How do you future-proof your voice over career?
That’s one of the most important things you should ask yourself, in a time where rapidly evolving Artificial Intelligence is driving the latest text to speech software. The makers of this software have started advertising that their clients will never have to hire an expensive voice over again.
You may think this sounds rather preposterous, but consumers are already used to these artificial voices. For them it’s not a matter of “Are these fake voices any good?” It’s a matter of: “Are they good enough?”
THE COVID EFFECT
I’m sure you’ve also noticed that during the pandemic the interest in voice acting has increased exponentially. When you audition for a job on a casting site like Bodalgo, you’re greeted with the message “Due to the effects of Covid-19 (Coronavirus), we are seeing a higher number of auditions per job than usual.”
Every week I get at least a few emails from people asking me how to get started in the business. Add to that the number of out of work on-screen and stage actors, desperately looking for opportunities.
So, more and more people are coming for your jobs, and so is technology. I want to know: what are you going to do about it?
If you wish to future-proof your voice over career, you need at least three elements to be in place, summarized in two simple words:
- You have to be able to consistently produce professional quality audio from a home studio that can be connected to other studios in the world. This means your recording session cannot be interrupted by a leaf blower or the neighbor’s pitbull. This requires an acoustically-treated, soundproofed space, quality gear, as well as a reliable internet connection.
- You must have a solid online presence allowing clients to easily find you, hire you, and pay you.
- You need to have the talent and skillset to truly connect with the copy and inhabit a whole cast of characters other than yourself. In other words: simply reading a text into a microphone without making mistakes isn’t going to cut it. Any machine can do that. You need to have acting chops. To use a musical metaphor: you can teach a computer to reproduce the correct notes, but you can’t teach it to make music.
There are plenty of good paying jobs in the voice over world, but not for any amateur with a USB mic and a voices dot com account. Clients with big budgets are constantly looking for voice over ACTORS. Not voice over robots. Audio book publishers are always searching for that one unique talent who can bring a cast of characters to life.
VOCAL and ACTING TRAINING
I have good news and bad news for you.
The bad news is: most voice overs are not voice ACTORS. Voice overs read scripts. Voice actors perform roles.
The good news?
There are people who are trained to bring out the actor in you. People like soprano Kelly Glyptis, for example. Her background uniquely qualifies her to work with voice talent. You see, voice overs don’t necessarily need an acting coach who prepares students for the big screen or the stage. They need someone who knows all about flexing the vocal folds.
Kelly Glyptis was eleven or twelve when her voice teacher handed her the song “Caro mio ben.” She was doing musical theater at the time, and wasn’t at all interested in singing some stuffy old song in italian. “Do it anyway,” the teacher said, and for Kelly, it was love at first sound.
When she was fourteen, she saw a production of “Suor Angelica” a one-act opera by Puccini. Kelly told me: “I immediately decided that one day I would be up on stage singing the title role.”
Fast forward to 2020.
Glyptis just won the Audience Choice Award at the TCO Next Competition, a virtual vocal competition organized by Tri-Cities Opera. She’s also a finalist in the 2020 John Alexander National Vocal Competition, and she’s made it to the final round of the Music International Grand Prix.
But Glyptis sings more than opera.
At the beginning of the year, Kelly was still on the North American National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof as Fruma Sarah. Her other musical theater credits include The Mother Abbess Cover (The Sound of Music) with the North American National Tour, and Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins), The Witch (Into the Woods), Morticia (The Addams Family), and Anita (West Side Story) with The Prizery Theatre.
Before I talked to Kelly about the work she does with voice over colleagues, I wanted to know more about her background. Our conversation started with this question:
When someone seems to be as talented as you are, some people say it’s just a matter of luck. You were lucky to be born with a voice like yours. What is it that these people are not getting?
Kelly: Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with the phrase “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and I think that perfectly sums up a lot of any artistic career. There’s no denying that “natural talent” is a thing, but it will only get you so far. I think what people don’t see is the amount of time, training, resources, and sacrifice; not to mention the fact that we go through more rejection on a weekly basis than most people do in a year… or five.
I have two degrees where I studied and trained in music theory, history, languages (Italian, German, French), diction (Italian, German, French, English, Russian), dance, combat, fencing, lighting design, directing, conducting, and so much more. I practice and/or study every single day; there’s no such thing as a day off in my world.
My mother was a professional dancer and choreographer, so I was basically born performing. She’s been the artistic director of Pied Piper Theatre in Manassas Virginia since I was born, and I grew up going to rehearsals and helping in the office; it really gave me perspective of the theatrical life as a whole.
My mother has always believed that training never stops and you can’t ever know enough about your craft– not just singing, but technical theater, clowning, stage combat, management, marketing…you name it, I’ve done it. I decided quite young that this was what I wanted to do, and my mom was never shy to tell me the tough side of it.
One of the most beneficial things she ever did was recuse herself from every audition I ever did for the company. I didn’t make it into shows, I did tons of chorus roles, and I understudied. It wasn’t great at the time, but looking back I am so glad she let me be rejected and experience that because being told no is a huge part of this career.
What kept you going when things were tough? Was there something you kept telling yourself to prevent you from giving up?
This question is always the big one. Like I said, I don’t think people really realize how much time and resources go into trying to make a career on top of life in general. I have been chipping away at a $56,000 student loan, even though I worked two and three jobs all through my undergrad and grad degrees and had scholarships and assistantships.
Plus, during the decade of my 20’s I had four major surgeries (two nearly fatal) that racked up huge medical bills. My mother helped me as much as she could with everything, but she is a single parent with three children working at least two jobs (she is currently 70 working three jobs, seven days a week), so it was a huge burden on her that I recognize every day.
A big and tangible thing I have personally given up is having a home; I am always ready to get up and go wherever I need to be for an audition, gig, etc. It is wonderful to travel, but I think people see me all over the world thinking I am on vacation and out enjoying the city or something.
I have actually never been on a real vacation in my teen or adult life and every time I travel, I am working. I have so many incredible people all over the world who open their homes to me and make me feel like part of the family, but it’s not the same as actually going “home”. Fun fact: I haven’t paid rent since 2014. What makes it all worth it and why?
I could give you some standard answers but, honestly, I don’t know. It just is. It’s what makes me human; it’s what makes us all human. Whenever humans are in pain we play or create. When we are happy, we play and create. Think of this pandemic. What do you do when you can’t handle the Facebook doom scrolling anymore? Do you sit in a bath or go for a run and listen to music? Put on a movie? Play video games? Read a book? Write a song? Journal? Draw? It’s just human, and the way I’m human is singing.
I don’t think anything could stop me from singing and, believe me, I’ve had people try. My mother said (and still reminds me), “it’s not about being the most talented every day; it’s about being the one who stays and refuses to give up. Don’t let anyone take away your dreams and goals.” Never leave, and never let anyone tell you to go.
Back to the awards I mentioned in my introduction. You won the Audience Choice Award in a virtual competition. Ironically, you performed in front of a webcam without an audience. What did you do to connect with the viewers and judges?
I am not a big fan of singing in front of a camera with no audience or scene partner to be honest, but in the end it’s all about relationships. Connecting with an audience, for me, is done only by truthfully living in the circumstances rather than “pretending.” In a performance, if my husband is about to kill me and I’m appealing to him to let my son see me one last time (as in the scene in the aria “Morro, ma prima in grazia”), I’m not going to stare at a camera with my arms to my side or collapse to the floor yelling as loudly as I can. It’s just not real.
Most emotions are visceral and subtle, and today’s audiences are acutely aware if someone is faking it. We only had 30 seconds to show the audience what we had to offer, and I spent a long time sending out messages and sharing the posts asking people to take a listen. Obviously, I asked them to consider voting for me, but in the end people made their own decisions on whom to vote for.
I hope what made people vote for me was my voice connecting with the music’s intention through the text. Not everyone speaks Italian, but music is universal. Hopefully, people forgot about Kelly, and spent 30 seconds hearing and connecting to a story about pain and empathy.
Everyone is learning to live with COVID-19. For voice actors, it’s still business as usual because we can do our job from the comfort and safety of our home studios. For you and those in your musical community, it’s very different. Tell me about that experience.
I think I could write a novel with this question, but I’ll try to keep it short. My life was ripped away from me March 12th when I was laid off of the tour I had been on (Fiddler on the Roof). Economically it has been extremely difficult, but I was VERY lucky that I already had an unemployment claim from my previous tour that I could just reopen and was able to collect almost right away.
Unemployment, however, is not the same as a paycheck; I was suddenly making less than a third of my paycheck. Because I lived with my mom who is high risk, I couldn’t look for work without compromising her health. Again, I was VERY lucky that I had a place to live for free. All of that has stopped for me now, so I am desperately trying to maintain an online studio while finding small gigs and singing for a church live stream. I was also supposed to go to Australia and then Europe for auditions, and had multiple gigs already lined up. All of that was canceled.
On a personal note, I had also scheduled myself my first real vacation to see my friends and (now ex) boyfriend in Australia- that was also canceled. I’m starting to try out tv/film auditions and have thought about voice over, but I don’t have access to a consistent space where I could set up a recording area yet, so it makes it a little bit harder.
Emotionally, this has been an absolute nightmare for me. I didn’t sing a note for about four months and I was trying to keep busy by volunteering to create programming for my mother’s theater company. My dear friend, David Johnson, was my right-hand man and I wouldn’t have kept what little hope or sanity together I had without him.
There was finally a day where I just broke. That was when I claimed a small amount from a one-time job I did and was kicked off unemployment because they considered me “gainfully employed and no longer eligible for benefits.” I lost two weeks’ worth of unemployment because I took a one hour job. My friends and family came to my aid and helped me cover the lost expenses, but I decided I couldn’t handle it anymore and I needed to get away.
My aunt actually messaged me and said “what can I do to help?” and I jokingly said, “I dunno, buy me a plane ticket to England so I can run away for a bit?”; She said “ok” and flew me to England. My mental health has been so much better since leaving the US, but I’m still hustling every day and look forward to my visa finally coming through so I can start applying for jobs in the UK and Europe.
Apart from being a performer you’re also a vocal and acting coach. Don’t you need a much more hands-on approach because of the physicality involved, or is this something you can actually do online? How do you make it work?
This will be my third year of teaching remotely. I was on tour for two years, but still taught a few students online. Normally when I teach in person there is a lot of physicality, but I have found over my 16 years of teaching that it’s not really necessary to touch people a lot in lessons; I don’t like people touching me, so I don’t really touch others. I have my students do seemingly crazy things sometimes, like be a monkey while they sing or lay on the floor, but unless it’s related to breath I rarely touch anyone.
Singing is very personal, so I ask my students what they are feeling and describing it in their own words. Online we can’t see every little thing that is happening and we have to deal with internet connections, but that is why I’m so big on having my students communicate what they are feeling and doing.
Obviously, you lose some of the nuance of the voice and overtones/undertones as well because of the compression that happens in the technology, but the only really limiting issue we have online is that I can’t play the piano at the same time they sing; although, that is also a great way to help people train their ear and learn how to maintain their center of pitch.
As a coach you also work with voice actors and audio book narrators. What are some of the challenges you help your students overcome?
Most people come to me for help with character coaching and acting, and I try to offer vocal advice where I can. I try very hard to separate teaching from coaching because I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. I think what is usually missing is the basic knowledge of how the voice and body actually work when creating sound. This is not just for voice actors, but honestly for everyone.
The biggest challenge every student has is to stop listening to themselves and trust the correct feeling. I can mimic the correct sounds, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually producing that sound in a healthy way. Another huge challenge for students is literally learning how the body works. 90% of the people who have come to me know the key words (diaphragm, soft palate, etc.) but they have absolutely no idea how these things actually work.
For example, why do you raise your soft palate? What does it do? And not just for singing, but I mean literally- what does it do as a human function? Do you know it has to do with the nasopharynx? Have you ever heard of that? I’m not a gambling woman, but I would put money on at least half of the people reading this not knowing the answers.
I know a lot about the voice and I try to keep up on new studies and findings (for example, scientists just discovered a new organ in the throat!!). Most voice over actors I know are actually musicians and actors of some kind as well, so they have at least a working knowledge of their instrument. It’s so vitally important to know how your voice works and how to take care of it so that you can have a lasting career and not hurt yourself.
Especially for voice acting, it is critical to have a base and solid technique so that when you choose to manipulate your voice into a different character or genre you are doing it in a healthy way.
I am a firm believer that if you study classical voice you can then do anything. It’s like a cake: technique is the basic cake, and then you decorate your cake with different frostings, glazes, and fondants. The cake doesn’t change, the style does. Everyone’s cake is a little different of course, just like the voice, but in the end, healthy singing is healthy singing.
What are some of the practical vocal tips you share with your voice over students?
My main tip is find your base “noise”; the neutral, healthy sound you can make all of the time. Once you know how your voice works and feels, you can basically do anything you want. Scream like a witch? There’s an easy way to do that. Make choking noises during your death scene, but still be able to do the other characters in a video game? There’s a simple technique for that too.
My main goal as a teacher/coach is to help you find a healthy and simple way to create sound; then we add the fun stuff like timbre, color, and style. Teachers and coaches are necessary because we hear what you can’t inside of your head or on a recording. We can see if you are holding tension in your right knee and clenching your fist while you sing without knowing. The extra set of ears and eyes that will tell you the truth is vital to the progression of any skill or frankly career. That’s why major publications still have editors and top athletes all have coaches.
Most voice actors sit in their studios all day, in front of a computer monitor and a microphone. In what way do you incorporate the use of the body into your lessons?
The voice is literally connected to the body, so what you do with your body directly affects how it works. Something as subtle as raising your eyebrows can cause tension and change how your voice sounds. Usually, I try to get my students back to a neutral. Once you find a neutral, relaxed body you can start choosing to manipulate it based on the character.
The challenge is to make sure we are making choices, not developing habits. What I do depends on the person. Sometimes I have people lay on the floor and take them through a muscle relation exercise, sometimes I have them do 50 jumping jacks and high knees; everyone’s different, so I really go case by case.
In what way can voice actors benefit from singing lessons? Even if you don’t have a real singing voice, is singing something anyone can learn? Do you need to learn to read music before taking lessons with you?
As my teacher used to say to me, “Singing isn’t hard; the discipline to do it correctly is what’s hard”. I am a firm believer that if you can speak you can sing. I have taught adults and children who couldn’t match pitch to be able to sing a cappella and hold their pitch. It takes time and dedication, but anyone can learn to sing. I really prefer the term “voice lessons” to singing lessons because it really is about how to use your voice and entire instrument; not just how to sing.
The great thing about the voice and acting is that they use many of the same concepts and sometimes terminology; we just interpret them slightly different. Just one example: when an actor prepares a monologue they might consider tone, pitch, timbre, speed, and tempo in the delivery of the text; they may find their beats within the monologue and plot out their breaths. We do all of that in music as well. You don’t have to read music, but, I can teach you to do that too, along with sight singing and dictation!
At the time we’re doing this interview, you’re in London. Did you feel you needed a break from the United States, and if so, why?
You kind of hit the nail on the head. I needed a break from the US. I love America, but I can’t handle how our government is going about this pandemic and how some of my countrymen/women have responded.
My mother is high risk, and watching people carelessly and flagrantly belittle this virus made (and still makes) me livid. I have had multiple people in my life die and I’ve lost count of how many friends and family have had it (both critical and mild cases). I am hustling now more than ever to find any safe work. I am also to make my residency overseas one day so that if I ever do end up in a hospital, or maybe start a family, I won’t go bankrupt.
Just a small example, I bought 3 months worth of travel medical insurance in case I had an emergency while here in the UK and it was $120 TOTAL. I was shocked. It covers any kind of accident and even some standard medical things. When I lost my job I was being quoted at over $400/month for my premiums and that didn’t even begin to cover deductibles and out of pocket expenses. I just can’t afford to live in America right now.
One of the things that moved me most was your rendition of the song “Hope.” What in this song particularly resonates with you?
I found this song by Jason Robert Brown, one day back in June. I had just lost my voice from stress and an acid reflux flare up. I hadn’t sung a note since March 12th , when I was sent home from my Fiddler on the Roof Tour, and I was extremely depressed and basically despondent. I was suffering from insomnia and I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole and heard this song.
I remember just sitting there practically unable to breathe and then the lyric “I didn’t break until right now. I sing of hope, and don’t know how” broke me into a million pieces. I didn’t know how to cope with the world and there was finally someone telling me they didn’t know how either. It was the first time I’d heard an inspirational song that acknowledged hope is abstract and strength is hard to find sometimes.
I decided, voice or no voice, I was singing this song because I thought it was vitally important that message be shared. I did it in one take with no makeup, microphone, or equipment because I was just too exhausted. Darin Stringer recorded the piano track and I just played it over a speaker and sang.
I’ve had multiple people reach out to me and say they were on the brink of giving up (some even alluding to suicide) until someone shared it with them. I genuinely want people to know that whatever you are feeling or experiencing, you are not alone. It’s not easy, there is no end date on any of this, and everyone’s experiences are unique; but you never have to go through it alone and there is always a way to hope…even if you don’t know how to find it yet.
Where can people who are interested in what you have to offer find you?
Feel free to check out my website, kellyglyptis.com, or follow me on Instagram, @kellyglyptis (#theglyptodon) and Facebook, Kelly Glyptis, Soprano. If you are interested in taking a lesson with me, please message me on Instagram or Facebook.
I am the only Kelly Glyptis in the world, so I’m pretty easy to find!
Thank you, Kelly.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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