voice coaching

The ONE Thing Every Client Is Listening For

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 24 Comments

Senator Bernie SandersFor once the pundits and the public agree.

Donald Trump has it, and so does Bernie Sanders.

But Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton definitely do not.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about what separates the pretenders from the real deal. It could determine the outcome of the presidential election, as well as the future of your career.

It is what clients are listening for when they make the decision to hire you or not. It’s something you cannot buy, and it’s almost impossible to fake.

What is it?

Authenticity.

Some dictionaries define it as “being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

Authenticity is often linked to being truthful and sincere. Presidential candidates need to convey to the electorate that they genuinely care, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum.

If politicians pick positions just to score points, or if they flip-flop in the hopes of becoming more electable, people get extremely suspicious. Commentators say it’s one of Hillary Clinton’s stumbling blocks on the road to the White House. Some voters feel that she is distant, calculated, and disingenuous.

Sanders and Trump, on the other hand, are seen as principled, passionate, and authentic.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

Authenticity also has to do with how well you hold up under external pressure. Some people prefer to conform to certain trends in society to live a more comfortable life. Others stand up for what they believe in, and fight for the truths they hold dear.

When I became a vegetarian in my mid teens, friends and classmates never wasted an opportunity to make fun of me. While I was asked to defend my choice over and over again, the meat eaters at the table never had to explain themselves. I still get comments from those who love beef and bacon about wearing leather shoes, and why that’s supposedly inconsistent with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Going against the grain is never easy, but at some point all of us need to answer this question:

Do I want to live a life of conviction, or a life of compromise?

The question is deceptively simple, but the answer is not. It depends on the context, and on one’s personality. In certain areas it is easier to give in and be flexible. But in other areas you and I are morally obliged to draw a line so we can stay true to ourselves.

SMOKE SCREENS

For instance, one of my voice-over colleagues was asked to do a cigarette commercial. The money was very good, and he could certainly use it to pay off some of his mounting credit card debt. Yet, as a staunch non-smoker, he had serious reservations about promoting an unhealthy product.

Colleagues told him not to worry. “Just because you’re lending them your voice doesn’t mean you are endorsing their brand,” they said. “Work is work. What you choose to do privately has nothing to do with it. Most people won’t even know that it’s your voice in the commercial.”

“But,” answered my colleague, “how could I possibly persuade others to buy tobacco products I so much despise? It would be one big lie.”

“Oh, come on,” said one of his closest friends. “You’re an actor. Actors lie. That’s what they do. And the best liars become millionaires and win Oscars. That is how the game is played.”

In the end my colleague decided not to take the job because it would feel hypocritical, as he put it, to help sell a product he hated, and that had killed his father and grandfather. But the story doesn’t end there.

Two days later he got an offer for an on-camera job. A new client wanted him to appear in a short video for a chain of health food stores.

“Any conflicts?” he asked.

“Well,” said the producer, “because the video is promoting a healthy lifestyle, they want to make sure that the actors they hire are not associated with campaigns endorsing alcohol and tobacco products. Are we good on that?”

“You bet,” said my colleague with a smile. “You bet!”

FINDING REPRESENTATION

There is another way in which the word “authentic” is often used in our business. One of my voice-over students wanted to know what she had to do in order to get an agent. What would a typical agent be looking and listening for?

“Definitively someone with an authentic sound,” I said.

“But what does that mean?” she asked. “How do I know I sound authentic?”

“Well,” I responded, “You’ve probably noticed that many people who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, believe they stand a chance because they’re good at impersonations. Others come to me doing an impression of what they think a voice actor should sound like. It’s usually a version of a stereotypical movie trailer voice. That’s not what agents want to hear. They’re not interested in a cliché.

Agents want to hear the real, unvarnished YOU. It’s the YOU only you can bring to the table.”

“But how do they know it’s me?” my student wanted to know. “They don’t know me.”

“Trust me, they know,” I said. “They know because when you’re authentic, you sound believable and honest. You’re not pretending to be someone else.

Most people try too hard to sound good. They overact. They over articulate. They fix the mix a million times until they sound unnatural. You now what I mean, don’t you?

Of course you need to be easily understood in order to do this job. Your plosives can’t pop, and you have to tame your sibilance. But that’s technique. Just as in music, a technically perfect performance can fail to move people because there’s no personality behind it. No heart. A true artist uses technique to support the creation of something magical and vulnerable. Something real.”

A SIMPLE REVELATION

“That’s easier said than done,” responded my student. “Where do I even begin? Since I started these coaching sessions I’ve become so self-conscious. I find it hard to read a script and not evaluate myself as I’m reading it. It’s very unhelpful, and I feel like a fake.”

“Wow,” I said. “If only you could hear yourself right now. That was phenomenal.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“This is the YOU I have been wanting to hear for quite a while now. This is the YOU I had hoped would come out.”

“But I wasn’t acting,” she said. “I was just talking to you.”

“Exactly,” I said. “You hit the nail on the head. You were not acting.

You’ve been trying way too hard for way too long. Relax! Take a deep breath. Soften the muscles in your face and in your neck. Smile for Pete’s sake. You’re taking this way too seriously.”

She looked at me as if I’d said something inappropriate. Then I continued:

“I want you to stop the internal dialogue, so you can focus on the external dialogue. Can you do that for a minute or two?”

She nodded.

“Let’s take a look at the first few lines of the script we’ve been working on, and TALK to me. Pretend it’s just you and me having a conversation.”

THE REAL YOU

After a while my student stopped and said: ”I don’t think this is working. I feel like I’m just phoning it in without making any effort. I don’t think I sound good at all.”

“How you think you sound, and how you actually sound, are two different things,” I said. “You can’t hear yourself the way I’m hearing you. That’s the problem. Shall I play the audio back to you?”

When she listened to herself for a moment, her mouth fell open. Literally.

“This DOES sound like me,” she admitted. “I had no idea… This is pretty amazing!”

“Allow me to let you in on a little secret,” I said.

“Great (voice) acting has nothing to do with acting. It has more to do with being. If you want to do this type of work and do it well, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself. If you’re not, people are going to pick up on that, just as they can tell when a politician is blowing smoke.”

“Oh, let’s not talk about politics,” said my student. “My authentic self doesn’t want to hear about that.”

“Fine by me,” I said. “I vote to continue this session at another time.”

“I’m not going to debate that,” my student replied.

“See you next week!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Bernie Sanders via photopin (license)


Top Voice Actor launches Internet Voice Coach

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet 2 Comments

Daniel Stern is known for his roles in films like “Hannah and her Sisters,” “City Slickers” and the first two “Home Alone” films. He’s also the narrator for the “The Wonder Years” and the voice of Dilbert in the animated TV series.

One day, Daniel got a script for a voice-over audition, and his mouth practically dropped to the floor when he read the specs:

“Must sound like Daniel Stern”

He’s thinking: “Piece of cake. This one’s in the bag!”

So, Stern goes to his booth; records a demo; sends it in…

…and doesn’t get the part!

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, because your name is not Daniel Stern. However, we’re all too familiar with the story of that brilliant audition we did, that disappeared into nothingness and left us wondering:

“What just happened? I knew I nailed it. Why didn’t I get the part? Was it something I said?”

OVERCOMING REJECTION

There are two ways of dealing with this sad smack in the face:

1. Tell yourself: “Those ignorant producers don’t know talent even when it’s staring them in the face. By not selecting me, they have proven themselves unworthy of my God-given artistic gifts to this world. It’s their loss; not mine. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m late for my pedicure.”

or you could

2. Ask yourself: “What did I miss? Was there anything I could have done or should have done, to turn this audition from ‘good’ into ‘great’?”

Let’s be honest. All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time. Without prior warning, we lose our “magic touch,” our “MoVo”. That Money Voice that used to sell so well ain’t doin’ it no more. Does that mean your career is over? Of course not. It just means that it’s time to take a step back and get a second opinion.

You see, most of us aren’t as good as Baron von Munchausen, who reportedly pulled himself up from the swamp by his own hair. Sometimes, we need someone who’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.

We need a Dr. Phil who listens to people playing the same old tapes inside of their heads over and over again, and who will “tell-it-like-it-is”.

Or perhaps we want to go with someone with more hair, more flair and with more experience in the voice-over industry. Someone like David Rosenthal.

David is not only a top voice-over talent, actor and director with over 25 years of experience; he’s also a sought-after voice coach and teacher. A few days ago, I had a chance to talk to him about his craft, his approach as a coach and about his latest endeavor: Internet Voice Coach.

ALL WORK, NO PLAY

Rosenthal: “I tell all my students that auditioning has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of their day. If you are worried about getting that job or needing to sound a particular way, then it will never happen, because then you’re judging yourself; you’re in your ‘work-mode.’ The whole point is that people who truly know how to take life in the most optimistic and playful way, are priming themselves for being wonderful voice actors.

I feel that a lot of people getting into voice-overs have forgotten how to play as adults. All the actors in this industry that have created and sustained careers for 25, 30, 35 years, have done so, because they know how to play. They know how to roll with it; to be creative and imaginative and they’re never too hard on themselves.

This is another great secret: when you’re playing, nobody can judge you. You are free. You can’t judge play. It’s creative, in-the-moment stuff. It is attractive. It’s what keeps clients coming back to us as voice-over professionals, because we know how to bring that sense of play to life for their products. They know it’s magic.”

BIRTH OF AN IDEA

Rosenthal received his BA in Theatre, Anthropology, and English Lit. from Sarah Lawrence College. He studied acting in NYC at Herbert Bergoff Studios and in San Francisco with Richard Seyd. He is a regular voiceover talent for Sony, Nintendo, Sega and for commercial radio, with over 600 voice-over credits to his name. David teaches Spokesperson trainings, the Art of Voice Acting and he is a staff member of the Kids-On–Camera Acting School in the Bay area. He continues:

“Students would come up to me after class and say: ‘Dave, if there was any way that you could bottle this up -not just the lessons but the way you in which you teach them- and put it on the internet or on a DVD, I would buy it in a second.’ That stuck in my head. So I decided to take this particular philosophy that I have about this industry and our art, and present it to as many people as possible, in an extremely informative manner.”

ON-LINE VOICE COACHING

Rosenthal kept his word. In 2010, he launched a brand new website called Internet Voice Coach (IVC). It’s an extensive on-line resource as well as a community that brings industry experts, trainers, students and voice-over veterans together. Rosenthal:

“The primary focus of the site is on PLAY. People often come to me saying: ‘Everyone tells me I have a real nice voice,’ and I tell them: That’s really wonderful but, when you talk about essential prerequisites for making it in this industry, a really nice voice is not one of them. It’s a great asset, but that, by itself, won’t cut it.

So, I started thinking of creating a website around the philosophy of play, but also having all the tools that are necessary to help people who are just getting started, as well as more specialized advice and tips for seasoned pros.

For instance, we have interviews with casting directors and we’re asking them: What are you looking for? Why did you hire me for this last job? What’s going on in the industry right now that people need to be aware of? What are some common mistakes that you hear in auditions?”

ACTING OUT

“When you go on the site, you don’t just see a bunch of people talking about the industry. You can watch me as I prepare for an audition, literally playing in front of you, messing up my face and my voice, joking around.”

Here’s David on keeping a voice consistent with a character:

DEMO CRITIQUE

Internet Voice Coach offers more than videos, how-to articles and interviews. Rosenthal:

“We have an incredible aspect to our site. It is something I do not believe any other site has out there in the voice-over world and that is: ongoing personal feedback.

When you become a yearly member, you will get 20 opportunities a year to send in a voice-over demo for an audition or practice files that you’re working on. You can send them as an MP3, and you’ll receive an MP3 from us, loaded with feedback.

The advantage to that over one-on-one phone coaching is that it’s very focused and it doesn’t cost $130. I’m trying to be conscious of people’s pocket books, and at the same time give them a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow (membership is $199 per year PS).

We also have monthly webinars. That means we’re live on video, and members can log in and join in. After we talk about a particular subject for about 45 minutes, we take questions.”

DREAM TEAM

IVC is David’s brainchild, but he teamed up with voice-over actor and coach Jason Klofstad, who just happens to be the voice of Apple computer. His other partner is Mary Windishar, a broadcast producer for over 20 years (Oprah Winfrey Show); a voice and on-camera talent for over 15 years and a prominent spokesperson for women in the field of voice-overs.

Then there’s a whole list of regular contributors such as Elaine Clark, author of “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is”.

David Rosenthal:

“The site is purposely called Internet Voice Coach and not Voice-Over Coach. It has modules on public speaking (featuring expert-in-residence Brian Collins) and articles on vocal health, overcoming rejection, marketing and much more.

Ultimately, IVC is a resource that isn’t just for learning the craft, but for staying on top of your craft. Had I had this site 25 years ago, I really would have been able to kick-start my career a lot faster. Why reinvent the wheel if you can learn from the best in the business?”

One of those people is actor Daniel Stern who was recently interviewed for the site.

He didn’t get the part, even though it his name written all over it.

I couldn’t help but wonder who eventually landed that gig.

Could it be… a certain David Rosenthal, perhaps?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I have joined the IVC team of contributors as a voice-over specialist on ‘all things international.’ If you enjoy this blog, please join me on IVC for exclusive content and industry insights. Click on this link for a sample interview with actress Claire Dodin.

PPS All work but no play? My next blog is about the dangers of becoming a workaholic…