Scott Linder, who is one of the legendary commercial agents in voice-over, was once my boss and gave me a great analogy regarding voice-over. He said, “everyone tries to do too much. If they focus on one color in the spectrum and do it well, they will usually have a career.”
Since Scott’s advice 20 years ago, I must have repeated that phrase at least a thousand times to voice talent, except I added my own personal addendum. While focusing on one color can create a career, two colors will make a performer a success.
DOING TOO MUCH
Voice-over talent, especially actors, usually begin their careers trying to do too much. Like a repertory theatre performer, many of these performers are prepared to play whatever role is thrown their way. While that kind of commitment may be admirable, the results are usually ineffectual.
This is where “keeping it simple” is so vital. The voice is such a specific tool and the microphone picks up every nuance. Strain and/or discomfort can be heard and recognized both consciously and unconsciously by a great majority of listeners, regardless of the talent’s gifts. When talent levels are deep enough, rarely will a straining talent be chosen when there are more natural and believable options available.
NOT DOING ENOUGH
The opposite is true of radio performers. They tend to do one thing very well… announcing. They have a very difficult time moving past their initial comfort zone. To complicate matters, many radio performers are also stuck dead center within their “color,” adding very little shading to their reads. To further the color analogy, if a radio performer is “blue”, he/she needs to learn how to move throughout the blue spectrum, whether the read is light like turquoise or dark like navy.
TWO SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
In the cases of the over performing actor or under performing radio personality, the solutions to both are the same.
1) Opt-out. I do not generally encourage this, but there are times when a casting director or voice rep is simply wrong about someone’s capabilities. In these rare cases I think it behooves a talent to try, but if they do not believe they are marketable then they should kindly explain that they need to pass on the audition. Of course, if someone is paying for a talent’s time, the performer should be as willing as possible to perform in the manner being communicated.
2) Get coaching. For the actor, a coach narrows the focus and gives guidance on how to use inherent skills to make a read as believable as possible. For the radio performer, the coach should constantly be pushing the boundaries.
It takes an amazing amount of self-awareness to realize if you are over performing or under performing, but that kind of worldview is inevitably a crucial step in building a career. Once a talent realizes what is realistic, they have the ability to build upon their experience and begin creating better and fresher alternatives for their listeners.