I know many Voiceover Artists that might have a flute, or a guitar, or even a drum kit stashed away at home.. in fact I'm willing to bet that a high percentage of VOs play at least one musical instrument.
Why this random thought? Well, recently I found out about a new community swing band that was starting up in my local area. They put out a plea on social media for players of saxophones, trumpets and bass to get in touch with a view to joining.
My most recent musical endeavours have been bass guitar based (ahem), I've played in quite a few bands on the bass over the years from covers to original indie pop / rock. Playing bass guitar appealed to me on many levels.. the first one being the 42nd level.. or Level 42, as they are more usually referred to. My top favourite band and their phenomenal bass player Mark King made taking up bass guitar irresistible. Playing the bass in a band is quite an experience. Some joke that the bass player is there to "translate for the drummer". There is some truth in that - you're melodic and you're the rhythm, the groove if you will. The low notes, you can feel more than hear and locking into the rhythm to provide the foundation for the band. If a bass player gets a note wrong it stands out more than you'd expect because it knocks the whole harmony of the band off - you're the root and you've got to be spot on!
A battle of the bands on my bass A not posing pose. Only girl in the band - again.
As much as I love bass guitar playing, playing bass in a swing band would have been pretty tough as I've never read bass clef music for the bass guitar and as much as this old dog loves a new trick - that was never going to happen to a decent standard in a week. My bassoon years / misadventures are way behind me.
So, I thought about the saxophone.. I played alto sax at school - I had lessons and really enjoyed it. It's about as different a role in a band to playing bass as it's possible to get, but fun in it's own way. I was seduced in the 1980s by saxophones.. we were all sold that gold, shiny, curvy, emotional, glamorous dream.. (who did it's PR? They were good!) and I NEEDED one!
I played in bands on the sax at University and sold it not long after graduating. But that was that for about 20 years.
Until last week when I saw this ad for the local community swing band. A local friend agreed to lend me her saxophone (I had no idea she played!) while I sussed out if this was something I could still do and whether I liked it after all that time off.
The last week has been interesting. I bought some new reeds, gave it a clean and had a go. The first go was far from great and I felt those 20 years. But gradually over that last 4 days with little bursts of practice between voicing to build the muscles up again, I think I can still do it! In fact I'm rather surprised how well my brain and fingers and music reading still flow..
The borrowed saxophone Playing sax 23 years go - supporting Bad Manners!
In fact, I have realised this week in my early days of relearning the saxophone, that phrasing in the music is second nature. I also find myself scanning ahead in the music so when I get to the tricky bits, I'm prepared. I'm looking for important parts of the music, where the pauses are so I can breathe and the places that need extra emphasis, attention to dynamics and what emotion needs to come through.
I am totally playing the saxophone exactly like I voice! I'm not sure if I voice like I play sax or vice versa. But I'm gong through very similar thought and work processes in each of these. Understanding the phrasing and "construction" of a VO script is crucial to putting it across with the right meaning. Exactly so in music. Recognising that the pauses / rests in the right places add emphasis as well as air to the lungs. Playing a gentle, subtle tune on the sax will never sound right if you're honking that horn at fortissimo. In voiceover, I get close to the mic for the subtle read and speak it gently.
I have heard it said that the saxophone is one of the closest instruments in expressiveness to the human voice. I thought this was just as regards singing, but it's surprisingly close to the voiceover speaking voice.
I'm keeping up with the practice, enjoying the new / old challenge and I can't wait to dust off this old hobby and challenge myself to play in a band next week. I may have accrued 20 years saxophone rustiness but I have found a new appreciation for it and it's similarity with voiceover.
And I'm convinced that so many of the voiceovers we hear have a musical history...
Clare Reeves is a professional Voiceover artist and amateur musician. You can hear Clare's Commercial Reel on the Home and see if you can spot the musicality!