I bang on about training. A lot. There are two reasons mainly.
The first is my own experience years ago, which was to make lots of assumptions about what the job involves and how I could do it. I came from a radio career where I’d been talking into microphones for 25 years. I could do it, right? There was still a bucketload to learn. It was quite a wake-up call.
The second reason is that voiceover is a skill that, like many creative roles, is assumed to be simple. After all, “It’s just talking”, isn’t it?
You don’t know what you don’t know.
This is true of all professions and all training really. It’s easy to look at something from the outside and assume what it entails. The key point is that you don’t know, what you don’t know. Only through learning and training do you discover strategies and skills to do something.
Our own views of our voice can be distorted.
In my training as an actor, I learned that whilst having an instinct is important, you can’t always rely on your own assessment of whether something is ‘good’. Feedback is essential to the development of your craft.
For instance, I’ve seen widely throughout my career, that people outside our industry don’t like their own voice. This is partly because the way we experience our own voice through our body is physically different to how others hear it through the air. Hearing the reality can be a shock. Or at least different to what we expect. This can result in an attempt to change how it sounds. Think of the cliché of people having a “telephone voice”.
The Four Stages of Competence.
This is a psychological approach to how we learn. It is sometimes called the Hierachy of Competence.
- Unconscious Incompetence.
- Conscious Incompetence.
- Conscious Competence.
- Unconscious Competence.
The example I like to use is learning to drive.
Unconscious Incompetence is where you don’t know you can’t drive. It looks easy, but you’ve never tried it. You assume that you’ll have the ability. This is often where someone might think they can learn it quickly, but the reality proves otherwise.
Conscious Incompetence is where you start the process. You peel the first layer from the onion and start to realise just how many more layers there are. You get behind the wheel and realise it’s not as simple as it looks.
Conscious Competence is where you understand that you have learned skills, but haven’t mastered them yet. You consciously have to apply yourself to them. You’re much more aware of what is needed. You’re driving the car, but you must methodically think about every step.
Unconscious Competence is where you’ve mastered the skill to a point where you do it without thinking. In acting terms, we often refer to this as “muscle memory”. In driving, it’s when you’ve negotiated a junction and gone through all the motions and can’t even remember doing it.
In voice-over acting, get beyond the first stage. Get past the idea, that without having already learned, you assume you can do it. Learn some skills. Get some feedback. Understand a little more about the mountain that is to be climbed.
In this process, you’ll also discover where your existing skill set lives and where your weak spots are.
From my own personal perspective, I would say there are three areas to think about:
Voice-Over Performance, Technical Skills and Business.
You need to have the skills to be able to perform, like an actor, in each script. To understand what your role is, whom you’re talking to and how to convey an emotional connection or intent. It’s not just pretending.
Voice-over Technical Skills.
Most full-time voice-over artists are not just performers. A significant part of their work (if not the majority) will be self-recorded and supplied from their home studio. This requires technical competence in operating their own studio alongside the recording and editing skills to provide a recording that meets the required standard. You may have a great voice and delivery, but if you can’t record and supply it at a high quality, then all is lost.
Often overlooked, you need to be able to run a business. Marketing, planning, and sorting out the admin of invoicing and accounts take up a considerable amount of your time. These days that includes using software such as accounting packages, CRMs (Customer Relationship Managers), websites and much more.
Where To Begin With Your Voice-Over Training.
At the very start, I would recommend you assess your skills in each area. To throw some stereotypes at you, I’ve worked with actors who are creative souls. They are immensely talented at performance but bewildered at the technical and business sides of the industry.
I’ve also worked with radio people who are extremely talented at the technical side of production and editing but lack performance skills.
I’ve also worked with people who find the job is not all that they thought it would be. They spend much more time marketing and “selling” themselves to get work than they spend on the performance itself. If you’re a natural-born performer, this can be quite depressing.
Different Kinds Of Voice-Over Actor Training.
There are a variety of forms of training that can help you find your way in voice-over.
Some of that will depend on the weak spots that you may have identified above whether it be performance, technical or business.
Start With Voice-Over Performance.
I would recommend you start with the performance aspect first. Ultimately, it is the core skill of the job. If you can’t do it well, then perhaps this isn’t for you. I would also get some feedback or coaching from others. Do you have a natural flair for this?
I would also suggest that you get a professional opinion. I often hear from people who “have been told they have a great voice” by friends and family. Maybe so. Personally, I would say that one of the most important skills in voice-over is taking direction. That is more about listening than speaking, and probably invisible to those outside the industry.
Assuming you have some skills in the performance arena, then I’d look to see how you are with the other aspects. In those, you may need training, or you could decide to get help from others in doing those aspects for you. It could be a virtual PA, an audio editor or someone else. That will of course eat into your profits and turnaround time. A lot of our work is done right now, so waiting for others may hinder you.
What Types of Voice-Over Training Should I Consider?
I would break training down into four levels.
Your Own Research and Learning.
This can be free. The internet provides an endless resource of information for our industry.
Listen to and study others. You can learn a lot from how they operate. There are many social media groups (mostly on Facebook) where you can drop into conversations and learn. Bear in mind that the social media world can tend to “gloss” over the truth. Take everything (including this article) with a pinch of salt. That said, knowledge is power. Absorb it like a sponge.
A Training Programme.
There are lots of providers out there with subscriptions to some kind of training programme. One of the most popular is Gravy For The Brain. Frankly, there are also some charlatans out there. If you can, get a personal recommendation. Find something that gives you a map or pathway to achieving your skills.
There are acting classes in just about every major city. If this is an area that needs work, then take one. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Look at classes that might not always seem obvious. For example, I would encourage you to consider Improv. It may not seem immediately relevant, but you are often called upon to do something “different” in the booth. A director may be fishing for ideas. Being able to come up with alternatives on the spot is an important skill.
If you already have acting skills, you may need to look at training in the technical and business sides of the work. Again, the internet is your friend here.
There may be many side issues that need help too. Breath and the voice, articulation, accents, emotional preparation, sight-reading and more.
This is perhaps the most expensive form of training but can be crucial. This is the holy grail of getting feedback. An expert addressing your performance directly. Your choice of coach might also depend on the aspect you need help with.
I would always urge you to seek out personal recommendations for a coach. It’s quite an investment, so you want to be sure you’ve got the right person.
Other Considerations in Voice Over.
All The Gear and No Idea.
There is a tendency to think that having the right studio and kit is the key to success. To some extent this is true. That said, without the skills and training, that kit will be a massive, expensive waste of money. A $15k voiceover booth won’t make you a good voice-over artist. Make sure you can do the job, and it’s what you think it is before you buy all the tools.
Working On Your Own.
This is not often talked about, but do you need to be around people? Voice-over is thought of by many as a “social” profession. Often, the opposite is true. You spend hours on your own in your booth, recording and editing audio. It is quite solitary. This alone can be surprising and disappointing to some.
Engage in some kind of training. If you are already a great talent, you’ll find that you will motor through training at break-neck speed.
At the very least, think of it as a health check, a tick sheet to ensure you’re up to speed.
And another thing… It doesn’t stop. The industry evolves and changes. Taking additional training will probably become a staple of doing the job.
Those Steps Again.
- Assess your strengths and weakness.
- Get some professional feedback from another set of ears.
- Understand your training needs.
- Plan and take some training.
- Review your development.
This article focuses on the training aspect of becoming a voice-over aspect. Check out the article – Voice Acting For Beginners to get the broader picture of what’s involved.
About The Author
Tony Collins-Fogarty is a British Voice-Over Artist, with a background in broadcast, alongside training as an actor. His radio career began in 1988. He began providing voice-overs regularly in 2005, becoming full-time in 2012. Commercially, he is best known as the brand voice of Tripadvisor, on TV in the US, Canada and the UK.