James Arnold Taylor

The Devil Is In The Delivery

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 19 Comments
Voice actor James Arnold Taylor

James Arnold Taylor

There’s no doubt about it.

The repugnant R-word is one of the most dreaded words in the business, if not in life.

We all have a deep desire to be accepted, to belong, to be loved, and to be recognized.

Many people aim to please, hoping for a warm reception, only to receive a cold shoulder.

Rejection can be a terrible thing, especially when you have no clue why you’re being rejected.

Yet, if you want to become a (voice) actor, you must accept the fact that most jobs you audition for, you will never get. No reasons given.

That’s not unkind or unfair. It just is.

“But…” say my students, “rejection would be so much easier to take, if only the client or the casting director would tell me why I didn’t make the cut. It would allow me to correct my mistakes, and grow from the experience.”

At that point I usually take a deep breath and tell them:

“That casting director or client does not owe you an explanation. He or she is not your mentor. If you need feedback, hire a coach. If you need validation, ask your fans. And if you can’t get over the fact that you weren’t selected, perhaps you should pick another profession.”

This is not a business for the thin-skinned, or for those who thrive on rational explications. Quite often, casting decisions are based on budgets, gut feelings, past experience and, -dare I say it- nepotism. This business is as subjective as it gets (just as this blog is, by the way).

Although we’ll never be able to penetrate the voice-seeker’s psyche, I do know why some of you were never hired.

Narrowing it down to voice casting, here are a few obvious reasons:

  1. You did not follow simple audition instructions. 
  2. You were unable to deliver professional quality audio.
  3. Your voice wasn’t right for the project.
  4. Your rate was too high or too low.
  5. You weren’t able to convincingly deliver the lines.

In my book Making Money In Your PJs, freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, I’ve written extensively about most reasons, and how to overcome them. Because this blog post is part of a series on delivery and performance, let’s focus on number five.


In previous articles I’ve already stressed the importance of clear, clean, convincing, and consistent delivery. Today I want to discuss whether or not your vocal performance is context and content appropriate. It’s one of the secrets to winning more auditions.

By context I mean the situation in which something happens; the setting of an event that allows you to understand what is going on.

If your delivery does not support the context of the script, it will contradict the content.

Let me give you a few examples.

If the context is e-Learning, and your delivery is too casual, you’ll lack credibility, and learners will be more likely to disregard what you’re supposed to teach them. If you’re auditioning to narrate a rich historic novel and your tone is all business, your demo will be history before you know it. 

One of my students had hoped to narrate her favorite adult mystery novel, and she spent hours on her audition. When the author told her she’d completely missed the mark, my student was peeved and puzzled, but when I listened to her audition, there was no mystery. She sounded like she was reading to a group of children. Her delivery wasn’t context and content appropriate.

And what about commercials?

Most advertisers have figured out that their target market doesn’t want to be sold. Their market wants to be told, preferably by someone the listener can relate to. That’s why many scripts require a natural, conversational read. If you, however, submit an announcer-read, there’s a mismatch between the conversational nature of the copy and your delivery. It’s a sure way to lose an audition.

These examples speak for themselves, and you may wonder why voice-overs might make these basic mistakes. I’ll tell you.

  • Some people don’t take the time to do their homework.
  • Some people don’t realize how they come across.
  • Some people don’t know how to use their voice properly.
  • Some people have no sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people have an inflated sense of their strengths and limitations.
  • Some people are afraid to let loose and experiment.
  • Some people have little or no acting skills/experience.


This also brings me back to what we discussed last week in The Big Secret To Audio Book Success. In this article I mentioned one of the classic beginner mistakes:

  • Some people believe that in order to make it as an audio book narrator or in animation and video games, they have to be good at doing impressions.

James Arnold Taylor nailed it when he said: 

“It seems most people believe voice-over acting is simply talking into a microphone and doing funny voices. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In voice-over all you have to convey every type of emotion is your voice. Making faces or using your hands and body to express yourself is great, but nobody gets to see that in voice-over.

Acting is the most crucial skill, and there is a large divide between acting and mimicking. Just because you can imitate others doesn’t mean you can just go out and do what they do. You must know how to make what you’re reading in a script sound as though it is free flowing from you.

You also have to be able to read things “cold,” meaning having never seen them before. Most voice acting is done with a script you’ve received a few minutes before the recording session begins. You have to be extremely flexible with your emotions and your attitude. It is a very demanding profession yet very rewarding if you’re dedicated to it.”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to listen to demos of voice actors who were trying to sound like… other voice actors, regardless of the content or the context of the copy. Mark my words:

Let the script speak to you first, before you open your mouth!

Then you decide on tone, tempo, volume, pitch, and perhaps accent. 

Forget impersonations, no matter how good you may think you are. Casting directors don’t want more of the same, unless they need a voice match for an existing character. Most of them are looking and listening for three things: authenticity, originality, and versatility. You have to come up with unique voices that are appropriate in the context of a particular production. 

Now, allow me to make one or two more points before I bring this to a close.


There is another reason why some (voice) actors won’t make it past the audition, regardless of their talent. I blame it on lack of information. Without a map, it’s hard to get to one’s destination. Without a backstory, it is tough to create a character, and to strike the right tone.

These days, clients are giving less and less info about the projects they need a voice for. This is particularly true for those clients using online casting services. 

How helpful is a description like this:

Male, English, neutral, Mid-Atlantic.”

It is as if clients expect us to read their minds.

Sorry, but most voice-overs aren’t psychic. That’s a prediction I can confidently make.

Unless and until we get a better sense of how clients would like us to sound, it’s hard to give them what they’re hoping to hear. That’s why it is so important to ask clients to clarify the context. Unfortunately, that’s not always allowed or possible.

Let me tell you another casting secret that makes your job as voice-over even harder.

Some clients have no idea what they want, until they hear the perfect voice. Then, everything falls into place. All you can do for an audition, is to be your best self, and to have fun with the copy. 

One last thing.

If you’re new to this field and you’ve recently been rejected, please remember this:

Just because you’ve failed to land that job, doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

There are many variables in the casting process you have no influence over. You can only control the things that you can change. 

My student who didn’t get to narrate her favorite mystery novel, was hired to record an amazing children’s book. It opened the door to opportunities she hadn’t even considered, and she told me yesterday:

“I’ve learned to never dwell on the jobs I didn’t get. It’s pointless. Instead, I focus on the things I can do today to become even better at what I do, and I have never felt happier!”

How’s that for a storybook ending?!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: gordontarpley via photopin cc

PS You didn’t think this article only applied to voice-overs, did you?

PPS You may have noticed that my blog has reached a milestone recently. I now have over 37,000 subscribers! If you’re one of them, I want to thank you for coming back again and again to read my musings. It means the world to me!

The Big Secret To Audio Book Success

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 29 Comments

Jim Dale in "Barnum."Heroes and role models.

We all have people we admire because they inspire.

One of my heroes happens to be a dancer, singer-songwriter, comedian, stage and screen actor, as well as a first-rate audio book narrator.

Like me, he is a naturalized U.S. citizen. One of the songs he wrote the lyrics to, was nominated for an Oscar. He received five Tony Award nominations, and won one for Barnum. He also has two Grammy’s.

In July of 2014, aged 78, he finished a twelve week one-man show about his career at the Laura Pels Theater in New York called “Just Jim Dale.”

I’m sure you know Jim Dale as the narrator of the Harry Potter series in the U.S. (Stephen Fry narrated the UK version). For his voice work Dale received ten Audie Awards, and twenty-three Audio File Earphone Awards.

Dale previously held the record for creating and recording 134 different characters portrayed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The new record holder is Roy Dotrice -aged 91- with 224 voices for A Game of Thrones.

This is what the AudioFile magazine wrote about Dale:

“When J.K. Rowling has Hagrid boom, Dumbledore hum, and Aunt Marge belch, listeners can hear exactly what that sounds like, thanks to Jim Dale’s spellbinding narration. He gives voice to every wizard, muggle, house elf, goblin, giant, and hundreds of other characters who pass through Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and the other magical environs of the Harry Potter series. He is a major part of why these fantastical volumes are among the top-selling audiobooks of all time.”


This begs the question: Is there a secret to Jim Dale’s mastery? Fortunately, he gave us the answer. Dale said:

“Good acting is consistency of performance.”

The ability to deliver the same quality over a period of time is one of those things that separates the professional from the pretender, whether it is in sports, music, the culinary arts or in (voice) acting.

If you want your performance to be credible, you have to be consistent.

This may seem obvious, but as in many things in life, it is easier said than done. Imagine having to come up with 134 different character voices, knowing that many of them will return in a series of seven books.

In a motion picture, these characters are portrayed by different actors. The audio book narrator is on his or her own, and has to create and recreate these characters accurately over a period of time. It’s a daunting task, and quite a responsibility.

In an article on authentic listening, Junko Yokota and Miriam Martinez said the following:

“The audiobook narrator plays a role similar to that of a translator of a book from one language to another. A good translator can make a big difference in the reading experience through word choice and passage interpretation; likewise, the audiobook narrator helps mediate the story for the listener by selecting what tone to take, what types of voices to give to characters, what to emphasize, and how to engage the listener.”

There’s a big difference between reading into a microphone, and telling a story. Great narrators like Jim Dale are storytellers who take you on a journey you never want to end. And by the way, this doesn’t only apply to audio books. Sometimes, a twenty-second script for a commercial is a short story in and of itself.


These days, some voice-over coaches are trying to drum up business by telling prospective students that audio books and video games are booming. They are right. We’re living in the golden age of the spoken book, and successful video games make way more money than Oscar-winning movies.

Hordes of hopefuls sign up for voice-over classes because they believe they have the pipes casting directors are waiting for. Many of these beginners are making two big mistakes:

  1. They believe that in order to make it as an audio book narrator or in animation and video games, they have to be good at doing impressions.
  2. They think that being able to sing one song, makes them ready to perform an entire opera.

In the Documentary I Know That Voice, voice actor James Arnold Taylor had this to say:

“It’s not about ‘I can do Christopher Walken, I can do Johnny Depp, I can do Michael J. Fox.’ That’s great, but can you do ANYTHING as them? Can you stay in that voice for hours; scream in that voice for four hours?”

In other words: consistency is key. Consistency and stamina.


Like Jim Dale, you have to have the ability to stay in character, and then switch character and get back to the first character, while introducing a third. And you do this for hours at a time in a space smaller than a prison cell. Dale is usually in the studio from 10:30 am until 5:30 pm, recording twenty pages an hour for two weeks to record one book (source). This requires serious training, serious preparation, and serious self-care.

If you’re new to the business and want to break into audio books, I dare you to record for even one hour straight, and find out how your voice feels at the end. Does it still sound the same? Could you continue for another hour, or are you exhausted; do your vocal folds feel raw, and do you need a few hours to recover? If so, you’re not ready to meet that 3-week deadline for this 700-page novel you just agreed to narrate at $100 per finished hour (a ridiculously low rate by the way).


Gary Cantona, the voice builder

Gary Catona

There’s a reason why some VO-pros like James Arnold Taylor study with Gary Catona. Catona calls himself the “voice builder,” and he has worked with Andrea Bocelli, Usher, Shakira, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Bennett, and many others. He approaches voice building as a sport, and encourages his students to train the voice like an athlete trains his muscles. 

You can read about his method in his book “A Revolution in Singing.” Gary also developed an iPhone/iPad Voice Building App ($4.99) with over twenty voice building sessions, exercises, and video demonstrations for singing and speaking voices.

A few years ago he did a talk at Google, and if you’re interested in his work and his philosophy, you can watch it on YouTube when you click this link. At 26:34 Catona answers a question from a voice-over artist in the audience. 


Being consistent as a (voice) actor means more than being able to do marathon recording sessions, and staying in character(s). Pacing is important too. If you’re reading your lines too fast, the listener has no idea of what’s being said. If you’re too slow, the listeners’ mind will start to wander.

It also means being able to deliver audio files of consistent professional quality. People like Jim Dale go to a studio and work with an audio engineer, and perhaps a director. Most narrators do not have that luxury. They run a business out of a walk-in closet, hoping the dog next door won’t start to bark. They self-direct, self-record, and they edit every minute of every file. One hour of finished audio can take many hours to complete.

Dale realizes how much work goes into the production of an audio book. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, he told reporter Rochelle O’Gorman:

“The magic of the Harry Potter books is really in the hands of the editors and engineers. They take all the mistakes that I make – and I make thousands of them – and edit them out, and splice the tape reading into such a beautifully seamless production. They’re the geniuses; they’re the ones that we should applaud because nobody knows how much work they have to do.”

Credit where credit is due, but at the same time, Dale gave those engineers something magical to work with:

Constant, consistent brilliance.

And that’s why he is one of my heroes!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS When this story was first published, I received the following message from Jim Dale:

“So many thanks for the words you have written about me, truly embarrassing. I also wish to congratulate you on all your work in the narrating world, very impressive. I have also traveled through your website, really amazing. My thanks again for writing about me and my sincere best wishes in whatever you choose to become involved in next. Jim”

PS This is part 5 in my series on performance and script delivery. You can read part 1 by clicking on this link, and part 2 by clicking on this link. Click here for part 3. If you’d like to read part 4, please click here.