The start of a year is often a time for reflection and a time to look forward and plan. I’m not going to bang on about targets and goals, but just know you should have them written down for reference and guidance.
However, I do want to share an experience that happened towards the end of 2020 that made me contemplate the productive use of my time as a VO talent. I hope it may help you in your search for work too in the coming year. I booked three separate projects, all based on a similar casting specification (I’ll come back to that in a moment). It made me really analyze the voice over casting call and how to best answer it.
Particularly in the US, and increasingly in the UK, a custom sample or audition is a part of the casting process (rather than being cast from your demo reel).
It takes time to do these and auditioning for roles you are not well suited for just fritters away the valuable time you have and doesn’t play well into the efficiency game we are all striving for. It also likely wastes the time of the caster; they do not want to hear your beautiful soft voice if they are looking for a deep menacing gravelly voice. Not adhering to the audition spec could possibly deny you a better opportunity later down the line. That’s not to say you should never give an alternate take but always try and give them what they are looking for on the first take or know when to pass on it.
As a part of the auditioning process, the caster, who ideally has a vision for their project, will write down some direction as to how they want their script to be performed. They may use very generic words and phrases such as ‘conversational’ ‘warm’ ‘gravelly’, ‘best friend’, ‘genuine’, ‘articulate’ and ‘high energy’. They may also use more precise descriptors such as ‘sports announcer’, ‘newscaster’, ‘radio voice’ or note a preferred accent (For British reads this is often ‘Northern’, ‘London’, ‘Cockney’ or also ‘Scottish’)
What I really like to see in casting notices is a celebrity reference.
Not because I am a mimic and can nail a perfect ‘David Attenborough’ but because the ‘style’ these well known performers can really help solidify what the caster is looking for in the performance. As with most things, celebrity references do seem to trend: Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch were the hot British Male names about a year ago, but I don’t see them so much now. For the ladies, its Scarlett Johanssen and Jennifer Lawrence. I also recently saw the author Neil Gaiman used, an unusual choice, but one which was quite useful because of his distinctive style. It told me that the caster had really thought about what they wanted.
Some references seem to be ubiquitous. For many years we’ve seen Dennis Leary and Sam Elliott (We all know how that read should sound), Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and in the UK the ‘Marks & Spencer Food’ voice has created a whole new genre of ‘sultry’ reads. You can thank actress Dervla Kirwan for that, she did it first in 2004 and her reads were so distinctive that they brought her back for a new 2020 campaign. If you can create a similar sound, I think 2021 could be a good year for you!
Which brings me nicely back to my three similar casting specifications. They were very different projects, but all used ‘David Attenborough’ as the celebrity reference. Apart from his distinctive style, he has broken Instagram Records and is vocal about issues that are current (climate change and other environmental issues). His is definitely an ‘on trend’ voice right now.
So when preparing for your next audition, take a moment to read through the information you have been given. Remember you are trying to solve a riddle of the casters making. Use the clues you have been given and provide an answer that makes sense and allows the caster the best chance to choose you. I believe this will make for better auditioning, booking ratios and higher earnings.
I can tell you that when I see ‘David Attenborough’ on the casting notice, my confidence in nailing the read, goes through the roof (or at least the jungle canopy!) In Cluedo parlance that would be: David Attenborough, in the Sound Booth with a Neumann TLM103.