I often have people who are interested in getting into the VO world ask me … why do you work with a voice coach? If you’re getting the work and pulling in a paycheck, why take classes or participate in workshops?
Similarly, I have clients who respond in surprise when they learn that voice actors regularly work with coaches. In their minds, do they wonder if we’re not qualified because we’re taking a class or working with a coach?
For these reasons, I’m compelled to explain why working with a voice coach is so incredibly valuable … for both the voice actor AND the person who is hiring them.
1. First, the trends are ever-changing. You don’t hear the booming voice that hollers “Sunday … Sunday … Sunday” to promote the monster truck rally anymore. At the same time, the commercial promoting the latest cleaning solutions, the at-home meal kits or the best place to buy outdoor furniture does not sound like the evening news reporter. That’s because the trends in voiceover today are different. Tomorrow they’ll be different than they are today. During the height of the pandemic, clients wanted a voice that sounded empathetic, concerned, caring. These days, the casual, off the cuff ‘millennial voice’ is popular. Why? Perhaps because millennials are now doing the hiring. If it wasn’t for those who are immersed in the industry, who work with the agents and the studios, how would voice actors know that clients these days want a little more … imperfection … in their voice? Or that nonchalance is often preferred over enthusiasm? Working with a coach keeps you current, and that results in better auditions, which leads to more jobs booked, and more happy clients who are getting the sound they may not even realize meets the current trend.
2. It’s really easy to get into a rhythm with your reads (especially if it’s eLearning or longer format projects). After page 15 of the script on proper installation of an HVAC unit, my voice can sound a little “sing-songy”. Often, a voice talent doesn’t even realize the patterns they may have fallen into. Coaches catch all those bad habits, help make you aware of where you’re falling short, and help you correct it.
3. Your voice is an instrument. Many in this industry start out as musicians, singers or actors who have had vocal training. Others, like myself, get into this business perhaps having spent years behind the microphone, but not knowing how to use the most important tool we bring to the table. Our voice. A coach can help regulate breathing so long format eLearning or documentary projects are smoother, with no gasping for breath halfway through. In addition, too much VO can damage a voice actors’ vocal cords. A good coach can teach you not only how to avoid long-term damage, but how to prevent it in the first place.
4. Doctors participate in continuing education; teachers attend regular workshops to perfect their skill; actors take part in classes to constantly hone their acting skills. Even long-haul drivers must test and stay on top of the laws in order to keep their license. Why wouldn’t a voice actor do the same? You may not need a license to continue working, but you just can’t dispute the gain you’ll get from continuing to learn. The coach I’m working with right now has taught me how to channel the storyteller, put myself in the middle of the action, and become truly connected to the story I’m telling, the content I’m “teaching”, or the corporation that I’m producing an explainer for. He’s giving me a different way to look at a script, connect with it, and in turn, deliver a better, more heartfelt read.
5. From a client standpoint, hiring voice talent who regularly train with coaches provides many benefits, including the fact that they’re likely more up to speed on what you may not even realize you want, more aware of the trends and capable of providing multiple options of a read because they’ve been trained on multiple ways to deliver a script. If they’ve worked with a voice coach on mechanics of their delivery they likely can get it right without spending too much time in the booth on re-takes. This means they get your product to you faster and it sounds better.
A quick note on finding a voice coach: There are many options available and many people claiming to be voice coaches, but they’re not all created equal. Like any industry, there are those who have spent years working in voiceover and are more than capable of helping you get to places with your voice that you didn’t even realize were possible. On the other hand, there are those who will promise you that after a handful of sessions, you’ll be ready to record a demo and hit the ground running. Be leery of them. Voice Acting is a skill. You can’t read the rules and be ready to play. It takes a lot of practice. For me, years (okay … two decades) after first stepping behind a microphone, I can assure you, I am still learning. I credit the coaches I’ve worked with for helping me grow my career.
Another note on voice coaches: Unlike any other industry I know, in voiceover students and aspiring talent often have access to the best of the best. The working professionals who are at the top of their game are often available to work as voice coaches. It’s akin to learning how to race a car from NASCAR champ Kyle Busch, or taking acting lessons from Tom Cruise. I’ve trained with the man who was the promo voice of CBS News, the guy who fronted well known TV campaigns like Entertainment Tonight, The E! True Hollywood Story, and NBC’s The Biggest Loser, and a highly sought-after voice of many top commercials (one of which aired during last year’s Superbowl). In my opinion, it’s rare and special to be able to learn from those who are in the place you someday want to be. You won’t meet a more generous and humble group of people than those in the voiceover industry. Use them, learn from them, and when you’re a big-name voice over, pass on your skills to the next group of aspiring talent. But whatever you do, don’t stop learning.