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Booking Behind The Mic: Why Microphones Are Every Actor's Ally

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

June 14, 2011

Comments (8)

Retro microphone (silver) on yellow backgroundCan the microphone tell your age?

Unlike actors who perform on camera, voice artists are provided with a unique opportunity to vocally "shape-shift" and also disguise their biological age by manipulating their voices and employing techniques that make them sound younger or older than they truly are.

Has voice acting set your career off into uncharted waters when compared with your on camera experience?

Let us know by commenting on today's VOX Daily!

The Forgiving World of Faceless VO

Last week, I happened to see a witty comment on Facebook from one of my friends, Diane Havens, about this very topic. Diane wrote, "On camera, we can't be 29 anymore. Only in the wonderful and forgiving world of faceless VO, where youth springs eternal!"

That being true, voice "age" can be defined as something malleable with physical age playing less of an influential role in casting decisions. While the microphone picks up a lot, the microphone itself does not reveal anything other than the audio it "hears" unlike a camera which captures all that the lens can "see."

In addition to gigs that require a certain youthfulness to them, voice acting affords talent many opportunities to transcend their physical appearance and beyond. You could be the voice of a talking squirrel, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or a sponge.

It may go without saying but height, weight, skin color, eye color, build and other physical features are also moot if you can believably voice a character role.

What Else Can Voice Acting Overcome?

Voice acting can also overcome race and gender.

Let's take a look first at gender. Adult female voice talent typically provide the voices of male cartoon characters ranging between the ages 7 and 14. The prepubescent boy voice is next to impossible for a grown man to pull off but a female talent can ease her way into that space and deliver a convincing if not indistinguishable voice for the role in question. One of the most popular examples of this is Nancy Cartwright who has provided the voice of Bart Simpson on The Simpsons for over 20 years.

If we were to look at how voice acting and vocal technique can transcend race, a great example to cite would be how Larry Davis, who is not African American, can replicate the speech patterns, vocal tone and quality of Morgan Freeman's voice. Larry is hired frequently to provide voiceovers in the style of Freeman and has nearly perfected the art of the Morgan Freemanesque read.

Accents and Pitch

No doubt you've also heard (or can do) a variety of accents as characters who come from different lands and ethnic backgrounds. While this skill may not be as closely related to the physical attributes of your voice, developing an accent is still considered a skill that helps you to break away from your natural manner of speaking to pursue other roles that may not be usually available to you in an on camera casting with particular physical casting requirements.

Come to think of it vocal range and pitch, while not nearly as obvious, are more believable when delivered from behind the mic than on camera where the voice may not "match" the expectations viewers have when contrasted with the actor's physical appearance.

How Has Voice Acting Freed You?

If voice acting has given you opportunities to take on work for character roles you wouldn't have landed on camera, I'd love to hear about them. Be sure to comment and let me know!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

iStockphoto.com/Kohlerphoto

Related Topics: Accent, cartoons, hired, Microphones, Morgan Freeman, radio, techniques


Comments


    It's interesting because I'll see people who say, "I need someone in their 40s, NOT someone who is in their 20s who is pretending to sound like they're in their 40s." And I just laugh. How in the world can you tell the difference?

    I've played a toddler, teenager, mother and even grandmother. Heck, I've even played a couple male roles!

    Behind the mic, we can be anything we want to be, with the just click of a button. I love it!

    Voice acting is freeing in every way imaginable!

    Posted by:
    • Morgan
    • June 14, 2011 4:05 PM

      ...what Morgan said!! The beautiful irony of voice over is that it DOES free us to be what we ain't (but what imagination allows us to be). Let's see--a priest, a maniacal lizard-king, a teacher of questionable ethics, any number of cajun-flavored characters, a smart phone smarty-pants, a zombie pimp--my face would stop me from doing any of these roles (in fact-my face would stop a charging chicken from crossing the road), but when I get behind a microphone...

      Posted by:

        I always get something out of these articles and the VOX Podcasts. Thanks again!

        Posted by:
        • Steven C. Phillips
        • June 15, 2011 9:52 AM

          Your words are so true, Stephanie! When I got into voiceover, I never thought I'd be doing some of the stuff I've done over the past year.

          For example, thru Voices.com, I auditioned for an "Ed Sullivan" piece for a high school in Maine that was performing "Bye Bye Birdie." Well, that just happens to be one of my FAVE musicals of all time...so I did by best "ED" and hoped for the best.
          As it turns out, the producer LOVED my impersonation--and said that it "blew people away"(much to my surprise!).

          I don't consider myself an "impersonator," but am up for many challenges just like these! Keep 'em comin'...for a really BIG show!

          Posted by:

            I voiced a 10 year old boy (lead character) in a feature length animation,and have played all kinds of fun characters including an evil owl, ballet dancing martial arts expert hippo, talking microwave, and mouse, to name a few. My favorite gig though is narrating fiction. The most recent novel, ("When Sparrow Fall" for Random House) allowed me to play male and female characters ranging in age from not quite 2 to nearly 100 --- and with various accents as well!
            V.O. Rocks!

            Posted by:
            • Matilda Novak
            • June 15, 2011 11:53 AM

              Yes, VO rocks, in the nicest possible way. On stage, I would crash into furniture, transpose cues... a walking disaster. Best directed firmly to a chair, with notes on my sleeve.
              Heading into VO as a Brit, I expected straight 'BBC voice' narration. But my first gig with Voices.com was to be an inanimate female. Then Jack plus a quacking duck in his beanstalk. That was the cue for a manic Aussie sports commentator advertising condoms. Followed by a monk and a long-dead German professor. Right now, I'm developing a niche in pre-war luminaries H.G. Wells, Clement Attlee, George the Sixth. Working up a character is a big physical buzz, and nobody can see!

              Posted by:

                It makes perfect common sense to NOT include a photo of oneself on any voice-over marketing materials. Prospective clients, after all, are hiring a "voice" not a "face". Those of us that are not "on-camera" talents need to understand this. I don't care how good you think you look, another reason not to hire you could be that you remind a prospective client of a bad situation in their lives. This perception may even be subconscious. It's hard enough to land a gig with just ones voice, so why in the world would anyone want to add another possible negative into the mix. I'm 100% for faceless VO.

                Posted by:

                  BP made a strong point for visual neutrality - way back in June! - but this biz like any other is also about relationships and trust. In a home-studio situation I think on balance a friendly (!) thumbnail face may help. How on earth could one prove it either way? Any ideas, folks?

                  Posted by:

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