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Voice Acting: How To Create Character Voices

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NOTE: This was originally recorded at Joshua Seth's monthly Voice Over Master Class

One of the secrets to my success as a voice actor is that i had these vocal references that I've been talking about throughout this class but from a different time period than everyone else.

So yeah, everybody watches The Simpsons, everybody watches South Park (or whatever happens to be the popular animation of the day), and then everybody does their poor impression of that. If they're using a vocal reference at all.

My references were always really old.

Why? Because we weren't allowed to watch TV in my house when I was growing up. My mom was kind of a hippie so we didn't have a TV. Instead I listened to a lot of old-time radio programs on cassette tape, because that's how old I am! 

We listened to things on cassettes kids. And we liked it!

I have voice references in my head for things like Fiber Mcgee and Molly and The Ovaltine Hour and The Lone Ranger. Earlier I was talking about Edward G Robinson. I remember those movies also from film school.  Old black and white noir films like White Heat or The Maltese Falcon with Bogart.

Those were the vocal references from those kinds of actors from the golden age of Hollywood, from the 30s the 40s the 50s that were in my brain when I was auditioning for animation. Not that i was trying to do an impression of them, but if I saw something on the printed page that reminded me in the script of one of those old characters, that was my jumping off point.

It was different. It was coming from a different place. So you just did a class bully right (ED: In the voice over class on Zoom). Or you did an older brother and I said it reminds me of a class bully, do another take as a bully.

In my mind I'm hearing the music from Our Gang - which we've just verified is an old show that none of you have ever seen or even heard of! But it's great because the kid archetypes are so clearly defined.

There was the bully, there was Darla, the sweet little girl, there was Spanky and Alfalfa. You might have you heard of these characters. The Little Rascals. Anyway, these are not
top of mind, I guarantee you, for anybody else that is auditioning for characters in animation today.

So if you get some vocal references that are out of left field (and the best way to do that is to go back to the old classic stuff) then you'll be able to base the read off of something that's very unique for our present time now.

When I listen to The Simpsons for instance ,these are really good voice actors, and they
know all of these references, and a lot of times what I hear is "oh yeah, he's doing that voice from that Western, except he's making him older or faster".

Or sometimes it's actually a direct vocal reference like there's this old kind of casual guy that always shows up the old John Wayne type Westerns and every once in a while you hear him in a cartoon. Guaranteed the voice actor that's doing it knows the original and is using that as a vocal reference.

So it behooves us all to be more familiar with the reference points from those old black and white movies or the golden age of radio. I remember listening to The Jack Benny Show on cassette tape as a kid. These these kinds of things, they take a little bit of time
to research the beginning era of television. I Love Lucy, these sorts of things. But it gives you a sense of comedy. It gives you a sense of character. And it gives you
just a completely different vocal reference point when you're creating your own characters as a voice actor.


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Joshua Seth is the voice of over 100 other animated TV shows, movies, video games, and anime (Digimon, Akira, Spongebob). He teaches voice acting and audition technique in his monthly voice over classes on Zoom. And has a 30 day online voice training course designed to unlock your money voice here.

("Your Money Voice" is a term used in the voice over industry which refers to the voice you use when you book a gig. It's your authentic voice. The voice that connects with people. The voice that closes the deal.)

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