Classes, Coaches, and Vocal Tips. Oh my!
I'm often asked when/if voice actors should seek training and how much/with whom. There is no one-size-fits-all answer I can give on this. This business is about getting to know yourself and what you need, and we're all different. Try a bunch of different methods and see which one brings out the best in you, but please beware of scams!
Let's start with when/if you should seek training. Personally, I grew up with acting and vocal coaches for film and theatre work and was coached heavily as a television personality as I got older, too. This training helped me greatly in being able to transition easily into voice over. If you've never taken an acting or voice class, you really should as soon as you start out. An outside perspective is a great way to catch any bad habits you may not even realize you have; and catch them before they become hard to correct.
Now, if you're like I was and have been coached your entire life, you may run into the problem of sounding over-coached. You're so used to doing everything perfectly that you lose some of the magic of just being who you are naturally -- and natural is big in this business. When someone can't see you, your job is all about conveying feeling. You don't just want to sound "pretty", you also want to sound REAL. Just as you should know when you need help, you should also know when to walk away from coaching or switch coaches to "keep it real" or get fresh new perspectives.
How should you find a coach or class? Start by doing a Google search in your area. Look at prices. Look at reviews. If you can't find an affordable or reputable class, search for online instructors. There are a ton of great instructors out there who offer training via Skype these days. Follow established voice actors on social media. Who do they use? Who do they talk about? Opencoaches.com has a ton of reputable people. This group was started after I published my book, so I was unable to include it in there. But it's worth checking out! Mary Lynn Wissner, Nancy Wolfson, and Dave Walsh are all household names in the voice over world. I've worked with Dave for promos and he's fantastic. But find a coach who coaches the niche you most hope to/already work in. Find someone you gel with.
How much should you spend? Look, you know that for yourself. Personally, I have a self-improvement fund that I set aside every year. I may use that money on demos, equipment, branding, etc. I use my money in whatever way I think will serve me best that year. You might spend $500 that year or $2,000. Your money is yours and you decide how best to spend it. If you really have nothing? Get creative. There are lots of free/low cost webinars out there that you can take. If you can't afford to go to a huge voice conference, see if they offer à la carte classes. Buy eBooks on Amazon for a few dollars and read, read, read up on tips from professionals. You get the deal. Social media is a great way to find out about these things. The voice over community is extremely supportive. We've all struggled to get here and we all know what it's like.
Beware of scams! Nobody should charge you a grand for a class or make larger than life promises to you. Look around. Ask for prices from multiple people. See what's normal.
I also like to warn people to steer clear of unethical people. I won't name names, but I had a very well known instructor approach me (I was thrilled!) with a sales push that left a terrible taste in my mouth. This person wanted to coach me. I had just spent my money on equipment for the year and had some other big personal expenses at that time, but was very interested. I told this person such. Their response was borderline threatening. This person suggested that "without 'proper training' I was being disrespectful to the industry" and if I "wanted this bad enough, I could make it happen." Yuck, right? The thing is -- I DID have money a few months later and I did NOT spend it with that person.
Please do not let people pressure you into spending money you don't have. If you are choosing between feeding your kid that month and classes -- feed your kid. You will not be "blacklisted" from the industry for doing so. It certainly doesn't mean you don't "want it bad enough". Any services worth their salt will be around in a few months or a year when you can afford them.
In addition to classes and coaches? Read! Check out Twitter, Facebook, books, articles, and blogs ...like this one;) Everyone has a little nugget. Keep grabbing nuggets and you'll end up with a pile of gold.
That being said, what are some of my favorite tips and tricks that I've been able to pick up over the years?
#1. The key to frustration? WALK AWAY!
If a read isn't working, I promise you it will not get better by your 5oth pass. If after a few reads through your copy you are feeling frustrated? Stand up and walk into another room. Even 30 seconds can be enough time. When you sit back down, you'll sound better. Try getting up and doing a few jumping jacks if you need more energy, too. Energy in your body will translate into energy in your voice.
#2. Want to sound "warm"? Pretend you are reassuring someone.
Is someone asking you for a "warm " read? While you read the copy, picture a family member or friend and pretend you are trying to reassure them of something while reading the copy. I believe I picked this tip up from a free webinar somewhere, and it's served me very well over the years.
#3. How to Best Voice Products for Children
I had a director once who gave me the best advice for how to nail reads that are aimed at children-- pretend you're speaking to someone who doesn't know English. BAM. That one's a keeper. Trust me.
#4. Want more range in your reads?
There are lots of techniques for range. I think the folks over at Gravy for the Brain give terrific advice in this area, but a good rule of thumb is to go through your copy one time getting really, really quiet, loud, low, and high in pitch. Read the copy once through in major extremes. Then read the copy normally. You will naturally read with more shading as you won't be afraid to go "too far" after reading in such a crazy manner the first time. I do this all the time.
#5 Listen Back
Listen to your reads back on speakers after each take. Listening back like an audience member will help you immediately identify things you don't like. Also, listen to your pitch. I read a great blog once where the author said you should go up and down by at least three notes in each script. To practice what this sounds like say,
I can go up, up, up
I can go down, down, down
while going up in pitch on each "up" and "down in pitch" on each "down".
#6 Want to sound animated? Move your body!
Still try to keep your mouth a hand away from the mic and don't make loud noises, but try moving your hands and body when you read. Just like smiling when you read, you can hear the animation in your voice when you move your hands and face.
Try different things while you read. In time, you'll find your own weird tricks that are unique to you. I've found that if I pretend to put my hair in a ponytail that I give a killer natural read. I have no idea why. Lol. It works for me, though.
Hope this helps. If you've come across any really great tips over the years, please feel free to list them in the comments section below.