I receive many e-mails each week from people wanting to break into the voice over industry. I sometimes find it difficult to explain just what it takes to make a living in this business. This morning I was thinking about it, and may have come up with a decent comparison.
I was watching the movie 'Funny Face' starring Fred Astaire and Audry Hepburn. It was released in 1957. My husband came into the room and remarked that I love watching old movies. I explained to him that I especially love old movies because the actors had to be multi-talented. They had to act, sing, dance, etc. Without special effects, the directors had to rely solely on the talents of the actors to carry the movie, and I love watching true talent!
Being a successful voice actor is much like being a successful actor in the 'old days'...the more well rounded you are, the more uses there will be for your services. For example, the most famous movie stars are able to transform into any character. In voice over, animation is not the only place where we transform. In the last week I've gone from a woman gabbing with her friends over lunch, to a 12 year old giving advice, to a mom reading a story to her children, to a voice selling a product. In these instances, it was less about 'changing my voice' and more about 'selling the real person'. None of these involved a silly cartoon voice, they were each very realistic and very different.
2008 has also brought about several projects that required me to sing. I am not a trained singer, and never thought much of my voice...but I decided that if I had the confidence to use my voice to speak, then I could be confident in my ability to carry a tune. Turns out I have a stronger voice than I thought I did! Like the legendary actors we admire, a voice actor must be willing to tackle any role, and never say 'I can't'. How can you know what parts you are right for if you aren't willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone?
While voice actors are rarely seen, there is a form of 'dancing' involved with each job. One of the many things Bob Bergen teaches in his class is to physically become the character. When I voice a child, I fidget like a child. When I voice a mom, I put my hand on my hip and an all-knowing smile in my voice. We also must be able to 'dance' with the mic- otherwise known as mic technique (something that must be taught by a coach in person).
A great actor on the big screen must clearly possess natural talent and drive, but the best have also spent a lifetime studying their craft. I've been studying voice acting for over a decade, and I am nowhere near done with my lessons. I believe learning never ends. Not only do I study with some of the best coaches, I try to take something away from each session I do. What can I do better, different? How can I continue to stand out from the crowd?
Being a voice actor is much, much more than having an interesting voice. Even with technology as it is, with the ability to alter voices and add effects, you want to give the producer as much to work with as possible. You want to be well rounded, multi talented, and endlessly flexible. That is what I believe it takes to be in this business, and I make this my goal each day.