You probably know that it takes more than a good voice to do well as a voice actor. You need to be a good business person. You need to have acting skills. You have to know enough about recording to set up a professional sounding home studio and produce high quality audio.
But there is one trait that is often overlooked, and seems even counterintuitive. To be a good voice actor, you must be a good listener.[clickToTweet tweet=”To be a good voice actor, you must be a good listener” quote=”To be a good voice actor, you must be a good listener”]
Voice acting is, at its core, communicating. Have you ever tried having a meaningful conversation with someone who wouldn’t listen? Feels like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, right?
There are many reasons why being a good listener is necessary to be a good voice actor. Let’s start with the obvious one.
1. So you know what to do.
Most of the time, the audition or job you are working on will have some indication of what the client is looking for in the read. It’s not always a lot (although sometimes it is), but you’re hurting your chances of booking if you ignore this information.
2. Because the client is right.
This one is less obvious but just as important. There will come a day in your voiceover career when you’re being directed by the client, and you’ve just delivered your best take on an ad for a children’s thermometer. As you begin to turn off the light in the booth and grab your script and pencil to leave (because you nailed it!), you hear the client say, “Yeah, let’s try it again, but more upbeat.”
Upbeat?! You think. Upbeat is the last thing this read needs! The client even goes so far as to line read you the whole spot, asking you to mimic her inflections. This does not sound right, you think. So, you have two options: You can continue to deliver the read the way you know in your heart is how it should sound, or you can suspend your idea of how the spot should go, and listen to and trust your client. I’m sure you know which is the right way to go here. At the end of the day, what matters is your client’s satisfaction. It’s nice when that coincides with artistic fulfillment for you, but it doesn’t always. Remember, it’s the client’s job to know their audience. So if they are pushing you in a direction you wouldn’t have chosen, go with it.
*Side note: You must learn to “read the room” in this situation. Sometimes the client may ask you to bring all of your creativity to the table and read it how you think it should go. Also, if you’re comfortable enough with the client, you can ask if you can try something different after you’ve given them what they’re asking for. But beware. This could open up a whole new can of worms, have you in the booth for hours longer than expected, and leave you and the client more confused than before. As a rule of thumb, when the client says, “We’re good!” you say, “Great!” Even if you disagree with where the spot ended up.[clickToTweet tweet=”Voice acting, at its core, is communicating.” quote=”Voice acting, at its core, is communicating.”]
3. Because you must be able to take voiceover direction.
“Shave two seconds off.” “I want to hear your smile at the end.” “Really hit the phrase, ‘Mother’s Day’ hard.”
You would be surprised how many people, when given some of the above direction, would end up giving the exact same read they initially gave. Over and over and over. Taking direction well takes practice. And it starts with getting out of your own head and listening to what is being asked for.
4. Because you’re a voice actor.
When you’re reading a voice over, you’re not just talking into space, although you are by yourself most of the time. You should be having an imaginary (or real?) conversation in your head with your “audience.” A real conversation involves speaking, but also listening. The listening part is what makes what you say relevant. It’s going to sound different if you walk up to a stranger and start telling them about your favorite shoes, than if a friend asks if you have bought anything cool lately, and you answer their question by telling them about the shoes you just bought. Just like in life, everything you say in a voiceover, should be in response to something.
If you’re a voice actor (or an aspiring one), and you’ve got the best voice, the best business plan, and the best studio in the world, but you can’t or won’t listen, I hope you’ve got a backup plan!
Would love to hear your thoughts. I’m listening 🙂