10 ways Voiceover is more musical than you thought..
I talk into microphones. I’m not singing into them (apart from for my own entertainment!), so what makes me think that Voiceover is such a close relation of music?
Well, I’m fortunate enough to have learned music from when I was a child. Yes – recorder (which actually I still rather love) but also classical guitar, bassoon, saxophones and bass guitar. I’ve played solo, in small groups and in larger groups and orchestras and it continues to be something that means a lot to me. The synergies between my voiceover day job and my music feel very pronounced as well..
Here’s some of the ways I think the two worlds intertwine and what I think we can learn from them..
- Story progression
Whether it’s a 3 minute pop song, a 5 minute corporate script or a 30 second TV commercial. Each of these forms has a story and a structure. Our job – whether in music or speech is to put that across with meaning and knowing what we want to say. We need to take people with us and leave them exactly as the writer intended. In Voiceover, you need to make sure you understand the content – or at the very least the shape and purpose of the content – so that it lands correctly with the audience. In music, we take listeners on a journey with us as well, with beginnings, middles and endings.
- Tone of voice / timbre
When I am approaching a Voiceover job, one of the first things I like to work out is the tone and sound of my voice for that project, whether this is a warm, cool or neutral read. I’m kind of selecting the instrument from my very own little orchestra! The tone will be selected to work best with the script and the intention of the piece. Just as with music, the instrument will be carefully chosen to paint the right picture. This is where I rase my eyes to heaven at the use of saxophones in the old James Bond films whenever something slightly fruity occurred!
Can you get that whole script into 30 seconds but not sound rushed?! Yes, most times I can. Timing can be about getting all the script in within the duration required as a VO. Sometimes I can be told that I have an extra second or 2 to play with so I can go very slightly slower. It’s subtle but that musical sense of timing and pace is vital! Musicians need to have that sense of timing in their minds, they feel the music and where it feels right.
- Inflection and pitch
Where you “land” your sentences in Voiceover is a very musical thing.. are we rising in pitch? Falling? Staying level? Hearing the musical pitch of a read can really help, it can rise in the middle of a line and then descend again. I do find that understanding what I’m giving as far as the musical pitch throughout a line goes is very useful. It means that if I want to give variations and options I understand what I have delivered before pitch wise and I can offer something different.. maybe going down then neutral instead of up and neutral.
If you hear a read in a very even pace it feels a bit strange – alien. It might be totally deliberate, it’s a way of creating more of an AI sound! Natural speech however is a mix of fast and slow. Take a listen to the conversations around you.. we tend to go a lot quicker when we are excited about something or in very familiar company. We are in quavers and semi quaver territory for sure. Then consider how much more emphasis the slower.. crotchets and minims have by contrast. Pure Voiceover and pure music – right there. Also, life is full of dotted rhythms rather than straight speech patterns that you could align to a metronome. Embrace them!
The Pauses in speech, the breaths, the thinking time.. the quiet. Think of them as rests in music. They can add emphasis to what has come before or after. For me what they can also do is to create space for other “instruments”, In an orchestra, not everyone is playing all the time.. instruments come and go to build the picture. In Voiceover, that pause might allow space for another speaker, for SFX, for emphasis..
When I am working with Voiceover coaching clients, we spend quite a lot of time talking about phrasing. I see the way we use phrasing in Voiceover as absolutely critical to the success of the read. In those conversations I often talk about music phrases being like thoughts. yes, sometimes there may be commas but the thought is continuing and you need to keep that thought and intention in your head in the same way you would approach a musical phrase. It’s part of knowing where it’s going and having that intention. Feel free to book a coaching session with me on this very subject!
Is the script upbeat or lower in mood? As a Voiceover you are interpreting the mood of the written words with your voice. So it’s rarely appropriate to bowl in with a lively tone on a sad script. This intention is also within the minds of musicians as they use the instrument to express emotion. Clever aren’t they?
Playing in bands and orchestras, dynamics are a way of creating subtleties within a piece of music. You don’t want it all fortissimo (mostly), as that would actually be quite boring and too much of an assault on the ears. As Voiceovers, speaking quietly is very powerful and can draw our listener into what we are saying – it can feel really personal. That’s a useful technique for advertisers isn’t it? Use your volumes and mic positions wisely and with knowledge.
- Team work
Finally – as a Voiceover, you are rarely a soloist. Your work is part of a team effort. Your work will fit in with the music, pictures, sound effects, graphics and many other aspects which is the work of many other people. Think of the musicians in an orchestra, each playing their part (literally) and supporting each other, helping each other to shine and to create something that is ultimately greater than the sum of it’s parts.
What do you think?
Clare Reeves is a Voiceover artist who enables her clients to build unforgettable connections with their audiences through voiceovers.
Clare also coaches Voiceover Artists and specialises in helping them discover their authenticity via her Secret Sauce process.
To book a call with Clare please email firstname.lastname@example.org