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

What A Voice Actor Needs to Learn

What does it take to be a voice actor? More than most would think. It’s so much more than taking a class or making a demo or having a few good impressions. To be an irresistible complete package, you must bring much more:

1. You must be a good actor.

Voice acting is about story telling, authenticity, connection, listening and timing. It’s not about making funny voices or imitation. It’s about acting.

How to get this? Years of experience and work.

2. You’ll need good technical control and facility with your instrument.

A voice actor must have facility with words, paragraphs and sight reading, diction, endurance, as well as a tap on your emotions.

How to get this? Many ways: Voice classes, actor training, singing training, reading out loud.

3. A good voice actor is able to take direction.

It’s about delivering what the creators need, and rapidly and nimbly adjusting your own ideas on the fly. You must be able to listen, hear what they say and lock in to what the creators want and create what best serves their project.

How to get this? Experience with live performing, improv experience, stage work.

4. A good actor has an ability to interrogate a script or director to find out what is needed and what isn’t needed.

Acting isn’t a passive execution of clear instructions. Sometimes the direction is unclear, misleading or nonexistent. A good voice actor will push to investigate to find the clear or appropriate subtext or intent that underlies the words on the page in addition to the action beats and any environmental characteristics that all inform a performance that fits. 

How to get this? Live performing experience, acting training.

5. A good voice actor has an improvisational imagination ready to proactively offer up a steady variety of good ideas.

Much of voice acting is not cut and dried- it is rather quite fundamentally improvisational.

Your job as a voice actor is to do more than merely what you are told, or what is written. It is a voice actor’s job to be ready to provide a menu of workable choices as well as to explore and flesh out new ideas that may arise on the fly. 

This also feeds into the skill of directing yourself, which is very important in both auditioning and at gigs. 

How to get this? Acting experience, improv training and exposure to actors with more confidence and experience.

6. You’ll need a readiness to accept change in your character or performance or veer away from what is expected or obvious (to you or the creators).

Voice acting is a kind of playful investigation and experimentation. As in good improv, you cannot cling to an idea or read (even if it seems to work). You must be ready to discard a dead-end read. You may be called upon to investigate new or unknown territory in a sentence or scene.

You are hired to be the flashlight in the cave. Your voice is the light!

How to get this? Performing experience, improv training.

7. An engaging sense of humor/ personality can’t hurt.

Talent aside, you must add an engaging energy to a room with your personality and  charm. This is often as much a reason to cast you or bring you back as your read. It is part of what inspires confidence in those who cast and create.

How to get this? Work with other performers, improv, stand up, stage experience. Lots of time in front of a live audience or in a live performance situation.

8. A confident grasp of story telling in its many popular commercial forms: commercials, plays, television, film, literature will always serve you well.

Even an original script plays by, or plays off of, long established rules and archetypes of storytelling. The more familiar you are with the various forms and genres of popular story telling, and it’s history, the easier it is for you to see what a creator wants. And the easier it is for the creator to direct you. 

A familiarity with icons of entertainment history is also a useful thing- stars, famous personalities and icons of stage and screen is always of great use.

How to get this? Read & watch lots of  TV & movies. Read!!

9. An ability to connect and collaborate with a cast or other creatives is vital.

Although some performers who become voice actors may begin with some form of solo performing (e.g. Stand up, radio, YouTube), to have a voice over career you must ultimately be an active team player.

Acting and “show biz” are fundamentally collaborative.

How to get this? Live performing/acting experience, improv training.

10. Timing.

An intuitive grasp of set up and payoff of tension, dramatically, with humor, etc. is essential for all actors.

How to get this? Live performing experience (stage, stand up, improv). 

11. Find a life of your own to nourish, ground and inspire your work. A well of opinions and belief to draw upon is an actor’s fuel.

An actor with nothing to bring but acting class experience has a shallow well to draw from. Draw upon your life beyond the stage or recording booth to fill your work with authentic emotion and meaning.

Feed your mind, your heart, your passion regularly. It’s your job! Without personal conviction and passion there is little to draw upon to fuel a convincing, fully-realized performance.

Life experience and non-actor world connection will serve an actor better than any training.

How to get this? Get a life. Follow your curiosity, what is fun to you, your own unique or odd passions.

12. A drive and capacity to make things better than they need to be, to deliver something special no matter how generic the project/material may initially present.

A voice actor is not just a creator but also a problem solver. You are collaborating to help make a story or scene not merely adequate but fantastic. Something that “pops.” Your enthusiasm for the project and making it great is what makes it fun and what convinces others to bring you back.

How to get this? Live performing experience.

© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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