Recording With Diamonds: Does Expensive Equipment Book Jobs?

I have a confession: I don’t enjoy fancy restaurants. I’m not a food adventurer. I like to eat – I don’t like to dine. When I see a menu with spectacular, magical food names, I pine for the familiar. I want to translate the menu to words like “peanut butter and jelly.” 

Fortunately, as a voice-over talent, I find that voice-over casting tends to favor simplicity. Voice-over casting is the process by which clients choose a voice-over talent for a job. People who hire voice-over talents don’t want to dine: they want to eat. What does this mean?

In decades past, the difference in sound quality between spending several hundred dollars and spending thousands of dollars on sound equipment was noticeable. Now, for a few hundred dollars, it is possible to record voice lines that are hard to distinguish from million-dollar studios. Recording audio with a cell phone inside a vehicle or closet, which forms a natural ‘sound booth,’ can result in competitive audio quality for auditions. 

While it’s nice to record with a fancy microphone like a Neumann U87, an affordable microphone like an Audio-Technica AT2020 can be great. This is because audio quality is not the main thing a listener hears in a voice-over talent’s performance. As long as audio quality is respectable, listeners respond to the quality of emotion. 

When coaching voice-over, I tell my students that ninety percent of what a listener hears is emotion. Five percent is the words on the page and five percent is the sound quality. A voice-over talent’s job is to live and speak life with real intentions and react to real conundrums in the most human way possible. When a voice-over talent lives an emotional connection, a listener experiences that even if the voice is not recorded with expensive equipment. 

You probably don’t need that gold-plated microphone.

Here are two exercises to explore the emotional connection of your voice-over audition, whether you’re recording your audition in an expensive studio or home studio.

The Pivot

In theater and literature, the “non-sequitur” is a statement made by a character that does not logically connect with what comes before it. For example: “I ate the entire lemon in one bite. My electric bill went up again.”

The wonderful thing about voice-over is that words can be non-sequiturs while emotion is in perfect alignment. What does this mean? In the above example, look at the second sentence. A voice-over script might begin with the words “My electric bill went up again.” And the feeling behind those words might, indeed, be very sour, like the taste of a lemon. The words make no sense together, but the emotions might.

Practice speaking conversationally, with feeling, even if the words don’t match your audition script. Then pivot to the audition script as you continue the prior feeling. Explore changing the emotion and conversation you pivot from. This begins to engage with what’s called “subtext” in acting. “Subtext” is one term to describe living a meaningful emotional connection for yourself while performing words that may not literally relate to that. 

The Mirror

Sometimes, using yourself as a model can help you to visualize and respond naturally in conversation. Because we speak to other humans for our entire lives, we all have some expertise in responding to human facial expressions and body language. This expertise can help with voice-over. One goal of voice-over performance is to transform words from “sounding” like they are being read, to living them in real conversation. 

Record your audition script while looking in any mirror. A full-length mirror can give you a perspective on your body language. A closer mirror can give you insight about your facial expressions. 

Draw from the expertise you already have in speaking to others. Do you experience your words as “real” and believable? If you record without a mirror, can you tell a difference? 

Using affordable equipment, it’s possible to learn to record competitive voice-over auditions that emotionally connect with listeners and paying clients.

Check out our free PDF with pro-tips from real working voice-over actors here!

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