Friday, August 5, 2016

How to audition for online projects (part 2)

A few weeks ago I wrote about 7 tips to avoid accidentally sabotaging your own audition. Auditions for Zelda Universe's Twilight Princess dub opened about a week ago, and my goodness has fan support erupted into a geyser of joy. I voiced the narrator and Rito Chieftain for ZU's Wind Waker dub, and the entire month-long casting process for that didn't see as many auditions as this received in its first few days.

And it did become clear to me that there must be a Part 2 to the subject of auditioning online, because in the over 1,000 auditions submitted in not even a week, there are a lot of common mistakes being made that I didn't address. I recommend you read my prior article on the subject first because it hits the bigger points (and come on, don't you want to be all chronologically proper?), but please stick around for 7 more tips (plus a couple of refreshers) for auditioning online.



#1: EDIT YOUR AUDIO. Not everyone's a wizard with an audio interface. I see that crap and my brain says "james.exe has stopped working." Thankfully, for most auditions and a fair amount of voice over work, you don't need to be. You just need to know how to pretty up your recording so it sounds decently reminiscent of the final product.

That means listening to your audition before submitting. Listen to it again and again, like the whips of your very masters were behind you. If you're not familiar with whatever recording software you're trying to edit on (Audacity's always a good choice), play around with it and look up tutorials online, but rarely does an audition scream of professionalism when the voice actor hasn't even take the time to trim the fat.

You want to come across as professional. Doesn't matter if it's for a fandub or a triple-A video game. Do your best to not settle for less.

A lot of my other points in this article will stem from this one, but I'll go over some basics. If you make a weird mouth noise in between sentences or takes, remove it. If there's five seconds of silence between your last word and the end of the audition, remove the buffer of silence. If alien war erupts in your hometown between takes, call, uh, Jeff Goldblum, then edit out the part where the alien mothership explodes town hall. (Or keep it. You know, that could be pretty awesome.) Bottom line is, trim what detracts from your audition, because you want to look professional, even if you're a 16-year-old with no credits to his name...yet.

#2: If you hear plosives or peaking, don't send the audition. Do it over or send it an alternate take (because you ARE recording multiple takes in one session, right?), but don't settle for bad microphone technique.

What's a plosive? Pause for a moment, grab a microphone, record on it, and blow into it, then stop recording and play it back. That's a plosive. It's what happens when the gusts of air you create when talking distort the microphone and create a loud, abrasive noise. It's particularly common when speaking the letter P and has also been known to show its ugly head on letters like B, T, and K, or when just exhaling loudly.

How do you avoid this? As a long-term investment, look at buying (or even creating) a "pop filter" - a little mesh device that attaches to the front of your microphone and helps catch the air you expel before it can distort the mic. Short-term, speak just slightly off microphone rather than directly into it (so your puffs of air don't hit it dead-on), and any time you come to a particularly plosive part (a phrase which is very plosive in and of itself), try holding something long and thin, like a pencil or your finger, to your lips as if shushing someone - it can help catch the puff without muffling your voice.

What's peaking? Peaking is what happens when your microphone is overloaded with loud noise and distorts that loud noise into a muffled, warbly sound. Lanipator's famous "FFFFFUUUUU" is a perfect example of this. It's more common in cheaper microphones not built to handle heavy-duty sound.

How do you avoid this? Aside from investing in an expensive, professional-quality mic (which could run you hundreds of dollars), try staying a bit farther away from the mic if possible when yelling so you're not screaming so close to it. I also turn down the "gain" (essentially, how much audio the mic takes in, and therefore how loud the recording will be) so the mic doesn't pick up too much and peak. I can easily amplify the audio after it's been recorded if I think the base volume is too quiet. Some mics and audio interfaces will emit flashes or colors if you're peaking or coming close to it. The Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 interface that I use does this.

#3: Don't include the sound of you starting and/or stopping the recording. Remember my whole Pattonian speech about professionalism? ("No voice actor ever won an audition by peaking for his country...") A great way to kill your professionalism instantly is to include one tiny little sound at the beginning and/or end of your recording: click. That's the sound of you clicking Record and Stop before and after your audition.

Let me make this absolutely crystalline: DON'T DO THAT. There's more to being a voice actor than just doing weird voices, and you know what? There's more to it than just acting, too. It's about a professional work ethic, some editing, making deadlines, being someone who everyone wants to work with. That little click you include in your auditions is a giant neon sign that you are none of those things. Even if you are actually all of those things, it may very well not sound like it to whoever's casting.

What if you're not trying to be the greatest voice actor ever? Why should "looking professional" be so important to you? Because you're attempting to be a key part of someone else's project, someone who wants the best quality they can get and needs to meet a deadline. A lot of people who audition for various roles don't bear that perspective in mind. The project's producer wants the assurance that the people they cast will work quickly and masterfully to make the project the best it can be by the allotted time. If you can't at least act like you're capable of that, expect to be glossed over.

#4: Be conscious of what you eat and drink, and introduce yourself to Grandmother Smith. What you put into your face plays a pretty big part in what you sound like. Ever heard someone speak and wonder why there's so much "smacking" going on? Chances are they're thirsty, and their parched tongue is sticking to the inside of their mouth every time they talk. The verdict: be well-hydrated before you audition to avoid that mouth-smackiness. In fact, be well-hydrated in general. It's healthy. Also be wary about eating sugar, salt, or anything that could make you thirsty before recording.

But what if it's too late and you're already making mouth smacks? A pretty good swath of my family's dead, but there's one relative I can rely on: Grandmother Smith. I am, of course, referring to Granny Smith apples, which are apparently magical fruits whose juice can instantly cease your smackiness for a brief time. Take a bite (or a suck) before speaking, and you may be amazed at how much better you sound. But also stay hydrated. Pretty important for a voice actor.

#5: If you don't know how to pronounce something, find out before saying it. It's an easy mistake to make with foreign or fictional words and names, and to this day I'm still guilty of winging it from time to time. Whoever's casting will probably forgive you for that, though, and simply correct you down the road if you're cast. What's a little more awkward, though, is getting a basic, everyday word wrong. Nothing audition-killing - you can be corrected, and the project will progress. However, it still won't look particularly good on you, and worst case scenario, it may lead whoever's casting to think you're not good at reading; and in case you weren't aware, there's a whoooole lot of reading involved in voice acting.

#6: Try to breathe normally; edit awkward breaths and noises out. Microphones are specifically built to pick up noise in general, not just what you want them to hear. When put on the spot, people not used to voice acting often forget to breathe naturally. You put the two together, and there's potential for a lot of awkward breathing and mouth noise where it shouldn't exist.

The best cure-all for this dilemma is simply, well, become a better actor, especially as it pertains to voice over. The more relaxed and in-character you are, the more natural and believable your breathing patterns will become. (Furthermore, staying hydrated and visiting Grandmother Smith will help eliminate those weird mouth noises.) Worst case scenario, listen to your audition before submitting and cut out any breaths you think are weird and distracting. Cutting out too many can sometimes make your recording sound strangely lifeless, but it's likely better than everyone listening to you go "huuaauUGGHHH" between lines.

#7: Read your audition lines before you record, and decide how you want to make them "yours". I made a point in the prequel article of "making an audition yours," meaning giving it your own personal touch so it stands out from the others. This really only happens when you're intimately familiar with the line prior to recording, though. A lot of auditions can feel a bit aimless because people aren't envisioning a specific scene playing out, or their characters responding to something in particular. You need to read your audition lines prior to recording (like, more than just a few seconds before hitting Record) and firmly settle on how you want to do this, right down to attitude, voice, and inflection.

Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt refer to this as the "6 Ws" - What, When, Where, Why, Who, and hoW. (They said it first, not me.) You don't need to write an essay on exactly what time of day and geographical location your character is in, but you should have a pretty good idea of why they're saying what they're saying, and how that makes them feel. And again, that rarely, if ever, happens when you don't take the time to connect with the character you're auditioning for.

A COUPLE OF REFRESHERS

Before we go, I want to expand on a couple of things I pointed out in my last article about auditioning online. Don't go away just yet!

Don't just send in the first thing that comes out of your mouth. I hear a lot of auditions where the voice-actor-hopeful clearly just read the line once and submitted it without editing. Naturally, they're usually rather underwhelming. Even working professionals in the studio are often given time to "warm up" a little and explore lines in different ways.

Your "quickie audition," contrary to fairly popular belief, is probably worse than no audition. Do you want to know why? Because if I hear just one or two bad auditions from the same person, I will never listen to another audition from that person. A lot of casting directors can say the same. It's less of a "personal choice" on our part, and more human nature. Why bother wasting time listening to this guy who was such a letdown all those other times? Even if you come back months later with the acting chops of Mark Hamill, if those casting directors remember your old, lame auditions, they will not even listen to your new ones.

Auditioning before you're ready can near-permanently close doors. Think about that before sending your audition in. It's why so many voice over coaches so strongly encourage up-and-coming voice actors not to rush their demo or auditions.

Be careful about relying on effects and filters to make yourself sound "cool." Chances are your voice will be modified anyway if you get certain parts (demons, spirits, etc.), but be wary about adding effects like echoes, high/low pitch shifts, and the like. It's often considered bad form in the professional world, and not only does it threaten to disguise what your voice inherently sounds like in case the producer DOESN'T want to modify your voice, but it sometimes sends a negative message of "Hey, check out how cool my voice sounds now, rather than my acting ability or natural delivery!" Again, not usually audition-killing stuff, but it can sometimes rub casting directors the wrong way.

Sometimes you may have an option to do one normal take and another with an effect applied; it's probably best to ask if you can do it both ways if you really want to submit that awesome echo-y version of your audition, but don't make it your default. It may get you some recognition and praise from the average Joe in the early stages of your online voice over career; down the road, it may not serve you so well.



Please, please let me know what you think of all this; I value your feedback and always look to improve. Leave a comment down below on your opinion, or anything else you think auditioning voice actors should bear in mind, or what you'd like to see from this blog in the future. I will listen and accommodate. Stick around for more, because things are about to take off with some new series and interviews, and who knows? Maybe you'll be in one of them. Subscribe via the email form below the comment section or at the top of the blog, and stay tuned for more.

Curious how to spruce up your recording space so your auditions' sound quality is better, too? Get some ideas by reading how I made my booth here. If you want a perspective on the pros and cons of voice acting, read this.

4 comments:

  1. Wow! So much great advice, and learned so much from it. Thank you very much.

    I feel like a "crashing khronox.exe" when I hear myself and try to edit something, and can't figure out for the life of me why something sounds the way it sounds. Aside from all the great things you've mentioned, I feel like there's a LOT that needs to be learned when editing, like through Audacity. Otherwise, you edit too much or too little, and the original concept in your mind goes to the garbage. Have you, in your e-travels, discovered a place where you were able to learn Audacity tips and tricks to it's best potential, or even by usable standards?

    I may have missed this when skimming through the article, but another thing I've learned recently through the Zelda Universe auditions is that the VERY first thing that comes out of your mouth is often the only thing people will use to determine if it's worth listening to your audition all the way through or not. I'm even guilty of doing this.

    Again, thanks for all the advice! :)

    -Khronox

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  2. Thanks for the feedback, Khronox! Glad you liked the article and found it useful.

    The way I learned Audacity was probably through a combination of its official online manual, a series of YouTube videos by one guy on how to edit audiobooks (though I can't seem to find him offhand), and just dinking around on my own. I plan to write another article on how to (very basically) use Audacity so people can jump in without feeling overwhelmed, so that may help in the future. For now, what I'll say is, watch some intro-level tutorials on YouTube, then GRADUALLY try to emulate what you see. Take it slow and worry about all the really technical stuff down the road. When you've got the hang of stuff like copying and pasting, you can worry about what the difference between a high-pass and low-pass filter is.

    As for auditions, first impressions do matter, and if I'm underwhelmed by what I hear in the first few seconds, I may choose not to listen to the rest as well. When recording on your own, though, you should generally do multiple takes between hitting Record and Stop, then audition with the one(s) you think work best. In other words, you may wind up auditioning with the third or fourth thing out of your mouth rather than the first; a lot of people tend to do just one take total, hope it's alright, and then submit it raw...and it usually shows.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting. Feedback means a lot to me. Be sure to stick around for more content, because now I'm thinking about writing that intro to Audacity.

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  3. Just FYI, it's 'Who, What, When, Where, and Why', not 'What, When, Where, Why, and hoW'.

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    1. Aahh, you're right. I thought I was forgetting one. This is why James isn't allowed among people without an escort and a shock collar. I think what I meant to say was, "SIX W's - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and hoW," which was how it was presented in Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt's book Voice Over Voice Actor. I'll edit the article accordingly.

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