It’s often said that actors are believed on stage until the moment they open their mouths. This mouth-opening moment is critical, because it’s when the audience forms their first impression of the person they are listening to: are they an actor performing in a play, or are they a real person? In podcasts, we give up our visual credibility as actors by default, relying purely on our voice to convey our character’s entire personality. This is both terrifying and freeing, and something that is unique to podcasts alone. Here are some voice acting tips and tricks for podcasters, written by a voice actor and podcaster.
Help Your Sound Team
There are a few key things that you can do as a voice actor to help things run smoothly, no matter how advanced or novice your editors/producers/sound engineers might be. First and foremost, work with ideal mic, body, and script placement. Most professional sound studios will have a hanging mic set up for you with either an external or internal pop-filter already in place. Try to maintain one flexed hand’s distance away from the mic, with your head level with the ground.
If you’re working in a studio without a pop-filter, you’ll save your sound team the disaster of dealing with your plosives and sibilance by keeping your mic an inch or so to the side or by your chin. You can also create a make-shift pop-filter in a pinch by stretching some pantyhose across a clothes hanger, and attaching that to your mic (there are tons of tutorials online)! This may seem like a less-than-essential step, but there’s a reason I’ve included it in this list. Without proper mic and pop-filter technique, your listeners will be focusing on the distracting noises of your mouth and breath rather than your excellent performance.
When working off your script, make sure it’s placed in such a way that you can see it without needing to adjust yourself. That’s not to say that you can’t move while you’re recording (in fact, you probably SHOULD be animating while you record), but that your script should always be in your direct eye line.
Get Out Of Your Own Way
Speaking of scripts: KNOW YOUR SCRIPTS, PEOPLE! As voice actors, we have the luxury of being able to work on script while we work – this does not mean that you should be looking at it for the first time as you are recording the podcast. Having your script in front of you is a great tool at your disposal to help ease performance anxiety, but it can also lock you up and prevent character exploration.
Dealing with performance anxiety is a normal part of voice acting, particularly for podcasters who might be relatively new in the field. Thankfully, you will be able to ease your performance anxiety almost instantly by following this simple acting technique: make it about the other guy. What I mean by this is that by making everything you’re saying about the person you’re saying it to, you will be less likely to hyper-analyze your own performance. What is your scene partner thinking? What message are you trying to get across to them? Does it seem like they’re understanding what you’re trying to say?
One of the main things you hear in theatre school time and time again is “Go For Goals”, which is another great way to help you be a better actor… Who would have thought?... The technique of going for goals is so well-known that it has become a cliché spoken by most annoying or pretentious on-screen actors: What’s my motivation for this scene? By going for a goal that is in turn all about the other person (ex: I want you to love me, I want you to believe me, I want you to realize the truth), you can effectively change your tactics throughout the scene knowing that they will be backed by your motivation, which will make your character genuine, relatable, and believable.
While recording your scenes, think about how you are saying each line and why you are saying them. As a voice actor, it’s important to show instead of tell. What information are you getting across to the listener with your subtext, by how you are speaking to each individual character and how you interact with one group of people compared to the other? Keeping this in mind will allow your acting to reach various different levels, and will help you keep away from stale one-note performances! Don’t think “I want to come off as sad with this line”, instead think “why isn’t she believing what I’m saying?”.
All in all, voice acting is a skill that you can work at, not just a talent that you do or don’t have. Remember proper hydration and equipment usage/set-up are very important steps to take before you even speak your first line. Whenever you can, work with other actors and the director before you record, so that you can all be on the same page. And last but not least, when thinking about your goals or “motivations”, remember that they might not be as obvious as they seem… Perhaps working with a goal that is quite obviously the opposite of your characters intentions will unlock a new element to the scene that you didn’t think of before.
Charlene Bayer is an actor, writer, podcaster, content creator, and marketer. Her current podcasts include Drinking and Screaming (@drinkandscream, Twitter: @drink_scream) and Super Hopped-Up (@Superhoppedup). Her voice talents have most recently been featured in various Electronic Art’s video games, Netflix Original shows and films, and the new tv show adaptation of Snowpiercer (2020)! You can learn more about Char on her website www.charlenebayer.com and by following her on social media @charlenebayer.