I had to dedicate this week’s blog to music and voiceover! June was a big month for music internationally, and I spent extensive time traveling through Europe a few years back. During the time I spent in France, I discovered a La Fete de la Musique, which is a day dedicated to all things music.
June is Black Music Appreciation month internationally, June 25th is International Beatles day and June 24th of this year was also the release date of the new Elvis movie. By the way, have you seen it yet? What were your thoughts? I thought it was very entertaining.
Similarities Between Music and Voiceover
Since June is a big month for music, I wanted to discuss the similarity that music has to voiceover. You may think – how can music and voiceover have similarities as one is speaking and one is singing or playing an instrument. But, speaking or voice-over does have a musical quality, and they both have Timing, Tone, and Pitch in common.
As someone who has played instruments, sang, and danced for many years, I can hear the similarities in timing, tone, and pitch in voice-over. Having those elements as a foundation helps me with each voice-over I perform for my clients. This week, we will discuss these elements more in detail.
How Does Pitch Relate to Both?
Pitch relates to the frequency of sound and vibration. Is the sound low, or is it high? A high frequency is a high pitch, and a low frequency is a low pitch. In an orchestra, for example, an oboe, which is a woodwind instrument, is used to tune the entire orchestra to a specific pitch, so all the instruments sound in unison. Some people, rare as it may be, have absolute or perfect pitch. It’s the rare ability to identify or re-create a given musical note without a reference. Only a few musical artists have this ability, for example, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Puth, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few.
Understanding pitch helps us speak a language correctly as it aids in how we respond to what is being said. You’ll notice that when someone asks a question, they may raise their pitch at the end of a sentence. That helps us to know what is being said. If the pitch is low when ending a sentence, it is usually perceived as a statement.
When I perform voice over, I often raise or lower my pitch depending on the copy. If the spot I’m working on requires a softer feel, perhaps playing a character speaking to a child or loved one, I will lower my pitch slightly and speak more introspectively. If the spot is a quick-moving sales commercial, I may raise my pitch and annunciate more to show a call to action and demand attention. If I’m playing a child or teenager in a spot, I will certainly raise my pitch to sound younger, and if I’m playing a middle-aged to a senior character, I will lower my pitch accordingly to sound older.
For an audition with a large casting, I may do the opposite of what you may think to do to stand out amongst the hundreds of others auditioning. Having an understanding of pitch and being able to adjust on the fly will help you to get into character quickly and hopefully win the job.
How Tone Plays a Part in Music and Voiceover
The definition of tone is a musical or vocal sound regarding its pitch, quality, and strength. Tone refers to the color of the sound you are speaking or playing. Many instruments can sound drastically different depending on the tone you are playing. A guitar can sound soft, melodic, and romantic. On the other hand, it could sound loud, moody, and dark, depending on how you play. Also, a piano can sound muffled, soft, and sad, and then in an instant, it can sound bright, excited, and brash!
Musical artists also have a variety of tones. Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, and Barry White possess a deep, melodic, warm, velvety tone of voice, which fit in perfectly for their R&B, Funk, and Gospel sounds. Other artists such as Macy Gray, Bon Jovi, and Steven Tyler have raspy voices that fit perfectly for the rock genre they are known for. One artist may also change their tone depending on the genre of the song they are singing. Paul Mc Cartney, for example, was an excellent example of this. He could sing a sweet melodic song like Blackbird, which is on their famous White Album, then change his tone entirely in an instant and sound like a blues-rocker, for example, on the renowned track Darlin’ on their iconic last album Abbey Road. Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson also gave great examples of fantastic tone in their music, adjusting from song to song. One technique isn’t better than another, but the ability to adapt quickly can make you book the job.
The same can be done with your voice in voice-over. In my voice-over jobs, I perform a variety of tones daily. One spot could ask for me to speak with an authoritative tone, which means using downward inflections, adjusting my tempo, and pausing. At the same time, the next spot could ask me to speak in a cheerful tone, perhaps playing a younger character or a commercial for a fun new product. It would mean using more inflections, going upward in the middle and end of sentences, and adjusting my tempo with a quicker pace and less pausing.
Music, Voiceover, and Timing
Timing is the choice, judgment, or control of when something should be done. A command of timing is crucial in music; otherwise, a song would never start or finish on time. Also, an orchestra would never stay in line with the sheet music, and you would most likely have no idea what song they are playing.
Many musical artists are known for their excellent timing. When watching a band on stage, you’ll see how they always look back and forth at each other to ensure they are moving simultaneously and staying together. One example of this is recently I watched The Beatles – Get Back series on Disney+. At the end of the documentary, you’ll see the band do an impromptu performance on top of the Abbey Road studios rooftop on a cold January afternoon in 1969. Though cold and playing relatively new music, they knocked it out of the park. Very often, you’ll see both John Lennon and Paul Mc Cartney look over at each other constantly to ensure they keep in time and play together. Also, thank goodness for Ringo playing the drums at the perfect time to ensure all band members are in-sync. Another great example of timing is rap artists. They must ensure their many lyrics fit in with the music that backs their vocals. If they didn’t keep in time, their music would sound chaotic, manic, and frenzied.
Practicing is Crucial in Music and Voiceover
The same is very important in voice-over. Often, I will receive a timeframe of how long my voiceover should be, usually 30 seconds or 1 minute, and I have to have an excellent inner stopwatch to ensure I hit the mark each time. Also, sometimes up to 10 people are on the call during live-directed sessions, so having an excellent inner clock is crucial to keep the clients happy. Sometimes they will also play music in the background, and you will have to speak over the music. It can sometimes be distracting, but you must ensure you finish your voice-over right as that last note plays. This can be tricky, but with good practice, it’s possible to nail it each time.
Practice recording voiceovers with music underneath, trying to hit specific phrases on or off the beat. If a part of the song speeds up, brighten your voice, try smiling, and drop your voice if there is a sad moment. Play with pitch and tone, and that will help your overall timing. So, is voice-over musical? It is. You may not be singing in your voiceovers, but you are essential because you are constantly playing with pitch, tone, and timing, and understanding those in detail will make your clients happy and satisfied and help you book that job!