Joshua Seth’s 10 Steps to Voice Over Success
Joshua Seth’s 10 Steps to Voice Over Success
by Joshua Seth
“How do I break into voice overs?”
I get asked this question a lot. Whatever the answer is, it isn’t merely to “have an interesting sounding voice.” It takes a bit more than that. And with that in mind, the good folks at Animation World Network have asked me to elaborate. So here goes, in no particular order:
Be an interesting person
You can only create a character up to the limits of your knowledge and imagination, and probably not even that far. So how anybody who’s not an interesting person to begin with could expect to breathe life and color into a character that heretofore only exists in black and white is beyond me. Be an interesting person, full of life and curiosity and questions, and you will be able to find all those qualities in the roles you hope to portray.
Train your voice
Imagine a pianist banging on the same half octave, wearing down the same four keys, all day long and you’ll begin to understand how most people treat their voices. The human voice is a beautiful and dynamic instrument. You must treat yours well if you want it to perform. Recording sessions typically last several hours and there can be several sessions in a day, so clarity and stamina are essential. There are many ways to train one’s voice: breathing exercises, singing lessons and Alexander Technique are good places to start. I include the Alexander Technique because the voice is an inseparable part of the whole body and so anything that furthers one’s own understanding of how to move and breathe correctly is beneficial for the voice.
Read out loud
I know of no better way to put into practice all the above-mentioned training than to read out-loud. I read fiction, drama, screenplays, magazine ads, just about everything out loud for at least an hour a day. It’s important to assume the roles you’re reading, not merely to recite them. If you actually dramatize what you’re reading, you will begin to accrue a well rounded cast of characters rather than the usual repertoire of imitations and impersonations. Even now, I find that the characters I portray in this way often find their way into auditions and roles of all kinds. There are certain archetypal characteristics that recur over and over, regardless of the type of story that’s being told. Even a commercial tells a story. So read out-loud and get comfortable with being a storyteller.
Voice acting is acting
In fact, I think of voice overs as one of the purest forms of acting possible, because you’re focusing all of that creativity through only one mode of expression. You can, and will, be anything. It allows for a range of interpretation that’s creatively liberating and endlessly stimulating. Think of it as acting, pure and true, and you’ll free yourself to perform with everything you have inside: just don’t get so carried away that you forget about the mic.
Know the marketplace
Watch cartoons and listen to commercials. Seems simple, but the people you’ll be auditioning for have worked on these projects and they can contain clues as to what they’ll be looking for in the future. Get to know the names in the credits and the styles associated with those teams of people.
Be able to direct yourself
An actual direction I’ve received: “There was a bit too much blue in that take. Let’s do it again and better, OK?” You can’t always rely on your director to have a clear idea of what he wants you to do, and even if he does, you can’t always rely on him to effectively communicate that idea to you. Better to have developed a critical ear and a certain objectivity toward your own work. After all, you’re hired to get the job done; and when it comes right down to it, it’s your performance that will be judged not how you arrived at it. There are some great directors out there, and this is in no way meant to disparage the value of their work, merely to inspire you to develop the capacity to compliment their insights with your own.
Be a student of life, not a student of classes
“Show business is the business of show,” said the wise old teacher to the wide-eyed student as he took his money and prattled on into the night. There’s no end to the classes you can take as an actor: voice, dance, speech, movement, improvisation and on and on and on. There’s certainly a value to proper training, but you must have a clear idea of what your goals are and take it as your own responsibility (not the teacher’s) to achieve them or it will all become nothing more than an endless stream of high priced information. You learn from everything in life, but to be a student of life, you must apply those lessons to a larger goal.
It’s often said that life is about the journey and not the destination. Bullshit! If you don’t ever bother to determine where you’re headed you’ll only wind up going in circles. Take a little time each day to think about where you’re going. Where do you want to be in 5 days, 5 months, 5 years, 50 years? Write these destinations down and revise them from time to time. It’ll save you from having to go through a midlife crisis in order to figure them out.
Think of yourself as a business
You are a piece of meat. Or a can of dolphin-safe tuna, if you will. You are a product and you don’t want to spend your shelf life unconsumed. Every product needs good packaging, placement and marketing. Every product must fulfill a need. Who needs you? Why? How will you call attention to yourself and keep it there? At a certain point in your career, these become questions for your agent, manager and publicist. In order to get to that point, you need to answer them yourself.
It all comes down to this: all you can give to anyone else you must first be able to give to yourself. Be good to yourself. Have respect for yourself and you’ll have respect for your profession. Take an interest in yourself and you’ll find an endless fascination in others. Everything is a reflection of you: your mindset, your outlook, your desires, your fears. Believe it when someone says that this business is hard to break into and it will be. But know in your heart of hearts that voice acting is in your future, and act accordingly, and the future may be closer than you think.
For more articles about voice overs, acting and casting visit the Animation World Magazine Archives and type in the above key words to get an array of past articles.
Joshua Seth is a voice over actor with the Arlene Thornton Agency in Los Angeles. He trained at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he holds a BFA with honors in Film as well as Philosophy. He can be heard as “Tai,” the starring role in 20th Century Fox’s animated feature film Digimon the Movie. Arlene Thornton & Associates: 818-760-6688.