People often ask, “what does bad voice acting sound like?” The word that comes to mind is “unprofessional”. Almost like a text-to-speech app, but worse because a bad voice actor is usually working very hard to mask the fact that they are not professionals. However, this is definitely not the end of the discussion.
Bad voice acting is usually bad for a reason (or a variety of reasons). Maybe the voice actor has not perfected the tone and pitch of their voice, maybe they are too loud, or maybe they are just bad at following directions.
Either way, you can easily (not that easily) turn bad into good when it comes to voice acting.
All you have to do is understand what makes a voice-actor bad at what they do, then you can begin to implement solutions towards better voice acting.
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This post was updated in May 2021
Bad Voice Acting (A Rookie Mistake)
There is an almost incurable type of bad acting where the voice talent is off on tone, pitch, and everything else in between. And newbies are notorious for this, especially when they have no training whatsoever on how to record a good voice-over.
You can quickly spot an untrained voice actor during the recording session. Their bad voice acting techniques stick out like a thorn precisely because they don’t know how to take direction. Tell them to slow down the read, and they lower their energy levels instead. Their inflection is off and they almost sound unsure of the script. Their tone keeps changing as they stumble through the words, not paying attention to how they sound.
Bad voice acting is what happens when a person with a good speaking voice thinks they can do the job of a professional voice actor without any training.
You can get a little excited about getting your first voice-over job and be tempted to jump right in. But remember that a voice actor’s job is not as easy as it looks. You need to know what you are doing even before you record your demo.
Voice-over training is essential because it teaches you how to sound conversational without reading the script the way you have a real-life conversation. And it teaches the difference between pitch and volume and when to emphasize keywords and phrases.
A bad voice actor sounds like they are reading from a script, which is usually the case, but nobody wants to know that. Besides, it’s not about reading the words: voice acting aims to communicate the message behind those words. A good voice actor takes a script and makes it their own. They don’t just read it, they make it sound believable. They understand what the audience wants, and if they don’t, they ask questions.
Every script has a purpose. A voice actor is good or bad depending on how they understand their role in this purpose.
Voice training (or some kind of direction) is important because it guides the voice actor on how to take pauses, how to use tempo to add variety to a voice-over, how to evoke emotion in the listener, and many other things that lack in bad voice acting. If you’re a beginner, take the time to learn the skill before recording a demo and quitting your job to become a full-time voice actor.
Good voice acting takes time and practice.
You might be thinking, “why not just hire an experienced voice actor and avoid all this?”
Well, bad voice actors don’t necessarily have to be bad at their jobs, sometimes their flaw could be that they are difficult to work with. Or difficult to reach in case of anything.
Unprofessional Voice Actor
This is the type of actor that doesn’t follow directions or just doesn’t understand the guidelines of the project. An unprofessional actor may be good at voice-acting, but they refuse to put in the work because they carry the responsibility of being a voice-actor lightly.
Whether you are doing it part-time or full time, voice acting is still a career you should take seriously. Clients expect nothing but great voice-overs, so show them you can deliver quality before they hire you.
By perfecting your demos and your website (if you have one).
Clients need a way to reach you, and when they do, most expect a summary or a voice sample that outlines your skills as an actor. Bad voice acting sometimes relies on digital sound enhancements to sound better. This means that your demos should accurately represent your skills. Don’t mislead a client into thinking you’re good only to disappoint them later.
Unprofessionalism is one of the many aspects of bad voice acting, right next to unpreparedness on the voice actor’s part. Always showing up late to recording sessions without a good reason is unprofessional.
Bad voice acting is also inconsistent.
When reading a long script that takes multiple days to finish, an actor should be able to pick up where they left off every time. Think about e-learning narrations: they are long and may get technical, but the listener needs to feel like the whole thing was recorded in one take.
If the actor is called two months later and asked to deliver a quick line pick up, they should still be able to match the tone of the original recording.
Doing Too Much or Too Little
The only thing worse than undercooked spaghetti is overcooked spaghetti.
A bad voice actor is usually also the one trying to be a jack of all trades. Knowing which fields are most suited to your skills helps you grow as a voice actor. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a voice actor means applying for jobs that complement your expertise. This was, you won’t feel the pressure to oversell when recording.
Never over-act to make up for the weaknesses in your voice.
Bad voice acting can make you cringe. Other than lacking any level of unspoken communication, bad voice acting makes it obvious that the voice is coming from somewhere else. Listening to a bad voice-over is hard because there is an apparent disconnect between the content and its delivery.
Do too little, and the audience will not connect to your emotionless and flat content. Do too much and the voice-over sounds too robotic for anyone to take you seriously.
Bad Voice Acting is the Director’s Fault
Or it’s your fault for not having a voice director in the first place.
A lack of comprehensive and expert voice direction will definitely hurt your voice-over. Even if you completely trust your voice talent, you can’t trust the equipment they work with to produce quality sound. Besides, even the most seasoned voice actors make mistakes.
A good voice director can (to some extent) make up for a bad voice actor.
They say that if given enough time in the recording studio, anyone with a voice can transform into a voice actor. This is not entirely true, but if it was, then voice directors should take the credit. Normal people struggle to differentiate between good and bad voice acting.
A director can narrow in on the mistake and fix it before the voice-over reaches your audience. A voice director can also tell if it’s the actor or the script that needs adjusting. They are an essential investment if you want to catch bad voice acting techniques and practices.
It’s a Budget Thing
Good voice acting elevates the listening/ viewing experience for the audience. But you can’t always afford to deliver this type of quality. You may have the right equipment and the wrong voice actor, or the right actor and a bad recording studio.
Maybe you don’t have the budget to write a good script or hire a good voice director.
Bad voice acting ruins the experience for the listeners. It makes them feel disconnected and alienated – like the voice-over wasn’t made for them. No matter your budget problems, you should always strive to fulfill the needs of your audience, otherwise, it’s bad voice acting. There are some things you can do yourself, but voice acting is at its best when done by professionals.
A proper recording studio is essential. A good computer and editing software, sound-proof studio, headphones, and a good microphone – not the computer’s internal mic. Your budget should meet the minimum requirements necessary to write, record, direct, and edit voice-over.
Lost in Translation
It’s tricky when translating voice-overs because the original content already has a voice. This is especially true when it comes to voice acting in film. The actor is usually trying to deliver the message in the new language while maintaining all the intention and emotion of the words.
More to this, audiences who have heard the original character’s voice might reject the newly translated voice-over just because.
To avoid bad voice acting when translating voice-over, be specific about how your character is feeling. If they are scared, make the audience feel that they are scared, no matter what the words on the script say. Again, it’s about unspoken communication, so if your character is happy and sad at the same time, your voice should be able to convey that feeling.
Give the actor some context.
A voice actor needs to have a relationship with the story they are telling. If the voice-over is part of a video, show them the video, or explain it to them. Play the music in their headphones so they can record over it. Put the actor in the zone and let them fully embody the character they are voicing.