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Getting Locked In

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

As I look upon the struggles the world is currently encountering via the battle against COVID 19, I have had a lot of time while in' quarantine mode' to reflect on some of my own starting struggles in voice over. At a high level I think in my early development, I had the following three challenges:

  1. Determining how to get into the industry (a element of business sense).

  2. Understanding the dynamic between director and actor (a form of skill training).

  3. Getting locked into performances (a type of natural aptitude).

A few of these I have touched upon in previous blog posts, but I really wanted to talk about perhaps the biggest historical challenge of these three: getting locked into performances.

When I first began doing professional voice work, I was fortunate enough to be linked up with a director whom had an intense ear for delivery and emphasis. Through working with this director over hours it became clear that I lacked a capacity that was required for good voice delivery. Simply, I lacked the ability to hear the intricacies of my delivery, and in lacking this ability I ended up repeating the same vocal pattern and emphasis over and over while primarily only changing my volume and pace. This is getting locked in.

At this time in my voice development if I was delivering a line like, for example, "No! You eat those bananas!" I would naturally deliver it like the first example to the right, notice the up inflection (a natural tendency of Canadians I may add). If the director was not happy with my emphasis, I would attempt to address this by changing the line delivery using two strategies as shown in the bottom two examples: changing my volume on certain words and changing the length of time I would dedicate to specific words.

In this process I was missing a lot of elements I could utilize to make the read more interesting and genuine such as the ability to modify inflection, emphasis, emotional undertone, etc... All these elements would dramatically improve the performance of course, but I don't want to talk about those elements today.

At my time my problem wasn't my lack of ability to apply these different elements, it was deeper than that, it was a lack of ability to even hear the difference!

The problem with hearing these details or not, is the capability to hear is something that comes about over time and is beyond the scope of simply understanding direction (similar to hearing the difference between levels of audio quality). When I was encountering this issue, just because I understood exactly what the director was asking me didn't mean I could hear what he heard and pick up on it. This was very challenging to overcome as a developing voice actor. And for me this was a challenging line of towering speed bumps in my development... which I eventually overcame through various strategies (receiving coaching, coaching others, and through completing work).

I now utilize a process to ensure this old habit doesn't rear its ugly head in sessions, when I read a script or text I look at it like its a puzzle rather than a melody. I endeavour to intentionally never read it the same way twice, constantly changing my emphasis, inflection, flow, and pace until I find the read that fits the vision. I look at the words, the punctuation, and the context and I ask myself "How can I make this sound different?" I take the making it sound good out of the equation, and focus on variety.

As a matter of fact, even now when I am in recording sessions at moments when I am not being recorded I will often still walk through the read, focusing in making it sound different and unique on each pass within the appropriate context of the medium. After all, I would argue, in general it is less of a struggle making something sound the same, than it is making something sound different! Utilizing this puzzle outlook and process, ensures you stay fresh on your reads, and if you land on a read you like it is easy enough to make adjustments at this time.

This is a simple yet effective process I use to this day to stay fresh on reads, but that also helped me understand and counter my historical tendency to get locked in on a read. If you are like I was, and currently struggling regarding the breadth of your reads, give this process a try and let me know how it lands!


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