Here are my personal habits and workflow when I’m auditioning from home all by myself, maybe you’ll find them useful.
- Never wear headphones.* (*Exception to the rule: When you’re asked to sing and mix yourself over an instrumental track, then yes obviously put on headphones and sing with the track.) When you listen to yourself you are no longer in the moment feeling your feelings and truly performing. In headphones you will be enticed to obsess over the quality of your voice or mouth noises like clicks. If you’re in a session with a client, it’ll be the engineer’s or editor’s job to clean up your mouth sounds, so get in the habit of not listening to yourself. The first few times you hear yourself when you’re recording and editing your auditions from home, you might be weirded out or become self-conscious. However over time you have to disassociate yourself from the sound of your voice. Which leads me to my next tip…
- Pretend you’re the casting director. Once I’m out of the booth and editing myself, I completely remove my feelings about what my voice sounds like or the performance quality itself. The only thought in my head is “Would I cast this person for this role?” If my gut reaction is no, then I go back into my booth and try something else. I will at least consider whether I committed fully to the moment and my feelings, or whether I honestly had as much fun as I could have in the scene. If at any time when listening I doubt that this person (me) was genuinely going through the motions of the scene, back into the booth I go for another take.
- Be honest with yourself. Can I even do this accent? Am I too tired to do a good job right now? Am I uncomfortable with the script or the product? Do I want to work for this particular client or company? Is the pay too low? (Thus making it difficult to explain to other clients why my VO costs X when I let another client pay me less.) Am I even in the mood? The worst thing you can do in this industry is waste anyone’s time. Prevent this from happening by not auditioning for a gig that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you hate the audition, chances are you’re going to hate the job and you’ll be unpleasant to work with. The money isn’t worth the awkwardness, just don’t do it.
- Pretend you’re in a real session. Auditions arrive via email from our agents. We usually have at least a handful waiting for us in our email inbox every day. Early in my career, I’d focus on a single audition at a time, meaning this was my workflow: Hit record –> open one audition email –> perform audition –> exit booth –> listen and edit –> return to booth for pickups or a different take –> listen and edit –> ship audition –> open next audition email. This felt right to me because it helped me stay in the mood of the audition and to maintain the vocal quality of the kind of sound* or accent I chose for the character. (*”Voice” but really I’m just modifying the sound my voice is making. Remember, voice actors are actors, we don’t “do voices.”) So I’d be precious and focus on a single audition at a time, shipping them independently. Now a few years into my career I’m tired and impatient and I just want to ship my auditions as quickly as possible so I can move on with my life. Keep in mind that even if you performed VO for 8 hours during a work day, you still have to come home and submit the auditions waiting for you. If you don’t, all of those opportunities go to someone else. Bye-bye, money. So you better suck it up and do them as quickly and efficiently as possible. (Or be honest with yourself if you’re too tired and don’t audition. Everybody’s got physical limits.) Nowadays, when I’m auditioning from home I pretend I’m in a session and this is my workflow: Hit record –> get in the booth –> don’t get out of the booth until every single audition email has been opened and performed –> listen and edit –> ship all the bastards and get on with it. Since I have a very short attention span, this workflow with fewer interruptions helps me stay focused for the duration of time I’m in the booth, as I’ve trapped myself with my email and I’m not allowed to leave until my homework is done. While editing is tedious effort, it’s still easier on my brain than performing. Once all the performing’s done, I can chill out knowing I’m nearly done with my homework as I’m editing auditions one after the other. Speaking for myself I’m now much better at going back to a sound or accent I did a few auditions back without much difficulty. After all, if you book a recurring character you will have to do exactly that, replicate the character’s sound for session after session without taking any time to get back into that headspace.
- Always be talking to a specific person. If I’m performing an audition for a tech related product or service, I’m talking to my friend Jerry, who works in IT. If it’s a promo about a show I think my friend Erica would like, then I’m talking to her. All auditions are a story and you’re always talking to someone because the point of your VO is that someone will be listening to it and your one job is to make the audience feel like you’re talking to them directly. So in your mind, talk to someone directly. Your job is to believe in your imaginary friends, not to read words to no one.
- Who are you talking to? Echoing the previous tip, you’ve got to read the imaginary room of imaginary people before opening your mouth. Who is the intended audience? Adults? Kids? Teenagers? Babies? Senior citizens? Parents buying things for kids? Kids asking their parents to buy them things? What’s the intended age group of this particular game or animated series? Give a care, because it should affect your read.
- What do you want from them? What do I want from the character(s) I’m talking to? What’s our relationship? How long have we known each other? How do I feel about the person I’m talking to, or the things I’m talking about? If it’s not super obvious to you from the script, fill in the blanks of the story for yourself. Your job as an actor is to make choices. If those choices are off base, you’ll be corrected in the session by the director at the job. But when you’re auditioning, you’re your own director. Make some choices and commit to them.
- Are you making emotional choices? An audition that was put together by someone who knows what they’re doing will have a single purpose: To test your emotional range as the character. There should be a variety of emotional tones throughout the script. If when listening back to yourself it seems like you’re flat and every line sounds the same with the same emotion and music (the melody and rhythm of speech delivery), you messed up. Try again and see if any of those lines can be pushed in any direction because the emotions have been tweaked. I’m not talking about decibel volume or affectations like giggles or growling. Put some real feelings behind the lines that could use a pinch, and push so your audition will have variety and prove you can have more than one feeling at a time.
- Could you have had more fun? If you walk out of the booth feeling bleh, then the casting director will feel bleh when listening to your audition and will promptly toss it in the bin of auditions that don’t make it to the client’s ears. My job is to audition. Sometimes I’m paid for it when I book a paying gig. But my real job is to audition. And that means that I have to be happy with the quality of my auditions, for my own sanity and self-worth. It doesn’t matter if I don’t book the auditions that I think I did a great job on, because it’s not up to me to decide whether my performance makes an emotional impact on those listening to it. So screw it, I might as well have all the fun I can in my booth at home, talking to no one. Because if I didn’t enjoy myself when I was performing, why should I expect anyone else to enjoy my performance?