I’m not a Grunter or a Screamer. No, this has nothing to do with my love life. (Shame on you.)
“Whooooo Are You? Who-Who, Who-Who.”
One of the first tools I received as a budding young copy writer was “Tell ’em who you are by telling ’em who you ain’t.” That may not be the current wisdom, but I’ve found it helpful in several areas of my career…not just in scripting ads.
It can apply to your image as a voice talent. For example – my friend and marketing genius Doug Turkel promotes himself as the Un-nouncer, giving potential clients an instant idea of his style before they even click a demo. It must be a good idea, because at least one other VO ripped off the theme for his own use before Doug put a stop to it.
But there’s another way to apply that “who you ain’t” tool, which will save you loads of frustration and wasted promotional efforts…plus make voice seekers appreciate you, even if they decide not to listen to your samples.
“I Gotta Be Me”
Decide, early on, what you can…or what you want to do…with that voice of yours. You’ll save your potential clients some search time and, even more importantly, save yourself a ton of unsatisfying effort struggling to do something you just don’t enjoy. I’m not talking about refusing to try a different style of read at the behest of a client or coach. And I don’t mean you should never explore things outside your comfort zone. But in my experience, it’s been beneficial to know what I’m best at, and what I’m better off leaving to others.
Back to the title above. I’m strictly a PG rated voice talent. But I discovered early on that I just don’t want to spend my time at the mic repeatedly screaming my lungs out in terror or pain, or doing an hour of variations on “ungh!!!” for video games. If it’s just part of a character I’m voicing, sure that’s fine. But if that’s the whole character? I’ll be glad to recommend some talented friends who not only enjoy that type of work, they excel at it. I don’t know about you, but if I enjoy what I’m doing, I generally do a better job (and the director is going to get a better end product)!
Now, does that mean I never do video game voices? Of course not. But I found my specialties early on. And, like most of my other acting, it rarely involves being the star. My main value, and what I really enjoy, is being the voice of that slightly offbeat character the hero encounters…you know, the peddler who has that special equipment. or the magical earth spirit who has the next step in the quest, or the commander who sets out the mission and barks orders, or the little creature who offers a clue to a puzzle.
Jack-Of-All-Trades, Master of SOME
This philosophy also helps in radio spots or tv voiceovers. I don’t enjoy doing screamer spots (“If YOU have a job and NINETY-NINE DOLLARS, YOU can DRIVE TODAY!!!” or “BE Therrrrrrre!”). And that’s cool. There are plenty of other talented people (and yes, I admit it’s a special talent) who do that better than I can and probably enjoy it more.
But likely as not, they can’t do what I do…at least not as easily or as well as I can.
Versatile as we may be, we’re serving a voiceover marketplace that usually has a narrow focus. In my own case, it’s a constant struggle to zero in on what the voice seekers are seeking…not the literally hundreds of voices and character variations I can come up with.
When I worked in radio, our small cadre of announcers/DJs would stretch vocally to match any mood or character or accent as best we could. Now with the internet, clients have plenty of the “real thing” to call on. No need to accept a “stretched” voice talent.
I’m not saying find one voice and one style and make everything you do sound the same (although there are people who’ve made a career of that). Do find and exploit every variation and offshoot within your range and style. Develop a core group of “voices” in your head you can easily switch between, should the copy or the director happen to throw you a curve…much like altering your basic look with a hat or other costume piece.
You’ll be making life easier for your potential client, who may need your specialty next time. Ultimately, it’ll make life easier for you too!
And if that means being the best darn Grunter or Screamer money can hire…go for it! I’ll be cheering you from the sidelines, saving my energy and vocal cords for when it’s my line.
— over and out —