Workshop Offers Inside View of Little-Known Voice Jobs

April 7, 2010

SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT PROUD: Cathy Kalmenson has run a successful voice-casting company for 17 years and shares the secrets to success in this competitive field in a campus workshop. (Photo by Richard Kontas)

These days, it’s impossible to watch television or listen to the radio for 10 minutes without hearing a commercial in which Kalmenson and Kalmenson has cast the voices.Cathy Kalmenson, who cofounded the voice-over casting company with her husband, Harvey Kalmenson, in 1993, held a workshop on March 25 in SC 212 that provided insight into the voice-over industry. The workshop began at noon and attracted an audience of more than 100, resulting in a standing room crowd.

Kalmenson, a voice casting director who has worked in the industry for 30 years, introduced the audience to the world of voice acting by playing voice auditions and voice tracks that have been used for actual commercials.

To begin the workshop, Kalmenson offered advice on how to prepare for jobs in the field. She particularly emphasized acting and improvisation skills.

“You’ve got to get your acting chops going on because it’s not about vocal quality, it’s about interpretation,” she said. “You need to be able to be loose and improvise in case the director asks for a take two or take three.”

She also advised against submitting “premature demos,” many of which she has received via email and CD, and most of which she said she would give a “C” if they were graded.

“Cs are average…. We can’t afford to spend any time with average. It’s got to be above average.”

Premature demos also serve as the lasting impression of the actor.

When producers contact Kalmenson and Kalmenson for voice actors, they typically provide “specs” for the gender, age range and personality type of the role they want to fill. The voice casting director noted that vocal quality was a “spec” that was not identified.

“The truth is, [voice over] is not about vocal quality,” Kalmenson said. “If you are blessed with a fabulous [voice], super. That’s great. But truthfully, [vocal quality] rarely comes up.”

Kalmenson also talked about “truth casting” which she explained by giving an example of commercials requiring certain accents. For these commercials, the company would select natives who possess the accents, rather than non-natives who can portray the accents.

She added that fluency in another language is also an advantage in the voice over industry.

A highlight in the workshop was a mock audition in which Kalmenson asked for two volunteers to read a script for a Ford Flex commercial. She asked them to read lines in a voice that had an urban feel, had a little edge and was not super refined. The voice also had to be intriguing, confident, conversational, and self-assured. The actor additionally was advised to recite the lines as though talking only to one person.

“Even though you’re going to be talking to millions of people out there in TV land, the truth is it’s one set of ears at a time,” Kalmenson said, “and it’s quite intimate, and those [intimate reads] are the [ones] that win the job.”

Following the mock audition, Kalmenson played the track that won the spot for the Ford Flex commercial so the audience could examine how the voice actor portrayed the given profile.

She subsequently went into further detail about demos, which normally run around one minute. Within that minute, actors must be able to effectively portray a personality that voicecasters can profile.

“Your mission with the demo is … to say, ‘Here’s who I am,'” she said.

To illustrate this point, Kalmenson played two demos that managed to effectively portray personalities in one minute.

Toward the end of the presentation, Kalmenson played four seemingly different JC Penney commercial tracks. She explained that although there appeared to be subtle differences in each of the tracks, the only difference in each was the background audio. She said that the voice track was the same used in each commercial, but that the varying background audio resulted in an audio illusion.

The workshop concluded with final emphasis on importance of acting and improvisation skills. Kalmenson played a few audition tracks of two couples that role- played for a commercial spot. While the audience generally agreed that the script read by the couples for the audition tracks was entertaining, a completely different script was used for the commercial spot.

Among the students satisfied with the workshop was Kameron White, who found the presentation “very nice” and “very informative.” He also said he found voice over a “very exciting field to look into.”

Kalmenson and Kalmenson is based in Burbank. The company currently has 23,000 voice actors on file, many of whom are from Los Angeles. They have cast voices for many prominent commercials, including the original Budweiser frogs and the current Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

For more information, call (818) 377-3600 or visit http://www.kalmenson.com.

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