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Actor ... Singer ... On-Air Talent:
Check Your Skills For Voice Acting
By Marc Cashman
Voice Talent & Coach
©Marc Cashman 2009
Stage, TV and film actors - as well as singers, instructors, public speakers and on-air talent - ask me questions all the time about whether they might have a shot at voice acting, or voice-over - especially when the number of voice acting productions is growing every year.
Indeed, the field is huge: commercials, narrations, animation, promos, trailers, audiobooks, video games, voice-mail systems, e-Learning modules, corporate videos, interactive CD-ROMS, telephone interactive voice recordings (IVRs), web site narrations and much more are being produced worldwide, due to the advancements and growth of media technology.
If you’re in one of the aforementioned fields and you’ve ever considered exploring the arena of voice acting, you may have an edge or a leg up in this industry. It depends on the amount and/or type of experience you’ve had in your particular field.
Let’s explore some of the skill-sets that you have that you can use in voice acting,
Stage actors have a number of advantages.
  • One is an ability to “lift” lines. In rehearsal, they’ll sometimes hold the script in one hand, glance at their lines and then deliver them without looking at the page.
  • They also have good articulation, because their words have to be understood by a live audience.
  • Their performances call for a lot of physicality, which they use to enhance their character.
  • And, they are talented at improvisation, are more spontaneous and freer with their emotions, and can quickly tap into them.
These abilities are very helpful for voice actors in commercials and animation, as it prepares them for producers who’ll tell them what emotion(s) they want exhibited in a script, and encourage them to improvise beyond just the words in a script.
But voice acting is based upon using your normal voice.
Stage actors are taught to project, so that their voice can be heard in the back of the theater, without the need of a microphone.
And, being in front of a live audience calls for a bit of overacting, not the nuances called for in many radio spots.
A voice actor knows that a microphone needs to be treated as if they’re talking into someone’s ear, never to an audience.
When you listen to a documentary, a voice-menu-prompt system, or even a national television commercial, you’ll tend to hear a more natural-style voice-over.
Voice-over directors typically search for voice actors who can use their natural voices behind the microphone, and don’t want any theatricality.
Once stage actors understand the difference in dynamics between live theater and a small recording booth, they can easily make the transition into voice acting, particularly in commercial and animation VO work.
Film actors also have an edge because of their ability to lift their lines, as well, eventually memorizing their lines and internalizing their emotions and attitudes. For instance,
  • The sensitive microphones used in filmmaking today can capture a whisper, and an actor’s nuanced soliloquy caught on camera is very adaptable to voice work.
  • They’re able to “say” things without saying a word, through their facial expressions and/or body language, so that it seems to the viewer that they’ve “become” their character.
  • They’re able to take direction and also offer up suggestions to the director if asked.
  • They’re usually prepared for their performance, memorizing their lines and deciding what they’re going to do physically to enhance their role.
But while expressing emotion without saying a word is very powerful on screen, voice acting requires actors to emote without being seen.
They need to learn how to express emotion and attitude through words alone, because no one can see their face or body.
And they have to learn to express themselves nonverbally, as well, sometimes communicating without uttering actual words, but sounds.
But, like stage actors, they’ve developed a way to access emotions quickly and believably, and this puts them in good stead to be terrific actors in voice.
Singers bring a wealth of skill-sets to voice acting.
  • They understand the fundamentals of articulation, projection and interpretation.
  • As performers with a keen sense of musicality, they have a nice range, and their intonation is solid, with perfect relative pitch or even perfect pitch.
  • They also have excellent breath control and microphone technique.
What singers quickly realize when they’re working in voice-over is the amount of “music” there is in copy.
  • They hear the keys that voice actors speak in, the fluidity and tempo of notes in the cadence of speech.
  • They realize that there’s the same kind of colorization and interpretation of words and phrasing in lifting words off the page that occurs in singing a song, and that the effort of delivering a great musical performance on stage or in a studio is just as difficult for a narration.
But their innate musicality gives them a keen insight into the “music” of copy or text.
Good instructors have a great way of getting concepts across in an intelligible way, and never talk down to their students.
  • They’re able to grasp the big picture of an idea or ideas and make sense of things to the unenlightened.
  • They can take their students one step at a time through a series of facts, and string them together to they’re understandable.
  • And they articulate all of these elements with enthusiasm that keeps the listener engaged and, hopefully, inspired.
Voice actors do the exact same things when they’re telling a story. When they’re performing fiction especially, they bring all their acting skills to the fore.
However, narrators who are not great actors but who are solid in their articulation and interpretation are quite adept at doing non-fiction material (instructional material like e-Learning modules, CD-ROMS, telephone messaging, etc.).
So an instructor who speaks clearly and intelligently - even though he or she isn’t an actor - has a good chance of being successful in voice-over, particularly in the non-fiction areas.
Professional public speakers bring together the attributes of stage actors and instructors.
  • They’re comfortable and enthusiastic talking about their subject matter, and many use physicality in their performances to enhance their message.
  • They have solid microphone technique, whether they’re using a headset or standing behind a podium.
  • They have a great sense of timing, pacing and humor, and are usually very articulate.
But public speakers thinking of transitioning into voice acting need to realize that in a studio, they’re talking to just one person, not an entire audience. For instance:
  • that they’re not making a speech, but telling a story; and
  • that they have no props or PowerPoint programs to fall back on - just the words that come out of their mouths.
So, they’re going from a stage and spotlight and large audience (like stage actors) to a small booth and a microphone, with an audience of one or two (the director and the engineer) or none (if they’re recording in their home studio, alone).
If they don’t mind this sea change, they, too, have a decent shot at a career in voice acting.
Radio DJ’s, hosts and personalities have a lot of skill-sets that many people in the voice-over world don’t appreciate.
  • They have excellent eye-brain-mouth coordination, i.e., they’re able to lift words off a page effortlessly, without stumbling over any words, rarely omitting or adding any, and giving them a ton of energy.
  • They’re able to speak very quickly, with outstanding articulation - an amazing ability to “shoe-horn” 70 seconds of copy into a 60 spot.
  • They have exceptional cold-reading ability, since most come from the “rip and read” school of “This just in!” on-air announcing.
  • On-air personalities are able to ad-lib extremely well, particularly in testimonials, giving advertisers a lot of bang for their buck.
But most incredibly of all, they’re able to do all these things live, with thousands, hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of people listening to them.
That’s a hell of a lot of pressure on a person, something that most professional voice actors rarely, if ever, encounter.
In any given VO session, you’ll have an audience of just a few people hanging on your every word.
Unfortunately, many radio DJs, announcers or personalities wear headphones while they’re on the air, and have basically fallen in love with the purring, resonant sound of their own voice.
Most have been inculcated by their program director to deliver station-written and produced copy in the same style that they talk on the air, because that’s what the advertiser wants and is paying for.
And many on-air talents have listened to their predecessors for years, and have consciously or unconsciously emulated their sometimes unctuous, sometimes in-your-face, sometimes over-the-top style.
Now, if you aren’t in the above-mentioned categories, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a shot at voice acting.
But the skills that people in these areas possess can be applied to a potentially successful VO career. And they don’t necessarily have to be great actors.
I make a distinction between voice acting and voice-over. Areas like commercials, animation, video games and audiobook narration call for voice acting.
Animation, video games and audiobooks, in particular, require a lot of emotion and characterization.
But there’s not much call for acting in an announcer tag that reads, “2.9% APR financing for 60 months.” That calls for solid articulation, interpretation and resonance, as do many areas of non-voice acting, like instructional or documentary narration; all of which instructors, public speakers and on-air talent possess.
I know many people who make a very good living in this latter category.
So if you’re thinking of transitioning into voice acting (or voice-over), or adding this area to what you’re currently doing, use the skill-sets you’ve developed over the years to make this fun career work for you.
Marc Cashman creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television and has won over 150 advertising awards. Named by AudioFile Magazine as one of the “Best Voices of the Year,” he instructs voice acting of all levels through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, and does One-on-One coaching via phone and the Internet. He was also a keynote speaker and instructor at the VOICE 2008 and VOICE 2010 conferences.


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Comments (5)
Susie Schwarz
9/26/2011 at 12:36 PM
Hi Marc,

You know I think you're awesome, but I also think your points about what background experience you bring to the microphone are equally fabulous! It helps newcomers have some sense of where to begin.

Many thanks,
Marc Cashman
9/15/2010 at 4:14 PM
Steven, I hope my article steered you in the right direction. I suggest finding V-O classes near where you live, but if that's not possible, you're welcome to contact me regarding tele-voice coaching.
Good luck! Sincerely,
Marc Cashman
Steven Benberry
9/15/2010 at 1:42 PM
I'm looking to get into a voice-over career. I have experience in public speaking, and the spoken word, and poetry. I am looking forward to the journey. THANK YOU.
Cynthia Todorich
6/1/2010 at 2:05 PM
Great article. My latest demo can be heard at I would be interested in anything you may suggest to improve sibilance.

Thank you,
Cynthia Todorich
Kim Zumwalt
5/21/2010 at 3:04 PM
This article is very helpful. I have just started looking into Voice Over jobs. I am very interested in learning everything I can about Voice Over training and techniques. Thank you for the expert tips in the article.
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