The Devil Is In The Delivery

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?

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career

19 Responses to The Devil Is In The Delivery

  1. Hubert Williams

    Paul, You always seem to hit me hard with reality. Thank you for that. It gives me strength to keep working on myself.


  2. Natalia

    Paul, I admire your posts and it’s always a pleasure to read them. Thank you!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s a pleasure to read your comment, Natalia!


  3. Priya

    This is gold. Thank you so much. Now my job is to find out if this fits in the context of Indian voiceover industry and do some research.


  4. Rick Lance

    Nice job again, Paul! All you’ve said here supports what I believe and can sum up in one phrase. And what has worked and still works for me… “Know thyself, know thy voice!”

    Do whatever it takes to get to this point. It will be your best way to stay on top of your field and ensure you keep working.That’s the best you can do!


  5. Ted Mcaleer

    Always great information, on time and on target.


  6. Steven Jay Cohen

    Well said Paul. And timely too. I was taking a break from the copy before recording an audition.


  7. Anna Castiglioni

    Great advice, Paul! Regarding sounding “authentic,” I can’t help but wonder about all those car commercials with the stereotypical excited, high-voiced valley girl voice practically begging you to come to the sale. Those all sound the same. And do they work?? Not on me! (And oh! Let me count the reasons).


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Anna! To me, these commercials have the opposite effect. I tune them out. Then again, I’m an avid Public Radio listener who cut the cable a long time ago. I’d like to live my life commercial-free as much as possible.

    I’ve explored the notion of authenticity in an earlier story you may like:


  8. Pingback: Defining the IT-Factor | Nethervoice

  9. Debbie Irwin

    Maybe bold and bald is a place you should explore….


  10. Debbie Irwin

    I never tire of reading your sage advice.
    You’re like Seth Godin- stating things that appear obvious only after you say them.

    After spending some time with the wonderful and brilliant casting director, MaryLynn Wissner, I’d add her advice that when faced with minimal direction on the specs, it’s license to be as creative as you’d like.



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great advice from MaryLynn, and wonderful words from you, Debbie. If I become too much like Seth Godin, please tell me. I want to be bold but not bald!


  11. Marlene Bertrand

    You give excellent advice. I actually went into this profession prepared for rejection. Good thing, because I certainly got a fair share of it. But, I’m still here because I absolutely love the jobs I do get. To me, your best advice is, “…be your best self, and to have fun with the copy.”


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It is such a joy to read your comments and compliments, guys. You know I’m not fishing for applause, but it is gratifying to know that my words seem to sink in, and cause people to pause and think.

    I have to agree with my friend Mike Harrison on movement and facial expressions. I’ve seen James Arnold Taylor in action, and I know he can’t stand still in the studio. The point he was making was that these movements have to be translated into the vocal performance. Otherwise they’re meaningless gestures. Motion leads to emotion.


  12. Debbie Grattan

    Another winner, PS! You never fail to deliver terrific content, and zero in on the point with laser-like accuracy. I enjoy the way you don’t pull punches in your writing, but really lay it on the line. And yet, your compassion shines through as well. Another dose of reality for seasoned and new voice talent alike.


  13. mattforrest

    “If you can’t get over the fact that you weren’t selected, perhaps you should pick another profession.”

    Probably the best piece of advice one can give to a newcomer! Just like with writing, I think way too many folks are blindsided by how much rejection is involved…and when you’ve been told all your love ‘what a great voice you have!’ or ‘you should write professionally!’ it’s a shock to the system.

    I also agree that when auditioning, context is everything – if we don’t have all the info we need, auditioning is often little more than a crap shoot.


  14. Mike Harrison

    Another fine bit of wisdom from Paul. We can’t dwell on why we didn’t land a role. We must move on or the anguish and self-doubt will become an anchor.

    With all due respect to James Arnold Taylor, I must clarify one thing he said: “Making faces or using your hands and body to express yourself is great, but nobody gets to see that in voice-over.” Actually, while being animated when reading a script is not seen, it *IS* heard in our delivery. From something as simple as a smile to completely contorting the face and even more, body language most certainly comes across in a read.

    With that in mind, whether for a real person or animation character role, to create a completely genuine, believable read, we must first concentrate not on the voice but on the character. Who is the character, who is he or she speaking to, what is the back-story (the events leading up to the scenario in the script) and more. All these things work to help create a real character. And, if our acting skills are good, that is heard in our delivery.

    This is why the client spec Paul quoted above is only half of what we need to know. “Male, English, neutral, Mid-Atlantic” tells us only what qualities the voice should have; it says nothing about who the character is. This is like giving a painter a palette, a canvas and a brush but no paint.

    Many times, the copy will give us clues as to who the character is.

    But, whether we have enough information to create a believable character or not, all we can do is our best with what we have. Then we submit the audition and forget about it, moving on to the next project.


  15. Jay E. Henrie

    You know, I’ve read variations of this information plenty of times…but never quite like yours, sir. I really appreciate the way you’ve tackled the common pitfalls one can trip into.



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