Finding my voice: adventures at voice over school
I am a person who loves the sound of my own voice, and so, for about a decade I have been telling anyone who would listen that I should be a voiceover artist. Obviously. Finally, and possibly because I ran out of people to tell, I decided to stop talking about it and start doing it; I signed myself up for a one day voiceover seminar.
On Friday morning I arrived at a Soho studio, ready for my seminar. I was slightly nervous that I would be found a fortnight later shackled to pipe running an illicit chat line, so you can imagine my relief when I encountered my instructors and classmates who appeared for all intents and purposes, normal. There was a retired airline steward, a freelance journalist, someone who makes announcements at the airport, a cruise ship entertainer, a biology teacher, a wedding singer and me, a PR, all stuck in a small underground studio, kind of like The Breakfast Club recast with adults.
The day was intense – a mix of theory and practice and a healthy dose of time on the mic. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected to learn.
Keep It Real: I went to the class anticipating that my strength would be what I describe as my ‘work voice’ – a soft, calm sounding vocal that comes across as Mid-Atlantic. I have spent a lot of time honing this voice to sound more professional and, to be totally honest, less American in the workplace. My professional voice is soothing, and so I dreamily envisioned it would be well-suited to healthcare and insurance commercials – adding reassurance at moments of uncertainty. It turns out that what sells in the voiceover market is authenticity, and I will be far more marketable using my natural, unadulterated American voice. And, even more exciting, my voice is classed in the 20-30 year old range, which (spoiler alert) is younger than my actual age.
Gladwell was Right: I had this vision that I was going to be a voiceover savant – my teacher would hear me, be awed by my self-evident natural talent, no, gift, and voiceover fame and fortune would quickly follow. It turns out I do have potential, but what I need is practice… and lots of it. So Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve expert capability is proven true, yet again. As I have long suspected, there is no secret nor short cut to success, and no escaping the need to go to a studio and rehearse if I want to be taken seriously.
Your Voice Can Be the Medium and the Message: I approached this class thinking of voice as a conduit, the relayer of information – but I learned this actually undermines the power of what your voice can achieve. Our instructor described the voice as a sales instrument, and explained how the pace, pitch and placement of emphasis all become part of ‘the ask’. After all, in every interaction we are seeking some sort of response from the listener - attention, action, or, if we’re lucky, an answer –and how we use our voice (tone, modulation, energy level) can strengthen or undermine the request itself.
An unexpected benefit of the day was the chance to spend time with an incredibly diverse group of individuals; people who don’t work in communications – or even in an office – and who don’t speak in crisp, power point-punctuating soundbites. My fellow classmates came from distant places like Oxford and Kent and don’t use uber-ing as verb – in fact, I strongly suspect they don’t use uber at all. These are the ‘consumers’, the ‘target audience’, the people who actually buy the brands we represent. The class presented a chance to use my voice to engage with ‘real’ people beyond the false and forced construct of focus groups. I couldn’t help but imagine how much more insightful and impactful our work would be if we spent more time interacting with actual…humans!
It was a good day and I was grateful for the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and to develop a new and semi-relevant skill – in fact, according to Urban Dictionary, I now have a ‘side hustle’, which I hope will add a new and different perspective to my day job. And, if you are ever need a voice over artist, you know where to find me...