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The music of voice acting

One of my regular rituals as I start my day each morning is making music. I have one of my guitars next to my nightstand. My piano is just around the corner in the den. Making music is a big part of how I wake up. It’s my way of getting my creative juices flowing each day.

I learned to read music as a small child, but as I matured as a musician, I began to see that there’s more to music than playing or singing notes on a page. A lot more. The process of “making music” is immensely intimate and creative. It’s really about getting inside the head – or really the heart – of the composer. Trying to tune into his or her muse. Indeed, the notes themselves become almost secondary to me. Recreating emotion takes center stage.

One of my best friends in the world is Dr. Scott Ferrell. Scott is a gifted musician, conductor, and teacher in Texas. I studied choral music and theatrical performance with Scott and learned so much about this process. Scott is one of the most passionate and emotional men I have ever met. He’s willing to open himself to the art in front of him, drinking in all of the musical subtext that the composer injected straight from the heart. He taught me about “honoring the art first, rather than just banging out notes.” I saw his ability to strip away everything else around him – contaminants that would interfere with the performance – and be completely vulnerable to where the music would take him as a performer.

In voice acting, the same process applies. While I’ve never had a client deliver a script to me with actual musical notes on the page, I see them. They are there, underneath. Because when the writer sat down to the task of communicating their message in text, they also included emotion, color, mood, flow, tempo, and more. In the Bible, the Psalms were originally written to be sung.  When they are, they take on a whole new depth of meaning.  The work of William Shakespeare is undeniably musical.

We do the same thing without even knowing it when we communicate verbally. When I’m talking on the phone and someone says those often heard two words, “I’m fine,” it’s immediately obvious to me whether they really are or not.

When I approach the task of voice acting, my natural tendency is to find the music underneath. Tempo, crescendos and decrescendos, staccatos and legatos, swells and troughs, ebbs and flows. I’m not embarrassed to confess that sometimes I’ll actually stand there in the booth and sing it. How would I sing this script if it was a song? Because the truth is – it IS a song. This exercise can help you find the “juice” that the writer had when it was written. And that’s the goal of a truly great acting performance, voice or otherwise.

Allow yourself to go there. Regardless of your own musical background or ability, you have the music in you.

  • Hi John, this is a beautifully written and very thoughtful look at how we view scripts (if we’re enlightened to so this way). May I reprint this on VoiceOverXtra? You might want to reply to me at:
    johnflorian@VoiceOverXtra.com
    Thanks!
    John

    John Florian

    September 3, 2011

  • Absolutely, John – I’d be honored! Thanks for your kind remarks!

    -jm

    John McLain

    September 3, 2011

  • […] The music of voice acting « John McLain Voiceovers […]

  • This is just wonderful John – I’m totally stealing it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Vanessa Hart

    September 5, 2011

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