Voice actor and composer Paul Ewing, gives us an inside look at the world of voice over and how to get started professionally.
Puppets and Tupperware
When I was a young lad (around 9) I was given a tape recorder for a birthday present. I was over the moon, because it meant that I could use it to create the sound effects and soundtracks for my puppet shows. My father had built me a puppet theatre, and I’d collected a number of string puppets and many more glove puppets, and I was also painting scene backdrops at school, because I’d persuaded the teacher in my primary 7 class to let us put on puppet shows there too.
I’d created a relatively ingenious method of attaching these painted backdrops to a horizontal pole that ran along the back of the theatre, and around this pole I had rolled the back drops which one could simply flip over to reveal the next scene. It worked like a charm. But something was missing.
And so began my first forays into sound design. Car-crashes were simply shells and stones in large plastic tubs, recording the car starting and taping things off the radio were all part of the fun on my new tape recorder. Doubtless the sound quality was deplorable, but the magic of being able to release the “pause” button and play the sound effects in sequence, was really rather thrilling.
I also recorded disembodied voices for other characters on tape too – I loved it and it kept me entertained for hours in our big old country house, which was freezing cold in the winter, and being annexed to my bedroom was no fun – so this was some sort of rescue remedy.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that what I’d discovered at the age of 9, was all part of my life calling to be a storyteller – whether that be through theatre, television or radio theatre.
When I worked in the BBC for years as a presenter for children’s shows, I’d be telling stories and getting used to delivering different characters and painting a picture with my voice, to accompany the pictures in story books.
This then developed further when the BBC gave me my own radio show, which I had for 8 years called “Something To Think About” which was played in every primary school across the UK. This was exciting because there were stories and sound effects and interviews and activities for the children – and all through listening.
In an age where we are stimulated more and more by visuals, and apps are geared for the most part, in that direction, there is another market, emerging alongside and getting stronger by the day.
The Audiobook market.
What’s So Special About You?
Voice actors are ten a penny these days, it seems.
But it’s a special skill, and there are different aspects to it -just like being a stage actor or a screen actor.
You can have a good and solid technique – be clear voiced and consistent and a nice person – but that might be it. Your voice needs to have that other indefinable “something” – it’s like stage presence. You can’t buy it or produce it – it just IS. You can hone it and refine it and use it to its best – but if you ain’t got “it” – you ain’t got “it” – simple!
The same is true of the voice.
There are some voices we hear time and again on tv shows -and we know who it is instantly. Some great actors have been defined by their voices as much as their on-screen personas.
There are subtle voices which have an undercurrent of hilarity – like Owen Wilson and Will Arnett, to the instantly recognizable and most iconic voices of the 20th century – James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman.
People often ask me how to get started into the voice over business, and there’s never an easy answer, because like all artistic disciplines and professions, there’s always more than 1 entry point. I trained as an actor and had some decent voice training. I also had breakthroughs working at the BBC for 8 years – which lead to some of the opportunities I spoke about earlier.
I landed a few good jobs in the UK for car commercials that also paid me thousands of pounds – back in the good old days you could make mad cash from car commercials. I remember making £7000 for a Peugeot advert for radio and online – never mind TV! It’s those sorts of paydays that make the industry so attractive to people.
But it’s hard work.
More often than not, it’s a game of rejection. You may have a brilliant voice and delivery, but there’s no accounting for taste. A client may just like the je ne sais quoi of another person’s voice and they opt for them instead.
You have to know your strengths and you have to be prepared for the long haul. Or you might not – you might just hit a streak running.
I’ve been recording 5 voice overs a week on average for about 10 years. Now and then there’s a change and it dips and there are periods where nothing comes in – and then there are the good days where you’re dashing from one audio house to the next in a matter of hours. I now have my own studio in Bangkok which I’m expanding to become a proper audio house that produces radio theatre and audio books – but it’s been a long road to get to this point.
So How DO I Get Started?
A wise friend once said -“if you can possibly find another profession than the arts, please do take it.” You have to LOVE it to do it. Let’s assume that’s a given…
Firstly, on a practical level, you need some equipment.
Depending on your budget, there are packages you can buy on Lazada to get you started with a microphone for example, and then there are higher priced options all the way up to studio level, which could cost you thousands of pounds. Now – you need to get used to hearing your own voice.
You can download various audio editing apps. Lie NCH Software’s WavePad – very easy to use and extremely good for the price. https://www.nch.com.au/software/audio.html
Audacity is also another option, open source packed full of helpful information and tools.
Once you’ve set up and things are working properly, try your hand and voice at reading anything and everything.
Get used to hearing your own voice and get used to editing it. Cutting out the breath and clicks and pops.
Audiobooks are a huge undertaking so don’t underestimate the size of the task. They can clock in at anything from 6 hours to 14 hours in length, and you have to make sure you have consistency in terms of quality of sound throughout.
Some bookers will edit the audio for you, and some will pay you for your final finished audio. However – as a newbie, it will take you some time to get to that point. If you want to try out podcasting, it’s a good way to get used to your own voice, but I recommend finding a partner to do it with, because you will bounce off each other a lot more, and creating content will be easier.
Finally – it’s up to YOU to find your voice, in an increasingly overcrowded marketplace. It’s competitive, but also extremely rewarding. It’s real work for real money, and you will make some mistakes along the way, but hopefully you will find your voice and find a space and rhythm. Finally – try registering on something like https://www.mandy.com/ check out your unrepresented competition and try your hand at some auditions.
Get a feel for it and hopefully get some feedback too. And never give up! Good luck! To hear samples of Paul’s voice work check him out on Instagram and Facebook under Scotsvox