So much of our work as voice artists happens alone in the privacy of our studios. That's why it was a treat to come out from behind my microphone and debrief on the experience with voice talent and friend, Toby Ricketts.
In the 1990s I lived in Paris and did some of my first voice over jobs. One week I ended up dubbing Cindy Crawford in two ads - including this one for Pizza Hut!
Many of the businesses I voice projects for have been adversely affected by Covid. I am conscious of wanting to ensure my quotes align with clients' budgets so that we can all continue to thrive during this challenging time.
Today, I invoiced a client I've enjoyed working with for more than a year. He emailed me back almost immediately, saying: "Dear Susannah, your invoice seems low in relation to what I would have spent had I found a less than perfect voice as yours." He then proposed I re-invoice him at a considerably higher rate.
His message was not only a kind acknowledgement of my work, but a recognition of the value he places on the work voice artists do in general. At our best, we put not only our talent, but also our heart and soul behind a company's message. And that, just like clients who haggle in the "wrong" direction, is PRICELESS.
We're putting LOVE on billboards in my city, Christchurch as we approach the anniversary of a mass shooting that took place here last year:
If we overfund the project (and we intend to!) we want to put a billboard up in Australia too.
I reached out to a wonderful client of mine based in NSW, David Benhamou, to get his advice on where a billboard might live in Oz. He suggested lighting up the Sydney Opera House with it... why not?
Dave also generously donated to our Give-A-Little page.
I am so blessed to work with directors like him who not only create beautiful work but also work from the heart.
As a voice actor you're often asked to promote a product or service you're lukewarm about. So, when you get the chance to voice for a cause you love, you light up.
Such has been the case for me working with the brilliantly creative team at Pzizz over the last 9 months, using my voice to promote wellbeing.
In case you haven't discovered Pzizz, it's a sleep app whose guided journeys are based on clinical science. The app features a customisable interface that allows you to select your own background music, narrator, script, timing, etc.
JK Rowling says: "I love Pzizz... best I've used by a mile."
Working with Pzizz I've voiced numerous sleep scripts, as well as several hypnosis ones. I've also written and voiced meditations for Pzizz's sister apps - Soundly and Mesmerize - on subjects like anti-anxiety, gratitude, forgiveness, healing and pain relief.
Here's to enjoying wonderfully restorative sleep and meditations that light us up.
You can check out the app with a free trial here:
I'm "Anna" on the app.
For years I’ve been researching ways to take voice over on the road so that when I travel I can accommodate clients who might need a rush job, an audition, a pickup. Voice artists tell stories of turning their hotel rooms into sound booths with bedding strewn over upturned couches and their bodies, microphones and scripts crunched up beneath.
Then there are the “Porta-Booths” – I’ve tried a couple. No offence to their inventors, but I haven’t found them that easy to work with. When your head is stuck in a small box, how practical/comfortable is it to also read your copy?
That’s why I’m such a fan of my latest investment – the beautifully designed Kaotica Eyeball – a voice booth for your mic! I ordered mine online https://www.kaoticaeyeball.com from the States and it arrived here in New Zealand just two days later.
It comes with its own detachable pop filter and accommodates most mics. I’ve recorded tests with it and I’m impressed. Sure, if there’s a helicopter flying over it’s not going to give you perfect sound isolation, but it definitely removes room echo and boomy-ness. Plus, there’s just something so adorable about it. You wanna pet it, display it proudly on your blog, offer it a dish of milk…
You know how some voice jobs just flow from start to finish? You connect with the director, you’re on the same wavelength, the reads get better and better – love soup? This wasn’t one of them.
I was asked to voice a bank commercial. I sent through a custom demo and it was approved by most of the team. (This was one of those setups with a committee of decision makers.)
Someone in the client team wasn’t convinced I was “the one” and requested a directed audition. The colleague hiring me told me there had been 100+ emails back and forth already about the project. This might have been a red flag, but I shrugged it off and agreed to the Skype audition.
The person directing the session was Simon. We got on Skype and Simon was giggly and effusive. “Look, I’m not a voice actor…” he began, then proceeded to give me a line reading. It wasn’t good. Another red flag moment.
Simon told me the client wanted a storytelling tone (the script wasn’t a story by any stretch of the imagination.) He also told me the client wanted it conversational. We gave it a go. Simon wasn’t happy. Next, he became obsessed with the idea of inflection. He wanted more of it. Inflect up on one line, down on the next, for variety. I politely suggested it might be best to let the inflection follow the meaning of the sentences, but Simon needed his inflections the way he needed them, so I went with it.
Then Simon’s boss joined the conversation. He wanted natural, conversational – inflection flew out the window. I could do that. But he also wanted me to sound like Sean Connery. (Red flag #3.) Ten takes later the session ended with Simon still unhappy on the inflection front and his boss no doubt deeply disappointed I wasn’t Sean Connery. Later that day I heard they’d decided to go with a male voice instead – someone with a “sharp, clear voice” like Sean Connery…
An acting teacher of mine used to say, “Rejection is protection.”
I recently accepted the challenge to step into the role of Goneril in a production of King Lear. The actress playing the part was rushed to hospital with a gall bladder emergency and there were two weeks of shows left.
After one quick rehearsal I found myself, script in hand, in front of the audience doing what Goneril does best – shouting at her father and husband and wailing over her dying lover.
As a voice artist I’m used to “projecting” my voice approximately 6 inches to my microphone. Now, here I was in a theatre with dodgy acoustics and hard-of hearing audience members. The director, as well as several cast members warned me, “You really have to project in this theatre.” With seven shows ahead I wondered how I would survive recording my voice projects during the day and “projecting forcefully” at night.
Luckily, my friend Mike (playing the king) recommended his favourite throat lozenges to me. He told me he had started to feel a gland swell up like a hedgehog in his throat one night and was afraid he’d lose his voice. Sucking on Vocalzone had restored his throat and voice in a matter of hours.
I got myself some and I have to say these things are amazing! Not sure if it’s the licorice, the myrrh or the peppermint/menthol/vegetable carbon, but these little black pastilles have a magical effect on over-worked vocal chords. Plus the packaging includes writing in braille in case your voice and eyes are both feeling strained!
Today I had a wonderful workout with my voice coach, Marla Kirban, via Skype from New Zealand to New York. Although I’ve been voicing projects for more than 20 years and earning my living primarily as a voice artist for nearly 10, I’m always humbled by how much I still have to learn!
Marla reminds me that it’s not enough to have a beautiful voice or to just “read the script word by word.” The art of voice over, she teaches, lies in absorbing copy through your eyes, processing it through your brain, dropping it into your heart and then sharing it through your voice. You have to have a clear point of view, you have to care about what you’re saying, you have to conjure mental images that relate to the content, you have to take appropriate pauses and fill them with meaning, you have to keep the main thing the main thing – all this while sounding spontaneous and not trying too hard!
When we hear good voice acting we know it immediately. We are onboard, we feel connected with the person speaking; their words make sense, touch us - move us. Good voice actors make it seem effortless. Diane Keaton does a great job in Finding Dory. Keaton plays Dory’s mother and from the first moments her lines carry a rich sense of that fish’s world and backstory – her protective love for her memory-challenged daughter, her affection for her husband, her place in the community.
I’m so very grateful to study the art of voice acting with a master coach and to always, always be learning.
I’m not a fan of marketing products that shame women’s bodies. And hard sell/hype-y voiceovers aren’t my strong suit. Which is why I probably wasn’t a good match for the shapewear infomercial I was asked to voice a while back.
I agreed to a buyout with two rounds of changes.
Here you can hear how I was struggling at round 4…
After round 6, I humbly admitted defeat and surrendered my work at no charge.
What did I learn from the experience?
1. Phrases like “It will lift and shape your bum…” tend not to roll easily off my tongue.
2. No matter how many times I re-do the phrase “for a perkier, youthful look ” it’s not going to sound that aspirational.
3. While I can put my heart and soul behind most products – heavy lifting gear, chemical assay testing equipment, GoPros for dogs, I’m just not a shapewear infomercial kinda girl.
What I've learned and continue to learn around the world as a voice artist...