What it takes to become a good voice over artist.
14 JUNE 2018
There's no escaping it! The media today bombards us with messages. Audio visuals that include TV advertisements, blaring loudspeakers belting out everything from mythological dramas to Bollywood film dialogues during festivals, particularly in India, radio jockeys fluently talking nineteen to a dozen, cell phone notifications, mobile apps, et al. And invariably there’s a well modulated, persuasive voice that’s communicating with us. All the time. More often than not it's an actual human being and not a robot; a voice over artist who's recorded what you've just heard, in a good, professional recording studio. And perhaps he or she has recorded the same line several times, called ‘takes’ in the voice over industry.
Yes, there’s an entire industry that survives and thrives on just the human voice. A voice over artist is typically used to provide the commentary or narration for a film. These could include corporate films, documentary films, ad films, and actually, all other kinds of films except silent movies. The subject matter of the film or presentation generally determines what kind of voice is selected. A male voice over artist or voice over actor, as they are more commonly known in Hollywood and the American markets, who has a rich, deep, resonant voice could be considered for a high end, luxury product film like a top of the line automobile. Advertisements for feminine products may be voiced in dulcet tones by a silken voiced female voice over artist.
Dubbing for actors in the movies is another voice skill that’s in demand given the number of films being made today and the requirement for many of them to be dubbed into other languages. Lending ones voice for Elearning projects and audio books is another area where the voice is put to commercial use. The internet abounds with audio books about any and every subject under the sun. Some of the more popular Hollywood films like the Harry Potter series, which were screen adaptations of best seller books by J K Rowling, have all been converted into audio books narrated by famous voice actors like Stephen Fry of the unforgettable ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ fame and Jim Dale from the wildly popular series of ‘Carry On’ films.
So it goes without saying that there's plenty of fame and plenty of money in the voice over industry. Amitabh Bachchan is probably the most famous of Indian voice over artists. Others who have been sought after names in the voice over business include the iconic voice of radio Amin Sayani. The late Melville D’Mello’s rich baritone made him a favourite among English news readers on All India Radio a few decades ago. The late Partap Sharma from Mumbai had also carved a niche for himself in the voice over business.
A key ingredient in becoming a good, professional voice over artist is to be able to understand and use the microphone optimally. The microphone, according to many voice over artists, actors and narrators, is not an isolated instrument but an extension of themselves. It demands respect and proper treatment and returns the favour in the form of a usable, professional voice recording. There are dozens of types of microphones. And each is best suited for a particular type of recording. The single narrator requires a narrow range like a unidirectional, cardioid microphone. An orchestra would require a wider range. Microphone technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last quarter of a century. A good voice over artist will have to have a good grip over how to select, whenever possible and use the appropriate microphone.
But it’s not the voice!
The last thing you need, to become a good voice over artist, is a good voice. In fact the first thing you need to become a good voice over artist is a good attitude. Now ‘attitude’ - in my book - means the combination of thoughts, words and actions. What this means is that what you think, what you say and what you do, determine your success in any field or profession. So if you want to become a good voice over artist you will have to inculcate qualities like punctuality, humility and a willingness to learn, change and improve.
Additionally the command over the language will become an important factor. Knowledge of grammar is vital. The paying customer or client will not pay the big bucks for poor diction and incorrect pronunciation. Employing an experienced and effective voice coach will definitely help. They are expensive but worth the money, if available at all. Good voice coaches are a rare breed. The voice requirement is a function of the type of voice required for a particular assignment and voice quality can always be improved over time. Modulation, pausing, tone, timber, texture, pace, pitch and of course pronunciation, especially of ‘foreign’ words in a script, are a few of the other aspects will one will have to understand and work on, if one wants to be an active and sought after player in the game.
One will have to get a feel for the content of the script and become one with the words. One must try and communicate and not just read out the words. I believe that the words in a script, in fact, communicate to the artist, how they want to be read. One just has to understand this. I also believe that everyone with a voice can become a voice over artist and that there’s plenty of work out there for everyone….. everyone who is deserving. And there’s the crux.