By Stephanie Ciccarelli
September 8, 2010
Marc Cashman reveals three things that underlay all convincing voice acting: sincerity, smile and physicality. Learn more about how being sincere (truly!), smiling and movement can work together to create an amazing voice over performance.
Julia-Ann Dean: Welcome to Voice Over Experts brought to you by voices.com, the number one voiceover marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors, and performers in the field of voiceover. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voiceover talent. It's never been easier to learn, perform, and succeed from the privacy of your own home and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won't find anywhere else.
This week, voices.com is pleased to present Marc Cashman.
Marc Cashman: Hi, this is Marc Cashman. You know, over the years that I've been teaching voiceover techniques, I've revealed a number of very specific tips, tricks, and tools that you can use to help you a better voiceover actor. Now some of these are structural skills like breath and cadence control, articulation, eye-brain-mouth coordination. Others are aimed at acting methods, interpretation and taking direction. But there are three things that underlie all convincing voice acting; sincerity, smile, and physicality.
Let's talk about sincerity. You know, there's an old cynical saying that goes something like always be sincere even if you don't mean it. And though that may apply to social graces, it doesn't apply to voice acting. Sincerity is the bedrock of successful voice acting. It's what everything else is built upon, attitude, energy, appropriate projection, consistency, characterization, and emotions. It's the foundation that gives a voice actor the confidence to tell a story in a totally believable way.
Sincerity can actually be heard in the voice. It conveys a sense of trust, compassion, friendliness, approachability, and authority. It doesn't matter whether you're whispering or screaming, if you're sincere, you'll be believable. Conversely, if you're not sincere about what you're saying, people can hear the lack of it a mile away. You sound false, hollow, uncaring, flippant, and cynical. Sincerity can be heard in people who are interested, enthusiastic, or passionate in what they're talking about and who they are talking to. If you can't summon authentic sincerity, people will hear you just going through the reading motions so to speak, not connecting to what it is you're saying or to whom you're communicating.
Sometimes, you'll hear someone voice an ad that sounds like they don't give a damn about the product or service and you might think, hmm, that's interesting, I never would have done it that way. A few hip producers at a few renegade agencies called us anti-advertising trying to tap into the cynical side of the youth market. But this isn't the norm because most advertisers want to have a positive enthusiastic sound to their brand. On the other end of the spectrum sometimes you'll hear a voice totally gushing or puking about the product they're selling and their delivery makes you want to gag. Other times, you might hear someone exhorting you to buy something, shouting like a circus barker, demanding that you take action and come on down or call now. All of these approaches are completely lacking in sincerity and boy, can you hear it.
Sincerity is usually achieved by talking to just one person. Anything you narrate can be aimed at one person, you just need to summon the picture of that person in your mind and pretend you're talking to them, or you can literally talk to a picture by clipping one to your music stand. And you'll want to talk a person who fits the target audience. So if you're reading copy for a retirement home and your parents fit that target audience, talk to your mom and dad, providing you have a good relationship with them. If you're performing copy for a kid's toy and you have young kids, great, talk to them and if you don't have kids, pretend you're talking to your friend's kid. The bottom line, if you want to be believable, be sincere and mean it.
And that brings us to smile. Smile in voice acting is the element that permeates everything you read. You always have to discern the proper amount of smile you need to put into a read, trying to determine how much is appropriate to what it is you're talking about. Too much smile on a spot for a cancer center say or a cemetery would be inappropriate. Not enough smile for a spot for a doll for little girls or miniature racing cars for boys wouldn't fly. Smile permeates the known VO universe. It's like the background radiation of the big bang that scientists discovered when they listened in with radio telescopes. It's always there, you just have to decide how much or little is right for the copy you're reading.
I look at smile in terms of degrees from zero degrees to 360 degrees. On one end of the spectrum, zero degrees of smile is totally evil, though you could be sincerely evil and 360 of smile would be beatific. But most copy falls in between those extremes and it's up to you to make the right choice. The places where you have more latitude are in the areas of voiceover that call for characterization, videogames, animation, audiobooks, interactive content.
You can look at smiling on a timeline too. Younger listeners require more smile while older ones... well you get the picture. And of course, your smile or shall I say the sound of your smile varies depending upon your audience. It's the tone of voice that you use to speak to different people. You speak differently to younger children and older ones. You speak differently to your kids than your spouse, to your spouse than your parents, to your parents than your boss, etc. Smiling soothes and smoothes out the edges. A super deep or gruff voice that initially sounds scary can be softened instantly with a smile and conversely we also know how effective a smile is in signaling the intent of an evil character. And what's going to make your smile believable? Sincerity. See number one.
And finally, let's explore physicality. No one can see what your body does behind a microphone except the director and the engineer if you have one, but they can hear what it does because what you do with your body affects your voice. Whether you're sitting or standing, hunched over in a fetal position, or running in place, the things you do with your body causes your voice to either sound strained or excited, concerned or tired. Waving your arms, gesturing with your hands, pointing with your fingers, tensing your muscles, these movements and countless more will be echoed in your voice.
When you're standing, unless it's integral to the performance, try to remember not to inhibit yourself physically. In other words, don't cross or fold your arms, don't clasp your hands in front of you or behind you or just let them hang by your side. Use them. Gesticulation is really important behind the mic because people can't see you. Your message and meaning may come out of your mouth, but you need to use your body to help add another dimension to your interpretation.
If you're talking say about a number of things, count on your fingers, people can hear you. And if you're pointing out certain things, point with your fingers, they can hear that too. If you're calling to someone across the room, across the street, anywhere, wave your arms. If something calls for attention, tense up your body. You can do whatever you want with your body as long as your head stays on mic. Believe me, it'll come across in your voice.
And you know not everything calls for standing up. Many people assume that you have to stand for everything you perform, not so. A lot of things call for a warm, caring, intimate comforting read and sitting down is totally appropriate for those kinds of performances. They're what I call armchair reads, the more intimate storytelling style. Imagine sitting in an armchair in front of a fireplace talking with someone, that's a completely different dynamic than standing or sitting next to someone at a table or in a classroom explaining something to them. You'll still be gesticulating, but maybe not as much as you would when you're standing.
Use your arms and hands to help you with action words and phrases. For instance, if you had to say, hey, come over there, you should use your hand to motion that person over. If you had to say, stop right now, you could easily stretch out your arm with your hand upraised. Come over here and give me a hug, I need you to open your arms in a welcoming motion. Get the picture? All of these physical movements and more will add depth to your performance and therefore believability. And might I even say sincerity?
Oh, one last thing about physicality, it really helps to be as physically fit behind the microphone as possible. If you smoke or do a lot drinking, it really comes through in your voice. If you're out of shape, you'll run out of breath at the end of long sentences and tire easily. For long or difficult sessions, you may not have the stamina to be as strong at the end of your performance as you were at the beginning. Plus don't forget that sleep affects your performance too from energy to eye-brain-mouth coordination to hearing and taking direction. Getting a good night of sleep is crucial to a great performance. So the next time you get behind the microphone, make sure your body is in sync with your voice. People will hear it.
This has been Marc Cashman. Thanks for listening.
Julia-Ann Dean: Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this Voices.com podcast, visit the Voice Over Experts show notes at podcast.voices.com/voiceoverexperts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you're a first time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes podcast directory or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voiceover career online, go to voices.com and register for a voice talent membership today.
MARC CASHMAN creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television. Winner of over 150 advertising awards, he also instructs voice acting of all levels through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, CA. Enjoying the distinction of being one of the few voice-acting instructors in the U.S. who is on "both sides of the glass"-- he creates, casts and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television clients such as Kroger, Charles Schwab, Quizno's, Pella Windows and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer among many, many others.
In addition to his production schedule, he's been an instructor at USC Graduate School and does pro bono work for numerous charitable and public service organizations. He instructs voice-acting of all levels through his online and tele-coaching programs, his V-O classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in state-of-the-art studios in Los Angeles, CA, and produces voice demos. He also has a monthly online column, Ask the VoiceCat, plus blogs and podcasts through Voices.com, VoiceOverXtra.com and NowCasting.com.
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Voice Over Experts is the industry's most downloaded educational podcast featuring renowned voice over coaches from US, Canada and abroad. Join us each week for pearls of wisdom and tricks of the trade to improve your voice over career. Listen online or subscribe in iTunes to hear from leading experts in the field of voice-overs.