disappeared. The voice-over opportunities to serve the local market have, therefore, also shrunk.

Skew towards retail

But what about those locals who are still advertising? For the most part, they consist of larger retail companies such as furniture stores, car dealers, and so on. They’re still willing to put money into broadcast media because on any given day their price-item message will attract buyers.

The problem is that most of these large retailers have a set formula for their commercials that usually requires the services of just one or two lucky voice-over artists – and sometimes those few artists keep those gigs for years and years. There are no term limitations.

Cost over quality

That still leaves a pretty good number of miscellaneous local companies who are on the air at least occasionally. Why don’t we approach them? Well, there was a time when many such companies were ambitious enough to hire local ad agencies to write and produce decent commercials for them… and hire decent talent to voice them.

No longer. To save money to pay for the exorbitant media costs, most advertisers have their spots produced for free by the station. That means that, although the actual production will be OK, the spot will be written by a person who doesn’t know how to write, and voiced by whatever station personnel are available under the crushing deadlines stations impose on themselves. I don’t have to describe the result: just turn on your nearest radio or TV.

What this means for us

So is it time to pack in your RCA Model 77 and say, “Goodnight, America”? Well, I haven’t. As many of us have found, more and more non-commercial work is developing all the time. We simply have to be more flexible about what we do.

I believe the true gift of a great voice-over artist isn’t only to help make a great commercial: it’s to bring even ordinary copy to life in a way that makes people pay attention. That gift can be applied to any voice-over project: corporate, institutional, technical, narrative, instructional, on hold – whatever.

So if you’re not getting many commercial jobs anymore, and you haven’t yet gotten into non-commercial work, you might still have a rosy future ahead of you… maybe on the Budweiser website!

The Basic Mechanics of Voice Overs

Posted in For Beginners by Administrator on the February 6th, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
To return to my website, just hit the “back” button on your toolbar.

For some time I have been providing my workshop participants and private clients with this handy list I call the “Elements of Good Voice-Over Practice.” I wish I had a catchier title. Maybe “The Voice-Over Artist’s Tool Kit” is better. Please feel free to comment on these observations and add your own.

THE ELEMENTS OF GOOD VOICE-OVER PRACTICE

These are the fundamentals of the craft of voice overs – the tool kit you should always have handy no matter what kind of voice-over job you’re doing, and no matter how long you’ve been in the business. It’s also a good check list to keep handy whenever you finish recording an audition, before you send it off to the complete stranger who is going to evaluate it.

PITCH
All good voice-over practice starts with an understanding of one’s unique voice. Every voice has an ideal pitch, with a tonal range above and below that pitch that facilitates speaking both powerfully and effortlessly. For more on this, read my blog, “Understanding Your Voice.”

BREATHING
The proper way to breathe is to let your stomach move, not your chest. The chest and shoulders should be relatively motionless. Breathing from the upper torso will result in a thinner sound, and it requires more effort.

You may also find that it helps to vary the length of the breath. Between groups of sentences, you may want to take a long breath. But if you have a long sentence, you may need to break it up with shorter breaths.

It is also important to know when to breathe – and when not to – to support both the voice and the message. (See “Phrasing”)

CLARITY
The mark of a non-professional is a tendency to slur words, drop syllables, or fade off at the end of sentences. Whether the read is super-formal or super-casual, the fact that you will only be heard, not seen, requires that you speak clearly and distinctly. That doesn’t mean, though, that you need to sound like a newscaster. Everybody has their own way of speaking clearly. It’s part of their style.

PACE
“Pace” refers to the length of time one takes to go through a script. Every script requires a specific pace – some faster, some slower – to match the mood, tone, and content of the message. Beware the 70-second script that must be done in 60 seconds! Better to plead for copy cuts than to just shoehorn it all in.

Longer scripts (and sometimes even short ones) frequently call for a change of pace, as the content changes. This change of pace adds to the overall interest and impact of the message.

TIMING
As we use the word, “timing” refers to when one chooses to pause or to continue to speak. Again, mood, tone and content will dictate the proper timing for a script; but often it is the voice talent, rather than the writer or producer, who really understands how to add more to a script through expert timing.

In dialogs, timing takes on the added dimension of how two or more actors time their lines together. Generally, the better actors know how to overlap, or “cover” each others’ lines to achieve a fluid and natural conversation. Often, though, circumstances will suggest gaps between lines. Timing is a skill that will make even poor scripts sound much better.

PHRASING
Phrasing is a kindof companion to timing. The speaker reads over the script to understand it, then (often with a pencil) groups phrases and sentences together so they make sense. Even extremely complex technical and medical scripts can be rendered intelligible by proper phrasing.

DYNAMICS
A lot of life can be added to even the driest scripts by adding dynamics – that is, the loudness or softness of delivering a word or phrase. When we vary our speech by emphasizing certain words dynamically, we’re adding expression to the script that will heighten both understanding and enjoyment for the listener.

INFLECTION
Unless you are Ben Stein, you won’t be appreciated if you deliver the entire script in a monotone. Just as dynamics refers to loudness and softness, inflection refers to how we vary our pitch. Any particular script may require a large or small amount of inflection… but almost all scripts require at least some inflection. A good way to practice inflection (and dynamics, too) is to read a good story out loud.

CONSISTENCY
One of the gremlins in the workings of even skilled announcers and voice actors is that something in their delivery changes between the start of the script and the end. Sometimes it happens because there have been so many takes. Sometimes because it’s a long script. Sometimes, maybe, because the speaker didn’t start out on the right foot to begin with.

Consistency is often a problem in voice acting, where the speaker is pretending to be someone else. They may not have a good handle on that character, and so they fall out of character.

Obviously, for announcers, consistency will never be a problem if they stay true to their natural voice. For voice actors, practice and a good ear will help. It’s also a good idea not to attempt to voice a character with which you’re not thoroughly familiar. HINT: Say “No” to Scottish accents!

Understanding Your Voice

Posted in For Beginners by Administrator on the February 6th, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
To return to my website, just hit the “back” button on your toolbar.

Not everybody has an “announcer” voice – if you don’t, does that mean you can’t be a voice talent? The truth is, your voice is usually just fine for doing voice overs. This is because a good voice-over artist combines four elements to achieve a great performance: voice, talent, personality, and style. Think about Fran Drescher, and you can see how powerful this combination can be, even with a really odd voice.

When we hear ourselves recorded for the first time we generally have this reaction: “Eeewww, I don’t like the way I sound!” That’s because we hear ourselves from the “inside,” while others hear us from the “outside.” We’re not used to this sound, but as we become more familiar with it, we can work with it, play with it, and eventually make money with it.

The important thing is to know our own voice – its attributes and limits –Once we know our voice, we can work on how we use it.

How do we get to know our voice?

Start by learning where your natural range is. In Dr. Morton Cooper’s book, Change Your Voice, Change Your Life, he explains an easy way to do this: look in a mirror and imagine drawing a circle whose top is at the bridge of your nose, and whose bottom is under your chin. With your lips closed, say out loud, “M-m-m-h-m-m-m.” You’ll feel a distinct vibration in your face. If the vibration seems to be centered right around your mouth, that’s the center of your vocal range. If the vibration seems higher up or lower down, you may need to adjust your pitch. Try it now.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this range, practice using it. Find some copy and read it out loud. It could be copy you’ve written down from a TV or radio commercial, from a book you’re reading, from a magazine ad or article, or possibly from a website. Practice reading using what you know about your voice. Then stretch. Try varying your tone, your pitch, your volume, your speed. If possible, record this so you can hear what you’ve done. You’ll notice changes even as you practice.

Still have issues?

As you become more accustomed to working with your voice, you may find that you still have issues with the way you sound: your pronunciation, your speech patterns, or possibly your accent. If so, you may want to use the services of a licensed voice coach or speech therapist. At the least, you might discover that there are certain things you can do to broaden your marketability as a voice-over artist.

Announcing vs. Voice Acting

Posted in For Beginners by Administrator on the February 2nd, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
To return to my website, just hit the “back” button on your toolbar.

Just as there are lots of ways to be employed as a voice-over talent, there are lots of ways to think of yourself as a voice-over talent. The most basic distinction is whether you call yourself an announcer or a voice actor.

In announcing there is usually one voice, and that voice is coming from a person who isn’t pretending to be someone else. He or she is simply delivering a message on behalf of a client.

In voice acting there may be one, two, or many voices. They are participating in a drama… so they’re pretending to be someone else.

In either case the purpose of doing it is to communicate information to someone so they will remember it and act on it.

DIFFERENT KINDS OF VOICE ACTING

There are many, many different kinds of voice actors, just as there are many different kinds of visual actors. Some voice actors specialize in comedy… even sub-specialties like character voices, unusual-sounding voices, or just great comic timing. Others specialize in being the “straight-man” or woman in a comedy team. Still others are better at serious scripts. There are monolog specialists and dialog specialists.

There are also some talented people who can do great announcing and great voice acting. In general, though, voice actors don’t work in all the categories I mentioned before. Their chief value is in broadcast advertising, TV and film work, and cartoon/anime projects.

DIFFERENT KINDS OF ANNOUNCING

There are as many kinds of announcing as there are announcers. Announcers find work in all of the categories I mentioned before.

Although we may think of announcers as pretty much sounding alike, there’s actually a great variety of styles, from extremely formal to exceptionally casual. Some announcers are chosen for a very specific style of speaking. Others adapt their style to the copy at hand.

Houston residents can find out more about the voice-over profession by attending one of my Introductions to Announcing and Voice Acting, through Leisure Learning Unlimited. More information is available at www.llu.com.

What makes a voice-over a voice-over?

Posted in For Beginners by Administrator on the February 2nd, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
To return to my website, just hit the “back” button on your toolbar.

Voiceovers are an essential part of a great many forms of communication. Although there are lots of differences among various types of voice talent, they all share one goal: to communicate clearly and memorably.

They also share one challenge: to communicate without being seen – they are simply a “voice,” unsupported by facial or body gestures. This means that you’ll have to re-route all your physical communication cues into your voice. It can be a challenge… but if you listen to any good voice-over talent, you’ll be amazed at how much expression can be communicated this way.

Voice artists are hired for many reasons:

broadcast advertising – radio and TV
TV and film narration
cartoon and anime
video games
corporate communication – internal and external
institutional and non-profit communication
online audiovisual applications
“books on tape” – audiobooks
CD Rom and DVD Rom projects

There’s one other aspect of voice overs worth mentioning. Since you exist only as a “voice,” you may experience an amazing surge of freedom – of being able to really let go, because nobody is watching! As a fairly shy person, I have found that doing voice overs gives me the liberty to try new approaches, to experiment with vocal techniques and deliveries, even to occasionally pretend to be “somebody else.” Not only does this freedom keep you growing as a talent… it keeps you from ever, ever getting stale.

Houston residents can find out more about the voice-over profession by attending one of my Introductions to Announcing and Voice Acting, through Leisure Learning Unlimited. More information is available at www.llu.com.