Over my 20 years as a voiceover coach and 25 as a voiceover artist, I have often been asked what the essential assets are for having and maintaining a career in voiceover. After all this time, I can safely say that, while there are a number of great assets that can help you along the path to a successful career, there are only three that I feel are truly essential. And I’ll make it clear right now that without these essentials, any chance of a sustainable career for yourself as a voiceover artist is going to be reduced to the point of utter frustration.
So, what are these essential components one needs in order to succeed as a voiceover artist? Surprisingly, one of them is not a “great” voice. As a matter of fact, many voiceover artists have made lasting careers for themselves with anything but a classic sounding voice. So what do they have that the constantly struggling guy or gal with that classic voice doesn’t have?
First and foremost, they possess a vibrant, unbridled, and intuitive sense of play. I’m talking about the kind of play you did as a kid, not the more sedate but acceptable “playfulness” we allow ourselves to display as adults. You have to be willing…no, it’s actually much more than that; you have to want to get down there in the sandbox with the other kids and PLAY! Almost all of us, when we ourselves were kids, had that innate understanding and desire for play. It’s what we lived for, what came more naturally to us than any other activity. It made our hearts sing and laugh and attempt to experience this huge world around us in the most immediate of ways. When my kids were growing up, they used to always come up to me and ask me if I wanted to play. It was as essential to them as breathing. It was something they did everyday and as often as they could everyday. Remember? This is what you did, too.
It is exactly this innate understanding of the power of play, this unstoppable desire to create and imagine that will drive your career. Many students and prospective voiceover artists say they have that sense of play, but when I get them up in front of the microphone what they actually deliver is the adult “playfulness” I spoke of a minute ago, and sometimes something much less natural than that.
Why does this happen so often to students and others who are new to the voiceover industry? Why does their sense of play become censored or watered down? It has a lot to do with self-consciousness. These voiceover students and newbies to the industry spend way too much time and energy worrying about what others think of them; instead of giving themselves completely to the script and the inherent creativity that is being asked of them in that moment, they’re thinking instead about how others are judging their work. And these folks are usually their own worst critic, telling themselves how bad or uninspired their read was before anyone else can put them down. This makes it impossible to PLAY. Try it. I dare you. You can’t play and worry at the same time, unless of course you’re schizophrenic, and believe me, you don’t want to see what that looks like. So what’s it going to be? Play and slay them with your wild imagination, or listen to some judgmental inner monologue about how you could have done that better and how that part should have been faster, etc, etc. etc.
Even if you are a little rusty at playing like a kid, often because of a work, office or sometimes even a home life that does not afford the opportunity to play in this way, that doesn’t mean you can’t rekindle your old flame. It just takes desire on your part and the right environment to cultivate and recapture that childlike sense of play. Such an environment should be friendly, supportive and permissive; an environment that actually needs that kind of play from you to make it thrive and grow. That’s the environment I create in my voiceover classes and that’s the way it should be for any voiceover or improv class worth its cost.
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