8 Elements That Make You a Top-Notch VO Professional According to a Casting Director

Written by Terry Berland for Backstage Industry Expert Advise

There are voiceover breakdown opportunities going out every day with hundreds of voiceover actors vying for each role. Only one person will book the job. As a casting director, I’m thrilled to have many great top-notch professional VO actors I can call on to audition. It’s important to be the best and leave a good impression in an audition so that you’ll be invited back for other projects you might be right for.

So, are you one of the best? Here is a list of elements you need to have to be top-notch.

1. Know how to analyze copy and give yourself direction.
In addition to the written direction that you’re given, it’s important to know how to pick apart a script to see what it’s saying. Being able to identify transitions to compare one thing to another and convey the difference between a problem to a solution is key.

2. Know how to act with your voice.
You have to know how to make choices and execute your choices. It’s not about just reading words well. You actually have to act with your voice to sound connected to the message that you’re conveying.  

3. Be good at following written directions.
Many of your auditions will be home reads. You’ll be given very specific directions to keep your home read uniform to the organization of a casting session. Take the directions seriously. For instance, you might be told how many takes, how to slate your name, and which takes to put on the same wave file.

4. Don’t over-direct your auditions.
On all your home read auditions you have to know how to direct yourself. Be aware, if you’re over editing your final audition submission, your read will be “doctored up” and will not truthfully reflect ability.  

5. Know how to be directed by a session director.
When you’re booked, it’s expected that you have the ability to be directed quickly with complex nuances. The studio costs are high and the writer, art director, or producer directing you have a certain amount of time put aside for the booking. If you can’t take direction, they will not want to use you again. If you cause them to go over-time, it will be very costly. 

6. Have a great demo reel.
Your reel should reflect your best work and have the right energy with quick, smooth transitions. It must start strong and end strong. Don’t include any mediocre reads.  

7. Show up to be remembered in a positive way.
If you’re picked to come into a casting director’s office to audition, show up with confidence. Know how to take direction and be happy that you’re part of a selected group. Be on time, as the casting sessions are scheduled specifically for time to direct you. Be in a good mood and be nice to everyone.

8. Be flexible and communicate clearly regarding avails, bookings, and conflicts.
Avails can change several times. There are many reasons for this which usually have to do with coordinating client and studio availability. When accepting an avail, take it seriously. The good thing about VO is that you can make several recordings in one day. TV bookings usually take two hours and radio one and a half hours per spot. Many times when I’m giving out avails, I’m informed someone else has the talent on avail for the same day. That does not mean you’ll lose the job. We then start honing the time down to morning or afternoon with the intentional outcome for the talent to have both bookings on the same day.

Steps To A Long, Strong, Successful Voiceover Career

Written by Backstage Industry Expert Terry Berland, CSA, for Backstage.

I see many talent transition from on camera, theatre, film, comedy and Improv into a VO career. The voiceover field is wide open with many opportunities. If you are going to do it, do it right.   Here are the elements it takes for a long, strong voiceover career.

The Beginner

Learn the Basic Foundational techniques.
You have to learn how to take direction from someone else and give direction to yourself. Some typical directions are to sound bright, friendly, serious, compassionate, strong, warm, trustworthy, and thoughtful.

Find your strengths. Start recognizing what your strengths are. You might be more of the announcer, non-announcer, personality driven or long format story-telling type.

Learn how to analyze a piece of copy. Each piece of copy will give you information on what is being asked for of your voice. For instance, if the spot indicates there is bright bouncy music playing in the background, you know your read will need to be bright. If the scene takes place in a romantically lit restaurant, with close-up shots, that would be telling you your voice should be directed to sound intimate.

Intermediate

After you get to know your voice, how to direct it and take direction from someone else, you are into the intermediate phase of your abilities.

Learn the nuances of how to execute the copy. After knowing basic direction, you are ready to notice and execute nuanced changes in each sentence. You are also ready to notice and execute sentences that are being used for transitions. For instance after laying out facts, there would be a call to action.

Experiment and experience different venues. Know the difference between radio and TV reads. In radio your voice is painting the picture, whereas in television your voice is supporting the picture. Experience promo, announcer, narration, and voicing to picture and music.

Start to know your voice print
Your voice print is your voice personality. If the sound of your voice is naturally full of character, don’t try to prefect doing serious spots that calls for gravitas

Advanced

Now that you know your strengths, how to analyze a piece of copy and how to take direction it is the time to move past technique.

Step Up To The Mic Beyond Technique
It’s time to embrace the read. Now that you can recognize what the spot is asking of your voice, and you feel confident about your reads, you can embrace the responsibility of fully adding your voice to the branding of the spot.

Brand yourself
Discover visuals and colors that match the look and feel of your voice. This is a process; take your time with it. In my advanced workshop I have talent each week collect visuals that match the feel of their voice. It’s good to do this with a professional and others in the group for feedback and reactions. For instance if your voice is bright and cheery your colors might be bright yellow and orange and your visuals might be people bouncing on trampolines.

Make a demo
Don’t rush into your demo. You will save a lot of money making a demo after you know your voice and know how to take direction. There is no career longevity in being called in to audition or booking a job from an over-edited good demo and then not being able to come through being given direction.

Create a website
Create a simple website using your branding. The more presence you have on the internet the more likely you are to be found in any searches.

Now you have all the tools to gain agent interest and good self-submissions. Now good luck and go out and “break a lip”.

If you want to sharpen up on your voice-over technique, follow this link to Terry Berland’s Voice-Over workshops.

7 Voiceover Terms to Know Before Your First Audition

Written by Backstage Industry Expert Terry Berland for Backstage.
Photo Source: Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Gone are the days of voiceover being an exclusive club. And while opportunities abound, it seems like many actors who want to get into VO don’t know the first thing about the medium.

When an actor approaches me about wanting to do VO, they say, “I want to make a voiceover demo.” What they don’t realize is that before a demo can be made, they must learn proper technique and how to audition. And if you can’t take direction at a casting or booking session, a demo is a quick path to an unproductive end result.

To get you started, here are some of the buzzwords you’ll need to be familiar with and how to approach them successfully.

Do you want to put on the cans?
 “The cans” are the headphones. You should have experience recording with headphones before you get into an audition or booking session. Some people prefer headphones because they block out everything else, allowing the voice actor to concentrate on the sound of their voice. Others don’t like their voice fed into their ears because it keeps them “in their head,” something they find distracting. It’s a personal preference, but you should have one.

Tighten up your read. 
In general, this means making the spot go faster without your words sounding rushed. This can be achieved by tightening up pauses. There are two ways you can do this. One way is by taking less time at the end of each sentence and the other is to eliminate some commas/pauses you’ve added to your read.

Sound brighter.
 One way to sound brighter is to subtly go up (higher) on the last word of the sentence. Or, give your read more animated peaks.

READ: How to Analyze Voiceover Copy

Make your read more intimate.
Work closer to the mic as if you’re talking intimately into someone’s ear.

Sound less “selly.”
Change your delivery to a more one-on-one read. Instead of trying to convince someone of something, come from the attitude of sharing personal information. In other words, reveal, don’t sell.

Read fast, but not legal.
A legal read is very, very, very fast with each word pronounced articulately. It’s hard to do and few people can do it well.

Do a pickup.
Re-do only the section you messed up on. When you start to re-record the section, say “pickup” and continue from there so the editor can seamlessly edit them together.

I learned a long time ago not to over-direct at a casting audition. There was no point in explaining what exactly I was looking for and having the talent do it over and over until they got it right by my standards. Plus, it crosses the line from directing to teaching. Sure, the talent booked the spot but then they got to the recording session and didn’t know how to take direction because I had coached them in the audition. It resulted in upset clients, dropped talent, and a loss of business. You can study voice over technique from me at VoicePrint West, workshops.berlandcasting.com, or anyone else to be in top notch form for your auditions, and pick up the lingo.

When you audition for me or any good session director, you’re given the direction necessary to adjust your read so it fits the needs of the spot. The terms and phrases mentioned here are typical and if you can’t execute each and every one of them, you’re not ready to go into a final recording session.

If you want to sharpen up on your voice-over technique, follow this link to Terry Berland’s Voice-Over workshops.

Four Tips To Analyzing Voice Over Copy

Written by Terry Berland for Backstage

As a casting director I speak directly to the ad agency creative team that choose the talent to book the job.  This creative team decides on the type of read they are looking for, which is given to you in the form of direction. All really good voice over artists knows that the choice of tone in every word is important.

The most valuable message I can give you is to look beyond the written direction, but trust that all the answers to how to make the best choices can be found in the script itself.
Look at the following four elements to make distinct choices and enhance your reads.

1. Look at the visuals of the spot.
If you are fortunate enough to be given visuals, really look at them. They will help you understand the general tone of the spot. Here are some sample visuals to get you thinking:

  • A tight shot: This indicates a more intimate read.
  • White picket fences: Friendly, reassuring and calm.
  • Rolling hills: Folksy, calm and reassuring.
  • Bright colors and quick shots: Bright and upbeat.
  • Puppies, children, family and friendship scenes: Warm and joyful.
  • Military: Inspirational and bold.

2. Look at the written descriptions between the VO words.
Many times you will not be given actual visuals, but verbal descriptions instead. It is as important to read all the descriptions as it is to look at the visuals. You will find the same hints in the written words as in the visuals.

3 . Pay attention to the product.
Fast food reads are upbeat and bright with quicker tempos.
An expensive restaurant with dim lights would indicate a place to linger and calls for reads that are slower, with softer tones.
Luxury cars and lush interiors indicate a more intimate read.
Speeding cars signal a stronger, focused read with drive.
Retail stores with bright positive colors and bouncy music call for a bright and friendly read.
Financial institutions call for a read that is trustworthy and reassuring.
Shampoo, cosmetics and anything that makes you more attractive or more appealing have a more “cosmetic” tone, which you would achieve by reading your words with a softer and rounder tone.

4. Find cue words in the script.
Certain words should guide you towards a choice.  Some cue words include:  “trust”, “confident”, “assured”, “safe” “take action now”, “go now”, “limited time” and “hero”.
There are many more types of visuals, cue words and types of products out there. Become aware, learn and practice.  There is nothing haphazard about the choice of voice that is made for each commercial.  After all, your voice is supporting the visuals and branding the message.

Use improvisation to help voiceover

How Improv Makes A Better Voiceover Actor

Written for Backstage by Terry Berland

We all know the importance of improv for actors—but did you consider that improv can also help you in your voiceover career?

Here are five ways improv will make you a better voiceover actor.  Sometimes the importance of the ability to improv is not obvious and others.

1. Auditioning

You might be given totally different direction from the casting director than the choices with which you went into the audition. Direction is all about nuances and requires the ability to instantaneously switch out of your choices.

2. Radio Auditions


Radio is more personality driven than television, and can allow opportunities to be loose and broad and add your own individual humor. And two-person radio scripts almost always give you room to riff back and forth a couple of times to button off the audition.

3. Voicing Donuts and Pretzels

There are times your voice has to come between other visuals or music in the script. Your voice coming in once between other actions, visuals, or music is called a donut (one hole), and several times is called a pretzel. You have to react very quickly to the last sound or visual prompt, and the director can very well tell you to change your attitude in the words you are fitting into the allotted spaces. You’ll be happy you can only rely on your well-trained improv muscle in these situations.

4. Animation and Cartoons

Both are extremely personality driven and move very quickly. The improv muscle in your brain will again allow you to create without judging yourself.

5. ADR and Looping

These two venues have many opportunities that are not scripted and you have to come up with conversations quickly to match the feel of the scene in the background of the film or TV show. No one can be considered on an ADR/looping stage who is non-scripted or is not good at improv.

With good improv skills, you can be sure to have better voiceover auditions and bookings!

Everything You Need To Know About Voice Over Recording Sessions

Written by Terry Berland for Backstage

Voice Over Recording Sessions

Learn all the need to know information on voice over recording sessions

The end result you are looking for after learning how to do voiceovers, making a good demo, and auditioning well, is to book the job. For the many performers who are crossing over from commercial acting to voice acting, the booking experience is very different. Here’s what you can expect at a voiceover booking.

One of the reasons actors love to do voiceovers is because the recording only takes a couple of hours out of your day.

TV Recording Time

The recording for TV scale payment under union rules is two hours per spot. If it goes over, overtime is paid. Arrive early. Studio time is very expensive and there is no wiggle room to linger and go over the studio time that the ad agency has booked.

Radio Recording Time

The booking time for radio scale under the union contract is one-and-a half hours for one spot.

Before you record, there are certain business practices that must be taken care of:

Contract. The contract is usually emailed to you and/or your agent beforehand. Look over it to make sure you understand everything and that there are no errors. If there is a mistake or misunderstanding, take care of any corrections before the recording session.

Script. The script(s) should be emailed to you before the recording session, along with your contract. The script will be very close to, if not the same as the script you with which auditioned. Even if the project is top secret and the actual script was not given to you to at the time of the audition, the final script will have a similar tone and emotion.

Once you enter the room:

The talent will be directed to enter a glass-enclosed room (the booth) equipped with a mic, script stand, and headphones. The creatives directing you will be on the other side of the glass with an engineer. They’ll be speaking to you through a speaker system. When they do not have a button pressed, you’ll be seeing them talk to each other and will not be able to hear them. It’s an inside joke that voiceover talent quickly learn how to read lips.

If your creative team is in a different city, you will be at a studio with an engineer and the creatives will be at a studio in their city, communicating with you and recording you through an ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) line.

The room, typically occupied by the writer and producer from the ad agency, is usually very friendly—after all, you are their approved choice. They trust you are going to come through for them and everything will go smoothly.

Once you’re recording, you should expect some direction.

For TV spots, if there is a rough cut of the spot available, it will most likely be show to you. If they do not have any film to show you, they will describe the visuals. The emotions and style they are looking for will match what you did in your audition to book the job.

For radio ads, you could be asked to record more takes with broader choices, as your voice is painting the entire picture. They cover a range of variables, as the last thing they would want to do is have to call you back and pay for you and the studio again to cover anything missing.

How do you know you did well at a recording session? If your audition was true to your ability and not overly edited, and you were easily able to step into the booth and follow their direction, your session mostly likely went very well. If your audition was heavily edited and the people directing you are struggling to get the subtle nuances that they expected, then you know they will probably replace you, and never be interested in using you again.

After the session, when the creatives have all the reads they need, you’ll be invited out of the booth, there will be lots of smiles, some goodbye chatter and you’ll be off to the rest of your day. Simple as that! Now get out there and nail it!

Current Trends In Voiceover

Written for BackStage by Terry Berland

Advertising reflects life itself. Life influenced by the Internet today is quick and loose with multiple resources of information, choices, visuals, and possibilities at our fingertips.

The culture we live in has changed the look and feel of commercials. Notice the bright, positive colors, the graphics, clothing, hairstyles, humor, environments, and storylines.

Voiceovers have greatly been effected by these influences, and the industry has changed as a result. Here are five current trends you should know:

  1. The sound of the voiceover announcer is more real.

    I have been casting and teaching voiceover technique for years and I stay acutely aware of what type of voices support the visuals and brands of a particular spot.

    The announcer who sounds like he is talking to a large audience with a smooth, polished, stiff, stylized, unapproachable deep tone is pretty much gone.

    The more “real” sound is referred to as the non-announcer announcer. This sound is approachable and connected to the listener. His sound is more in alignment to today’s world of accessibility. Companies want to be considered or branded as approachable, trusted, and relatable.

    There are trends other than the sound of the voice.

  2. Talent must be able to record auditions anywhere, at any time.

    With Internet access, clients are asking for auditions to be submitted to them very quickly. For this reason talent should have the ability to record at home or even on the go in the car. There are inexpensive mics with good quality that you can use with your laptop or iPad to record auditions. Take a little time to visit any electronics store and test some out. Look into clever ways to semi-soundproof the space you are working in at a very low cost.

  3. You’re expected to have a website.

    Be visible on the Internet for searches. You want to have as much of an online presence as possible for any producer to find you easily. This website should be simple, but should include your demo. The colors and visuals should be branded to match the feel of your sound.

  4. Self-submission Internet sites are available to you.

    Auditions are available on voiceover sites for self-submissions. Where you are in your career will influence your desire to register and submit auditions online.

  5. Voiceover agents are accessible in multiple cities.

    There are voiceover agents all over the United States. It is common for talent to have a couple of different agents in different cities.

To be a successful, working voice actor, you must be prepared to be competitive, train consistently, and keep up with the ever-changing industry.

Do You Have What It Takes to Succeed in Voiceover?

Do You Have What It Takes to Succeed in Voiceover?

Written by Terry Berland for Backstage

I have always cast both on-camera talent and voiceover for commercials, starting my career casting on staff at various ad agencies in NYC. At that time, the voiceover field was made up of a very exclusive group of New York and L.A. actors, and a limited amount of agents who represented them. Voiceover was pretty much a “closed field”—but not anymore.

Voiceover Opportunities on the Rise

Voiceover Work is on the Rise

Voiceover opportunites for actors is a wide open field.

The old school ways of voiceovers being close to unobtainable to break into are gone. Voiceover opportunities for actors is a wide-open field. In fact, it’s the Wild West out there. Talent agencies are opening up voice departments, and more Internet media sites are available affording opportunities for actors to find voice work more than ever before. Does that mean it’s easy to break into? No! But the playing field is wide open and equal. Everyone starts at the same place: ground zero.

Know Yourself, Know Your Voice

Every client wants interesting choices. I, myself, bring in actors for voiceover castings from past auditions, who I know will do a great job, but also spice up my casting sessions with talent I know from my on-camera castings or whom I’ve seen in theater productions around town. Agents are also constantly looking for new talent to keep their rosters fresh. But to audition well and do well at a final booking, you need to know what you are doing. You need to know how to make specific choices and also follow direction from the creative team.

The Voiceover Demo

Your calling card will be your voiceover demo. A big tip I can give you is, don’t waste your money to have your demo produced before you are ready. Any good demo producer can make you sound good by over-editing. But you’re wasting your money having a demo that sounds good if you don’t know how to make the right choices, execute your choices, and take direction.
Your voice is your instrument and you are the conductor. Voiceover is based on acting, but has its own unique technique. Some knowledge of technique you should know before you spend money on producing a demo include:

  • Know the characteristics of your voice, known as your voice personality or your voice print. This is known as your branding.
    Know how to make choices as to what kind of read you will give from the direction you are given or from reading the storyboard and/or on-camera direction.
  • Know how to make choices as to what kind of read you will give from the direction you are given or from reading the storyboard and/or on-camera direction.
  • Know how to execute many subtle differences. Some of which are non-announcer/announcer, warm, strong, upbeat, driven, inspirational, positive, and compassionate, just to name a few.
  • Know the difference between TV and radio reads. The television read supports the picture, whereas the radio read creates the visuals.
  • Know how to voice to music or visuals, sometimes referred to as donuts and pretzels. Many times your voice comes in between music. The music will be played for you and you will need to time your reading and be able to execute the right energy to go along with the music or visual. One space to insert your voice is referred to as a donut.
  • Two or more spaces are referred to as a pretzel.
    The trend now for voices of many spots is “real” and raw, not polished. Voiceovers can be another venue for your acting career. Have a plan for success. Start with knowing the basic technique and grow from there.

How To Get Into Voice-Overs And Not Waste Your Money

The quick answer of how to get into VO’s is learn the technique and make a demo reel.

What some talent do is take this answer too literally. They take a quick beginner level class and make a demo reel. I might add the demo reel cost quite a bit of money.

Now they feel great. They are ready. They have a demo reel.

Here is a tip that will save you a lot of money.
Don’t Be Duped Into Spending Money On A VO Demo Reel Too Soon

….. Making a demo reel before you really know the technique is a waste of money and will not get you very far.

Here are the reasons why.
A good demo producer can make you sound good. They can cut errors, make the reel move along at the right pace, cut out pauses and extra breaths and put the right music behind a spot. However, you will not be able to live up to who you are on the demo.

You Are Ready To Do Voice-Overs when:

  1. You know who you are VO-wise; Know your brand.
  2. You know how to analyze copy and what the branding of the product is asking of your voice.
  3. Know how to direct yourself.
  4. Know how to take direction.

Casting Directors and agents are looking for new voices. Put yourself out there when you are really ready.  When you feel like you are ready check out www.voiceprintwest.com

Terry Berland
www.berlandcasting.com

Actors are intrigued with the possibility of expanding into voice over work.

TerryBerlandActors are intrigued with the possibility of expanding into voice over work. The old school myth is that it is a closed field and unattainable. Voice over opportunities for actors have opened up in the last couple of years and are continuing to open. More talent agencies are opening up voice departments and more internet media sites are affording opportunities for actors to find voice work. It is easy to break into? No. But the playing field is equal; everyone starts at the same place.

Originally casting at a New York City ad agency it was natural for me to first cast the on camera portion of a spot and then the voice over. I have always been on the look out for “voice talent” when casting my on camera spots or going to theatre, comedy and improv. Many voice-casting people are following suit. Of course the biggest factor in opening up the field is the internet. But let’s face it, the internet has opened everything up causing change and resulting in more opportunities and more competition.

Many people have been told, “You have a good voice for voice over”. What does that mean? To me, not much, as each situation calls for a different kind of voice. I can be asked for a voice that sounds like a paramedic, policeman, financially successful, type A personality, an ant, a dog (I cast the Taco Bell Chihuahua voice), a big tire, urban, trustworthy, soothing, a boss, insecure, hip, contemporary or comedic edge… just to name a few.

You have to learn the technique. Learn how to express whatever you are feeling through your voice only. Paint the picture. Then there are different venues. There is a difference between a radio and a TV read, an announcer and a non-announcer, promo, narration and personality driven. There are also many opportunities such as television, radio, film, industrial, corporate films, video games, narration, CD books, voices in toys, animation and web.

There are many ways to market yourself now to get your own work, have a home studio and submit your own auditions over the internet, audition in your agent’s office or the casting director’s office. Talent would rather come indirectly to audition for a casting director, such as myself, because they know that a limited number of auditions are being submitted to the ad agency; the ad agency will listen to each audition and make their choices. Whereas when a breakdown goes out over the internet directly to agents (agents have voice booths in their office and do their own casting), or talent are submitting via an on-line service, there are most likely hundreds of submissions and you never know if your submission is really going to be listened to.

Your approach to a VO career should be planned to get the best results. Basically you need to learn the strong fundamentals to make wise choices and be able to execute your choices. You then go through a progress of levels of expertise and finally make a demo that you can actually live up to, as opposed to one that is edited to make you sound better than you are. You have to be able to audition well and perform well in the studio at the time of booking.

Actors love being in front of that microphone. They are always jazzed when they leave my auditions. They say it “feels good”. If someone is handing you a magic wand, run. It takes work, focus and know how. The good news is everyone starts out on the same level. It is a discovery process. Be aware that you have a focused approach to save you money and time.

Actors love voice-overs. What could be better? It doesn’t matter what you wear or what you look like. Oh, and when you book something it’s usually two hours in the studio. If you are in the fortunate position, you can book several jobs in one day. TV voices bring you a residual return, as does on-camera.

So if you want to do it, start training and start doing it. The elusive, ironclad gate has been opened up. Walk through it. It’s fun and it’s a great possible extension to your career.

Terry Berland
www.berlandcasting.com