I spent the past two years producing an indie animated pilot called That Monster Show. I wrote it, hired the animator, and directed all the voice actors. I even scored all the music to it. From that “do it-yourself creator” perspective, I would like to share some insights that might help voice actors in their future auditions.
What this is based on: I listened to 67 auditions for the character of Draculaana The Vampire Queen before casting Julia Aks. I noticed a lot of patterns in those submissions, and I can tell you what got my attention and what didn’t.
Here are my 5 Tips for standing out above the crowd.
1. Get a Basic Home-Recording Setup
Listen here, folks. Voice Acting is a heck of a lot of fun! Those who are established in the industry say it’s the best job in the world. A great voice, ambition, and a positive attitude will take you far.
HOWEVER: if you don’t have a home-recording setup, you’ll find yourself at a great disadvantage. Your competition is set up and ready to hit record. Their audition will be finished and sent off to the client before you can even book time at a local studio. Voice actors who get all the work know this. (That is unless they’re already celebrities, which is another topic.)
So: to get up and running at home, you need a professional condenser mic + quiet room. For less than $1000 (mostly for the microphone and interface / pre-amp), you can certainly do this. If you’re recording at home in an extra bedroom or office, a lot can be done to treat it with moving blankets from Home Depot / Lowes or even regular blankets. Put them on all the hard surfaces, walls, floors. The room needs to be DRY. If you clap your hands and hear a bunch of sonic splash-back, that’s no good. Look around — if your room is all hard surfaces, wood floors, bare walls, brick, concrete, metal, big windows, you’re in trouble. Your recordings won’t be usable. Get rid of all ambient noise. The goal is SILENCE. That means you need to turn off fans and refrigerators. By the way, every room has a “room tone” even if you think you can’t hear it — it will show up MUCH louder on the recording. No amount of quiet is quiet enough.
These days, you will probably be REQUIRED to audition and even record final voices remotely… so NOT having your own pro setup at home can be a serious limitation! Not every director is going to have the patience to book a separate studio for you. From a director’s perspective, it sure is nice to just send off the script and get back finished, professional results. Anything you can do to be a self-contained voice studio dramatically increases your chances of getting a gig.
The professional voice actors that I know record auditions every morning in their home studio, as a routine.
For evidence, follow Laila Berzins on Instagram. She’s a powerhouse.
Here’s the gear I used in my home studio, to record the majority of the dialogue in That Monster Show:
Microphone: Shure KSM-32 Condenser
Interface: Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Mic Pre-Amp: Millennia HV32P Portable
Cheap accessories not listed here: Headphones, XLR Cable, Pop Filter, Mic Stand.
ANYWAY: You don’t need those exact pieces of gear.
If I were in a pinch and trying to keep it all under $1000, I’d get the Shure KSM32 Mic (or equivalent) and a basic Focusrite Scarlett Interface to get up and running, then upgrade later. I’ve used the Scarlett Interfaces for over 10 years on a second rig. They work fine!
One final thought on gear: owning the most expensive paintbrush in the world won’t make you Leonardo DaVinci. The gear is there to capture and accurately represent your talent, creativity, and hard work.
2. Act / Tell The Story.
Now that we have the fancy technology talk out of the way, let’s focus on the actual JOB.
Dan Foster, someone I hire frequently, says “it’s Voice-ACTING.” As an actor, your first job is to understand the character and the scene. Talk about it with the director. Figure out the dramatic arc. Don’t just start READING the words without thinking about the character and the purpose of them talking. What is their intention? What do they want? Get your eyes off the paper and speak the words into the room like you mean them. Emphasize the key phrases! Be dynamic and musical. I love it when the actor will make small mistakes, as a real person would. A pause, an extra breath. A little stumble. Repeat a word for drama. These little things bring the scene to life! If it works for the character, use it! If you’re unsure, include it as an alternate take. Related tip: if the writer gave you a WALL of dialogue, meaning a whole paragraph at a time, you’ve got to break it up yourself. DO NOT plunge into the whole thing. (No, no, no. Bad dialogue writer.) Take it 1 or 2 sentences at a time. You don’t want to revert to “reading.”
Extra credit: this is the director’s job, but make sure your energy level will match the other characters in the scene. Ask the director how the other characters are delivering their lines. Fast? Slow? Loud? Soft? This can help you zero in on the pacing and mood.
3. Master Diaphragm Control.
Speak with power from your diaphragm and don’t trail off! When listening to auditions, this is the biggest problem I hear. It makes a character sound unconvincing. Don’t let out a bunch of air at the end of every sentence. Also, I don’t know why some people have incredible resonance — I think it’s probably a physiology thing. But if you weren’t born with that, you’ve gotta strengthen it. Get those lungs pumping and those vocal cords ringing. Take some voiceover classes, for sure. And while you’re at it, read books, do every bit of research you can on voice acting. Take your dream job seriously. Once again, you’re competing with the people who do those things. And it’s easy for a director to think, if they don’t take their job seriously, why should I?
4. Be Intelligible.
I realize I might have unusual tastes here, but I like my dialogue to be CLEAR. I don’t want the stylization to overpower the meaning of the words. If I can’t understand what you’re saying, I don’t think the audience will either. My own personal tastes are to dial back the silly voices. This is especially a problem if you’re doing a voice you might not be 100% great at. You don’t want to sound like you’re TRYING to do a funny voice. But as I said, those are my own tastes. The industry at large might disagree, as I can’t tell what most TV cartoon characters are saying anyway. (Maybe I’m just old.)
5. Don’t Be Shy!
There’s nothing wrong with finding directors online and submitting your demo / reel. I happen to listen to everyone who sends me things, professional or not. Just don’t be spammy. If I feel like I’m on a mailing list, I do get kinda turned off, but that’s not even a huge deal. If you’re good, you’re good! My motto is “always listening, rarely hiring.” But I love hearing what people are doing. I have a little list of “Someday.” You never know when just the right project opens up!
Well, I hope those tips are helpful! As I said, I am an indie animation creator, so you might find some differences between my process and the corporate cartoon world.
And if you haven’t already, enjoy That Monster Show.