The day a Friend came to spend some time with me to find out what's involved in being a Voiceover...
When you let slip at the school gates that you are a professional voice over artist, you get a variety of reactions.. from blank looks, to people who think you live a Hollywood lifestyle and all points in between.
I met Esther a few years ago at the school gate and we got chatting. She's a teacher with 3 young children and I have a HUGE amount of respect for her work. She turned out to be really intrigued by mine.
Esther would ask really interesting questions of me, things that I'd never thought about as regards my work. She said she'd love to be a VO. So, I invited her over to have a go recently, to see what she thought.
It was great to have a friendly face about in the studio with me for a few hours and I showed her the booth and gave her a selection of scripts to have a look at. We started with a radio commercial, followed by some In-Store and then some Corporate and Documentary.
You can't learn how to do this job in a day and Esther recognised this but I wanted to give her a flavour of the variety of work being a professional voice over artist involves and the array of approaches we deploy to get each genre off the page!
So, I wanted to share the thoughts Esther noted down for me.. it's sometimes surprising to discover what people think when they aren't in the nitty gritty of our work every day
The view from the other side.. Esther's thoughts
It was terrific fun doing a voice over session but hard.
It was fun because you could play with a voice, an underrated and rarely explored muscle, or is it an organ?! It was fun to THINK about how to say something, then to say it and then to listen to the reality of your effort and to notice the difference.
It was hard because I had to try to consciously stress or explore aspects of a word or sentence whilst sounding as though the effort was utterly unconscious - it felt a bit like walking with people watching you walk, telling you to walk in a relaxed way and you know the conscious effort is making your bum is kind of stick out and your arms are swing weirdly! Suddenly it's all too unnatural!
What I thought would be difficult - pronouncing my 't's and general dictation actually seemed less of an issue. But the complexity seemed to lie in the 'journey' of each sentence - where to stress certain words, how to end the sentence, general tone, where to speed up, slow down.
So much to think about, and so many different ways to change 'Find them on the chilled aisle'!
Thank you so much Clare. I really enjoyed myself and have only further admiration for your skills!
You're so welcome Esther! Remember I said that Esther asks brilliant questions?
Well, I just had to include this one!
PS Do you ever go in there for a big swear-a-thon? End of a bad day - just shout and record profanities! Oh what fun!
Now there's a thought eh?
I think we don't really realise the skills we have acquired, banked and learned as pro VOs. That make the whole thing come together. Out technical and biz skills aside.. we are finely tuned machines (with a human soul!)
I learned how much we know. Mainly, how important it is to support each other and our industry in VALUING our skills. It is sooo much more than just talking and the emphasis on knowing your value and your price is vital.
You can hear Clare's work on her homepage
In my mind, Live Announcing at Events, otherwise know as being the "Voice of God" is a bit of hybrid of a role...
What is Live Announcing "Voice of God"?
When you go to an event such as an awards ceremony, you'll often see a live host, on stage to present the awards and create the energy and flow of the event. They're the focal point. The "voice of god" (VOG) is not on stage but their voice is part of the event and everywhere - adding authority and a sense of occasion and excitement and is also a way to guide the crowd in varying degrees of subtlety and with different sorts of information.
On TV, it's a concept we have become really familiar with now, with
The X Factor's Peter Dickson, probably the best known VOG ever!
But live events have been in this game for a long time.
Live or Pre-recorded?
The VOG can be recorded in advance and mixed with video content for announcements such as a list of nominees. I have recorded a number of these for Corporate events and they lend a sense of occasion, add audio texture to the event (especially in my case if the live host is a man), provide a chance for the live host to gather their thoughts and contribute to the flow of the event.
Advantages of the Pre-rec are that the event organiser has exactly what they need, including tricky name pronunciations, in the can and they can use it as they wish!
But the pre-rec VOGs lack the spark and reaction to the atmosphere that a Live VOG can provide. You can flex your style, the timing, the volume, the content of the script to suit what's required by the Director of the event and the vibe in the room.
The AIM Independent Music Awards
This week I was delighted to be the Live Announcer VOG at a major music industry awards event. The AIM awards celebrate Independent music - the labels and the creators.
My role was to introduce the event, provide guidance as to who had won the awards and announce musicians / bands - rousing the crowd to applaud, get involved and make sure they were where they should be. All in a style that worked with the AIM Awards brand and fitting with the timing of the live event, the onstage hosts and the technical team's VTs.
Live VOG, as I said, is a bit of a hybrid VO job for me.. I have theatre training as well as many years of live radio broadcasting (both sides of the mic) and my VO work. VOG is a role that combines ALL of these skills. You need to understand the roles of the DSM, the Producer, the cues, the format -which are all theatre based.
My radio work helps me be live and in the moment - I'm broadcasting to the room. it's a presence of mind thing.. the one chance. Radio.
And yes, it's Voiceover too. It's quickly getting to grips with the mic and kit you have in front of you and getting the tone, pace and style exactly what is needed and maintaining it for many hours. Using VO warm up techniques to keep the voice strong and reliable and knowing how to protect your voice so it won't let you down on the night - or in the studio the next day, come to that.
Top Tips for Live VOG success
All events vary, but keep these points in mind and it'll give you a strong start...
1. Be early for the booking
2. Establish with the director the pace, tone and style required
3. Establish how you will be cued
4. Take control of your space - is the mic in the right place? Do you have enough light?
5. Have your reassuring kit of parts with you.. for me it's water, a selection of pens, glasses cleaners and apples
6. Who is your trusted focus? Establish the one person you will take your cues from and have that conversation with them.
7. Warm up before rehearsal
8. During rehearsal make sure you give the full performance for level and then let them know you need to pull back to keep your voice fresh if that's OK with them.
9. Double check any pronunciations you are not sure of.
10. Step in to your power - I like a little "power stance" before hand (I wonder if the team noticed this week!!) and, yes, I do actually take a little physical step into "my power"
11. Assume that mic is ALWAYS live
Enjoy it! It's a wonderful role to play!
Clare is an established VOG announcer with a style that can be cool and exciting to warm and inviting - for a variety of events!
Drop Clare an email to enquire about adding a VOG to your next event
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
Voice over talent and broadcaster, speaking out.