Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

Train to win!

Posted by MikeCooper on March 13, 2009

In today’s instalment of my series on how to get into the voiceover business, we’ll look a little at how to improve your game. Most of us aren’t blessed with the skills to be a great voiceover right from the get-go, so how do you develop your talent? I’ve said before that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so you really want to make sure that you’re in fighting form when you come to approach your potential clients.

How do you know when you’re ready though? What you really need here is input from someone who knows, not just someone who wants to tell you what they think you want to hear. Friends and lovers, therefore, should probably not be your first port of call when you’re looking for constructive feedback on your voicey “chops”.

The availability of training and coaching is an area where the market in the US and the market here in the UK differ hugely. I could write another post about this (and probably will at some point), but suffice to say there’s a much, much wider variety of resources available Stateside than in Blighty. In America, voiceover classes, “workouts” and so on are widely available, especially in the larger metropolitan centres, and even the Learning Annexe runs affordable classes that make training in the world of voiceover available to a wide cross-section of the populace. Not only that, but many who set themselves up as voiceover coaches will tutor you by phone or on Skype.

Where there’s choice, there’ll also be a variance in quality, of course. Not all tutors and courses are created equal. So, before parting with your hard-earned, seek some feedback if you can, from those who’ve already taken the course or worked with the coach in question. Ideally, these shouldn’t just be testimonials supplied by the prospective tutor, unless they can be independently verified.

Here in Britain, things are a bit more limited. This might be because the population is six times smaller, and hence the market and the opportunities are correspondingly smaller as a result, or it might be because we’re much better at it and don’t need the practice (I’m joking, but I’m donning my flameproof nightie and running as I type…)

Even in and around London there are surprisingly few “off-the shelf” options for voiceover coaching. A quick Google search will reveal a handful of options, however. If you’re enquiring then be sure to ask pertinent questions. What’s included in the fee? Will there be something to take away at the end of it, like a CD or audio files? Is the course a one-to-one or in a class (and how large might that class be?) How flexible are they to what you’re looking for? And above all, what’s their experience, and where do they aim to take you on the journey?

If you’re starting from scratch, my own personal view is that you should be wary of anyone who promises to take you from a standing start to having a demo ready in the space of a day. You may go away with a shiny silver disc with your voice on it, but unless you’re truly blessed, it normally takes a lot more than a day to get up to speed (there’s a lot to take in). But that’s just my view, and your own experience may differ.

If you’re fortunate enough to be within striking distance of the capital, another option to try might be the “Introduction to Voiceover” courses run by the City Lit in Central London. The City Lit (or the “City Literary Institute”, to give it its full, but barely-ever used title) specialises in affordable training courses on all sorts of stuff, but prides itself on the quality of tutelage provided, which is generally offered by those who have a good level of hands-on experience in the area in question. If you’re not sure your voice is ready for this course, they also run a couple of “Technical Voice Production” courses, which are aimed at getting your underlying vocal technique up to scratch by the teaching and application of breathing technique, resonance and so on.

If you’re in the UK, but outside London, you may run into difficulties finding any voiceover coaching at all. So, if opportunities for classes or coaching are thin on the ground, what are your options?

Well, for a start, remember that voiceover is a form of acting. Indeed, in the States, the terms “Voiceover Artist”, “Voice Talent” and “Voice Actor” are pretty much interchangeable, so acting classes and actors’ voice training may serve you well. Improvisation classes might help you to “loosen up” and find your voice when you’re confronted with an unfamiliar script, too. So might a class on public speaking. Hey, whatever you can do in front of the room you can certainly do in a confined space (as my old scout master used to say…)

It’s worth remembering that if they’re not offering voiceover classes per se, then it’s worth talking to the tutor about what you’re after, to make sure that they know your ambition is in the area of voiceovers rather than playing the lead in the next production of Romeo and Juliet. They may, or may not, be comfortable in this area of teaching or, better still, might be able to point you in the direction of someone better qualified to help.

One of the few people here in the UK who was offering specific voiceover training was a guy called Bernard Graham Shaw. Sad to say, Bernard passed away just before Christmas last year. His book, however, is still available (you’ll find it here), so if you’re looking for some tips on approaching copy and getting your skills up to snuff, why not order a copy of it – I bet his family would really appreciate that! It comes with a CD which personally I don’t rate as the best voiceover training CD ever made, but the advice in the book on approaches to copy is as safe as houses and goes from first principles.

Talking of books, there are plenty of self study guides around, especially in the American market. They’re available from Amazon on both sides of the pond, so if you can’t get to a class, or can’t find (or afford) a tutor, then books might be your best friend. Many of them contain a CD on technique, too. The range of books goes across the spectrum, from how to read scripts, to getting work in animation, to how to market yourself and so on. Again, a quick trawl through Amazon will give you a flavour. Ordering two or three of these could be a good investment. If you do, why not submit a review to Amazon when you’re done, to let others know what you thought the books’ strong and weak points were? Pay it forward, and all that.

Of course, whereas you can leave feedback about a book, a book can’t give you feedback. Fortunately, all of the main voiceover forums online have areas where you can submit examples and demos of your work for other members to critique. This can be a useful way of getting input on your progress, and on what you may or may not be getting right. But beware: there are a small number of “knockers” out there too, whose alleged “helpful advice” may actually disguise a desire to knock you down and keep you off their patch. It’s a competitive business, after all, and not everyone in the playground plays nice. Nonetheless, if you don your protective armour and are prepared to sort out the useful comments from the not-so-useful, the forums too can be a great resource while you’re honing your craft.

Next time, we’ll cast an eye over what you might need to set up shop, as we turn our attention to building your first home studio.

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3 Responses to “Train to win!”

  1. Tim said

    Thanks for this Mike. I’m keen on getting some lessons on voice support. Do you know if the techniques offered by singing teachers would be the same or similar to those used for the speaking voice?

    Best,
    Tim

  2. mikecooper said

    As far as I know, Tim, yes. If what you mean is having the power behind the voice, not running out of steam on long sentences, and getting the right technique for proper breathing, anyway.

    The course I mentioned above – the Technical Voice Production at the City Lit – will also do this. The first course may be a bit basic for you, but there’s a second course which picks up and develops further. Might be worth giving them a call!

    • Tim said

      Yes, that’s exactly what I need. My voice currently begins to sound a bit “worn” after about one hour or so with no rests. In fact, it always has – particularly when I was a singer. I never bothered to looked into any training in my youth as it wasn’t “Rock ‘n Roll” enough. Now I’m older and slightly wiser ….. 🙂

      Best,
      Tim

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