What It’s Like to do a Voiceover
In Short: Attention to detail.
Voice actors are everywhere: radio and television, audio books, video games, animation, documentaries, you name it. You get a limited time to paint a picture with words, and in the case of radio you get just 30 seconds.
It starts with an audition. I get the lines they want me to read, known as “sides,” and I submit an audio file of my best “read.”
Once I get the gig I’m invited to the recording studio, assuming all physical distancing protocols are followed. There’s an audio engineer who does the recording, editing and mixing, and a director. The client may also be in the room, but they usually listen in remotely.
Like all acting gigs, the director is the boss. If the client has a request for me, they go through the director.
I am a member of a union called ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), so there are rules they must follow. The session cannot exceed a certain number of hours, I must be given refreshments as needed (water is your friend), and I must be paid fairly. The rules are there to protect my voice so that I don’t destroy it and can’t work for three days afterwards (a real problem with video game actors).
Once I’m in the booth, I put on headphones so I can hear the director (and myself), and stand a certain distance behind the microphone and pop filter. I might ask them to adjust the volume as needed. The microphone is extremely sensitive, so clothing choice is important. I put the script in front of me on a lectern so I can read it. I am expected to mark up the script beforehand with pen or pencil to guide my performance, and add notes from the director as needed.
When the recording starts, all I can hear is my voice. This takes some getting used to. It’s also extremely useful for matching pitch and cadence if I’m “punching in” (revising a small section of the script). A take might be the whole script or just a portion of it. I never nail the first take, but some actors do. You don’t want to waste time but you also don’t want to rush it and make mistakes.
Between takes I sit on a stool while they listen to the playback. I’ll be asked to redo sections in different ways, with different cadence, emphasis, pronunciation, sometimes even accent. I was born in South Africa so I might struggle with saying certain words in “general American.”
At the end of the session, the engineer will play back the entire recording so I can hear it. If I’m matching lip flaps in animation, or voicing a video, they’ll play back the picture as well.
I’ve voiced video games, radio ads, documentaries, and corporate videos. An average recording session takes about two hours, and at the end of it I need a throat lozenge, but I love it. I plan to do an audio book sometime soon.