The Competition

Most newbies to voice over seem to fret a lot about “the competition”.

In these times, in any professional environment, one will encounter countless others out there trolling for clients. The voice over world is no exception. When I was in college, if you wanted to teach in a public or private school when you got out, you were almost guaranteed a position somewhere. In the first quarter of the 21st Century, this is no longer the case–in teaching, or almost any other endeavor.

There are literally thousands of people out there looking for voice over gigs. The good news is that most of them aren’t that good. In fact, if I were doing the hiring, I would only consider fewer than 5% to be worthy of doing the work out there. Why? Because a vast majority have been lured into the business by voice over training mills or coaches that never should have encouraged them to get into this business in the first place. Others who initially showed potential didn’t get enough training before they did their demos, and went out into the job market with one hand tied behind them. They simply couldn’t ace the auditions.

Before venturing forth into the voice over world, you need to have a professional in-depth evaluation of your basic skills and instincts, as well as your grasp of English language dynamics. If the outcome is positive, you should embark on a training regimen that addresses the areas you need to fix, and one that ultimately gives you the ability to nail down the real message of the script, and demonstrate to your client that you can put that message across to the listener in a natural, believable, meaningful way.

The ultimate goal is to teach you to become your own best director and critic. If you have done this diligently, you won’t have to worry about “the competition”. All of your focus has been trained on being the best you can be.

One last thought: Never, never rest on your laurels after you achieve some success. The best people with whom I have worked always want to get better, and they continue to work persistenty to that end.

Voice Over Training

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As I have listened carefully to the performances of some of the best voice over talents in the business over the years, as well as those of stage and film actors, I have observed strong connections in how the dramatic content of the script related to the grammar fundamentals I had learned in school. On the negative side of these observations, I watched many professional actors working on stage in choice roles lose the approval of their audience because they didn’t fully understand the phrasing and structure of the lines they were trying to communicate, not to mention the basics of reading comprehension and meaning. Many voice over training professionals do not understand this relationship.

Most of my beginning students share these shortcomings. They initially fail to grasp how to determine which words are important and which are just connective tissue or redundant, and they do not know how to apply those observations to the delivery of a script–this is a fundamental skill to learn in voice over training.

After over twenty years of recording these observations, I have written my first book about voice over. I hope it will motivate the buyers of the book to deeply explore the dramatic possibilities that lie within the structural dynamics of the English language, especially at a time when the educational system is generally failing to teach students to love and use the English language effectively, as well as to inspire in them a passion for reading.

 

 

Destinations Part 2

To recap from last month’s Tip, a destination extends the ending of an event in a sentence farther into a phrase, clause, or sentence.

Added to last month’s who, whom, what, when, where, why, and that, plus infinitives, are prepositional phrases, descriptive phrases, and the combination of as (modifier) as.

First let’s look at prepositional phrases. They further a destination by extended description. The underlines indicate emphasis.

Here’s an example without the prepositional phrase:

“There are several exceptions to the rules.”

With the prepositional phrase:

 “There are several exceptions to the rules about acceptable behavior.”

Extended even further with another prepositional phrase:

“There are several exceptions to the rules about acceptable behavior in the classroom.”

Now let’s look at descriptive phrases, and how they can add destination after destination. Underlines indicate emphasis.

Here’s the basic sentence before adding one to several destinations:

“Apart from the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever.

Now we add the destinations:

“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived.”
“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived by civilized man.”
“Apart from building the pyramids, it was the largest, costliest single project ever conceived by civilized man in 2000 years of history.”

Finally, the combination of as (modifier) as extends the destination.

Two examples, before adding the combinations:

“The doctor will see you.”
“Do you love me?”

With the combinations added:

“The doctor will see you as soon as he is available.”
“Do you love me as much as I love you?”

These are basic examples to help you understand the concept of destinations.

As you read through scripts and other materials, you will discover that destinations appear in almost every other sentence you read. Watch for them and look for where they end.

 

Destinations

One of the most difficult areas of sentence structure that consistently confounds my students is the concept of destinations.

In other words, do you end an event in a sentence, or is there a word or phrase that extends the event to an ending farther into the phrase, clause or sentence?

To clarify, here are a couple of simple examples: “I wonder.” (short destination) “I wonder how I’m going to find the time to finish this project.” (longer destination) The word how takes the sentence through a longer destination. This is also true of who, whom, what, when, where, why, and that, as well as a few other words that perform a similar function. Example: Jane didn’t understand.”(short destination) “Jane didn’t understand what was expected of her.” Now the word what leads to a longer destination.

An infinitive can also extend the destination. Example: “I went home in the afternoon.” (short destination) I went home in the afternoon to help my wife move some furniture.” (long destination) The infinitive to help
extends the destination.

In all extended destination situations, never emphasize the word that immediately precedes the one that extends the destination. It would be emphasized if it were the last word in an event, but since it flows into a longer destination, it is not emphasized.

There are other parts of speech that can extend a destination. These will be discussed further in next month’s Tip of the Month.

Stay tuned.

Sibilance

Sibilance is a pitched hissing sound produced by some people. It occurs when the natural placement of the teeth and tongue create a whistling sound when pronouncing the soft consonants sh and ch, as well as z, x, f, and soft c.

A perfect sentence for testing one’s tendencies toward or away from sibilance is “Sneaky Susie snatched Sally’s soft satin shoes stealthily.”

If you hear this problem in playback of your work, you can teach yourself to eliminate it by doing the following: Get a thin stick, roughly a sixteenth of an inch thick (a Popsicle or ice-cream-bar stick will do the job nicely). Insert the stick between your upper and lower front teeth. Do not bite down on it or press it on your upper or lower front teeth. Hold it so that your teeth can come together and separate freely. The idea is to put the stick gently between your teeth to create enough of a space to stop the whistling. Over time, you should be able to capture a muscle-memory sensation that enables you to keep the space created by the stick without keeping the stick itself between your teeth, thus eliminating the sibilant whistle. If you find that over time your teeth gradually come together again and you start whistling, you should be able to consciously move your teeth slightly more apart without needing to use the stick. If you can’t readily do that, go back to using the stick. Over time, you should be able to avoid sibilance without the stick.

Redundancy and Reiteration

Consider this example:

“This is my friend Tom. I have known (Tom) for over thirty years. He’s my best friend.”

Three very ordinary conversational sentences acquaint Tom with the listener. The first sentence introduces him, since he is new to the person to whom the sentence is addressed. Here, Tom is emphasized. In the second sentence, however, the listener is now conversationally familiar with Tom. To emphasize his name a second time would be unnecessary, or redundant. In the third sentence, it would be a similar situation without emphasis on Tom, but it now appropriate to use the pronoun he, since it would be doubly redundant to say Tom one more time.

When a noun, and rarely another part of speech, has been established in a script, the next time it is stated, it must be without emphasis. This shows the listener that you are keeping track of what is going on in the script. People do this naturally when they talk. If you continue to emphasize what has already been established, it will be very confusing for the listener. When people tell a story or explain a concept, they always naturally keep track of what they have already introduced, and take care not to re-emphasize it.

Here’s a contrasting scenario:

“XYZ Company is making you this amazing offer. If you buy our gizmo, we’ll double the repair period of our warranty. Double it, up to an extra year!”

The first time the word double is introduced, it could be emphasized to therefore make the point that the company is making a great offer. This time, however, when double is stated again, it is not with some emphasis, but with more emphasis, as this is hammering home even further the special quality of the offer. This is reiteration, or “saying or doing repeatedly.” It is always emphasized to heighten its dramatic effect. Reiteration occurs often in many medium-sell and hard-sell commercial spots.

Unfortunately, when most untrained people read from copy, they miss what has already been established, because they are not focused on what they’re talking about, or on the flow of subject matter. The same is true of situations where reiteration should be applied. This is typical of the way most people read aloud, from grade school throughout life.

It is important to read over and thoroughly understand any script you are about to deliver, which, most emphatically, includes redundancy and reiteration considerations.

Pitch Control

An important conveyor of mood and emotion is pitch. In my evaluation sessions, many of my students exhibit misconceptions about how pitch works in script delivery. They pitch up where they should pitch down and vice versa, or they change pitch too little or too much.

Let’s address some fundamental concepts about pitch. Pitching way up at the end of a sentence conveys a question: “Is that person standing over there your guest?” Guest goes up and stays up. On the other hand, a rhetorical question ends in a statement: “Well, now, what do you think of that?” or, “What are we going to do about this?” The pitch is raised on the italicized words only slightly to give the sentence the feel of a statement, not a question. As for all other phrases and clauses, they are delivered as pure statements, one after the other, as this is the way most people talk in everyday spontaneous conversation. These statements end with a down inflection, or a low pitch, which gives the endings a sense of finality.

Animation is all about pitch variation. If a script is delivered with a lot of animation, the pitch goes up and down, often to extremes. If it’s delivered with less animation, as in more subtle, nuanced scripts (in particular, most narrations) there is far less pitch variation. Cartoons, children’s stories, commercials aimed at children, and hard-sell car commercials contain a lot of pitch variation, for example. It is very important that you understand these extremes and everything in between them, as your interpretation will depend on this understanding and application.

Dramatic Construction of the Message

Almost all sentences end with a bang; that is, the energy builds to a climax. There may be a high point in the middle, but nearly always, the ending, especially the last word, is the strongest hit in the sentence. That word also happens to be a noun most of the time, although it may be another part of speech as well.

When you read even the shortest sentence, ease into it and keep your vocal energy in reserve to hit on a big ending. The natural tendency for people new to voice over technique is to run out of gas by the time they get to the end of a sentence and almost cavalierly throw it away, when instead the opposite effect should occur. Ease into the sentence in the beginning, increase your energy gradually as your progress through the sentence, and give a strong dramatic push to the ending. Note that the listener always has a tendency to remember best the last word spoken, not the first. This dramatic push should be especially strong at the end of a topic, before a transition, and most of all, at the end of the entire script itself. Aim for a solid finish with follow-through.

Remember that the strongest ending of all is the ending of the last sentence in the script. Give this ending a sense of finality and closure by delivering it with strong focus, intensity, and purpose.