Monday, October 3, 2011

Eleven Tips for Voice Acting in an Audio Drama/Podcast

Being a new voice actor is scary. You're self-conscious, you have doubts about your abilities, and you're often reading unfamiliar material. That being said, voice acting isn't anywhere near as difficult as it seems, and I use "non-actors" all the time. What it takes is an understanding of what you're doing, some practice, and doing lots of takes.

The following 11 tips should help new (and experienced) voice actors get over the most common pitfalls and hopefully feel a little more confident in their work.

1) Avoid fast retakes. 

When you flub a line, there is a natural urge to dive back into it quickly, as in "I want to feed-I want to FEEL...". That causes the next take to be rushed and you often add
 unneeded emphasis to the word you flub. If you flub, pause for a few seconds, run the line in your head a few times, THEN do a fresh retake.

2) Whatever speed you want to read at, try to go 25% slower. 

The phrase "make a meal of your words" is pretty apt. If you feel you're going just a little too slow, you're probably where you need to be. Take more time than you need, you can always retake faster if you need to.

3) Always do at least three takes of a line.

Voice acting isn't about hitting it perfect in one take, it's about doing takes till you get the right one. Do one where you over act, and one where you under act. The more takes you do, the better chance of getting a "just right" take and minimizing re-records. Unless you're under an insane time crush, always do at least three takes.

4) Heavy emotions are very difficult to get right, (and they are the easiest place to lose immersion.)

Raised voices, crying, screaming, and the like stretch a person's acting ability. Don't work out of your range, and take extra takes. Remember, there's always another way to perform a line or section, and everyone can find an emotional level they can pull off even if they can't quite get the original intent of the line. It's better to do something you can, than to try to do something you can't.

5) Whenever possible, get a director. 

They don't have to be professionals, they just have to be ready to listen and give suggestions on changes. We don't always know how we sound and are often our own worst critics. A friend or collaborator can help you to know what takes are keepers.

6) Play with inflection and word emphisis. 

The words you emphisise and how you say things can DRASTICALLY change the performance. Depending on which words you "hit" so to speak, you can do quite a lot in terms of finding the read that works best for you. Christopher Walken is the master of this.

7) Multi-flubs will happen.

Sometimes for whatever reason you just can't get a line out . You keep screwing it up over and over (and over.) You're over thinking it. Every time you try, it increases your frustration and makes you think about what you're doing more. The more you're worrying/trying, the less natural you'll be and the harder it will be to break the cycle. So if you flub the same line two or three times in a row, pause and stop recording. Let the stress/frustration level ease a bit, and over enunciate the line a few times. Avoid trying to "power through."

8) Warm up your lips, tongue and jaw before you voice act. 

There are a shitload of muscles in your face that you use to speak, and you use them twice as much for voice acting. The tongue and the diaphragm also need a good warming up to do your best work. So repeat some tongue twisters over and over again to get yourself loose and warmed up. Some of the phrases I learned in acting classes for warm ups include "Aluminum, lanolium" "she sell sea shells" and "Unique New York."

9) P's will pop and S's will hiss. 

You should use a pop filter if you can, and they're insanely easy to make, but you're not dead in the water if you don't have one. Certain sounds shoot a jet of air at the mic causing it to distort, or just register the air. If you don't have a pop filter, think of your mouth like a gun. If you point it directly at the mic, those waves of air will hit it and cause an issue. If you don't, it will still record you. So aim your "weapon" slightly off center and you can minimize 'plosive P's and hissing S's.

10) Your facial expressions must match your tone.

When I was a telephone operator, they taught us something interesting. Even if your tone is perfect, if your face doesn't match it, people can tell. So if you're angry, make an angry face. If you're scared, make a scared face, and so on and so forth. Try it yourself and you'll see that it can make a HUGE difference.

and finally...

11) Have fun!

You gotta have fun when you record or your lack of enthusiasm will show in your tone. Unless you're under a deadline, work when you're most jazzed about the project, and you'll find that your performance improves.

Plus, if you're not having fun, why are you doing it to begin with?

-Will Ross


  1. I was just thinking about Bar Fly YESTERDAY and how I had no idea what I was doing when I read that story but how much fun I had. :)

    You should finish Bar Fly.

  2. Hi Will

    A great list there, really useful. I'm a big advocate of the over-acting/under-acting lines and also varying the speed from really fast to really slowly to find the correct momentum and emphasis.

    Northern Irish voice