Have you ever sat on a train, looking out the window, pondering why a table is called a table and not a Gertrude. Then suddenly that tannoy blares down the cabin, screaming over how the train is about to stop at Shithole Station, ruining your pondering zen but also making you move your thoughts onto ‘Who the fuck is the voice behind that voice?’ Who is the person that gets to smugly sit on the train, nudging the person next to them glimmering in pride stating ‘here hen that’s my voice, I’m that tannoy human’.
Most likely not but I ponder that a lot. Not because I’m a weird human who gets off to tannoy noises but mainly as I have a friend who is a voice actor. Now I feel most will be either asking, what is a voice actor or how is saying a bunch of stations and reminding humans about the gap acting?
Voice Acting is a form of acting that tends to get forgotten about a lot. Acting is universally known as the embodiment of a character and playing a role, bit like what your friend does at the job centre who doesn’t want a job but acts like they’ve applied for every job under the sun. I don’t need to explain it, we all know acting and all forms of acting. But what is Voice Acting?
Voice Acting is the art of performing using your voice (oh no shit) whether it be using your voice to embody a character such as in animated movies, doing voice overs or using your voice, and only your voice, to provide information to an audience or user such as Siri or the tannoy voice human.
To understand a bit more of the voice acting world I spoke with my friend James Riverwood (formerly known by his legal name James Dean) about the ins and outs of Voice Acting. James is commonly known as the voices guy, that one friend who can do accents and impersonations. However he isn’t just the guy who can do a casually racist Irish accent or a shite impersonation of Elvis. What separates him from ‘that one friend’ is that he has studied the art of voices; how you can make your voice do different things and how it all works, not just shouting ‘top of the morning’ whilst waiting for the cheap laugh.
James, for the people reading this unaware of voice acting, what is voice acting?
Hey man. Voice Acting is the art of creating another level of atmosphere within a narration setup, whether that is through advertisements, animation characters, videogame characters or an automated message. It is very diverse and more difficult than your ‘regular’ forms of acting because you need to persuade the listener that all the emotions, and information, you’re trying to convey is real and authentic. And you’ve got to do that without the security blanket of facial or body expressions. Just your voice.
A lot of humans would love to have the ability to do even just one accent well, including me – all I can do is go high pitch pretty well. When did you first discover that you can do accents and voices well, and better than the standard human can?
I’m not sure if I’m ‘better than the standard human’ but I discovered voices and sounds from a very early stage when I used to mimic voices on the TV, and sound effects around me such as cars and far animals. Accents were definitely my first set of noises and Irish was the first of them…and it was awful. But I was 3, I guess. I was a rally weird kid, quiet and dynamic. That weirdness is apparently cool now.
When you found out you could do voices, when did you discover the art of voice acting?
I had never considered voice acting to even be a career thing because it’s only something you realise and acknowledge existing, in those moments where your brain wanders or you intensely research into acting branches. I discovered it whilst studying Music Theatre as a degree and singing and vocal technique was one of the modules. I then learnt about it and started my professional journey shortly after university.
Growing up you were in some different productions and did some acting, from those days of acting what lead you into wanting to pursue voice acting as a career?
The main stepping off point for me was at the end of my degree studies. During the third-year production of a new musical called “Watertight”, I had Richard Taylor ask me to utilise my vocal capacity to mimic an American news anchor, as well as a Trevor McDonald impression (the UK news anchor). After I completed this task and got a feel for being behind the mic, I had such an urge to keep doing it, and looked into the idea of it all further. I’ve never looked back.
It seems a lot of people forget that voice acting is another form of acting and that everyday things such as the voices on announcements are typically conducted by voice actors. Would you agree it’s a rather forgotten form of acting and what would you relate to this?
I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a forgotten form, as it is definitely becoming a busier industry then it has ever been before, thanks to a rise in blockbuster movies and CGI being used in them, as well as popularity in video games also on the rise. I have personally noticed an increase in individuals thinking that they can buy an average microphone, or even a great one, and that they can become the next great voice actor based off the fact they can do a few voices. This simply isn’t true. Being adept in a variety of voices isn’t even a part of voice acting. The main part, and arguable the only part, is having the ability to act. Simple as that. You wanna be a voice actor? Go learn how to be an actor first. A good example to back this up would be Nolan North. He is in every big production and is famous for his accurate and realistic delivery of lines, not his vocal range and diversity.
Your voices have appeared in video games such as Madmind Studios “Agony”, audioplays like A-Bomb Radios “Bioshock: Afterlife” and so many more. Going into a production what goes through your mind and how do you prepare for the project?
When I first get sent a script, I hope that it has a character design. This helps me to match the voice with how the character already looks. I tend to get an average of 3 voices for each character, come forward in my head. I’ll record all 3 and send the samples to the employer, and then we go from there! A lot of the time, employers don’t have a voice in their head or a character design…and that’s fine because that then gives me complete creative freedom to help them find that perfect voice. I prepare myself by simply prepping my throat and voice with appropriate liquids and warm ups before I jump behind the mic. I always make sure I give myself enough time too. That is very important. Nobody wants rushed and sloppy work.
Other than the classic case of the luck in getting that break and getting noticed, that it takes in lot of the arts and many of the more creative outlets in the world, what makes a successful voice actor?
To be honest, success can be measured in many different ways. I feel that as long as you reach a place where you’re happy with the level of work you are getting, and the legacy you’re leaving behind, then you’ve succeeded. I’ve not succeeded yet on my own goals, but I am proud of all I’ve done to date. A big piece of advice I’d give? Tidy up your recordings and rerecord if needed. Treat every job like it’s your big break.
To round this off, what has been your favourite project so far and what would your dream project be?
I couldn’t possibly say my favourite. Most of them have been amazing and different and ALL of them have been eye opening. I’ve got a couple of things on the way that I’m really excited for. My dream project would be to be in a series where I did 90% of the voices and sounds, just like Mel Blanc in the original line-up of Looney Tunes. That’d be ace. Also, to make a historically accurate Viking age videogame is high on my list.
You can find James and all his voices on social media. Search ‘James Riverwood- Voice Artist’ on Facebook, ‘@jamesriverwood’ on Instagram
Swankie – 23, Scotland. Loveable Loser.