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Recently I have been reading lots of articles on Jared Leto and his so-called “Method Acting” he did while being the Joker. While some praise method acting as great way to understand and realistically portray a character, the fact is that it is misunderstood and today, it is used incorrectly. Or worse, in Jared Leto’s case, it is an excuse for deplorable behavior.
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You may have heard of voice over artist Jon Bailey. You may have heard of Smosh Games Honest Movie Trailers. You may have heard of a recent Dota Honest trailer. The problem is: that last one is a fake.
A day ago, a video titled “Dota Honest Trailer” appeared on youtube on the channel of a video group called Coldoz. The video, which features Dota gameplay with voiceover by the deep-voiced voiceover artist, has a little over 70,000 views.
The problem? Jon Bailey didn’t approve it.
Jon, who is well-known to be especially nice to his fans, often reads out bits of copy for his fans in his Movie Trailer Voice. Coldoz took advantage of his openness about his voice.
“They sent me little paragraphs to read for what they said was a game tournament project,” Jon told me today. He responded in little pieces, recording several minutes of copy over 4 or 5 weeks. What he didn’t know was that Coldoz took those bits of copy, rearranged them, and recreated Dota in the Honest Movie Trailers style without Bailey’s permission.
“I felt betrayed. This is the first time I’ve had someone take advantage of me being nice to my fans. It sucks.”
Smosh hasn’t made a formal statement, but Jon has publicly denounced the video on the video ‘s comments section and his own social media.
I talk about vocal booths occasionally. Not as often as I’d like, mostly because I keep changing mine to suit my needs.
One thing I tell people who ask me about my studio is that you have certain needs for a vocal booth. These are:
- Having good acoustic treatment and a minimal of noise (Here’s some tips on reducing your Noise Floor by legendary Dan Leonard)
- Having quality equipment
- Having enough light to read copy
- Having the right temperature
That last one sometimes sounds weird. People can’t hear temperature. Or can they?
Actually, they totally can. If it’s too hot, or too humid, or too cold, you can hear it in someone’s voice. Voice actors are always at our best when we’re rested, hydrated and comfortable, so having a good temperature is imperative. There’s a lot of ways to cool your booth, and doing so silently isn’t as hard as you think. A few things that can lower your temperature is swapping out standard light bulbs for LED’s, or pre-cooling your booth with AC before recording (obviously you don’t want to record with the AC running).
Try to keep your CPU outside of your vocal booth. not only will it reduce noise but it also will reduce heat. Use low-energy output monitors to read your copy, or better yet a tablet. if all else fails, just use paper–it doesn’t give off its own heat (Unless you set it on fire, but in that case you have bigger problems than a warm vocal booth).
How do you folks cool your vocal booths? Any tips and tricks to share?
When I was younger, I remember reading an article in Nickelodeon magazine about “awesome fun jobs”. One of them attracted my attention back then, long before I got into vocal and audio work, and long before I had a home studio: foley artists.
Even today, foley artists are the mysterious, clever folks that get counted on for every manner of sound imaginable. Foley work is magical and makes a mess, as evidenced by this dramatization of how foley artists work:
I’ve only watched that video a couple hundred times.
When voice actors go to add sound effects to our work, we often think that it’s easiest to go online, download a sound effect, and just tack it on there..but this can be a problem. First, if you use the same sound everyone else uses, people notice. For example, there’s a sound from The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind that is used for lightning spells. It’s an electrical crackle that I recall well. I hear that sound a lot in movies and TV shows, to the point where it actually takes me out of the experience.
“But Sam!” you yell at your monitor. “I can’t do foley in my home studio! It’d make a mess! They’re always punching watermelons and slamming shoes!”
But you can.
All it takes is preparation. See, I do a lot of my own sound effects, including most of the ones in my voice demos. Now, some of you might not be keen on ripping apart mangoes and breaking plywood in your home studio, but there is a lot of foley you can do without making much of a mess. Among the ones I do a lot:
- Shoes walking – take your pair of shoes and a plywood or tile-covered board and add in footsteps.
- Paper rustling – rustle some paper!
- Pencil scribbling – I scrape a piece of plastic over a piece of wood.
- Punch sounds – I punch a ham or a fistful of ground beef wrapped tightly in cellophane.
- doors opening and closing – I open and close an old jewelry box, and then pitch it down in post.
- Thunder – shake a piece of aluminum sheeting.
Adding your own effects can be very fun, can save you money on purchasing sounds, and also adds to your skills that you can advertise. Give it a shot next time you need a sound effect, before you consider downloading someone’s stock audio.
Foley Room at the Sound Design Campus courtesy Wikipedia
One of the most satisfying moments in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is the moment when Carlotta, the pain-in-the-neck diva and leading soprano, has her voice sabotaged halfway through the opera house’s El Muto, coughing and sputtering onstage in embarrassment. It’s quite the moment and you can’t help but laugh…
…until it happens to you. Not the ‘being sabotaged’ part, but the coughing and sputtering part at least. That’s what happened a week or so ago when I blew my voice out during a gig (I’m talking real gigs here, not Fiverr gigs. I don’t do that anymore!). As a person who loves to talk a lot, a sore throat is really devastating. As a voice actor, even more so.
So there I was, about a week ago, almost unable to talk. Of course, I still have to talk for my marketing job, so I wasn’t really getting better on my own. See, I have a day job, but many voice actors don’t. Days off from sore throats can mean lots of paid work lost, so fast recovery is paramount.
So I had to look at how I was going to recover. First step: how do other voice actors and vocalists recover from a sore throat? Successful Singing gives advice like Vitamin C and discourages traditional remedies like tea. Their number 1 remedy? Rest.
Meanwhile, I also shot a tweet to some voice actors I know and just asked. Legendary voice actor Nicole Oliver replied with her best advice: “Rest. Warm fluids, but rest is really what you need to do.”
So there you have it, folks. Rest your voice, drink lots of water. Before you know it you’ll be back up and behind the mic.
Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Voice actors: read more. When was the last time you read a book? Which is to say, for fun?
I have an addiction to books. I go through them faster than I go through candy, which is honestly saying something because I go through candy far too quickly for my own good (This is why I am a fat voice actor, folks). My addiction to books started when I was a kid, and I did something stupid and got punished by my parents. They took my TV and computer privileges away for over a year and a half (I was a really bad kid). Disconnected from the world, I turned to books, and started hitting up my library every day.
All of this reading had a profound side-effect on me: I ended up with a great vocabulary. Words that would stump people of my grade level were a breeze to me because I’d read them before a few times in difficult books. Reading international (English) books exposed me to different uses of certain kinds of words, and I picked up on them quickly.
It also had the side effect of helping me learn new words quickly, and even recognize words I’d never seen before and how they should be pronounced. English is a language of patterns (with some exceptions, of course). I was picking up on these patterns and learning how the etymology of words works. (Fun aside: a better vocabulary can also help your rapping skills.)
Take, for example, the word-part bel. I noticed that the words rebellion, belligerent, antibellum, and rebel all deal with being combative or warlike. Upon doing some research I discovered that all of these are related to the Latin bellum, meaning “War” or “conflict”. So when I came across, in a cold read, the word bellicose, I had an idea that it might have to do with being combative. And, as it turns out, I was right. Just having a bigger vocabulary from being a reader improved my skills as a voice actor.
So how can a voice actor of today take advantage of this? Some tips for you on improving your vocabulary:
- Get a word-a-day calendar. Also sign up for AWAD delivered to your inbox.
- If you find a word in your script or book you don’t recognize, try to guess its meaning before looking it up. You’ll get good at this, I promise, and eventually you’ll end up being right more than you’re wrong.
- Try to learn bits of the etymologies of words. Wiktionary includes etymology in a lot of its definitions. Also learning a little bit about German and Latin (the two biggest parents of English) can help immensely!
- Read. Read a lot. Read more! Challenge your own mind and read books slightly above your own reading level and immerse yourself in a chapter or two. Read out loud, if you can, because then you can also work on your cold reading skills.
Best of luck to you. And trust me on the word-a-day calendar.
Forget character voices. Forget deep, grovelly sounds. Forget accents. The number one skill I have is cold reading.
I recently attended a convention in San Francisco called BABScon, where they had a very special event: a voice acting competition. The judges of this event were three amazingly talented folks: Tara Strong, Nicole Oliver, and Brian Drummond. The finalists of the competition were given several challenges to undertake–one from each of the three judges.
Tara’s challenge was arguably one of the toughest: cold reading. Each of the contestants were given bits of magazine ads and asked to read them in various voices. It’s hard to do!
The reason behind this challenge is simple, though: It’s one of the most expected skills of a voice actor. “You never know if you’re going to audition for a part, and the director might give you a completely different part to try out,” Nicole Oliver explained during the vocal competition. Cold readings are HARD. It’s one thing to act, put on a voice, and read from a script. It’s an entirely different animal if you act, put on a voice, and read from a script for the first time. Oh, and you’re of course expected to knock it out of the park.
So how do you improve your cold reading skills as a voice actor? I have a few suggestions.
- Expand your vocabulary. Get a Word-a-day calendar. Learn how obscure words are pronounced. I love learning word etymologies because it helps me pronounce new words I come across.
- Practice natural speech patterns. Sentences are structured with innate pitches corresponding to the part of a sentence. You can pick up on this by studying grammar, and just practicing speaking.
- Read things out loud. Newspapers, magazines, internet articles, shampoo bottles—anything. Don’t stop reading out loud because, over time, you’ll get into a habit of expecting certain cadences of your voice while reading voiceover copy.
As always, a voice actor should be prepared to practice! That way, if a producer hands you a script, you can look at it and rock out with little more than a glance at the words. It will leave you free to focus on your acting.
Last week I talked about my experiences offering voiceover with Fiverr, and the response I got got me thinking quite a bit about how some prospective voice actors can get ahead of the cut. Some voice actors think the only way to do it is by having unbeatable prices. Yeah, maybe you’ll get tons of work, but how does that affect how you market yourself?
One of my site’s commenters, Paul Boucher, commented on it very wisely: “Unless you have the scale of a Walmart or a Costco, racing to the bottom is a loser’s game.” How true this is in a world of home voiceover studios. In theory, someone with a blanket and a laptop microphone could, perhaps, get voiceover work. but what is that work worth?
That’s where some good reinforced branding comes in. See, the biggest thing to remember when branding yourself is how people will view your skills and making sure that those skills have value. Some voiceover artists swear by the Union Rates card, but even this can be deceptive; a person doesn’t want to over-value themselves and lose work, but at the same time undervaluing themselves means that they can be detrimental to their personal brand.
I believe that personal branding is about investing in the things that make you valuable, memorable, and knowledgable. My business cards, for example, are personally designed with an original design, distinctive red edges, and a classy supergloss texture.
Meanwhile, on the studio side, I put my energy into creating a space with equipment and software to deliver a quality result. I have a home studio that I tweak to have a great sound. And most importantly, I practice and take lessons because the old adage of “practice makes perfect” ain’t just bunk. The best actors I know practice voiceover daily because, like any other skill, it diminishes over time if you don’t stay sharp.
All of this together, with a clean, navigable web site and a little charm, becomes a branding you can be proud to call your own. I believe a personal brand—which is not an option in today’s fast-paced, internet-stuffed, web-wide-world—should reflect not just who you are, but what you do well. If you don’t brand yourself well, people will asume that you don’t do good work.
Back to Fiverr: If you don’t offer work for a price commensurate to your quality, people will assume your quality is sub-par, even if it’s not. This is why people pay brand-name prices despite store brands, which are sometimes the exact same quality, being cheaper: not only is it recognizable, but it also becomes the ‘standard’ in quality and price. cheaper items clearly must be lesser quality.
The lessons to be learned here are this: brand yourself according to your quality, and price yourself according to your brand. A little good marketing goes really far.