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Dear Santa: Bring Me Tools
To Be A Good Voice Actor!
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor & Coach
There isn’t a ready-made actor’s toolkit that Santa can throw down your chimney - although that’s a darn good sales idea! But in keeping with the holiday season, I have been thinking about just that …

What are the Top Five Voice Acting tools to acquire?

You’ll have to get them for yourself, but this "Dear Santa" list points you in the right direction.
First, let’s define the term “voice actor.”
In the voice-over world, some people are primarily “announcers.” These folks voice straight-ahead copy pieces, such as radio and TV station promos, station imaging, straight announcer copy, fast tags, hard-sell copy, the “nuts and bolts.”
Some become quite recognizable to audiences and successful. Think Ed McMahon
On the other hand, many voice actors have theatrical experience, or have studied film acting, or have degrees in theatre arts.
They have studied with acting coaches and perhaps learned improvisational techniques.
They have the tools and skills to produce character voices, voice attitudes, subtle shadings of human emotions, humor, dialects, accents, celebrity impressions and improv skills.
Voice actors have acting techniques that those who are straight announcers do not.
So, by acquiring voice acting tools, an announcer can expand his or her capabilities and money-making potential.
Do not become concerned if you fit best in the “straight announcer” category. You are what you are. Some do not have the talent or desire to become skilled as an actor.
But if you’d like to explore this area, here’s my advice for the Top Five Voice Acting Skills.
1. Voice Attitudes. These are those subtle turns of phrases and ephemeral voice shadings that people use in "real life" talking to others.
Examples include human vocal expressions that are sad, heartfelt reminiscences, joyful or happy, thoughtful, serious, depressed, ecstatic, concerned, quarrelsome ... and the list goes on.
2. Humor. This includes many shades and types of humor, such as irony, snide remarks, insinuations, stand-up comic timing, and humor that ranges from subtle to broad.
3. Vocal Pitch Variety. Pitch is the “spice of speech.” Pitch inflections are the roller coaster that give a voice variety and interest.
If you’re speaking in a restricted and narrow pitch range, experiment (carefully) with expanding your range up and down.
Do this gently and for short periods of time. Extreme pitches are not recommended, at least, at first.
With time, your vocal folds will become more elastic and yield more pitches. It takes time.
4. Accents & Dialects. Don’t despair if you can’t do these. Some can, others can’t.
If you want to try adding accents and dialects to your vocal repertoire, there are many good books and CD programs in your bookstore on how to do it. Or, go online to find a site catering to actor’s books. Buy one or two and start practicing. (Check VoiceOverXtra's bookstore.)
Alternately, enroll in lessons with a good coach! These are voice acting tools you’ll use and cherish.
Caution: Do not let anyone hear an accent or dialect you’re working on until it is WORLD CLASS. Experiment and practice, but don’t unveil unfinished work. A poorly done dialect or accent will harm your professional reputation.
You may not be cut out for doing these, but try and see what happens.
5. Celebrity Impersonations. Be cautious! These can be potentially dangerous if you become involved in a lawsuit in which the celebrity claims your impersonation harms their income.
Before impersonating a celebrity, discuss the details with the producer or client. If they ask you to sign a contract, you should consult an attorney before doing so.
While you must be careful, in some cases, imitating a celebrity’s voice can be OK. 
An agent once counseled me,
“Keep on top of current trends on TV and in films and in the music world. Be ready to impersonate the ‘stars of the moment.' These change quickly. Capture voices by recording examples so you can replay the recording and attempt to copy it. It pays.”
The agent was correct, and to this day I follow this advice.
Start with the entertainment world's biggest voices in your gender.
Some are impossible to do because they have little or no outstanding characteristics.
Meryl Streep is an example of this. While she is a consummate actor and master of dialects, impressions and accents, no one is asked to do her real voice. There’s nothing to imitate.
The same can be said of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and many others.
Oprah? Now, there’s someone who’s easy to do but dangerous to copy.
Choose celebrity voices whom you think you can best emulate and start practicing.
So Dear Santa, I hope you’ll bring voice actors this toolkit.
But honestly, if you want to become a voice actor, it takes more than a letter to Santa! It’s going to take study and work and coaching - and most important, acting experiences.
I’ve not forgotten this long-ago advice from an actor friend:
“You can read all the books in all the libraries in the world on acting and take acting lessons for decades and still be a lousy actor!”
So true! It takes DOING, not just reading or studying with a coach. Get busy and DO.
Not everyone has acting abilities. Do you? You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Sometimes a student will say to me, “Oh, I can’t act.” I always respond, “How do you know if you’ve not tried?”
Usually they are wrong in their assumption, and in a short while, I discover the student can, indeed, produce some type of voice acting, which can be expanded upon.
I sometimes begin this training by having the student imitate their mother’s voice, a favorite aunt’s voice, or their ex-husband’s voice.
Reading children’s literature aloud is good training, too, as are improvisational scenes.
What does a person sound like when angry? How does a shy person sound? How does your husband or wife sound when they are upset with you?
Take cues from real life and the world around you.
Act Up in 2010! It’s FUN!
Bettye Zoller is one of the nation's best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice-over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds advanced degrees from three universities, has served on university faculties for 30 years, and currently is the Feagin Artist Guest Professor at Tulsa University, and presents workshops sponsored by Women in Film and Television. She is a professional audio engineer and producer, and a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader. Her VoicesVoices recording studio and training facility is in Dallas, and she also conducts seminars and workshops worldwide.
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Comments (1)
Marcus Weems
12/15/2009 at 7:24 AM
Dearest Bettye - You are such a doll! I always enjoy your columns because they are always so insightful and timely, without being a vehicle to hawk something - a trap I fear many others fall into.

Your sage advice has never let me put a foot wrong ever since last year when your informative articles here at VoiceOverXtra (amongst your others) and ear-to-ground awareness guided me back into this wonderland of Voice Over after a 20 year hiatus. I thank my lucky stars that you were there to re-educate me as to the fundamentals plus the ins and the outs of this ever-changing business.

I recently completed my first Audio Book and I am slated for my second one aiming for completion by year's end.

Your coaching, seminars, workshops and valuable CDs and handouts gave me the library, reference material, foundation and confidence to pursue what I have always wanted to do, and your masterful DEMO Guidance and Production expertise has generated Commercial, Narrative, and Audio Book Voice Sample CDs that I challenge any to find fault with.

You will remain my mentor and touchstone for as long as I remain in this business. Your continuously updated seminars and workshops will remain my well-spring from which I revive, refresh, and renew my enthusiasm and love for this profession we have chosen. Thanks for being there and for you being your own generous self; instructing, coaching, sharing as you are compelled to do.
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