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Inside Circle Seminar: Kalmenson & Kalmenson’s Strategic Guide To Voice Over Jobs

August 8, 2018

People are drawn to storytelling. Of course, the device has been used in entertainment for thousands of years. But a recent Harvard Business Review study found the neurological reasons why we enjoy hearing stories. The investigation exposed a group of participants to a series of character-driven stories. After hearing them, an increase in oxytocin levels were detected in the brain. Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of kindness and cooperation within individuals.

Now, there are many modes of storytelling. But one of the most powerful narrative tools is voice over. Mark Hamill once said, “One of the things I love about voice over, because you’re not encumbered by being seen, is that it’s liberating.”

Voice over jobs enable a great deal of freedom for actors. By avoiding the insecurity that comes with public performance, an actor can experiment with character development in more original ways.

But, voice over is not simply standing in front of a microphone and speaking. It requires the same introspection and training that all acting roles call for. This is something Casting Frontier wanted to educate its audience about. So, this past June we partnered with voice casting director Cathy Kalmenson for a seminar entitled, “The How and Now For Your Voice Over Success.”

As Co-founder and President of Kalmenson & Kalmenson Voice Casting, Cathy has more than 30 years of voice over experience. Besides casting calls, Kalmenson & Kalmenson offers acting workshops on technique, promotion and demo preparation. In case you missed the seminar, here are 4 important lessons from the day.

Clarity and Confidence in Your Voice Over Brand

According to Cathy, there’s more voice over jobs than ever before. Commercials, audio books, video games and metro systems are a small sample of the available applications. For her, voice over is a casserole career. It is another type of acting power tool, where creativity exists on many levels. One of the most important levels of this career is brand awareness.

When it comes to casting calls, Cathy is very selective. She is not auditioning hundreds of actors a day. Instead, she will handpick 24 auditions for a half day, and 48 for a full. Each of these actors must have clarity and confidence in their brand. For voice over acting jobs, typecasting is an asset. Cathy says you don’t want to confuse a casting director with unnecessary characters. You have to give them a strong impression of who you are right away.

This means sticking with your specific brand, and employing strategic attitude transitions. Ultimately, how you present yourself should be the truth of who you really are.

“When I’m listening to auditions, I’m listening for two things,” Cathy says. “First, clarity of brand. Second, evidence of acting skills. I also look for attitude transitions. Attitudes can change moment by moment, and they lend an air of authenticity to the performance.”

Voice Over Jobs Require A Demo

Like all performers, voice over artists require a calling card. This is where the voice over demo comes in handy.

A voice over demo is a 1 minute recording showcasing an actor’s ability and brand. Cathy explains that most demos contain 1 to 3 different identity examples. Anything past 3, and you risk losing the attention of a casting director. Remember, the majority of voice over tracks are 55 seconds. Because of the shortened length, an actor needs to be a specialist.

Now, when it comes to a voice over demo, there are many types. For example, a natural demo showcases a natural or animated character. A promo demo is for announcers. And a narration demo is for audio books. Other speciality demos include accent and foreign language tracks. If you’re bilingual, make sure to record a separate demo for each language.      

Cathy also stresses that you want to make sure your demo is easily available for promotional purposes. This means the demo should be featured on your website, your agent’s website or an online casting website.

As you can see, you have to take time to craft your demo. Just throwing together random performances into a 1 minute recording is not going to land you the acting jobs you desire.  Here, specificity is key. Understand your brand, and use that to build the demo around.

Acting Roles Are About Authenticity

Often, people come to Cathy and say I want to find my money voice. For Cathy, this line of thinking is misguided. “Show business is no business,” Cathy says. “It’s a condition of the heart. The money voice is your truth voice.”

According to Cathy, the driving business for voice over jobs are commercials. And the one element most important to a commercial casting director is authenticity.

Sure, this advice is familiar. But, authenticity is a tricky thing. This is an industry where changing identities is a requirement for acting jobs. So, identifying and bringing your own identity to the surface can be challenging. After all, most people don’t walk around saying who am I.

To help voice over actors with this obstacle, Cathy has created a personal inventory exercise. Whether it’s a yellow legal pad or a computer, Cathy invites students to take an inventory of who they really are. Are they a father? A sister? A frustrated commuter?  After a lengthy list has been generated, students select 3 to 5 identities that call out to them. From there, they can utilize these identities and emotions during auditions and demos.

As Cathy has mentioned, in the voice over world, people need to get a sense of who you are right away. If you don’t know who you are, then how are they supposed? Ultimately, embrace who you are, and be brave enough to share it with the world.  

Don’t Be Afraid To Improv In Your Voice Over Work

Cathy says that voice over jobs are full of surprises. Just like acting on stage, things can happen unexpectedly. Because of this, a voice over artist needs to be adaptable and quick-thinking. Which is why Cathy encourages voice over actors to improvise during auditions.

In Cathy’s experience, improv helps to bring out an actor’s true identity. Too many times, Cathy has witnessed actors unwilling to deviate from script pages during casting calls. This is what they’ve practiced, and they’re too intimidated to stray from it. Yes, adhering to direction is important. But, self-direction is also an essential ability for voice over jobs.

An actor needs to understand a scene quickly, and be able to adjust performance based on the reactions of the people in the room. A casting director wants to see that an actor can contribute something meaningful to the role. Something that adheres to the message the client is promoting, but also something that adds to it.

Now, Cathy is also quick to point out that an actor shouldn’t get carried away with improv. In voice over, intimacy is your allie. Projection is your enemy. “Quiet places are where truth lives,” Cathy says. “If someone accuses you of sounding too much like an announcer, make sure to reduce your projection.”

As Cathy has mentioned, voice over is not about highly-refined voices. It is an industry of specificity. And more importantly, authenticity. Because of this, don’t be afraid to flaunt your short-comings. Be adaptable, and willing to improvise if appropriate.

Wrapping up Voice Over Jobs With Cathy Kalmenson

Claire Danes has said, “Voice over can be tricky. It can be dangerous because it’s over used or inappropriately used.”

For Cathy Kalmenson, honesty is the key to succeeding in voice over. Too often, actors concentrate on the needs of others rather than themselves. By speaking from the heart, actors can deliver the emotion and originality necessary for most acting roles. For Cathy, it’s all about truth. Voice over should be the truth of who you really are.