I know many Voiceover Artists that might have a flute, or a guitar, or even a drum kit stashed away at home.. in fact I'm willing to bet that a high percentage of VOs play at least one musical instrument.
Why this random thought? Well, recently I found out about a new community swing band that was starting up in my local area. They put out a plea on social media for players of saxophones, trumpets and bass to get in touch with a view to joining.
My most recent musical endeavours have been bass guitar based (ahem), I've played in quite a few bands on the bass over the years from covers to original indie pop / rock. Playing bass guitar appealed to me on many levels.. the first one being the 42nd level.. or Level 42, as they are more usually referred to. My top favourite band and their phenomenal bass player Mark King made taking up bass guitar irresistible. Playing the bass in a band is quite an experience. Some joke that the bass player is there to "translate for the drummer". There is some truth in that - you're melodic and you're the rhythm, the groove if you will. The low notes, you can feel more than hear and locking into the rhythm to provide the foundation for the band. If a bass player gets a note wrong it stands out more than you'd expect because it knocks the whole harmony of the band off - you're the root and you've got to be spot on!
As much as I love bass guitar playing, playing bass in a swing band would have been pretty tough as I've never read bass clef music for the bass guitar and as much as this old dog loves a new trick - that was never going to happen to a decent standard in a week. My bassoon years / misadventures are way behind me.
So, I thought about the saxophone.. I played alto sax at school - I had lessons and really enjoyed it. It's about as different a role in a band to playing bass as it's possible to get, but fun in it's own way. I was seduced in the 1980s by saxophones.. we were all sold that gold, shiny, curvy, emotional, glamorous dream.. (who did it's PR? They were good!) and I NEEDED one!
I played in bands on the sax at University and sold it not long after graduating. But that was that for about 20 years.
Until last week when I saw this ad for the local community swing band. A local friend agreed to lend me her saxophone (I had no idea she played!) while I sussed out if this was something I could still do and whether I liked it after all that time off.
The last week has been interesting. I bought some new reeds, gave it a clean and had a go. The first go was far from great and I felt those 20 years. But gradually over that last 4 days with little bursts of practice between voicing to build the muscles up again, I think I can still do it!
In fact I'm rather surprised how well my brain and fingers and music reading still flow..
In fact, I have realised this week in my early days of relearning the saxophone, that phrasing in the music is second nature. I also find myself scanning ahead in the music so when I get to the tricky bits, I'm prepared. I'm looking for important parts of the music, where the pauses are so I can breathe and the places that need extra emphasis, attention to dynamics and what emotion needs to come through.
I am totally playing the saxophone exactly like I voice!
I'm not sure if I voice like I play sax or vice versa. But I'm gong through very similar thought and work processes in each of these.
Understanding the phrasing and "construction" of a VO script is crucial to putting it across with the right meaning. Exactly so in music.
Recognising that the pauses / rests in the right places add emphasis as well as air to the lungs.
Playing a gentle, subtle tune on the sax will never sound right if you're honking that horn at fortissimo.
In voiceover, I get close to the mic for the subtle read and speak it gently.
I have heard it said that the saxophone is one of the closest instruments in expressiveness to the human voice. I thought this was just as regards singing, but it's surprisingly close to the voiceover speaking voice.
I'm keeping up with the practice, enjoying the new / old challenge and I can't wait to dust off this old hobby and challenge myself to play in a band next week. I may have accrued 20 years saxophone rustiness but I have found a new appreciation for it and it's similarity with voiceover.
And I'm convinced that so many of the voiceovers we hear have a musical history...
Clare Reeves is a professional Voiceover artist and amateur musician. You can hear Clare's Commercial Reel on the homepage and see if you can spot the musicality!
Whilst on my morning run the other day, I started to let my mind wander - in the way you can when you're on your own in the fresh air...
I started to think about why I run and why it matters to me.
Here's where my mind took me as my feet took me along a path by the sea..
Obviously I run because it's good exercise. It's important to keep healthy and strong for so many reasons that we know and are reminded of so often.
As a Voiceover Artist in the autumn and winter, I'm especially paranoid about coughs and colds and wellbeing in general, so anything I can do to keep things chugging along successfully are part of my day to day routines. A sneezing voiceover is not a happy voiceover, I can tell you.
If you're not a voice artist yourself you may be surprised to learn about the physical aspects of the job! I don't spend all day sitting in a cosy box, quietly reading poetry into a microphone and feeling relaxed. Although I imagine with the diversity of our work, this is possibly the case with some VOs.
I work mainly on projects that require a fair bit of physical energy - that doesn't (usually) mean shouting into a mic.. it's often about having the energy in your body and delivering the read with all of the energy you have but in a more restrained way. It can feel like physically holding yourself back while you let the emotion and performance come forward.
Some reads / performances I deliver require "youthful" which for me, means a slightly different part of my voice. So, my energy goes into that aspect of my performance vocally and also the actual physical stance / movement of that "character" I'm putting across. How does she stand? How does she move? How does she feel?
I recorded a job recently for a client in a studio in London. It was a pretty warm day and I was booked for 2 hours. I generally stand when voicing and this read was young, chatty, massively conversational. So it was a pretty physical couple of hours! I wonder if people realise this when they hear the work of Pro VOs on TV and radio commercials?!
Running a business, especially one largely on your own requires quite a bit of externalising for me and endeavouring to find creative ways to work in both my performances and in my "office".
Running is helpful as it's time out of the office and away from it all. It literally is a new perspective. I find I can set my mind on something as I take my first step on the run and by the time I get back, I've gained a new angle. I'm really BIG on shaking routines up. Despite myself, I naturally gravitate to familiar - even though I KNOW I'm happier with adventure!
It helps to run somewhere beautiful.. I know I'm fortunate to live by the sea! I was running in a gym this time last year but it was too easy to press the stop button and go for a nice little swim in the warm pool. If I'm tired when I run outside, I have the sea to look at. Even when it's rainy, it's still wonderful and I admire it's changing moods - it's almost as if it's taking on characters too!
Apparently, the colour blue (of the sea and sky on a good day!) is really beneficial to our creativity. It seems to be a primal thing, with many of us drawn to hues of the sea. There is something about the sea as an antidote to the sensory overload we all suffer from. It's like sending your mind on a mini break! This feel like a good way to start the day.
I don't think I run to get away from anything - life's pretty good! I run to get TO things.. a creative state of mind, a healthy body that can meet the sometimes crazy, physical needs of the job, fresh air and humidity that are good for the voice.. it's good to be out there and feel connected.
When I return I feel refreshed and able to start my work.. sometimes my mind has even come up with an answer for that question I asked myself as I left the front gate.
So, I'll be running again tomorrow - pushing just that bit harder. Running to - not running from
Clare is a seaside based voiceover artist with a light yet warm, relatable sound and fresh air a plenty!
In June you could hear me in a secret room, underneath a tapas restaurant in Kent...
Yes, strange but true....
in 2015 I was asked to create a Voice Art Sound Installation for the newly refurbished Folkestone Harbour Arm. It's a wonderful location for arts, entertainment and food and drink - and a jolly good dose of the freshest of air.
I created The Shepping Forecast - Fokestone's very own "shipping forecast", replacing the well known shipping areas with locations and landmarks in Folkestone - and adding social comment and cheeky remarks. It played for a month on the Harbour Arm last year.
Anyway, that's a bit of background for you.
The buildings in the Old High Street are pretty ancient - the town has Roman roots and hundreds of years of fishing heritage and apparently a network of underground tunnels... (yes, I'd love to record something for those one day..), so I was delighted to be given a hidden and mysterious space to base my piece in. A room under El Cortador Tapas, in the Old High Street. When you peep in the restaurant window, you can see a glass "porthole" on the floor. This is the top of the old well! The well runs through the unused room below and is a source of mystery rather than water these days.
Visiting the space for the first time I absorbed the atmosphere of this strange space and listened to the current owners views on the well and their thoughts about it and how they felt about it being there, with them every day.
There was the mystery of why it was there (halfway up a very steep hill!), when it dates from and how deep it is.. you can see the water but no one knows how deep the water is below the glimpse of the surface.
The feelings of history, danger, foreboding and the notion of wells being life giving and lucky all came together for me.
How to turn thoughts and feelings into a sound art installation?
After researching the history of the well for inspiration and finding out pretty much NOTHING, I decided to use full artistic license and make something up.
Here's how I devised the piece..
1. Listed what I knew about the well - facts and feelings and comments that people had made
2. Noted how the space made me feel
3. Spent a LONG time pondering a "story".. what was it "telling" me?
4. Decided how I wanted people to feel when they heard the piece in the room
5. Wrote pages of notes of single lines in a variety of styles and a story began to emerge!
6. Recorded myself performing some of the lines I had written
7.Picked up my bass guitar and recorded some improvised music based on my feelings of the well and the story that was emerging
8. Created a multitrack session in my Adobe Audition and loaded in a few of the rough recordings to see what happened if I layered them up
9. Re-wrote and re-recorded lots of lines based on new focus from hearing everything together
10. Put everything in the Session roughly in order and pondered some more
11. With the room in mind, I drew up plans of the "stereo image" that I wanted to create
12. Mixed the Session so that the sounds were balanced, in the right place in the stereo image and everything sounded the right level (it's often not about how the levels "look", as some things seem louder depending on their pitch!)
13. Listened to the work in progress with the Manager of the Creative Quarter and made a couple more changes to levels
14. Heard the piece in situ and had to get the lighting right and the position of the speakers. Made sure it was going to loop happily to itself
Dominic King from BBC Radio Kent came along to visit the piece as it was being set up - you can see him interviewing me here
The feedback was good and Well Being added an extra layer to the Open Quarter weekend.
I'm looking forward to my next Sound Art Installation work which looks like it's commencing in September 2016!
Pop over to my Sound Art page and have a listen to Well Being online..
Clare is a Voiceover Artist who uses her BBC sound engineering background and love of storytelling to create site specific sound installation art pieces that surprise and delight.
Learn more about Clare's Voice Art work and hear Well Being online.
Hear Clare's Commercial and Narration Voiceover work here
If you wonder what I'm up to here in the office and studio all day, you're in luck, I'm about to lift the lid!
Being a Voiceover Artist as a full time job is a total joy and privilege but it's also a minefield of avoiding colds and extreme self motivation. Here's a selection of things that make up a typical day (although as you can guess, there's usually no such thing)
Health and fitness
Yes, it's a big thing. If I get a cold or other such nasty, not only does it make me feel rubbish, it means that maybe I can't record the session I was booked to record, I can't audition for stuff for the future as I don't sound like me and I'm probably not feeling like marketing myself. BAD.
So, I go to the gym usually 4 times a week and do an outside run at the weekends. At the gym I'm a mix of cardio and weights and I always grab some steam room time to keep a clear head. Steam is the nectar of a good and healthy voice. I'm also big on eating healthily and avoiding junk. Sure, I love a bit of cake and a glass of wine as a treat but I keep it in check.
I keep well so my clients can use me for their work, so it's part of my customer service!
Auditions come from existing clients who might be after a quick sample line for a new project, online sites where auditions often turn into great working relationships, agents and contacts and notes via my website.
I work out what's needed and record the sample in my own studio and send it to them.
I actually quite like auditioning - it's a chance to shine and maybe push out of the comfort zone of performance to try something new. Hopefully the auditions then turn into jobs!
It's not all showbiz glam you know.. Being a Voiceover means I also send out invoices, marketing emails, keep my social media and online profiles up to date and relevant. I keep an eye on the money side, work on my website, network with my VO friends and potential clients and have strategy meetings on my own with chunky pens and big sheets of paper. I even have a mission statement here you know! I keep my voicereels up to date on my own website and on all the other places online I can be found. I'm fascinated by brands and how they feel and I'm on a constant pursuit of "brand me".
It's not just work on the computer (I love my Mac!), I have to keep a well maintained studio here as well. I make sure my hardware (including microphones and processors) are all up to scratch and make sure it's all sounding excellent. I work on Adobe Audition CS6 on my Mac so need to maintain my computer systems and fix anything odd before it becomes a problem.
Time management is also a tough discipline. Like many VO's, I'm also a Mum so my work needs to fit around school, dinner and bedtime. Most things work brilliantly in the school day and I also work Saturday - Wednesday evenings recording a news bulletin for an Iraqi radio station for them to play the next day! The trickiest bit of my day as far as time goes is remembering to eat lunch. It's currently 1332 here and I am indeed in need of some food.
You NEVER know everything - especially in such a competitive world as this. I have coaching sessions with one of the most respected Voiceover Coaches in the business - LA's Nancy Wolfson. We work on scripts, techniques and developing my work and me "as a brand".
I constantly read and learn about potential new clients and areas of work and agents. I take online courses to keep my work strong and make sure I'm pushing myself in the right directions.
When I do give myself chance to eat it has to be the right thing.. not only to stop my tummy rumbling on mic but also so that my mouth doesn't sound yukky! So, as much as I'd love a dairy produce filled lunch, that isn't an option as it gives you a noisy, clicky sound in the mouth which is just awful on the mic.
Watching telly and listening to the radio
Yep, it's important to know what's "selling" and "on trend" as for as Voiceover goes. No one wants anyone to sound like an announcer on their ads anymore - they want it real and conversational. I over analyse everything I watch and listen to, to work out what's good and how my work is similar, different etc. Also, I often know the voice! This goes way beyond 9-5 you see.
Recording for clients is of course the best thing about the job. The variety of the work, projects, subject matter etc never ceases to surprise and delight me. Just recently I've voiced things including in-store ads for a garden centre, phone systems for an ad agency in Dubai, narrated a ballet for a ballet company in the US and recorded an internal film for Airbus! The sessions are sometimes directed by me, just me and my booth, my voice and my brain and sometimes clients like to dial in and direct using Skype or record down the line on IPDTL or ISDN. I need to be warmed up, ready and totally ON IT.
This is a job
..One of the BEST jobs but it's a constant thing - from the food I eat and don't, the steam rooms, the geekery and biz work, the learning and active listening.
This is why full time VO artists should always be paid at a rate that reflects all of this unseen stuff that means that when you hire us - we're ready and we're on it, all the time - so we can bring your words to life, PERFECTLY, every time.
It's a funny old business.. I work largely on my own, under my own steam, direction, supervision and vision.
I know this sounds wonderful, and it generally is, but sometimes you need a bit of inspiration. When I worked as a BBC staff member, inspiration was all around. I only had to walk up to a colleagues desk and float an idea to come back with more thoughts and directions. This was powerful and enabled me to unlock my own creativity by listening to the thoughts of others and letting my mind spark!
It's so important as a Voiceover Artist to be inspired and to have fresh injections of creativity.
Why? Because working as I do, across a huge variety of genres, subject matters, characters and countries I need to be able to draw on what is inside my own mind to create the right sound, mood, thought and even physicality to put the right tone across. Whatever it might be!
This morning I needed to be a 10 year old school boy. Last week I needed to be an old lady with special powers and I always need to sound like I know what I am talking about.
How do I unlock my creativity?
Every week I like to experience something new - even if that means just being spontaneous in a fairly simple way.
Here's a few things I did last week to "shake it up a bit"
- Had a picnic in the car on a windy day looking at the sea, listening to Radio 2 (not my usual radio choice!)
- Cooked a meal I'd never made before (pork in cider with dumplings, yum)
- Climbed to the top of a local lighthouse
- Visited an artists studio in an old hut on a beach
Goodness knows these things may not sound thrilling to you but each time I do something a bit out of my everyday experience it makes me think.. I see the world a little bit differently and I like that. I think the technical term is creating new synapses in the brain. That's good. I like them.
One place the world IS different is Dungeness in Kent. It's no wonder it attracts artists.. the strange sparse landscape is so bleak, complete with nuclear powerstation, that I found it inspiring. The big skies and quite a bit of weather were so refreshing in a world where we are so often over stimulated by our gadgets, that I felt the place was almost like pressing a mental "refresh" or "restart" button. Where does the mind go for creativity when the surroundings are so obscure? I think it's about finding a new page to "write on". A kind of meditation.
Then when I am making my plan for the week ahead - in the form of a mind map - I let myself doodle and ideas and new perspectives can flow out of my pens (OK, my son's felt tips, but don't tell him!). I don't just write, I draw on my mind maps.. silly things.. I drew a school tie, a spiky plant and a house the other day. I'm connecting both sides of my brain here which is a great tool in learning and thinking.
This means that I am able to create the state of mind that allows the clear thinking - that blank sheet - and also to have the number of perspectives I need to create something new - the paints, so that I can move through my week and the work I need to do feeling inspired and energised even though I can't walk up to a colleagues desk these days.
I'm old fashioned. I like pleases and thank yous. I expect people to turn up when they say they will and to do WHAT they promised to WHEN they promised to do it by.
I call it manners, the world of business calls it "customer service" and I think it oils the mechanics of the world turning.
So, why do I mention this? I've had a new kitchen put in recently and like most people in business, I wanted a great deal. Lots of cool bang for my buck.
I'm really happy with how my kitchen has turned out and it's a million times nicer to be in than the old one.
I had a few revelations on my road to the new kitchen being completed. What I find interesting is that they are largely NOTHING to do with the quality of the work itself but in the main about how I felt as a client and I wanted to share these thoughts. Here's what I realised are vital, if not basic behaviours when you are a service provider
1. Be there, answer phone calls and emails within the hour, 2 at the most, to help me feel relaxed with my decision to employ you
2. Turn up at the time we agree
3. Do a little bit more than we agree
4. Share creative ideas with your employer or client
5. Compliment them on their great (if not slightly surprising) choices - they tend to be right ;)
6. Be able to recommend other experts and call on them quickly if required
7. Let the client have your full attention
8. Negotiate for extra services fairly and within the context of the project
9. Check your client is happy with your work
10. Thank them for choosing you in a competitive world
These are 10 very obvious points, I appreciate that, but it was good for me to be on the client side for my kitchen project and to see this world very clearly.
What else would you include here?
Applying these points to MY business is something I endeavour to do for all of my Voiceover projects and I find that if my clients are happy then it puts an extra spring in my step too.
Voiceover artists tend to work remotely for most of their projects and it's amazing how a relationship / job can be built and established purely on email. So good manners (and demos!) can go a very long way..
Thank you very much indeed for reading.
Clare prides herself on her customer service and making sure all her clients feel great about the Voiceovers she supplies. Email Clare now to find out how she can help you bring your next project to life with some speaking of quality
A behind the scenes look at recording TV documentary narration
As I type, I have more windows open on my Mac than is strictly good for it. My world is a multi-tasking heavy one and I'm often asked what I ACTUALLY DO as a Voiceover Artist.
Well, today, dear reader, I'll give you a window (different sort) into my world.
Do you really work in your PJs?
Sometimes, but mostly I'm dressed! Voiceover work has little respect for evenings and weekends as it's always someone's deadline, somewhere across the timezones and my work means that I have clients across the world.
I do sometimes feel at an advantage when there is a fast turnaround for a job that's from the US as I have a few hours on them, but I have been editing at night before now to make sure a client in Thailand has what they need for their project, just in time. Phew.
Saying all that, It is of course up to me what jobs I accept or decline, although my default setting is "I'd love to record that for you", I do have to make sure that it makes business sense to accept the job.
What happens if you get a cold? Do you sound really husky?
I hate getting colds! Like most VOs I know, I am on a constant pursuit of vitamins and immune system boosters - the fizzing in a glass ones being my current favourite. When a cold does strike though, it's a bit tricky.. you no longer sound like the person who submitted a successful audition last week and you can't audition this week as you'll sound like you again the week after.. sigh..
I'm all for honesty and integrity.. if something urgent pops up I'll have a look at the read and see if it's something I can handle (knowing that you're only as good as your last VO), my regular clients are nice, human people and understand I'm not a robot and do get a cold on occasions - so I usually plan a day to record for them that suits them and my health! If it's not happening and they need something urgent, I often refer to folks in my network who I think will do a great job.
I try to resist the temptation of wrapping up in scarves and looking like a suffering luvey! Most of the time..
Is it just about having a great voice?
No, it's really not. As a VO, I'm actually in many different businesses; broadcasting, advertising, online learning and training, marketing, branding, corporate and internal communications etc etc.
Empathy and understanding across these businesses is essential if you are going to deliver something that works for them. I have major insight into training and elearning for example, this means that my knowledge of how the modules are used as well as the audiences for them, informs how I deliver the content.
The KEY skill, I would say is turning the written word into the spoken word.. it's about the message and the audience connecting. If your voice is good, hey, that helps create the mood.
Do you get to go to loads of great studios?
Sometimes! There is a real buzz about recording a job for a client in a cool set up in Soho.. you feel the showbiz and who doesn't love that?
Most of the time though, you'll find me on my own, working in my studio on the top floor of my house. I have a great little booth and some nice gadgets and I actually enjoy the whole recording and production process.
I spent time as a BBC SM (Studio Manager, kinda sound engineer) at the World Service so I am lucky in that audio production and tech stuff is 2nd nature to me. That said, most digital audio software is pretty easy to use these days. When I bought my microphone, I was a bit of an awkward customer.. I wanted to try a load of them and had the poor guy unpacking lots of mics and processors for me to try to get the one that worked best with my voice. Ears like a bat thanks to the BBC training!!
How do you get into Voiceovers?
It's a journey as unique as the individual VO artists I think.. some come from radio broadcasting, some come from acting. What unites everyone is the pursuit of excellence in VO as a performance craft all of it's own. It isn't just talking. It's performance of a very subtle nature. The detail of the work is minute and it is so precise.
I have theatre training, I'm a radio presenter and a sound engineer and I have always been asked to voice bits and bobs for people over my entire career.. when I left the BBC as staff in 2011 I decided to go for VO full time. So that's what I now do! I'm a member of Equity and the Radio Academy.
How do you find work?
In a combination of ways, online sites, agents, contacts and networks. I also actively pursue areas I'm really interested in working within. One much wiser than me likens VO to maintaining a garden, with lots of plants coming up at different times. I try and make sure I am constantly planting bulbs and seeds whilst maintaining the more established plants! :)
As a VO, I love my job as a VO and also as my own marketing manager, accounts person, Chief technical officer, operations manager, sound engineer, head of special projects, insight manager, legal adviser... hence lots of windows open on my Mac and the multi-tasking!
Got a question about Voiceover or how you go about working with a Voiceover?
Contact Clare now
In Part Two of my Blog post, animals, children, weather and our utterly rubbish sandbags
Voice over talent and broadcaster, speaking out.