Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Bringing Your Read to Life

Don’t just read the words. Wield them!

The voice actor as chef

A voice actor is a specialized chef who creates made-to-order plates of memorably tasty food. Each meal (audition) is crafted to unique specifications and each order calls for unique seasonings applied with an artist’s vision and intent.

A professional voice over chef isn’t serving a meal from a can. You are crafting an edible work of art to for the ears and mind.

Voice acting is more cooking than baking. Baking is all about following the exact recipe. Cooking, like VO, is freer, more improvisational, and for me, more fun.

To use another comparison, voice acting is more Monk than Mozart.

Back to the kitchen: Most voice actors auditioning from home may not realize that they have a cupboard of seasoning at their disposal to bring their auditions to life. Many have been making the same, monotonous bland dish without realizing that but a few sprinkles of seasoning can awaken a life to their read.

With cooking, you have the polarities of sweet, salty, bitter and sour (okay, five if you count “umami”). If you add but one of these to counter a dish dominated by one of the others, you can awaken and transform a flat or boring taste into a delicious and engaging one. It can be a simple addition that yields a profound transformation.

So too, we voice actors have a cupboard of seasoning at our disposal to make our reads come to life- to artfully deviate from the recipe to bring it all to life, so to speak.

I wanted to make you aware of some of the main seasonings at your disposal.

Elements of Choice for Voice Acting: 

It’s rarely one note or one level that brings a sentence or a story to life. A less advanced auditioner may not grasp why their auditions feel flat or dead or blah. I want to offer a possible explanation: You need to add seasoning.

To free your read from being predictable, flat, generic or monotone, reach for that creative shelf inside you and explore applying these always-available acting modifiers: 

Beyond the words on the page, vary your read by selectively adding, changing or switching up:

pace

pre-life, laughter, sighs, hesitation, etc.

paraphrasing 

repeating words, stuttering

improvising (if appropriate)

vary word of emphasis

escalation 

Sound level or “presence” 

Who are you talking to and at what distance? 

Any action or environmental elements to accommodate/incorporate?

Is performance fully extended/energized for scene/blocking?

silence

wind up- a quicker escalation that pays off w/ a physicalization or other “topper” event

incorporate the script’s scene direction or implied action, physicalization 

(i.e. vocalize what is happening. What is the blocking or movement?)

Changing or exploring variation of intent

(What are you trying to get, accomplish or change? What do you want?)

Switchsubtext, innuendo, implication

Apply a new adjective subtext or tone

Transition from one adjective subtext to a different one

“The turn”- (an unexpected 180 degree flip of tone to pay off a joke)

Modify the character:

Accent or dialect

placement or focus in mouth/throat/nose 

Age

Status

Change relationship to the scene partner

Dial in an impression or other character reference, pop culture reference 

***

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

-Mark Twain

© Dee Bradley Baker 2021

© Dee Bradley Baker 2021

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