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Marc Cashman Shares 12 Top Voice Over Skills

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

April 12, 2010

Comments (12)

Marc CashmanWhat can you do to improve your voice over performances?

Voice over instructor and performer Marc Cashman identifies and describes 12 voice over skill sets that will help you to refine your current skills and develop new ones!

From clarity to consistency to cold reading and more, you'll find new ways that you can leverage your talent and make it shine brightly for all to hear.

Learn more about what successful voice over artists master and the skills that matter in today's VOX Daily.

A Dozen VO Skill Sets

Submitted by Marc Cashman

If a buck dropped out of the sky every time someone asked me what it takes to make it in the world of voiceover, I could retire! So now, finally, I'm going to sum up a dozen top skills that are fundamental to a successful career in voice acting. And amazingly, they all start with the letter "C"!

1) Clarity

A voice actor's articulation has got to be impeccable. Each word needs to be distinctly understood, not swallowed, mumbled or garbled. An actor needs to make sure that they're balancing their enunciation between over-articulation and under-articulation. We don't want to over- enunciate, or we won't sound conversational--we'll sound like pompous asses. We certainly don't want to under-enunciate, or we'll sound stupid or lazy or both. We always need to perform in the "Goldilocks" area of vocal clarity. Employers are always listening for narrators who can speak clearly, without overdoing it or underdoing it. It has to be just right.

2) Cleanliness

This only partly means you have to shower before a session. Cleanliness refers to mouth noise, and if you have a lot of it, you may have a difficult time getting work in voiceover. Some people are blessed with minimal mouth noise--they've just inherited a genetic gift that makes saliva a non-issue. But most narrators have some level of mouth noise: those glottal stops, clicks and smacking sounds -- that they mitigate a number of ways: hydrating (otherwise known as drinking a lot of water); using throat sprays, mouthwashes or herbal teas; munching tiny pieces of green apple (in between narration excerpts), chewing gum or sucking on a lozenge. The less time an editor needs to clean up your V-O tracks, the more chance you'll be called back to do another session. Soon.

3) Consistency

In voiceover, consistency is a highly valued skill. If you're consistent in your volume, energy, pacing, articulation, characterization and your eye-brain-mouth coordination, you'll be every director's dream, because you'll be a voice actor they can rely on to deliver what they want every time.

4) Connected

Being connected to what you're reading is vital to your performance and the believability of your interpretation. A professional narrator always sounds like they're intrinsically interested in what they're talking about, regardless of whether they are. I always pose the question: if you're not enthusiastic about what you're talking about, why should the listener be interested in what you have to say? Being connected also means literally being physically connected to the page, with your eyes scanning ahead to make sure you're moving through the copy or text without tripping or stumbling. Voice actors use a numbers of different techniques to stay connected: using their hands to make points or gestures; inflecting when and where appropriate; making facial expressions to convey emotion and using their body to physically interpret action into their voice.

5) Conversational

Being conversational in voiceover isn't as easy as it sounds. It takes an innate ability to lift words off the page effortlessly, as if you're speaking extemporaneously (because you're an expert, right?). It means reading (and speaking) at conversational speed--the typical pace that we speak in everyday conversations. This skill is the result of not over- or under-articulating, and is key to engaging the listener and maintaining their attention.

6) Cold Reading

This skill is a must-have for long-form narration, particularly in the areas of e-Learning modules, instructional CD-Rom narration, and non-fiction audiobooks. If you're a busy voice actor, you don't have time to pre-read dozens or hundreds of pages of text before you take on a project. The ability to cold read text will save you a lot of time in the studio, not to mention a lot of editing time. The ability to scan ahead, to make sense of run-on sentences, and to navigate incorrect punctuation is a skill that comes in very handy. Solid cold reading is the manifestation of excellent eye-brain-mouth coordination, and can be strengthened every day by constant practice. Reading aloud (to your kids, significant other, parent, dog, cat, bird or bunny) will help you become a great cold reader.

7) Chop Chop

Okay, this was my lame "C" phrase for being quick (I could have written "Cwick", but that would've been much lamer). Speaking fast is, in many situations, as essential skill in V-O. It becomes readily apparent in a commercial, where sometimes you're supposed to squeeze 40- seconds of copy into a 30-second time frame (I call this "shoe-horning"). The ability to get through copy rapidly, but not at the expense of clarity, is a crucial skill that, if you haven't mastered, you need to develop.

8) Coordination

I referred to this under consistency and cold reading, and this is the mental muscle memory that develops when your eyes take in the words on the page, make the connections in your brain and come out of your mouth. I call it "eye-brain-mouth coordination," and it's a skill that voice actors develop after voicing thousands of pages of copy or text over a number of years. Some people are better at it than others, sometimes reading thousands of words in multiple pages of copy before making a mistake. Developing strong E-B-M coordination is possible by cold reading copy every day. It's like a musician who practices their scales every day-- they strengthen their muscle memory; or it's like going to the gym every day to build up your muscles and your stamina. Great E-B-M coordination is the hallmark of a professional voice actor.

9) Characterization

Any kind of voice acting that requires characterization requires acting, and actors understand what goes into giving a solid performance. Many of the skills I mentioned--consistency, conversationality, being connected--in addition to the acting skills of believability, authenticity, emotionality and interpretation--are immensely important in telling a compelling story. The ability to perform solid characters is another arrow in your quiver of voice acting skills.

10) Convincing

I've heard it said, "Always sound like you know what you're talking about, even if you don't." This could be the mantra for narration. No matter what subject you're talking about, the ability to sound convincing encompasses skills of coherent explanation, a measured, neutral (or sometimes friendly) tone, an appropriate amount of conversationality and energy, and an authoritativeness that's believable and approachable. The most convincing narrators are those who, in Penny Abshire's term, "tell, don't sell."

11) Control

Successful voice actors are always in control--of their voice, that is. They can control their pitch, their volume and their breath. They control their pitch by understanding intonation--realizing that there are many musical applications to the spoken word. They control their volume by understanding that volume, for the most part, has to be consistent--it's their intensity that varies throughout a read. And they maintain excellent breath control by constantly replenishing the amount of air they need in order to get through words and phrases competently. And they put all of these skills to use when they need to do any pickup phrases or insertions, so they can match what they've recorded before.

12) Confidence

The best thing you can bring to any V-O session is confidence--true confidence, not a false sense of bravado. Confidence comes from being prepared; understanding the subject, and anticipating the dynamics of the studio session between the actor, director and engineer (and many times, the presence of the client, either in person or on the phone); You can hear confidence in an actor's voice--in their phrasing, presence, and overall performance. Confidence gives you stamina and believability, and makes it easier to work with a director, who may sometimes be giving you a lot of conflicting direction. Confidence also gives you patience, which can really come in handy in many a recording session. I can add three additional "C's" under the heading of confidence: being calm, cool and collected.

There are so many more skills that we bring to a session that makes for a successful performance, and so many more attributes that you need to make it in the world of voiceover. But if we can infuse these skills into every V-O session, then you'll be well on your way to a satisfying and lucrative career. And fun!

Marc Cashman

~~

P.S. Stay tuned for the audio version of this article in Marc Cashman's newest podcast episode on Voice Over Experts!

Marc Cashman © 2010

MARC CASHMAN creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television. Winner of over 150 advertising awards, and named one of the Best Voices of the Year by AudioFile Magazine, he also instructs voice acting of all levels through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, CA, and One- on-One V-O coaching. Marc was the Master Class instructor and Keynote Speaker at VOICE 2008 in Los Angeles, and is reprising his roles at VOICE 2010. He can be contacted at cashcomm@earthlink.net or his website, www.cashmancommercials.com.

Related Topics: Apple, awards, demos, instruction, Los Angeles, Marc Cashman, radio, skills, throat, voice acting, voice overs, voice talent


Comments


    What a clear. concise collection of constructive clues!
    Thanks so much, Dave.

    Posted by:

      What a great blog.
      I find reading blogs entries 'aloud' great practice - and maybe it locks the ideas into your brain? E-B-M Cordination. I like it!
      Thanks for this,
      Robert

      Posted by:

        Thanks Marc and Stephanie for the great article. One way to practice is to get on all those great auditions from Voices.com, I also found a communtity theater group that puts on dinner shows every year, the scripts are pretty loose and you get to ad lib and bring "you" to it.

        My very 1st job from Voices.com was a 70,000 word audio book, I didn't have the cold read skill when I started but by the time I got to word 70,000 I was a lot better...

        Thanks for all you do Voices.com.

        Posted by:
        • Anonymous
        • April 12, 2010 4:49 PM

          One of the best voice-over articles I have read in quite a while. As always, Cashman is right on the money! This should be required reading for those who still believe that "anyone who can read, can make it in this business."

          I'd like to add one thing: even though someone might score high marks in all of Cashman's categories, without solid business skills to support all aspects of a freelance career, this person might be a a very talented, out of work voice actor.

          It's this magical mix of Confidence, Competence and Entrepreneurship that's the foundation for a successful voice-over career. You gotta tell it and you have to sell it!!

          Posted by:

            Pardon me, Marc...my stupidity preceeds me! (Dave, indeed...)

            Posted by:

              Excellent reminders. Thanks!

              Debbie Irwin

              Posted by:
              • Debbie Irwin
              • April 13, 2010 9:34 AM

                Very helpful & free!

                Posted by:
                • Josef-Israel VoiceOver
                • April 13, 2010 9:58 AM

                  Stephanie, this article is so on point and I am certain our voiceover community will find useful. Marc- U-DA-BOMB! I am so looking forward to attending your keynote this summer at VOICE 2010.
                  And I also agree what Paul said above about business skills. When we're running our own business, one must wear many hats in order to acheive success.
                  Thank you!

                  Posted by:

                    Such a great list!
                    Thanks, Marc, for turning your behind-the-mic experience into clear, concise advice.

                    Posted by:

                      Mr. Cashman's Cool, Concise, and Compelling Commentary!

                      Since you used so many alliterations, Marc, I really couldn't stop myself from adding a few of my own! lol

                      I've now printed a Word document with just your "C" key word reminders with a short definition, and posted it in my studio as a new warm-up! I'll combine your reminders with my E-B-M, until I have it memorized!

                      Thanks for developing and sharing your list! They are excellent reminders!

                      Posted by:

                        Awful! There are 14 Top Voice Over Skills EVERYONE knows that!

                        1 - See 2
                        2 - New readers join here
                        3 - Have a nice voice but refer to 4
                        4 - It isn't all about having a nice voice
                        5 - See 1
                        6 - Be British and live in Portgordon (essential)
                        6 - There is no item 7
                        8 - Yes, earlier, I had Corn Flakes
                        9 - Don't over value your Coach as that's their job
                        10 - Save money making a great demo by sending people
                        mine.
                        11 - Did you remember to See 1?
                        12 - The MKH416 is for playing fetch with Border Collies it
                        is not a VO mic.
                        13 - If you think ISDN is out dated find out if the VOs with
                        the big houses, fancy cars and aeroplanes have it!
                        14 - NEVER read or believe ANYTHING I write.

                        Posted by:

                          Great list Phil. I asked Phil for advice once - he gave me great advice!

                          Posted by:

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