When our own Adrianna Dufay isn’t proofreading, writing an article or publishing our weekly newsletter here on TueNight.com, you might find her in a booth with headphones, talking about a credit card. Or a business summit. As a part-time voice-over artist (and former Off-Broadway actor), her own voice is a key part of her profession. I wondered what that might be like (it sounds like the coolest job ever), so I asked if she’d take some time out of her weekend to tell me.
How did you first get into voice-over work? I went to graduate school for acting and when I first moved to New York City, I was recruited by a well-regarded voiceover agent. I came here to act in plays, but those downtown gigs weren’t paying the bills, so I hoped to make some money with my voice. Turns out you have to (or at least I had to) audition A LOT to book voice-over work. The rule of thumb in the beginning was one booking for every 50 auditions. Since my thing was doing live theater, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much time on my “side job.” I counted how many hours I spent auditioning, compared that to what I earned, and realized I was making below minimum wage. So I got a job as a proofreader instead.
What brought you back to doing it part time? Luck, mostly. A decade later my husband, who is an artist and commercial director, started using me for what they call scratch tracks. These are placeholder recordings used while a commercial is being edited, before the professional voice-over artist has come in to record the spot. Often the editor will just record this herself, but it’s really better to have someone else do it, so she’s not stuck listening to herself all day. It’s also better to have someone who understands the peaks, valleys and interpretation of the copy, so that it’s close to what the final commercial would be. So I started helping him and a few other friends with that, and then some of their clients would watch the rough cut, like my voice, and ask if I was available for the actual spot, the final production. And I was! It was sort of a sneaky side door in but a nice surprise to be cast again.
Do you have a “specialty” — a specific type of voice that you use, or do you use/create many different types of voices? I don’t do well with little bits of text, like tag lines, where the goal is to be quirky or memorable. I end up trying too hard and sounding awful, or worse, fake. I’m a storyteller at heart, so I really work best with narrative text: tutorials, explanatory material, books on tape. (I read for a blind man for years.) The Amex video is right up my alley: projecting safety, calm, clear instruction. I think I’m also a little old-fashioned sounding, unfortunately. A little actor-y sounding. Maybe I enunciate too much?
So you’d say that your voice has a specific style? Yes, definitely, I think everyone has a voice ‘type’ just like your acting ‘type.’ And different voice types seem to go in and out in style — specific ones can be trendy at different points in time. You can really hear it in radio and TV ads. For example, when I first came to city, commercials were really funny and quirky: I would try my best to do silly or unusual reads, but that just never worked out for me. These days, voiceovers are much more sparse, and companies are using music more to convey emotions. I’m thinking of those iTunes ads, for example.
I do the occasional sexy/husky voice, too — I did an Ulta radio ad a couple of years ago and something for American Movie Classics — but mostly, I’m the friendly lady you’d hear on a voicemail greeting, telling you which buttons to push. I think you have to start with the qualities of the voice you were born with, whether it’s husky, thin, dense, shrill.
Do you find yourself using body language or gesturing as you record, even though you know that physicality won’t be seen? Yes and that’s why it’s so important to stand. You have to get into what you are saying and give as much life as possible to the work that’s coming out, so you naturally end up moving around and gesturing, but then you also have to make sure you keep your mouth in one place in front of the mic. So the body is all over the place but mouth has to stay still, and that’s not easy.
What do you think makes a voice-over really good? Honesty is crucial. You have to understand what you are reading. You are the voice of authority whatever way you read it whether that’s quirky, calm or sexy. You have to really be that. If you are reading sexy, you have to be sexy in that moment. You can’t just put a sexy voice on. I read once that people can detect lying in voices better than in faces, and I think that’s true. It certainly applies to voice-over work.
When I was in college and taking my first voice lessons, I learned that I spoke with a girly, uptalking voice. Because as a kid, I wanted to please people, wanted them to like me, so I was using a smaller voice than I actually owned. It was great to learn to relax my mouth and throat and let my real voice come out. It was bigger than I thought. I always go back to that, even now at 42. You don’t have to make people like you when you talk. Your authentic voice is the one that carries the most power.