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The Essentials

Voice experts share their top tips for caring for your voice and unlocking its true potential for voice over work

Voice overs are an exciting and potentially lucrative opportunity for actors. However, thanks to the surplus of A-list celebrities being cast in voice roles for their ‘star power’, there’s an untrue expectation that voice work will be easy. After all, it’s ultimately just speaking – and you do that every day. But voice overs take just as much training and practise as any other acting skill.

We spoke to Christopher Holt, vocal coach and senior lecturer at the London Metropolitan; Joe Windley, Head of Voice at RADA; and Jacky Davis, voice artist and director, about the physical and mental challenges of honing your voice as a tool, common challenges faced by actors – along with the importance of working with your unique needs.

Getting started with voice work

When it comes to voice overs, Joe Windley advises, “It starts off with trust, it starts off with fun, it starts off with creativity.”

Actors must be willing to listen to and take advice from their vocal coach, and they should try to enjoy the process of finding their voice’s unique qualities. After all, every voice is different.

Most importantly though, Joe says, “[It helps if you are] interested in how people speak, which [is] endless.”

Just as an actor learns by watching other actors perform, a voice artist must take an interest in how voice is used – both in voice over work and in everyday life. Listening for these daily nuances is key to understanding how to vary your voice and make your delivery sound realistic.

Essential must-dos for honing your voice

Once you’ve set your mind on becoming a voice over artist, you need to start practising and honing your voice. Here are three must-do tips to help improve your voice work:

1. Overcome your shyness

As Christopher Holt says, “[Being] seen on stage is one thing, but to be seen and heard is another.”

If you’re not daunted by addressing an audience, you may feel self-conscious when delivering voice over alone in a room. Either way, overcoming this shyness is vital for good delivery.

When working as a vocal coach and senior lecturer, Christopher encourages his students to use singing to get past the feeling of shyness. It doesn’t have to be good singing – you’re training for voice over, not the West End. It serves to encourage you to be loud, bold and open your throat.

“From opening the throat, we can help with projection,” Christopher says. “We can help with being seen and heard on stage.”

Releasing this inhibition also prevents you from carrying tension in your jaw, shoulders and neck – which can stop you from releasing the full potential of your voice.

If you need some help with confidence, take a look at our tips for dealing with nerves in voice work and reclaiming self-confidence as an actor.

2. Vary your voice

As an actor, you can rely on your looks, acting talents, and sound to sell yourself as a performer and create a brand. Voice over artists only have their sound, so it’s important to be able to do a variety of different voices instead of relying on just one.

Joe Windley warns, “If you make your voice a logo, you’ve only really got one expressive choice, and that’s unlikely to sustain you for a whole career.”

So be a ‘vocal octopus’ and play with what your voice can do. Discover new vocal patterns and shapes that connect to your core.

If you plan to vary your voice with accents, you may find our guide on mastering an accent useful.

3. Adapt to a different space

When you’re an actor performing on a stage, you’ll be projecting your voice to fill a room and reach the hundreds of people in the audience. But when you’re recording a voice over, it’s just you and the microphone. Your audience will be listening to you from the comfort of their home, perhaps on their own. As Jacky Davis points out, “You’re telling that one person or just those couple of people, rather than being in a theatre where you’re telling a few hundred.”

This means that you’ll be delivering your lines in a different way to on stage. You won’t need to rely on projecting, and the end result of your performance will likely be more intimate than what an audience would get from a theatre performance, so keep this in mind.

The don’ts of voice work

It’s easy to focus on ways of improving your voice as a tool, but this can all be for nothing if you don’t also know what you shouldn’t be doing. Here are three things to avoid:

1. Don’t consume certain food and drink

Before you use your voice, there are certain things you should avoid eating and drinking to ensure your vocal quality is good. Jacky Davis advises, “Don’t have any coffee or chocolate or milk or any fizzy drinks.”

These types of drinks are said to affect your voice in a negative way.

2. Don’t skip warming up your voice

On days when you know you’ll be using your voice, always make sure you warm up first. Do this before you leave your home in the morning if you can.

Jacky Davis says, “Everyone knows how to do all your voice warmups,” so if you don’t have time in the morning, you can always ask your fellow voice over artists for assistance once you arrive at the studio.

If you need some more advice about preparation, take a look at how to prepare for an audiobook job and how to prepare for an audition with an accent.

3. Don’t shy away from your natural accent

Jacky Davis’ final piece of advice is, “If you’ve got accents that are naturally your native accent, work towards that rather than trying to flatten everything off into standard English.”

This should make you an attractive prospect for casting professionals who are trying to find native and authentic accents.

From us at Spotlight, thank you to Christopher Holt, Jacky Davis and Joe Windley for all their wonderful tips! 

Find more voice-related content in the News & Advice section of our website.

Image credit: Jacek Dylag / Unsplash