Upon completion of your voice-over training and the recording of your demo, you will begin the next leg of your voice-over journey: auditioning and securing voice-over work. Whether it’s through an agent, a production house, or a pay-to-play site, you most likely will come across an “audition breakdown”. Breakdowns give you all the information on the project and what qualities the client is looking for in the actor they’ll hire. It usually includes age range, gender, adjectives describing type and vocal quality, audition date, record date, casting director, usage, and pay rate.
This is where your marketing homework comes in handy. You need to have a general idea (the more specific the better, but that also comes after working in the industry for a bit) regarding your “acting sweet spot”. As actors, we all want to flaunt our versatility, but the smart actor knows they really flourish in a more narrow set of descriptors. The industry has trends that are ever-changing and it is helpful to ride the waves and find where you and your voice fit into the current market.
Buzz Words and Vocal Quality
Recently, a buzz word that has come up in the voice-over industry is “conversational”. I tell my students about how many years ago, voice-over trends included a very polished, “Voice of God”, almost “Shakespearean-trained, theatre actor” sound. While those qualities still have a place in this business, many marketing campaigns have been looking for that conversational, next-door-neighbor quality, who just happens to be recommending a product to you. It definitely fits into our current social media culture, where we strive to find real recommendations and reviews from REAL people. When a breakdown is released they list “qualities” such as:
Friendly. Approachable. Conversational.
Interesting voice with a mid-range sound. Nothing too polished or young sounding.
Casual guy next door. Avoid too “bro” sounding. No announcers.
These are breakdowns I have seen before! Sometimes they are contradictory, and reading them feels like deciphering hieroglyphics. That’s why it’s important to do your research on the brand. Take a look at that brand’s current marketing: what is the style and tone? Based on the breakdown, are they staying in line with this style or veering off and going a new direction? Then, use the techniques you have been learning and working on in your coaching sessions to adjust the attitude of your read to reflect some of these descriptors. While you should discuss your sweet spot with your coach as you train in VO, you will also start to learn your niche through auditions and bookings.
Age range is also something you may see on a voice-over breakdown. It may be general such as, “20s-30s” or even more broad like “mature sound”. Once again, as actors we love to feel versatile, however, in my experience, age range for commercials is usually your true age range. Occasionally, if you have a bright voice maybe you can steer younger, but I have found it is usually within 5-10 years of your true age. In animation, however, the world is your oyster! You can voice children, the elderly, your actual age range – whatever the character demands! If they want the ACTUAL age of the character, they will usually specify in the breakdown (i.e. looking for a CHILD, not an adult who sounds like a child).
In the breakdown you will see the record date listed which is important to acknowledge, especially if it is through your agent. Casting and/or clients go out of their way to include the date so that if you are unavailable, you refrain from auditioning and wasting anyone’s time (including your own!). Sometimes, they list a range of possible record dates. Be open and communicative with your agent or the client if you have availability some days, but not the others. You want to let your agent know if there are any conflicts on your part with the record date so if you do book the job, the client is aware of your availability. Communication is key, your agent and the client will appreciate it and it will keep you on their list of professional and communicative actors. If you are recording from your home studio, once again, be communicative about your availability with the client and your turnaround time to deliver files.
Usage and Pay Rate
Usage and pay rate is something that is usually included in the breakdown. You want to make sure you read all of this information and you have a clear idea of how long the voice-over will be running and in what medium. It’s important to feel comfortable with the pay rate BASED on the usage prior to accepting the audition (especially, if this rate and usage is non-negotiable).
Be diligent about reading all the information in the breakdown. If you communicate with your representation and/or client, solidify your “acting sweet spot”, and use the techniques you’ve worked on in your training to adequately match your audition to the breakdown – you can’t lose! Always remember, bring YOU to the process – whether it’s your version of friendly, conversational, sarcastic, edgy. Find the joy in auditioning, especially since it’s a big part of the life of a voice-over artist!