Should I do “a voice?”

So, you’re taking a crack at voice work. You’re thinking: maybe I’ll read a short story or try doing audio books. Great! Welcome to the world of voice over and narration. It can be a lot of fun. But it can also be very humbling. There are tons of great places to seek out legitimate help in improving your delivery, cadence, intelligibility, accents, or speaking with no accent – but when it comes to imitation or character voices, most humans just assume they can wing it. Don’t ask me why. I’m guilty of this, too.

Rather than focus on doing a proper “Cockney” accent, focus instead on doing your best, most consistent read. No one will care if you choose not to do an accent but they’ll be less forgiving if you do a “voice” poorly. Be sure it’s convincing. I’m not saying don’t try. I’m saying 100% confident you can pull it off. All of us think we are great at most things. Most of us have no idea how bad we suck at doing voices. If you’re going for a comedic effect, maybe there’s some wiggle room – but often, in dramatic roles, there’s no room for amateur sounding “voices.”

I just listened to podcast where someone attempted to “do a voice.” It fell flat and made me lose interest in the entire story. I once heard comedian, screen and voice actor Patton Oswalt who has spent at least as much time behind a microphone as he has in front of cameras speak about this in an interview with Crispin Freeman, another highly accomplished voice actor, Patton shared a simple concept that changed how I think about “doing voices.” In the interview, [available through Crispin’s excellent podcast called Voice Acting Mastery,] Patton mention’s a simple mindset for when to do a “voice.” He asked listeners to think back to the days of your own childhood, when you played with toys and maybe wanted to give a voice to a doll or action figure. He says, (and I’m paraphrasing) “You don’t think about what the character sounds like, you just do it.” Don’t over think it. Just do it. This simple tactic has stopped the endless rumination that once consumed my efforts in the studio.

But often times, you shouldn’t “do a voice” at all. Let’s say you’re a female voice actor doing your first long form story and you have a few male roles in the story. You don’t need to try to drop your voice unnaturally to sound like a man. Instead, you can make the voices sound different by their cadence, inflections or maybe hint of accent (you can pull off.) If you’re from Boston, be from Boston! But if you from Brooklyn and you’re trying to sound like South Wales, it may be problematic. You can do voices with practice. Some people have a gift for it. Others can hire a dialect coach but if you don’t plan to invest time or money in practicing, maybe just focus on sounding like YOU.

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