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Do You Know What Your Signature Voice Is?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

January 27, 2010

Comments (10)

SignatureDo you know what your signature voice is?

What does it take to find it?

Can you have more than one?

By identifying your signature voice, you take the guess work out of your brand and give what your client wants to hear.

In Search of the Elusive

A signature voice is, at the very heart of it all, your money voice. It's the sound and kind of reads that people consistently hire you to perform. While some voice over talent pride themselves in being able to be everything to everybody performance wise, many do choose to brand their voice and serve a particular market or niche within voice over.

Zeroing in on a niche and distinctive read that makes you money is great... but it may take time to discover what other people feel your strong suits are and also what you continuously get hired to do.

How Can You Find Your Signature Voice?

Prolific voice actor Bob Bergen didn't find his signature voice overnight, but when he did, it was like the light went on for him. Bob describes his experience as follows:

"(Finding my signature voice) Took years in workshops. I'd hear what the teachers were asking of me, to be real, conversational, etc. I was 14 when I took my first class, and over 8 years I studied with every VO teacher in LA. For some reason, the time between what my ears heard and what came out of my mouth, well, I just wasn't able to deliver. Everything came out charactery... I think because all I'd ever wanted to do was cartoons. But commercials are the majority of the work, and I knew that if I was going to be able to compete in animation I needed to be able to nail commercials. Then one day when I was 17, on a Saturday morning at 9:32am at a workshop in Studio City, Ca., I got it! It was an 'aha' moment! I was able to, with ease, be 'me' at the mic. No idea what happened, or why. It was just a breakthrough. Honestly, I think it was just time and confidence. But from that point on, I knew I could give a believable, competitive read, with my signature brand every time."

Are Personality and Signature Voice Related?

Sometimes your voice over work will run parallel to your personality, temperament and interests. For people who fit this mold, it can be easier to identify and hone your signature voice as it may come naturally.

Voice over talent David Kersten found his signature voice through mimicry.

When asked to expand, he reasoned that mimicry is how we as people learn most things, saying, "Mimicry. Imitating a voice or voices I admire, (voices I) feel comfortable imitating and ones that I believe match my sound and personality without making a 'character' out of them and me; just being natural about it. My own signature has developed out of it. Still, I'm always learning the nuances of the craft. I enjoy listening to interpretations I hadn't considered that work as well as the deliveries of others I admire."

When Your Signature Voice Is More Work Than Play

While your signature voice can be a true reflection of your personality, according to many voice over professionals, their signature voices aren't always that way... in fact, sometimes the voice that you are hired for most contrasts with your natural self or what you consider to be your "signature" voice!

Kelowna-based voice over professional Ralph Hass cites that his signature voice for sports imaging has always been apparent to him. Ralph offered, "I loved many sports growing up and when you are able to combine a passion (sports) with what you do for a living (talk, i.e. radio, sales, voiceover) that is just icing on the cake."

That being said, Ralph has always enjoyed variety in his workdays and voiceover is no different, adding that his clients' idea of what his signature voice is differs from that of his own preferred sports voice, noting that they may prefer his 'smooth reads' with interpretation done for longer narration projects for eLearning modules and corporate videos.

Similarly, voice over pro David Cook finds that the bulk of his work calls for a voicing style decidedly different from his own personality.

David shared, "I would say that my 'sunshiney, energizer bunny' personality does not always come through. More often than not, I need to dial back and be a bit more somber or businesslike, for example if I'm doing PSAs on smoking or playing a doctor. The two occasionally mesh with certain gigs and that is magical."

Can You Have More Than 1 Signature Voice?

Given what David and Ralph have shared, you could technically have more than one signature voice... well, couldn't you?

In a podcast on Voice Over Experts, Cynthia Songé debates the signature voice and questions whether or not it is limited to simply one sound or if it can encompass many different and unique signature voices based upon the creative direction and specifications. Cynthia espouses that your personality is a passport to individuality -- the individuality that is at the very core of your performance and the energy that people will respond to. She goes on to explain that you will have different emotional responses for every project, but you have to know who you are and trust yourself to break free from the limitations that may be imposed by having only one "signature" voice.

While the having of a distinct signature voice can effectively typecast you, remember that you are still able to perform other reads... don't be afraid to branch out and try something new!

Working Multiple Signature Voices

Voice over artist Melba Sibrel has found that she makes money from various signature voices, stating "I do a great deal of 'character' and used to think my signature voice was a very middle-aged almost wacky voice -- like the quintessential comedy mom. But about 3 years ago, was hired to do a read in an outside studio that has a very 'bright' sound to one of their rooms -- one in which I had never worked alone. Playing on mic without anybody else in the room prior to the session, I discovered a bouncy, slightly raspy, very young, confiding voice. I used it for that session, felt where it came from and noted how to make it and it's been one of my 'money' voices ever since -- it has been a springboard for lots of different sounds."

Voice talent Mike Elmore subscribes to the multiple signature voice theory, too. He wrote in sharing, "I just did one of promo sessions with a client. THEY see my 'signature' as one tone/delivery/cadence package. If I were to 'sign my voice' with them the same way I 'sign it' with say one of my narration clients... well they might not recognize or reject that 'signature'... just like I have one signature when I sign a check I have a slightly more refined/legible signature when I sign my daughter's school agenda. Then there is the natural, real me read for some commercial stuff. I guess to each client that expects one style from me I have a particular signature... but to ME I have 3 or 4."

Perhaps the signature voice is based upon recognition depending on who is listening and why. In that case, you could (as Mike pointed out) have a few voices that you use on a regular basis.

Any Comments?

If you'd like to write in with your own personal experiences finding your signature voice, or the concept of a signature voice in general, please do!

Join the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you :)

Warm wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Riccardo Cova

Related Topics: animation, cartoons, comedy, hired, how to, radio, Signature voice, voice acting, voice talent, voiceovers, voices, Voices.com


Comments


    Stephanie
    I seem to get Work with 2 Voices
    The Warm/Friendly Close to as Real as Possible
    and The Up-tempo/Hard sell
    I've landed 3 Jobs on Voices.com this week
    in the Past 24 Hours
    I feel most comfortable with the Warm/friendly Voice
    Joe

    Posted by:

      I have dozens of voices and have made money over three decades now with all of them. I do females of all ages. I play many characters. I do dialects and accents. This morning I voiced a grandmother role. Yesterday, I voiced a young mother. In audio book work, I portray so many types of voices and characters. I am a voice actor. It's my stock and trade. One coach with whom I studied tried to convince me to make a demo showing only one voice. That's not possible for me. All these years I've built my career on my acting and extreme versatility. Money voice? All my voices make money.

      Posted by:

        Bettye makes a great point. The thing about VO today is the ability to have different demos for different genres. Promo style differs from trailer, which differs from commercial. Feature animation differs from " cartoony" Saturday morning animation, which differs from games. Etc. I do think that commercially you need to brand yourself to stand out amongst the rest. But that can still mean different styles for different kinds of commercials. Bettye's right-it's all about the acting. And the more versatile one is, the more opportunities. You just need to market each and every side/genre accordingly. And each style you do IS your money voice FOR that style. (does that make sense???)

        In the old days you'd have a 3-5 minute reel to reel demo of everything you do. Today you can have a demo track representing every style and genre. Some people have several commercial demos. One is all partner reads, one is retail, one is legal...etc. Each offers more opportunities for the actor. And each is the money voice for that particular genre. What I was referring in my first posting here was my money voice for my real/conversational/honest....me. Being me, whether I was selling fast food, cars, or toilet paper, was always the hardest part in VO classes. Once I found that, it was full steam ahead!!

        Also, keep in mind the rule is there are no rules. Different approaches work for different people. And I myself am a bundle of contradictions. And throughout your career you will grow and grow. With every gig, with different agents, with different directors. We are always growing and changing, as is the business. Advertising trends change. Marketing changes. You need to adapt to it and with it.

        And MOST important, have a blast doing it!!!!!!! You should have the same giddiness/joy at the mic in your 20th year as you did your first. Gotta love the journey!!

        ;-)

        Posted by:

          Stephanie
          ITS Amazing the SITE
          VOICES.COM IS!!
          Look who just Checked in
          BETTYE and BOB
          WOW!!
          To think THEY might EVEN listen to my
          Demos
          VOICES.COM
          THE "PREMIER" Voice Over Location!
          Joe

          Posted by:

            WOW! What a great discussion from some of VOs best...
            Signature voice? I think I lean more to Bettye's thinking in that I can be anything behind the microphone.That is my thinking with every audition, every demo, every job or performance! I've been blessed to be manic professors, cajun alligators, somber priests, medical doctors, lizard kings, etc. My own natural voice has thrown many people for a loop as to what I actually LOOK like (that's always fun)! I don't mean to be simplistic, but from the very beginning I've always been in love with the sound of a thing, the person behind the character that's making me laugh--or cry...the way it's being said that makes it so touching or funny. I'm learning that I have stuff (voices) in me that have emerged lately and THEY are "money" voices!
            My suggestion to all voicers: go to your creative place and LET LOOSE! Do some stuff--loud, soft, tender, terrifying. You'll find your 'signature'...and you'll sign with a flourish!

            Posted by:

              Bettye, Bob, Herb, Joe and Stephanie--
              Your comments all share one important quality--a pure love for your work. I too share that love for voice over...the opportunity to share a part of me in effectively communicating an idea or a feeling for my client through my take on the words of the message. It is an amazing process that the human spirit goes through. A process that allows our unique personality...our signature...to be expressed... and through that expression connects us to each other and then to our greater humanity. Yes, sometimes I am serious. Sometimes funny. Sometimes cheerful. Sometimes sombre. Sometimes lighthearted. Sometimes heartbroken. But I am always and forever me...and that is the place that my signature lives.

              Posted by:

                I agree with Bettye. And ALL your voices SHOULD make money. Each voice has a range of possibilities that should be explored. You never know how versatile you can be until you really just jump in and try alot of different things. Sometimes, the modifications can be subtle in order to create a large difference, sometimes they can be more extreme. But it's amazing what you will find if you take the time to really get to know your voice.

                Posted by:

                  Wow. I just got back to this board to read comments today Feb 12 and my heart is warmed to its cockles...whatever that is...lol. Thank you Bob Bergen, Scott, Debbe, Herb, Joe, and Stephanie for your comments here. It's a community all right. You know, the very first time I went to a gathering of voice actors (not theatre people, but recording studio voices) way back thirty years ago, it was so warm and lovely. I said afterwards, "THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. I HAVE FOUND MY NICHE." You see, I was a 'live' performer, touring on the road as a singer in resorts and cabarets, TV, etc. with my jazz group and also in touring companies of hit shows. Then, I became a studio singer. That was dog-eat-dog and not very friendly. All the girls were scared to death of being replaced! Then I fell into voiceovers, literally, when a jingle singer friend played her vo demo for me. An actor since age five, I immediately made a demo of my own and well, here I am still voicing. The voiceover community is comprised of many different types of actors and announcers. The categories are far too numerous to mention here, but you know what most of these are. Voice Acting is diverse as are its people. Thank you all for the kind words and I send you love this Valentine's day and all year round.
                  Bettye Zoller

                  Posted by:

                    Wow. To think that Bettye Zoller and I are from the same school of thought,...that the RANGE I can perform should make me some cash all thru the wide-open business that VO is. I feel rejuvenated! Thanx, bettye, for your comments(WOW!)...and thank YOU< Stephanie, for a wonderful piece! Nice bloggage!

                    Posted by:
                    • Bill Hollis
                    • June 2, 2010 12:27 PM

                      I have a good voice but I don't know my signature. I can do voices which is fun and the comments I have read are so motivating,thank you Bettye.

                      Posted by:
                      • Noah
                      • September 14, 2010 4:58 AM

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