What you need to know before you start voice acting

What you need to know before you start voice acting

Actors are the same whether on or off-screen: there’s a character in their heads, and they must perform it. For those on stage, there are cameras and an audience looking. For voice actors, there’s the producers, directors, and others in the recording studio.

I wish I knew these things before diving into the voice acting world. Something fun became an obsession, and now it’s something highly involved with my life. These apply even if there isn’t a microphone at the ready:

Passion

What excites me? What drives me? Why?

Is it the voices of other people that I heard, and how amazing they sound? Is it my favourite cartoon characters?

From Spongebob to Optimus Prime, from Naruto to Doraemon, there’s an actor behind every character. If I can feel the passion behind them, then I may have something similar too.

I guess you could call that passion. It’s the glue that holds our lives together in a timeline.

Passion drives the seconds in our lives.

N.T. Cloever

Do you love bringing characters to life? Do you do voices and impersonations for fun often? As a listener, I want to hear your passion. Every voice actor starts off from that point. Every actor starts off speaking their first few words, and falling in love with ‘speaking’ them.

If you have it, you’ve already taken the first step.

Obsession

I’m crazy when it comes to voices. Voice actors, their techniques and the like: I gobble up knowledge on that like a vacuum. I kept imitating cartoon characters from Winnie the Pooh, characters from videogames like Warcraft, Street Fighter and the like. I’m not saying I’m good, but I am getting closer.

To be obsessed is to be one step above passion. It’s higher, because you can live a life revolving around a passion. But obsessives live with their interests every day: Practicing, every day. Liking it, hating it, loving it, breaking it apart.

You have to be obsessed. It can’t just be a side project that you do only for fun anymore. The lack of a greater reason translates into your performance.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to do something for fun. There’s plenty of things I like to do only for fun. Eating for example, and cooking. Mostly to support my eating.

But to do it ONLY for fun is where it gets messy. It’s like wanting to be an artist but frustrated that your art isn’t as good as your favourite’s. The frustration distracts us, and gives us these negative thoughts. The side project will get abandoned once it stops being ‘fun’. But this is when obsession helps you.

If we had greater, more powerful reasons, we can plow through that frustration.

I want to bring life into a character. I find joy in doing that. I find joy in giving a fictional character a voice, and that I feel blessed that I have the ability to do that. Performing gives me contentment. That is how moving voice acting is to me.

I’d even enjoy the struggles of a voice actor.

What excites you?

Would you enjoy the struggle of being a writer for example? JK Rowling had to suffer so much before her book became really successful. Many wannabe-authors aspire to be like her, but are they willing to struggle like she did?

Would you enjoy the struggle of being a voice-actor? The practices, the multiple takes, the client work, the performance anxiety?

Obsess. Love those characters, love your voice, obsess over making it better. Practice, practice, practice. Love the blood, sweat and tears that goes into your practice.

Enthusiasm

On that note, here’s some positivity.

Enthusiasm is great. Enthusiasm comes from our ideals, dreams and from our heroes.

This is what fuels me. I like to think of it as fuel for my creative engine. It’s also fuel for my obsession, and is one of the basic building blocks of your passion.

Enthusiasm is what will push me through those doors every day into the recording studio, giving the best performance of my life. I won’t accept any performance half-assed; I have to breathe life into the character. You can’t give them half a breath.

It feels great once that translates into real characters. Cartoon bears sound happier than they usually do, movies look brighter with a happier voice, and everyone working with me will feel it. We’d be so much happier walking into the studio with smiles on our faces.

It’s what we’re here for.

Accepting your shame

I get embarrassed whenever I do my voices. My characters range from talking frogs to old men, from little boys to grandmothers. It’s why I get a bit uncomfortable about sharing the Tempered Fables with friends sometimes: these stories aren’t exactly ordinary. It makes you wonder what a 25-year old man would sound like doing all those voices. The imagery is embarrassing, I think.

But shame has no place in the recording studio. Once the mic is on, it’s my turn to get on stage, or rather, it’s my turn to talk. Shame is just a fleeting feeling then,

You know it’s there, and you can’t help it. So accept it: you may have some shame, and that’s okay. Plenty of people do. We just learn how to live with it every day.

It’s why we practice. We practice our skills, master our craft, and we can practice living with the embarassment of doing such crazy voices.

It’s worth it, believe me.

Knowing the limits of your voice

There is doing crazy voices, and there is trying to do voices out of my control.

I tried to figure out the vocal range of my singing voice the other day. Singing seemed like a good reference: reaching a specific note with intention, under the limits of my own voice. I’m not trying to be something I’m not, but I’m pretending to be, to the best of my ability.

I still don’t know my own vocal range. I’m no Freddie Mercury, but I think I have an okay-ish karaoke voice.

Try listening to various songs and hitting the notes for them. Or, if you have a piano/guitar, hit a note on the instrument and try to sound out the same note. Once you know the highest and lowest limits of your voice, you know what you can work with. You may figure out just what kind of singer (read: intentional voice actor) you are.

Recommended song that you can jam to? Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It has all kinds of voices in it.

This is good to know, because as actors we try our best to breathe life into fictional characters. Only when we put a voice to them, we can listen to what they sound like. Until then, the voice could be anything.

A voice with a deep bass can achieve the sounds of a young kid, if there is pure intention behind the voice. Even if he/she is aware of their limits, they would still choose to do so. Because it’s fun. Because it’s part of the job. Because their limits don’t define them.

Know the limits of your voice. Ask yourself how do your limits define you.

Am I going to stay within my vocal range? Am I going for tonal accuracy when choosing characters to voice?

There are no wrong answers, only comfortable ones.

I’ll keep voicing girls and younger kids if I feel like it. Have to keep my youth in check.

Get used to listening to your own recorded voice

I record videos of my travels. They’re always nice to look back to.

Bad thing is, my voice sounds different in every video. It doesn’t sound like how I hear it when speaking. It sounds awkward. I don’t like hearing it. Everybody likes hearing it. It’s what they hear from me.

Now that I do voice work, I know why.

Our voices sound different on recorded audio and video because it travels from the mouth directly to your ears, following the cheek. This ‘travelling’ results in a different sound.

If you want to achieve your ‘video’ voice, aka. the voice everybody hears, try this out: put two large folders or books between your mouth and ears. Block the pathway whenever you talk.

It’ll force the voice to go around these obstacles, and you hear what your ‘video’ self sounds like as a result.

This is your output, and the basis for any voice-over/voice acting work. This outside voice. The video voice. The ‘awkward cackling laugh from that summer trip video 2 years ago’ voice. This is the voice you’re going to manipulate for a gig.

Get used to it. Record yourself all the time, and even record yourself reading different things. Read a passage from a book every morning to get yourself into the mood. Record that and check your inflections/tonality.

Get rid of the awkwardness around your recorded voice.

Your body in voice-acting

I sit up straight when recording. Well, I try to.

Eventually, I hunch up, or my neck is in an awkward position. Weird habits, I know. Strange. I’m not sure if it’s because of the characters, or it’s the natural posture that I take. Most likely the latter, I’ve had a few accidents to my body.

Never mind that! Your body houses your voice. It has an important role when we start voice-acting: posture, diet, health affects your resultant voice.

If you are lazy in real life, that laziness might seep into your acting ability. if that is your intention then it’s all good (referring to method acting from many famous actors). If you are active, energetic, positive in nature, we can pick up those little nuances from our ears. That’s the beauty of listening: we can guess the moods of those we listen to.

Posture affects our voice as well because it’s dependent on character. Kids will always look up to adults and speak in a lighter, curious voice. They’re looking upwards at the world, their necks supporting that. Try looking higher up if you’re doing a youthful voice – it might help, you know?

There are other factors around you that might play a part too. My recording environment isn’t the most optimal, but I do try. Blankets to absorb sound, isolation shields, pop filters to increase the recording quality. A humidifer to help with my voice (the air circulation in my room is bad, so it was already there).

Check your environment before you start performing: air quality, hydration, and even the amount of spit in your mouth. Yes, spit. It does make a difference! Try eating a green apple, it might help take away the unnecessary spit.

Your everyday routine affects your performance. If you want to be obsessive about it (see above), be careful of your surroundings. Some life wisdom right there.

One last thing:

Every conversation we have is voice-acting practice

We can practice our speaking skills any time. Any conversation we have counts.

I talk louder to my friends and softer to my closest friends with purpose. That purpose depends on the topic at hand, but it’s also good practice to mess around with my range. Exploring my voice in real life situations helps. It’ll translate to good work.

It doesn’t matter if I’m narrating Tempered Fables, or doing strange voices for characters. I don’t HAVE to be in front of a microphone to practice (though it’d be good!). It’s the willingness to practice everywhere that will help push you through.

I’m not saying you should start doing weird voices to your friends (but if it’s funny…). Check for clarity, tone, pace. Basic public speaking skills that get drilled over and over again. It applies in voice acting too: these are standard qualities that need to be maintained for a professional voice actor.

It’s fun to know that opening my mouth and talking in a certain way can showcase the life of a fictional character. It makes me feel good inside.

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