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

Auditioning Well (in a studio)


Your in-studio audition starts well before they start recording your voice!

Auditioning well is a separate yet complimentary skill to acting. You can be a great actor but a crummy auditioner, in which case, you’ll never get work. You can be a mediocre actor but a great auditioner and work a lot (though it’s tough to pull that off in voice acting).

The first thing to realize is your audition begins when you walk in to the waiting room to sign in and get your script, not when you step into the recording booth or when they begin recording. Your audition isn’t finished until you have exited the building.

Aside from your recorded performance, the impression you make auditioning before and after the read can be what makes them want to bring you back! A good read at the mic isn’t always enough. 

Decoding the copy: Dig for the story and subtext of the script then for specifics that reinforce it all and bring it to life.

At an audition, you will need to quickly breakdown a script, gauge what they need, the tone, pace and subtext (or point of persuasion in a commercial) and bring that clearly to life in your performance.

A surprising number of actors seem to ignore prepping, assuming perhaps that they are too good for this, or that auditions are more a “numbers game” instead of skill-based contest where the performer has some control. Perhaps they’ve bought into the fallacy that casting happens arbitrarily (which justifies laziness). For the most part I think these views are self-defeating and plain wrong.

There isn’t much time to prepare for your audition after you arrive. Silence your smartphone and try to avoid the distraction of chit chat with fellow performers who apparently are more focused on socializing than actually booking a gig.

If you think about the potential cumulative income from an audition (it could lead to a series or residuals), you’ll realize the stakes for this audition are probably higher than it may seem.

If it’s a commercial spot, you want to find out what the copy actually trying to say- it’s point of persuasion. What’s it’s subtext? Who is the intended audience and what must they be convinced of? What do you need to bring to your read to nail the spot’s intent? What is your character’s role in that? This, in addition to scene specifics (cast, setting, etc.) of the scene all needs to be clear for you.

Remember: A commercial is designed to persuade a specific group of listeners of something. Can you fashion in a single sentence, what is the spot saying? What is its point of persuasion? What does your character need to do to realize that aim? What has to happen? This is the skeleton, the jumping off reference point, for your audition. 

If you are reading for a cartoon, what is the creator’s vision of this show? In one sentence, what is this scene about? Can you describe your character with an adjective or two? What kind of read fits with the tone of this show/network? Is there an archetype or iconic show or beloved character that this points to? What’s the obvious or generic choice? What’s a surprising one that might work better than the obvious one? What is your strongest take on this?

These are the kind of things that should be running through your head. The more you audition and work, the quicker your instincts can find a good lock on this.

It takes a while for a less experienced actor to become familiar with all the items on your “actor’s tool belt” that you draw upon in your work- the flowing well of ideas and emotions you paint from.

An audition requires you to clearly “see” the mission, quickly discern which of your “tools” to use. A more experienced actor has these readily at hand. A pro has developed an instinct for sizing up an audition and delivering a strong performance that “solves” the character role, which might be viewed as a unique kind of puzzle. Eventually, it’s like you have a kind of radar that quickly scans the landscape and snap onto its target and fires!

When done by a pro, the process seems quick and easy, even offhanded and casual, but it can take years to earn this level of killer ease. 

As an actor, you must bring more than what is written to your read:

An audition is like a puzzle that involves lots more than just reading words to “solve.” The specifics you need to crack the code are usually in the words, or at least implied. Believe it or not, most scripts aren’t brain surgery. The answer is quite simple– if you can clearly see the goal of the spot.

Sometimes it takes more effort to coax out that answer. You may not be given much direction or context in your audition copy. Sometimes in animation instead of a complete scene all you get is a string of context-free sentences, with no lead-in dialog or action specifics. The character’s description might be vague or non-existant.

The person who put this together didn’t understand what an actor needs to know.

If specifics are missing in the audition or you have questions, ask before you audition. I’m a big fan of digging for helpful specifics- with the casting director or your agent, even. If you can’t get these details, then you must invent them and incorporate them into your performance anyway. You must make your best guess as to context and timing.

You have to imagine the script’s action playing out, the implied reactions of other characters you may be speaking with, events you must “listen to” in your read, even the edits– pretty much a full specific scene should be running through your mind as you perform your audition.

These specifics playing out in your imagination could mean leaving a little room for reacting to other characters, listening to words (not) spoken to you, adding effort sounds, pre-life, laughs or other utterances, pauses or even some improv to loosen it up. All to serve the story, of course. Not arbitrary or self-indulgent. You are doing this to the benefit of the story being told.

It’s up to you to envision this and make the acting choices that make this feel real and sell the point. What you pro-actively bring to your read is fundamental to auditioning.

The biggest mistake you can make is to give a read that is generic or flat– that delivers nothing more than you reading sentences. There is no story, no angle, nothing organic or honest happening. This isn’t playing the scene or even acting. It lacks specificity, imagination and strong choices. It will sound blah and dead and won’t get you a callback or a job. 

The biggest mistake you can make isn’t flubbing a word or missing a cue, it’s failing to act.

Handling a poor audition description:

Here’s a curveball: The character description or direction on your copy may not actually indicate what they want or what the spot actually needs. It may be off or just suck. You may have an idea that is very different from what they think they want that is way better (which is to say, it gets them what they want more effectively, with greater impact)! If so, do that.

If they say they insist they want it performed in a way that feels wrong to you, ugh, okay, give them that– then offer your another idea. “I’ve got one more idea here,” you say. Usually, they will accept it. If not, at least you tried!

 Bring your ideas but also bring your flexibility!

You may have auditioned and been called back for one thing and then arrive and be asked to completely change it! Or they decide to recast and switch you to read a completely different character! You must be prepared to completely switch up your read if directed to do so– sometimes under less than optimal conditions.

Don’t be thrown. Your stance should always be of improvisational readiness, not intractable inflexibility!

Improv experience is always helpful when this happens, which is fairly often. Don’t be confined by what you expect your performance to be!

Finding your character may come from an unexpected negotiation of ideas.

Make those who cast want more of you with a confident audition.

You want to leave the room with them wanting more of your creation and more of you. Some book because they are expert actors and expert charmers!

Your job at the audition is not to politely and obediently read a few words, excuse yourself and slink out! You must be strong and confident- not wimpy or tentative. People hire well-placed confidence. You gotta knock them out with what you bring to your read and to the room! (For more on this CLICK HERE.)

You may be hired for your one audition, but you are rehired because they like not only your read, but they also like your presence, your energy and what you bring to “the mix.” A “good read” often isn’t enough.

Make it count! Don’t hold back giving it your best every time.

I am always surprised at how many actors approach their auditions in a thoughtless, offhanded manner. They socialize rather than prepare and then audition as a spur of the moment off-the-cuff afterthought. This approach significantly lowers your odds of booking a gig. 

It is an actor’s job to give it your best every time, no matter how incidental the role or project may seem to be. You have no idea how big a small project can get, or how big a “small time newbie” director will get.  

Besides that, be aware that any seemingly “minor” audition or gig might end up being an audition for something else in the future. You may be wrong for this role, but right for the next one! The producer of this one cheap-o local commercial or student project may soon be a powerful show runner/director who remembers your great job once upon a time and calls you in! It happens!

Your biggest audition might have happened years ago.


In-studio auditioning

Though there is less and less of working in studio these days, I thought I’d include the following “legacy” insights. Some of this may apply to Zoom audition or meeting, at least. I’m not a fan of diluting one’s performance by wearing junk clothes or standing in front of an uninspired or boring background when delivering either an audition or when working over Zoom!

Clothing- Bring more than a good read to the room.

Pay attention to your clothes as they can color your favorability in the minds of those who are auditioning you. No, I don’t mean you should rent a costume or show up in a “cosplay” outfit. But both you and your recorded performance must feel right to the casting decision makers for their particular project if you are to book the gig.

And not all those who cast or create appreciate more than they see nor do they understand much (anything?) about actors- that we can have range and can be directed. For some, what you see and hear is all they’re gonna get.

It’s not crazy for someone to think, “She brings a great read, but I just don’t see it when I look at her.” This could be a subconscious thing as well. (e.g. “He’s always joking around between takes, I don’t think he fits this serious patriarch character in our show.”) Sounds crazy, but it can be a factor.

Some other examples: Don’t wear an old t-shirt, shorts and flip flops to read for an uptight preacher, don’t dress old when the part is obviously young, don’t present them with a “kid” when the part calls for a “dad,” etcetera. 

Have the audition’s character in your mind as you dress for your drive to the audition or gig. 

Bring the character along with you.

I’m not saying to “act” like someone else throughout the entire audition. It’s more nuanced than that– more a conscious shift in your tone.

Start by thinking about your character: Is this character old, young, powerful, insecure, wacky, deadly serious? Think of a good adjective to “flavor” your stage presence a bit. Have this in the back of your mind when you enter the studio through when you leave. Again, I’m talking subtle but it’s there.

An example might be, if you are auditioning for a powerful villainous character, bring elements of that dark theaticality to today’s read– lose the between-the-takes comedy, the little neurotic apologies you do, and the off-kilter anecdotes you may typically bring. Dress in slacks and a button down shirt, perhaps more formal colors, in a way that suggests Power. Perhaps keep your energy more centered, rooted throughout your audition. Dialing in some of the character’s energy.

Another example might be, if you are reading for an innocent but wacky cartoony kid, dress younger, maybe more colorful or hipper, certainly not formally (a tee shirt? shorts? informal shoes, etc.), and bring that youthful energy along with you.

You get the idea. Don’t overdo this, but you may find it helpful to layer in or “give a nod” to the character you aim to create in how you present yourself.

This to me is ninja level auditioning. It’s not just about the read. It’s what you dial in to your presence in the room and how you interact with the room. You own the process and better own the results of your art.

Don’t be distracted or freaked out by what is happening (or what you imagine is happening) in the recording booth.

It’s not all about you!

Just because they have you do 25 takes doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you or your read.  And when you see the engineer and client shaking their heads with the talk back off after your take, feel free to assume they are talking about a dismal sporting event or where not to have lunch.  Please leave your insecure, needy actor self at home.

Keep your head positive, no matter what is thrown at you!  It’s your job to “roll with it.” If you become negative or paranoid about your work, it helps no one and makes everyone feel bad.

Even if the session is tough or they are having a hard time getting what they want or they don’t know what they want, or if you are having a rough time getting it– stay professional, keep cool and just do the work. Keep delivering what you do with unflappable confidence.

It’s part of your job to keep things positive and constructive. Those on the other side of the glass need this of you in the face of all the uncertainties of their side of the process!

Don’t be thrown by not booking or having a “bad” audition.

There are usually specific reasons that you failed to book the gig or make the callback– perhaps due to your read, perhaps not. Learn from it then let it go!  Blaming “chance” is a cop-out. Seek out feedback from the casting director through your agent and do better next time.

If you are habitually not booking seek an objective take on why and then move to fortify your auditioning and you’re acting. As I say elsewhere, at-home auditioning is the toughest thing facing a voice actor for many reasons.

Don’t lose sleep about whether you booked it or not.

Ultimately, an audition is like a lottery ticket that someone else scratches off for you. You only hear about it if you win, otherwise, just let it go. For more insight on auditioning CLICK HERE

17 Responses »

  1. Are really short auditions, where you’re in and out with just one take a good or bad thing?

    • Well, it is what it is- you gotta give it your best shot. That said, don’t let yourself be rushed or be afraid to ask for clarification up front or to offer another take IF you indeed have another good distinct idea and they are open to it.

  2. [if] a new voice actor could perfectly mimic all the voices of [a well established voice actor]. Would the voice casters choose [the well established voice actor] over the mimic?

    • Voice directors don’t hire mimics of good actors. They hire good actors. If the acting of two similar voices is about equal, then it comes down to what each brings to the room in addition to their read. See my page “The Me Show.”

  3. when seeking work, is it imperative that you have an agent to go through?

    • If you want to earn money in television animation, movies and video games you’ll need an agent. Everyone I work with is booked through an agent, at least. Commercials and promos it’s the same, but it may be possible to broker your own deals on your own. Most projects with money to pay anything seek a good agent with a pool of dependable talent rather than dealing with hunting down and dealing with each candidate/employee individually. Analogy: You (the show creator) want a new fantastic car- you need to go through a dealer (agent). You might be able to hunt down an individual to sell you a new car, but the protections for you are less and your leg work is much more. This is why professional projects tend to go through an agent. It’s easier and safer for them. It’s also easier and safer for you, the talent, as well.

  4. Do you know people who have made their own demo…also should you if you have 0 way of paying for a demo?

    • The thing about a VO demo is that it must be very good or it will work against you. It’s firstly a matter of having your acting skills ready and secondly having a demo produced that sounds competitive and professional. If you can do that yourself, knock yourself out, but I don’t know anyone who has done that. I recommend getting an engineer who is experienced in demos and/or a VO producer-director to assist you making a demo once you have established that your VO performance ability is good enough to merit a demo. A bad demo will not be forgotten by anyone who hears it and is a waste of time and money. More info on my “Your Demo” pages.

  5. When I told an audio engineer friend of mine that I was considering getting into VO work, he offered to help me for free with preparing a VO demo. I am going to take him up on the offer, but I also don’t want to abuse his services. I was thinking that if he won’t accept money a gift would be appropriate. Your thoughts? And also, is there a ‘going rate’ for engineer support that I can use to base the value of such a gift? Thank you!

    • Gifts are nice. I’d be embarrassed to pay an engineer less than $50 per hour in L.A. Double that might be more fair. But the supply and demand of a particular market determines the local price.

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