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How to Discover the Perfect Voice for Any Character Role


By Caroline Turner Cole | 6th February 2020

Getting into character as a voice actor requires versatility and flexibility.

This article aims to help voice actors of all experience levels to find the perfect voice for every role with top tips from the Voquent voice talent community.

You may have to voice various characters throughout a typical day behind the mic, switching quickly between vastly different types of voices, especially if you're narrating an audiobook or providing voices for game & animation projects. 

As actors, above all, your most important job is always to tell the story.  To lift a dry piece of copy off the page and bring it to life—making something as dull as CRM software sound like a vital addition to a happy and fulfilling life. 

We usually only speak about playing characters when creating "character voices" for games, cartoons and audiobooks. But we are ALWAYS playing a role when we step behind the microphone

 

Man listens to audiobook

 

First, imagine your audience.

Through that lens, getting into character is easier. Every time you're in the booth, try imagining your audience and the emotions you want them to feel.

Picture them being right outside the room, with their headphones in, listening to whatever you're working on at the time. 

This tactic is a helpful reminder that you're always performing for someone. You're never speaking into the void. 
For example, imagining the audience listening to you as you narrate an audiobook will help bring the characters to life. It will help you to make the characters more animated, so they lift off the page. 

Or, when doing commercial voice-over work, envisage the customer in the store, looking at the product or scrolling through Facebook as the ad pops up. Always ask yourself: how do you want them to hear the message? 
Gotten Ittetsu adds::

Constantly keeping your imagination active helps your performance stay alive and engaging, instead of slipping into stale, boring, or, God forbid, robotic. 
Jeremy Robecheaux says:

So every time you work, you’re stepping into a character role. 

Here are some more specific pointers for creating that perfect character voice for your forthcoming animation gig, video game character or audiobook project. 

 

Post apocalyptic female character

 

Prepare and ask for help.

 

1) Character Art 

Always ask for direction from the author or creator. First, find out if there’s character art. An animated clip is even better to see how the character moves! Seeing the movement helps get your imagination rolling as you start to envision how a character acts. 

Then you can create pitch, tone, speech rate and cadence, and start to notice any distinguishing features that may change the character’s speech. 

RELATED: The Vocal Characteristics That Speak To Your Character

Elizabeth Daily, the voice of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats, created the recognizable voice by noticing how big Tommy’s lips were in the concept art. The big lips inspired her to give him that recognizable lisp in her audition, and – boom – her voice matched the character better than anyone else. 

Kelly Wilson also talks about the importance of physicality:

 

2) Character Relationships

Ask about the character’s relationships with other characters. 

Do they generally get along with others? Are they approachable or guarded? Does the character enjoy socializing, or do they have an agenda?

Knowing how the character relates to others is particularly important for audiobooks when creating all the voices that make up the world. How the characters interact with each other will change throughout the book based on their relationship status. 

It’s also worth mentioning that you should keep copious and detailed character notes when recording audiobook projects! 

 

3) Character Depth

Try to gain a sense of the experiences that have shaped the character’s strength. What’s driving them? Do they like to take risks? Has a history of success inflated their confidence? Is the character young and carefree, imagining a lifetime of happiness ahead of them? Or do they have tragic circumstances forced on them and have to make peace with untold inter turmoil? 

Characters in leadership positions become greatly more plausible when there is some backstory and context. To the same extent, a villain with little or no rationale beyond their immediate self-interest becomes easier to dislike. 
Joey Bosco says:

 

4) Character Comparison

Occasionally, it also can be helpful to compare something that's already out there, e.g. 'She sounds a bit like Leela from Futurama'

Great – so pull up a clip of Leela, listen to her voice, mimic the cadence a bit and use that as inspiration. Although, you should always make it clear to the client that you're not an impersonator, and it will never sound exactly like the inspiration material. 

But, as a voice-over coach of mine likes to say, "A bad impression is still a good character voice.". 

RELATED: How to choose the best voice coach for voice acting work

 

Pat Seymore behind the mic

 

Find the Character: Behind the Mic

Once you've done your homework, it's time to begin recording. After a solid physical and vocal warm-up, there's nothing left to do but get behind that mic! 

 

1) Posture

Find each character in your body. A slight tilt to the head for Character A. A shift in your weight to one side for Character B. Hands on the hips for Character C, etc.  

Your posture, plus early prep work and notes, helps keep characters consistent and enables you to find them again quickly. Handy, if you're switching between lots of characters in a fantasy audiobook or video game. 

This technique is also helpful if you need to recall voices in the future. For example, you are rediscovering how that cunning animated cartoon fox you voiced six months ago is easier if you can adopt the posture.
AminaSync agrees posture is essential:

 

2) Pitch

Does the character speak with a high, low or standard pitch? 

Varying the pitch among your characters—especially your main protagonists and antagonists—helps them sound immediately distinct. 

ALSO READ: Cultivating Your Unique Vibe

Listeners will appreciate this because it helps make the characters instantly recognizable, and thus the story is more engaging and easier to digest.

 

3) Tone & Accent

How do they speak? Roughly? Lightly? Crisp and clear

If you're narrating audiobooks, often the author will write something about the character's voice the first time they speak in the story. Always take note of this and incorporate it into how you create the tone. 

RELATED: Explore vocal tones on Voquent

Does the character have an accent?

Knowing the accent is incredibly important, and you need to keep it consistent. A few accents peppered throughout a novel or for all the video game NPCs are fun to voice and great for audiences to recognise the voices easily. Plus, it's always a fun acting challenge to learn a new accent for a project. 

@aqh_voice on Instagram says:

"I like to establish the edges first...I find the highest and lowest pitch then find the emotional boundaries of the characters. After that, I try to add depth and dimension to the character by finding quirks in their personality. Once those are in place the character is pretty much ready to record."

 

4) Pace

How quickly does a character speak? A dynamic character may frequently change pace. Or an intentionally steady pace for another character can be used to great comedic effect. If they’re a nervous or 'busy' sort of character, maybe they say everything a bit faster than the people around them. If they’re a bit older, or if a younger character is enduring an immediate moment of emotional impact, you should consider speaking more slowly and deliberately.

 

5) Consistency

Jumping between multiple character roles can sometimes make it difficult to maintain consistency, mainly if you perform a narration with a vast cast of characters (like a series of audiobooks). 

In that case, you may want to call in the big guns and create an album of character voices for reference. For books or games with less than 20 characters, a list with notes is perhaps enough to make recognizable and unique character voices. 

Creating an exhaustive character reference of MP3 samples that you can listen to when you need to recreate a character from 300 pages ago is crucial for a larger project. A short sample labelled with the character's name offers a quick and valuable refresher to keep the characters consistent throughout the project. 

I challenge you to try and remember what your actual voice sounds like by the end of the project! 

Every voice actor finds their way to make a new character uniquely their own. I encourage you to get creative as you bring your next character to life. Try something new, and if you're not sure it works, check with the fantastic Voquent community on Twitter

Trying new things is one of the best things about voice acting. Always remember to draw on personal experiences to breathe authenticity into your work. Permit yourself to stray from the beaten path. In doing so, you may not only discover new audiences but new dimensions of yourself. 

 

Learn more about Voice Acting Jobs at Voquent

Listen to character voices of all types

 


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Caroline Turner Cole

Caroline Turner Cole

Caroline Turner Cole is a voiceover artist and writer from Dallas, TX.

About Author

Caroline Turner Cole

Caroline Turner Cole

Caroline Turner Cole is a voiceover artist and writer from Dallas, TX.