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How to Quickly Choose Your 
Character Voices In The Booth
By David Goldberg
Producer & Owner, Edge Studio
Think fast!! Who are you??
When you're auditioning on-site for a cartoon or other character-voice job, before entering the booth you'll probably have at least a few minutes to think about who you'll portray.
But maybe not long. And at the microphone, often the director will challenge you to come up with a character on the spur of the moment.
So, who are you?
In this article, we'll get you thinking about:
  • Which voices and mannerisms are you good at?
  • Which ones are appropriate to the requested character? And,
  • How can you distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack?
Being prepared will help you immensely at showing your creativity and "quick" thinking.
1. Think Outside The Voice Box
Consider, for example, you're asked to portray a mouse. (Remember, you're not being asked to do a mouse. You're asked to BE a mouse.)
When quickly calling up a mouse voice, most people choose the obvious - a high falsetto (maybe even lapsing dangerously into Mickey Mouse).
But is falsetto your thing? Or will it simply bore your client as you sound "like everyone else"? Or maybe it's not working 100% today.
Think about alternatives.
If a high voice is outside your range, you can surely make it a "small" one, maybe quiet and whispery.
Another example: the Big Bad Wolf.
Most people will go for a low, mean voice. If your lower register won't do justice to that approach, then avoid it!
Consider a gruff voice instead. Or any voice that you can do comfortably.
Or for that matter, who says a wolf can't be big, and bad ... and sophisticated?
2. What Is The Character's Character?
Don't stop with just the character's physical nature. Think about their personality.
The wolf might happen to have your own voice - but with an eccentric personality.
Maybe he can't even say his own name without lapsing into wolfiness: "I'm the Big Bad Woof ... Woof ... Wo-o-o-l-l-l-f" (which becomes a howl).
You'll need to stick to the script, but find things you can adapt.
Is the mouse not just quiet, but shy? Has he always had trouble finding a seat at the table? Does she overcompensate for her diminutive size?
Think that way. So maybe she's an aggressive mouse.
That voice could be almost anything, maybe always with some cheese in her mouth.
Which brings us to ...
3. Get Physical
How you hold yourself - your head, your face, your body - all affects your sound and delivery.
You're a matronly elephant? Hunch over, flap your ears and swing your trunk.
You're a male lion? Stand tall and hold your head high (if that's the kind you are).
Frog? Well that depends on if you're a bullfrog or a peeper. Behave accordingly.
Emphasize the percussive, peepy plosives? Pull your cheeks out? Become round and heavy?
Being physical, you'll be amazed how better suited your voice matches the character inside your head.
Also, clients will be more impressed as they see you act-out the character.
At Edge Studio, we've seen that most auditioning voice actors hold back being physical for fear of looking silly. Ironically, they come across more silly because they are not physical.
4. Develop Stock Characters.
In the process of developing them, also keep a mental list of what characteristics each of them has.
Then you can apply these characteristics to other characters.
For example: You're asked to be a porpoise. Your stock characters are a mouse, a wolf, a monkey and a baby.
Which characteristics of THIS porpoise are closest to one of those? And then what is unique about a porpoise?
Bingo ... you're a monkey with squeaks, or bubbles. Can't do squeaks? Do chatters or clicks.
So much the better: monkeys chatter, too, so you might be able to use that.
Maybe you're also always swimming gracefully. Or maybe porpoise-speak sounds a lot like baby-talk.
So you have to think fast. But when you're properly prepared, you're not starting from scratch.
Always know (and have recently practiced) your arsenal of voices. Know the range of your abilities:
  • your fastest and slowest rates,
  • your highest and lowest pitches,
  • a broad range of emotions.
Have your options and strong categories well thought out, well ahead.
Then when you're in the audition, rather than choosing the obvious - which may not be best suited to your vocal characteristics, nor the most distinctive option anyway - you can play to your strengths.
Become skilled at developing and "re-porpoising" them on the fly. Or whatever you are.
David Goldberg is a voice-over producer, coach, and the owner of Edge Studio, a major voice-over recording studio and voice-over education company based in New York City, with additional studios in Los Angeles, Fairfield, CT and Bethesda, MD. Edge Studio offers a large variety of in-person and telecourse workshops. It also produces audio for major clients including Disney, VW, Microsoft, National Geographic, and frequently casts voice talent who have trained and produced demos there.
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Comments (3)
Heather Henderson
1/25/2011 at 11:40 AM
This is a great summary, David - thanks! It applies to auditions, yes, but also to the gigs themselves. And I have to think fast like this whether I'm in my home studio (usually under a quick deadline to crank out the job) or being directed in an outside studio.

What your article reminds us of is that commercial voiceover is as much as anything: IMPROV.
Elizabeth Holmes
1/21/2011 at 11:57 AM
Wow, David! This is SO helpful. Thank you for suggesting such specific techniques for developing character voices, and then adapting them to changing circumstances. It's welcome, immediately useful advice, and comes at a perfect time for me. You're the best! - EH
David Sigmon
1/21/2011 at 1:17 AM
Very helpfull article, David. Thank you for going into such great detail.
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