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  • Writer's pictureKim Lomax (she/her)

Real Talk - a guide to a career in voiceover

First off, THANK YOU for stopping by my new blog! Welcome👋! I'm so glad you're here. Honestly, this blog wouldn't even exist if I hadn't tried to make an overly long-winded LinkedIn post. Thankfully LI has a character limit, because now I have a platform to share things I've learned about myself and about the voiceover industry. Hopefully you'll find something here that resonates with YOU!

So here's something I realized today:

My jazz background (both in teaching and performing) has really laid the foundation for how I approach voice acting.

Let me provide some context.

I stumbled across this video today while working on some marketing. It was recorded mid-pandemic. I was working alongside some wonderful musicians to bring WeBop*, an A-MAZING early-childhood jazz education curriculum into people’s homes since COVID was preventing us from offering our normal in-person classes.

(*NYC friends with young kiddos, visit You will not be sorry!)

Sure, I've seen the video before, but not for several years. And now I’m seeing it through a new lens. When I hear voiceover (VO) pros talk about what it takes to excel in this industry, among the top skills they encourage actors to grow is improvisation.

In WeBop, we defined improvisation as "freedom within structure." To explain, I'd say to the kids:

Ok, you're headed to the playground. This playground might have a concrete boundary which contains all of the sand and playground equipment. Today, you choose to head over to the swings first. You do that happily for a while, but then you see a friend on the slide and decide to join them. While sliding, you realize that all the sand has become hot lava and the only safe way to traverse your surroundings is to take off your shoes and use them as stepping stones. BUT, the next time you head to the playground, you might make entirely different decisions about in what order and how to play.

I see this video as a microcosm of that idea. We had a set list. We had a general idea of how I was going to transition us from song to song, concept to concept. But within that structure, we played.

In voiceover:

➤The script (copy) and character information (specs) are the structure

➤My own life experiences are the tools I use to guide me in interpreting the story of the script. This is where freedom comes in. My relationship with my best childhood friend might inform the way I connect to a script in one way, while my relationship with my son would likely inform that same piece of copy in an entirely different way.

Making choices about how to interpret can have its challenges - freedoms can be quite liberating, but sometimes all that freedom can result in paralysis. Great, so how do I decide what choices to make? In my own practice and with my students, I’ve found one solution for this ‘choice paralysis’ is to limit the parameters.

Jazz musicians often make lightning fast choices about a large list of things while improvising: pitch, note duration, rhythm, articulation, tone color, phrase shape, phrase length, and more. To make the process more bite-sized, I have encouraged practicing singers to only explore descending phrases - a collection of notes that get consecutively lower over the course of a single melodic idea, often in a single breath. Limiting the scope of what choices need to be made in a single moment allows the mind to relax and often results in it accessing ideas that may otherwise not have come to you.

This parameter-limiting approach could look like this for VO. Let's take the example of a Pre-K character for an animation script.

The specs tell us:

➤It's got big eyes (you know because the lovely casting folks provided an image)

➤It's shy, but fiercely loyal

➤It loves corn on the cob

Instead of attempting to account for ALL of the specs at once on EVERY single line, on your first pass of your first line you might choose to embody the big-eyed wonderment, while placing your voice a bit farther back in your mouth, because that's how the "shy" presents itself. You also decide to deliver that line while hiding under a (real or imaginary) security blanket you think never leaves your character's side.

Ok, second pass. You decide to be trying to work a piece of corn out of your teeth the entire line. Maybe you also always travel with a stick of butter and salt packets and improv a line about misplacing your butter due to a hole in your pocket. (But really, shouldn’t we all travel with a stick of butter?🧈)

So the concept of exploring improvisation in voiceover is certainly not unique to me, but I think framing it in this “freedom within structure” context may be new for some. The more I acknowledge and define my structure before scatting a few measures of a jazz standard or delivering a truly honest-to-me, conversational piece of copy, the more creative freedom I have and ultimately, the greater success I feel.

The lesson learned here: commit to a few key ideas and let the parameters set you free!

(If this resonates with you, I'd love to know!)

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