Voiceover and Music: The Storytelling Process
Have you ever heard someone read you a story in a way that is so vivid all five of your senses live in the story? If you have, you have probably had someone read you a story so devoid of context that you feel like the teacher from Charlie Brown has come to life and has now possessed the reader’s soul. It’s one of those things you just know when it has been done right or wrong. The difference between the two is obvious, but the solution is not. I say that, for if it was an easy fix, most everyone would do it (I say “most” because you will know someone that would not change just so they wouldn’t be forced to read to any human/animal/fruit/vegetable/mineral ever again).
I like to compare voiceover work to music. Mastering the art of storytelling is very similar to mastering an instrument. Just like in voiceover, there are musician masters in different genres: classical, jazz, big band, etc. Each of the styles are unique and ask for a different skill set, but they all have the same goal: to tell a story. Music may be more abstract than words, but they are equally based less on the words or notes and more on the story and emotion.
In order to reach mastery, we need to understand our “instrument”: our voice. That means more than just talking all the time. Think of it like someone just picking up an instrument and just blurting out random notes and sounds and then call it a successful session. Time using your instrument does not mean mastery. Getting a proper coach is the first step. Coaches can help fix problems that can hold you back. Sometimes these problems are ones you’ve done most of your life. Fixing the problems and issues holding you back will help build a strong foundation.
Once that foundation is built, the focus needs to be on improvement. It’s about taking the lessons learned from coaches and applying them to actual situations. Practicing reading aloud is one of the most important ways to improve. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading to your child or your pet cactus (okay, Spike is your ‘child’... I won’t judge). Every moment you read aloud is another chance to help translate the words on the page into an audible story. The words or notes for a musician are just the waves that your story flows through. If you let the words take over, the story sinks and James Cameron hires a crew to go underwater and find it.
The last part is where everything comes together: mastery. It’s what professional musicians and voice actors alike should always try to attain. It is like seeking perfection: something you can never get to, but you constantly try. This is more than just being good or sounding better. One of the reasons mastery is so challenging is that it usually takes more than just execution. It is about looking at it in different ways that forces you to mold and shape your performance. It is about not falling into traps that force us to do the same thing over and over. I believe coaching and receiving feedback is always important. There will always be someone out there that has a suggestion or a criticism. And since those will never cease, there will never be a time to stop. As soon as our mind closes to criticisms or help, we have ruined a chance to improve. Embrace those chances and never stop moving forward.