Reaching Your “Ultimate Audience” in Voiceover

by Kevin Delaney

There’s an inherent danger in what we do as VO artists.

Ask the average actor in Los Angeles what’s been on his or her mind lately. Odds are, they’ll tell you: Auditions, headshots and resumes, acting classes, casting director workshops, showcases, agents, postcard mailings, union issues, actor-related websites and forums, and the latest edition of Backstage West.

These things constitute the bulk of a typical actor’s “world.” But do you notice something about the list?

None of these things have anything to do with the life experience of a person who tunes in to watch a TV show, attends the movies or theater, or otherwise consumes, enjoys and appreciates the work of an actor.

People who are involved in animation production often face a similar problem. They can become so ensconced in the technical aspects of creating pictures that talk and move, they often lose sight of their ultimate audience — those who are on the receiving end of the product they’re creating.

“Those on the receiving end” does not mean industry folks. It means consumers; real-world people who are not connected to the business of entertainment or advertising in any way. People who watch TV, play video games, surf the Web, download content for their smartphones, etc.

Many voiceover artists, in my opinion, suffer from an excessive focus on the “world” of VO. They’re too caught up in trying to make connections in the industry and book their next gig — too concerned about making an impression on agents and casting directors — and not focused enough on forming a connection with their ultimate audience.

Bear in mind that most people nothing whatsoever about voiceover as a profession. They have no awareness of mixers, preamps, microphones, WhisperRooms™, copy analysis, Pay-to-Play websites, guest director classes, etc.

I’m not saying that these things are of no importance. I’m pointing out that they are utterly unimportant as far as your ultimate audience is concerned.

When you read for a role, whom are you trying to reach? An agent? A producer? Some overworked person at a production company who’s been charged with the task of listening to 2,000+ auditions?

These professional folks are vital to our careers. We must make friends with them, and get them on our side.

But ultimately, we have to reach (and move) the public.

Contrary to popular misconception, agents do not pay you. Neither do ad agencies or production houses. A payroll service might issue your check, but ultimately those dollars come from working men and women who have likely never thought about “voiceover” as a profession.

I urge VO artists when they perform, to imagine someone they know personally, who can in effect symbolize their ultimate audience. This helps to “break them out of the booth” — it liberates them from the confines of the studio, and frees them from the tyranny of the sheet of paper in front of them.

The overwhelming majority of people who hear my voice don’t know me as Voiceover Ninja, or even as Kevin Delaney. For a fleeting instant, I’m either an engaging voice saying something worth paying attention to, or I’m background chatter that deserves to be ignored.

It’s one of the most important questions you can ask yourself in VO: At any given moment, to whom am I speaking?

To whom is the project you’re working on ultimately addressed?

Only once you answer this — only when you know who constitutes your ultimate audience — can you understand why you’re saying what you’re saying, and what is the meaning of the words you speak.

It’s also the only way to build a lasting career in voiceover. When you’re a hit with “the people,” the opportunities for advancement are limitless.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Howard Ellison December 31, 2012 at 5:09 am

This is deep wisdom indeed. Unlike the immediacy of stage, there’s a chain of invisible operations between what we do and the hearts and minds of the audience. We can’t see them or hear them.
What a challenge to the performer’s ‘as if’ imagination, and what a reward when eventually we hear that what we did got through.

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