Do you have questions for Barry about voice
over work, singing, songwriting, writing
or what’s the best recipe for chocolate mousse
in the whole world? Ask them here and we
will post Barry’s replies. You can also use
this page to leave comments for Barry.
Here are answers to some of the questions we've received recently:
Q My friends and family have always said that I would be good for doing voice
acting and announcing. How would I go about getting started as far as
taking lessons and creating a demo? What's the best way to get my foot wet
in the voice over/acting industry?
A If you have some acting background, that's a great place to start. If not, learning some basic acting techniques might be a good beginning. Depending on where you live, there might be individuals or classes available to you directly, or you might have to work with someone over the phone.When people undertake to learn voice over technique,they usually start by mimicking what they think they hear on radio and tv. There's usually quite a discrepancy between what they think they are hearing and what is actually coming over the airwaves. Start listening to tv and radio with a critical ear. Listen to the way that pros read copy. There are subtleties that you'll begin to detect and incorporate into your own work.
Since there is a certain amount of technique and career-building involved, and it isn't simply a slick way to make a lot of money in a short time, ask yourself if your motivation is strong enough to do the required work, deal with the inevitable rejections, and stay in the game.
Learning how to do it, either with a teacher or coach, is accompanied by lots and lots of practice, which can consist of sitting down with a tape recorder and reading copy and listening as impartially as possible to playback. The easiest way to find copy is to take ads out of magazines and edit them so that they make sense as radio/tv copy. There is a lot to say about analyzing copy, choosing the right copy for you, and how it all fits together on a demo. The quick advice is to choose copy that you are comfortable with and makes 'sense' for you. When your playback begins to sound like what you think you're hearing on tv, you're getting close. When you can really nail a read in a few tries, it's time to make your demo.
Your demo should be as strong and as polished as you can make it. It's your business card, your head shot, your first impression. Your demo should embody only your strongest abilities. If you do accents, dialects, funny voices, etc., they should be impeccable, since you'll be competing with people who are either native speakers with real accents or others who have been polishing their craft longer than you. Some people in the business maintain that one should have a separate demo for those 'specialties.' As a guideline, I have a number of demos - commercials, narration, promos, film trailers, jingles, etc. There are individuals and studios that specialize in creating demos, and they charge anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars for the service. The most expensive isn't necessarily the best, so you will need to hunt around for the best combination of value and price. Once you have a demo, you should begin looking for non-union work. Aside from Backstage magazine, there are a number of web-based voice casting services that you can join for a fee, and they will expose you to casting opportunities that hopefully fit your abilities. There are lots of little sub-genres in which you can hone your technique; local dealer spots, on-hold messages, corporate intranet announcements, reading for the blind, etc. Remember that voice work is not confined to broadcast media.
You can build your reel with non-union spots that you've booked, and with the experience that you have gained, you can then begin searching for an agent and also contemplate joining one or both of the major unions, SAG and AFTRA. At the professional level, the pay is better, the residuals are higher (most non-union jobs, by the way, do not offer residuals and are 'buyouts', in which you get a set fee and that's it, no matter how much or how often or for how long your work is used, and totals significantly less than an equivalent union contract), and you as a performer have the weight of the union behind you in the event that an employer tries to pull a fast one on you. Also, the top agents will not represent non-union talent.
Q I am a bass, and I love to sing low .. I was wondering if there is any
way to work on getting my voice to sing even lower? Because obviously you are VERY
talented at singing low. If not, that's fine. I would just like to say you are
A Voice ranges are governed by physics and hormones,
although not necessarily in that order. The specific range of any voice is a product
of the length of one's vocal cords. A good illustration would be the difference
between a guitar and a bass guitar. If you put a regular guitar and a bass guitar
side by side, you would notice a couple of big differences. The strings on a guitar
are shorter, and the bass guitar strings are longer and thicker. The length of the
strings determine the pitch of the instrument, and the relative thickness of the
strings help to determine the timbre, or quality, of the sound. A bass guitar,
because of the longer, thicker strings, plays lower pitches than a guitar. Voices behave in exactly the same way.
Longer, thicker vocal cords produce lower sounds than shorter, thinner vocal cords.
The difference between a bass and a tenor is the length and consistency of the cords.
They are just like the strings we were talking about. A bass guitar's lowest pitch
is the lowest note played by the lowest open string. The instrument can't go any
lower unless the string is deliberately detuned, which is something that can't be
done with the voice. The lowest note a voice can sing is the longest, slowest
vibration of which the vocal cords are capable. Sometimes, if the cords are swollen
(like when you first get up in the morning, or when you have a cold) the extra thickness
or stiffness of the cords makes them vibrate more slowly, creating a lower pitch,
but then the voice resumes its normal function as the swelling leaves and the pitch
comes back to 'normal' for that voice.
Singing loud, solid low notes is not an intuitive process for most singers. The two
most important pieces of technique that are involved in singing low notes are air-flow
management and correct approximation.
Approximation is the physical bringing together of the vocal cords. Once this piece is
understood, a singer can control it, giving him a very wide tonal palate to work with.
A tight approximation allows only a small amount of air to flow between the cords, and
with proper air flow, one can create a tight, focused sound all the way down to the lowest
notes of the voice, which are, once again, determined by the length of the cords. A loose
approximation, also called an 'airy' approximation, results in an airy sound because too
much air is allowed to flow between the cords. If you put your hand in front of your mouth
when you sing, and you can feel the air moving out of your mouth, you are using too much air
and probably have a loose approximation. Proper technique is often considered counterintuitive
because it looks and sounds as though one ought to be working harder and using more air to sing
loud, but the reverse is in fact the case.
Part of the conundrum for singers is that one naturally feels that, in order to descend to the
lowest depths of the voice, one must 'let go' of the tight approximation. This is the
counterintuitive part, because the opposite must happen. Believe it or not, the cords
will still vibrate, and the sound will be fuller and louder. A good teacher will 'trick'
you into experiencing this phenomenon physically. It's a very big 'Aha!' when it finally happens,
and it instantly stops feeling wrong. Proper breathing - 'air-flow management' - makes sure that
the tightly approximated cords keep getting an air supply so they continue to vibrate.
No air = no sound. Too much air = weak, 'airy' sound. Just the right amount of air+proper
support+tight approximation=slammin' low notes.
If it were possible to teach through the mail, I'd do it, because I get asked this question
frequently. Learning proper vocal technique is the key to good solid singing in any register,
in any style. I often see singers straining for low notes by lowering their heads and shoving
their jaws into their necks, and by over-darkening their tone. Neither of those techniques work,
and both should be avoided as they create more problems and don't actually extend one's range.
Remember, your absolute lowest notes are regulated by physics. You can't make your voice do things
it wasn't designed to do, but you can maximize the impact of your low notes by learning to sing correctly.
Q I definitely want to make music and singing a part of my life. I
can't think of a better way of living. But everywhere I turn, people are
telling me that music just isn't a stable career. I'm not really familiar
with your past, but it seems to be pretty stable for you. What made you
decide to choose music over something that you could depend on more?
A 'Stable' is just a concept, unless you're referring to a domicile
for horses. There is a long-standing, ubiquitous idea that the arts are
'unstable' in terms of income. People seem to think that a life in the arts
does not constitute a 'real' job. 'Real' jobs have steady paychecks and
steady hours. That makes them 'secure'. Well, let's face it. No job is
secure. Companies fold, leaving thousands destitute. Or they downsize,
with the same results. High-level executives get fired after years of
service. Line workers get canned by the thousands when a company's bottom
line is in jeopardy. People are trained for and work at jobs that become
obsolete or redundant. Lots of steady jobs don't provide enough income to
make ends meet, even while working a standard forty-hour week.
Yet people still think of those jobs as 'secure', 'real' jobs. I was very
blessed. Both of my parents were artists. No one punched a clock. Sure,
there were some tight times, but we never skipped a meal and the rent got
paid. I have had my share of ups and downs in the biz, but I've never
starved and I've always had a roof over my head. True, I don't own a
Porsche or a mansion or a 40-ft. sailboat and my retirement savings are
not resplendent, but I've always worked and made a living. I don't have a
boss, so nobody can fire me. I do what I love, and that's the real thorn
in the side of those who espouse 'real' jobs. 'Real' jobs, for the most
part, are drudgery, and misery loves company.
There's more to life, much more, than surviving. Beyond that there is
flourishing, and contributing to making a better world. There is joy,
which can be had on a daily basis. Life, I feel, is just too short to
spend the greater portion of it doing something meaningless just so you
can survive. If a life in the arts is for you, go for it. You'll never
quiet the status quo, but it will drive them crazy when you succeed.
Q Um, what's the best recipe for chocolate mousse in
the whole world?
A I don't actually know the best recipe for chocolate mousse in the whole
world. I do have some favorites, however, for chocolate souffle. One of my
problems as a cook is that I rarely write things down when I'm in the
creative fugue state of preparing a meal, so I've probably forgotten as many
recipes as I've discovered. But that's one of the real fun parts of cooking for me;
making stuff up!
Q I keep reading that you were an opera singer.
What made you decide to switch from such
classical accompanied music to acapella more
A I never really switched. I still sing classical
music, albeit when and where I feel like
it, rather than with an opera company. Rockapella
is a better match for my temperament than
the world of opera, and that is what prompted
my change of career direction. Thanks for
Q What is the best way to get over nervousness
before a performance?
A There is no 'best' way. There are lots
of different techniques people use. Some
things work better for some people than others.
It has a lot to do with whatever it is that
gets you nervous, however one of the most
generally effective ways I know is to deliberately
slow down and deepen your breathing, starting
about thirty minutes before a performance.
Sounds simple. Is simple. Good luck and calm