For those who are new to directing voice actors, or who have been directing but would like to know what actors love or hate when being directed, this post is for you.

Always leave projected/screaming/efforts for the end of the session. “Projected” is anything louder than having a conversation in a meeting room. You know how your voice is hoarse the day after you spent all night talking over loud music in a club? Or how you’re hoarse after spending all day talking a bit louder than usual while standing on a convention floor? This is why projected speech is considered strenuous for voice actors. If you know you’ll have multiple recording sessions with an actor, try to pepper in those projected lines across sessions so they don’t have to all be done in one painful haul.

Don’t ask for too many takes of screamed lines (i.e. dying, on fire). What’s “too many takes?” Probably more than four. You’ll waste your actor’s finite resource very quickly and you won’t get any other kinds of emotes you need for that session. If you’ve hired an experienced voice actor, they’ll know how to scream right the first time. Check their credits on IMDB, for example, to look for evidence of prior jobs where they performed all the typical strenuous emotes.

Context is everything. If whoever’s running the session doesn’t know what the character’s talking about then neither can the actor, we can only both guess and the results will reflect that confusion. Part of the actor’s job is internally making decisions regarding what the story’s about, in case clients don’t exactly know either. It’s in both the actor’s and director’s best interest to understand the story and action.

What I refer to as the “Kevin McMullan Special” is rather than directing via emotions, i.e. “Sadder, happier, etc.” it’s far more useful to offer situational context. For example, Kevin gave me the direction “this is more like a business transaction,” which instantly informed how I should conduct myself, what my tone should be, what my relationship to the character I’m speaking to is, etc.

Have the entire script available. It’s a world of difference if the actor knows who they’re talking to and why, and what was last said by the other character(s) in the scene. It’s nice to be emailed scripts in advance, just to know what’s coming even if the actor can’t extrapolate the whole story without the client’s help.

Direct the actor with useful information. We can’t make it sound like our character’s favorite color is blue, but if you tell us blue is significant because it’s the color of our first car or the color of the dress our beloved grandmother was buried in, we’ll contextualize that information and it will naturally come out in the read.

The next best thing to ensemble recording is being fed the already recorded line of the voice actor your character is speaking to via playback during the session. When that’s not possible, having the director read with an actor for conversational dialog really is helpful. It makes the conversation that much more real. There’s no need to be read in for call out lines such as information during combat (“Reloading!”) or taunts (“Come at me!”). For any instance where the actor is talking to someone else, be their scene partner. It’s worth the effort.

Pronunciation guides! Every time the session has to stop to call someone or talk to the client to check pronunciation, everyone loses time and money. If there’s no time to inform the actor in advance of how every uncommon word is pronounced, whether the words are made up or real, have at least a written and/or prerecorded pronunciation guide handy.

Don’t interrupt an actor in the middle of a read. Some people will do this repeatedly and it creates a hair trigger response where the actor has to fight being wary of performing for fear of interruption. If you have notes or corrections, save them, wait for the takes to be over and then give your feedback.

Line reads are a tricky business. A line read is when someone not in the booth literally reads the actor’s line aloud to the actor. This poisons the actor’s mind, the non-actor’s line read becomes the exact melody the actor will perform to. Line reads should be used as a last resort, when all other attempts have been exhausted and there’s just no other way to direct the actor to say this particular line exactly how the client needs it performed. In short: Line reads are the devil, try not to do it, the actor might secretly hate you for it even if our lying smiling pleasant faces say otherwise as we struggle with our brains to undo the not great non-actor read you did.

Lastly and most importantly, make sure your actor has plenty of room temperature drinking water available in the booth. And tell your actor to go pee at the top of every hour. A voice actor will mindlessly chug water throughout the session to keep their throat clear and not realize they’ve been doing the peepee dance until it’s too late. A good director tells their actors to go pee. Our bladders thank you.

Individuals have asked me about listening to demos and passing them along to agents. The following is a breakdown of the logistics involved for recording your demos to sign with an agency.

Your first VO demos, particularly if they were recorded and edited by you, will not be good. They will not reflect your strengths, they will not show off your technical editing abilities (even if you are a seasoned audio professional). The reason for this is because voice over demos aren’t meant to appeal to you, they’re meant to appeal to agents and potential clients. You are incapable of stepping outside your own body, outside your opinion of yourself, to be able to hear and distinguish what is viable in the marketplace. You are not an accurate judge of your own abilities early on because you are still (and always will be) learning. Artistic self-objectivity is nearly impossible.

Additionally, voice over producers and agents will know what is sought after by clients. Whereas you’ll stitch together whatever kinds of scripts and characters you think show you off, in reality you may not be picking roles and sounds that are wanted. Trust professionals to help you figure out what it is you have to sell that clients might buy.

Having said that, in today’s market there are a variety of websites that, for a fee, will invite you to post your demos of whatever quality to audition for posted jobs. Personally I recommend doing this only because if you agree to do low paying non-union jobs, you’ll be earning experience and the clients will be getting exactly the quality of VO that they’re paying for. At some point you must acknowledge that you are competent enough to move on from the amateur scene to signing with an agency so that you’ll be eligible for the union rate market.

The key is to have accumulated enough experience, confidence, and education prior to your reaching out to agencies with demos. If you present your first round of self-produced demos to an agency, do not be surprised if you are met with rejection. Even talent and experience are not enough to guarantee an invitation to sign with an agency.

You owe it to yourself to work hard and take the time necessary to build yourself up with performance experience and education, so that when agents first hear your name you can prove that you are more than ready for the job. You can do better than to shoot yourself in the foot by sending amateur homemade demos to an agency who will then write you and your name off as novice and naive of what it takes to be a voice actor.

When you are ready to become a voice actor (Which may be determined by you or by an instructor, depending on how much reassurance you need. Teachers will be thrilled to take your money for as long as you’re willing to pay it.), hire a known and vetted individual to produce your voice over demos. The monetary investment is akin to hiring a plumber. You can watch a video on the internet and learn how to fix your toilet, but in the end you’ll probably pay a professional to fix your mistakes anyway.

To address personal requests directly: I will not listen to your demos, I will not pass them along to my agency. Here’s why:

  1. If I have never witnessed you working in the booth, I am unable to vouch for your ability as an actor under pressure to please a client.
  2. If I have never met you, I’m even less able to confirm what kind of person you are and whether you are reliable as a human. On time, polite, etc.
  3. The agency that’s right for me may not be the agency that’s right for you. Signing with an agency is like getting married, you both hope it’s going to work out and last a long time. But if one of you isn’t living up to the other’s expectations, you’ll eventually be headed for divorce.

Work hard, pay for someone who’s experienced and known for producing demos to do yours, and reach out to agencies when you can present your best self, not your premature amateur self.

If you’re looking for contact information for agencies, I’ve posted several resources on my How to Become a Voice Actor page. Though I can promise you, if you are unwilling to click and seek the information, you lack the tenacity required for show business. No one can do your homework for you. When you’re ready to to apply yourself, success will follow.

Once you have your professionally produced demos, display them on the landing page of your website. Do not post them to free service sites full of distractions and advertisements like YouTube or SoundCloud. Use a simple template that puts your demos front and center, they should be the first thing eyes will land on after having typed your URL. If you bury your demos and information, do not expect visitors to your site to hang around for long, much less contact you.

Heather Dame (Fryda’s agent) on VO Buzz Weekly, part 1

Heather Dame (Fryda’s agent) on VO Buzz Weekly, part 2

A friend contacted me to ask how to go about becoming a composer for video games. Here is my advice to him:

If you’re looking at composing for games, get involved with the indie scene. Look at indie-attractive sites like Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter and see if anyone’s looking for composers. Search for game jams. Regularly check sites like Tigsource and Meetup. Rack up shipped title credits to use for your portfolio. When you feel ready establish yourself with real living wage fees.

Reddit at your own risk:

gameDevClassifieds

I need a team

You’ll have an advantage if you do your homework before asking for a demo review. It behooves you to know who you’re making music for and what they’re expecting. On the technical side be aware you’re expected to deliver stems and loops, google articles and get practiced with those.

Be a professional and have a website ready with your work and contact info on it. Set up a real website where the URL is your name and your demos are plain to see and use! Your portfolio will attract similar work. Do work for pay and if you feel it’s not what you’d rather work on, in your free time make a portfolio that focuses on your preferences.

Examples of game composer websites:

Mick Gordon

Jesper Kyd

Sonic Mayhem

Jason Graves

Go to events like Gamesoundcon and GDC. Have business cards ready, nice ones. Meet people and get to know the community. If you plug into  on Twitter you’ll see a lot of the community as well.

Understand that as a freelancer you are a business owner. Learn how to manage your business! And if you’re American have a tax person who knows what they’re doing. If in doubt, use mine: Alyce Bonura (No I don’t get a commission for recommending her.)

Most obvious of all, if you want to work on games, you’d better be playing lots of games. Know your medium.

Additional contributions by @mattesque and @ashtonmorris.

More from Ashton Morris, Freelance Game Audio: Getting Started and Finding Work

How would you recommend both preparing for and protecting your voice when given roles that require screaming/yelling/etc? I can imagine any anime actor would have their vocal cords torn to shreds when shouting for battle scenes, is this something that would just require regular practice to strengthen cords, or is there a particular way to shout and bluster that will do less potential damage to the voice?

The easy warmup is to sing on your way to the job. Or if you’re not in the mood to sing anything in particular, just do as many scales as you can squeeze into your range.

While in session, err on the side of doing theatrical projecting for yelling. Which is basically speaking as loudly as you can just on the verge of screaming, without screeching. If you listen to the callouts in Call of Duty, those are pretty good examples of a stopping point for how far to push the yelling.

If there’s particularly screechy or shrill stuff where you’re going for broke like deaths or being set on fire, they should always be at the very end of the session. If an amateur director tries to make you do strenuous yelling before the end of the session, stand up for yourself and tell them it’d be better for the client if there’s an effort made to conserve your voice and you’re not yelling till it’s the last thing left to do.

Even tiny two minute breaks will have an incredible effect on your throat, you’ll have the opportunity to recover and recharge just by shutting up. Take short breaks often if the voice over session mostly consists of yelling.

For the inevitable aftermath of a tough session, these are my favorite goodies. I combo them up into a single giant serving of tea:

Sometimes Throat Coat tea and the loquat honey combo are necessary to get through a strenuous session. I always have tea bags on me and if I know it’s going to be a rough day, I’ll bring my own bottle of loquat honey.

At the end of the day when your throat feels rough, straws are your best friends:

There’s no such thing as “strengthening vocal cords [folds]” with yelling. Repeated yelling to the point of abuse results in scar tissue and creates nodules, which can only be removed with surgery. I don’t recommend trying to toughen up your throat, it’s not that kind of organ.

To learn how to metal scream without hurting yourself, Melissa Cross is well regarded for her method and training materials.

In reply to a thread on Facebook about a freelancer being contacted for a job:

Her story:

So this guy just contacted me out of the blue about some programming for a project.

I told him that I don’t do that anymore, but asked him what his budget was, to see if I could refer him to some of my contacts.

He mentioned hourly rates between $18-30. I told him that my contacts charge around $75, and wished him the best of luck with his project.

He responded with a long tirade calling me rude and the worst negotiator ever.

My response:

It’s their attempt at guilting us by making us feel like we’re “stuck up bitches” for asking what we believe to be a fair wage.

Example: My favorite was a man who approached me very early on when I started doing VO, years ago. I still had a full-time job and was just starting to take classes and tinker. Because I was still learning, I was happy to do whatever just for the practice, it wasn’t how I made my living yet. This particular casting guy would give me spots to do in Spanish, which was great practice for me since I don’t get to speak it often enough. The spots were for large corporations, like Wells Fargo. He would pay me all of $15 – $30 per spot, tops. Not including Paypal fees. You read that right, $15-$30. Again, I didn’t mind it at all, I just wanted access to the copy for practice.

After a couple of years when I felt ready to start establishing myself, I gave him my new rate, said thank you very much for your time and I understand if you cannot afford me. He sent me the most wretched email, telling me “You’ll never make more money than I pay you for any spot.” Isn’t telling someone they’ll never find better the definition of an abusive relationship?

I guess I should be glad my agency and all the clients I’ve worked for since don’t know I’m only worth $30. Lucky me!

I’m so used to voice actors yelling at me for selling myself short but I DO WHAT I WANT WHEN I’M READY. I certainly have a bottom line now, and if I do work for free it’s because 1) I can afford to because I’ve made my money elsewhere, and 2) It’s a favor or a passion project for someone who deserves it. My time is worth something. It’s worth something to me, therefore it will be worth something to anyone else who wants a piece of it.

But back then, like any good entry level person, I wanted to eat up all the experience I could. People get upset when you realize you no longer have to settle for less. Again, like in any abusive relationship.