When we talk about characters, we typically think of them in the context of animation, video games or something similar.
But as voice actors, we assume the role of a character no matter what the read.
Let me explain.
If you are voicing a commercial for a crossover vehicle that appeals to 20-somethings, you probably are trying to sound like a 20-something. If that’s the case, you are playing the character of a 20-something.
For that reason you should know what a 20-something sounds like, as well as have a fair understanding of everything about that character.
Why? Because you want that read to be as convincing as possible.
Understanding Your Audience
You don’t have to spend hours researching a role, but spend a few moments thinking about who it is you’re portraying.
- What does he/she look like?
- What does she/he like to do?
- Where does he/she live?
- Relationship status?
- Issues that keeps her/him up at night?
- Things that get him/her excited?
The more you can explore and understand about that particular character, which truthfully you should be getting from the casting director or producer, the more you will be able to communicate the emotion and intention of the script.
Understanding Characters Through Avatars
I used to be the Director of Marketing for a company that appeared on the Inc. 500/5000 list three years in a row. When we sat down to create a new campaign around a particular product or service, the first thing we did was create the “avatar”.
The avatar is the (somewhat fictional, but based on reality) character who is the amalgamation of the research we’ve done on this particular demographic.
For example, let’s say that I’m building a marketing campaign around a new local brewpub that’s opening up in downtown Chicago. We know, from various research channels, that our target market focuses around millennials, 22-30, mostly male, who drive mid-to-high-priced sedans, are at the beginning to middle of their careers, and are straight and either single or are dating.
So the avatar would look like this:
“Steve is a blonde haired, 6’1″, 26-year old junior ad executive making $75K/year in the same one bedroom townhome for the last 24 months in the River North area of downtown Chicago. He drives a gray Audi A4 sedan that’s 4 years old. Steve’s single, but has had a few long-term relationships (mostly petite blondes who remind him of his first girlfriend, Katie) and is now starting to think about settling down. Otherwise, Steve has a rich social life, and in addition to going to as many Bulls and Bears games as he can, he and his friends are avid craft beer drinkers and spend most weekends (and some weeknights) at a bar that’s 2 blocks from where he lives.”
And so on.
What you can glean from this is that Steve is now a real person. He has real likes and dislikes, and you can even hear him talking and see him interacting with his friends.
How This Relates to Voiceover
People are different from one another. If you approach every read the same way, you’re bound to get it wrong. What sounds “warm and casual” to a 25-year old male market is different than the same characteristics to female retirees.
The best voiceover talents understand who they are trying to communicate with, sell to, and convince to take action based on that “avatar’s” set of very specific characteristics, motivations and desires.
Again, you don’t necessarily need to go crazy with this and spend weeks researching your 30-second read. But if you take the time to understand your characters, you will find your reads getting better, more convincing, and ultimately it will land you more jobs with repeat clients.