Voiceover – The Lost Art of Listening

29 August 2013
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Sound4VO's Dan Friedman-097Voiceover – The Lost Art of Listening

By Dan Friedman

While out on a hiking trip this past weekend, I took the time to simply listen to nature. For several minutes, not a single device of modern technology could be heard. It was truly music to the ears. Listening… truly listening, seems to be a lost art. When was the last time you sat down and listened to an album? I don’t mean casually, with the music playing in the background as you perform other tasks. I mean sitting down in front of some speakers, or putting on headphones, and simply listening.

I’ve been around many younger people lately, high school and college age, and they just don’t listen. I’m not talking about, “hey, pick those clothes up off the floor and put them away”… and they don’t do it, kind of listening (although that is certainly an issue as well). I’m talking about truly using their ears and hearing the world around them.

This isn’t limited to young people. When teaching home studio classes (mostly to adults), I’m often asked, “how do you know which (whatever piece of gear) sounds better?” The answer is, you have to listen and compare in order to know.

This isn’t entirely the fault of today’s typical listener. Tiny and inefficient earbud, computer and television speakers have become common place. These are all truly terrible devices for critical listening and are barely good enough for enjoyable listening. Then of course, there is the MP3 format. Listening to an MP3 of a song and then listening to that same song on a record or CD (on decent speakers and in a decent environment) is a truly ear-opening experience.

When it comes to voiceovers, I’ve often said that listening is more important than speaking. The best voiceover coach is your ears. But, in order for your ears to guide you properly, you must train them… by using them. Take the time here to open your ears when listening to commercials, audio books and any voiceover you hear. Ask yourself, “what do I hear?” Is the delivery speaking to you? Why? What words are emphasized and how? How does it sound? Harsh and edgy? Dull and muddy?

By the way, want to know what your studio sounds like? Record yourself and play the recording in your car. Mix engineers and musicians have been referencing their mixes in cars for years. It makes perfect sense; the car has traditionally been the place where we do most of our listening. Furthermore, modern cars are well-designed for sound.

Take the time to listen. Notice what you hear. Compare sounds and learn what sounds good to you. It can be like opening a door to a world you barely knew existed. You’ll be surprised to discover the difference between what you think you hear… compared to what you actually hear. You may even benefit from the experience in ways you never thought possible.

Remember: You have two ears and one mouth to remind you to use your ears twice as much.

7 responses on “Voiceover – The Lost Art of Listening

  1. Jimmy says:

    I agree…. After I record something, I download it to my phone’s ipod and go downstairs and get into my vehicle to listen to the finished product again. It’s amazing how the flaws are more noticable in a practical environment instead of headphones at a desk top. – See more at: https://sound4vo.com/voiceover-the-lost-art-of-listening/#sthash.ltqKYVHQ.W5UhLbxJ.dpuf

  2. What a wonderful article, Dan! Thank you for reminding us what’s truly important. So many of us are in such a rush to finish one task and start the next one that we often forget to slow down. I really needed this reminder today….thank you.

  3. […] A good friend, Dan Friedman, is an audio engineer, a voice talent and recently an on-camera actor. He just published a blog about the importance of listening. […]

  4. Tracy says:

    Great post, Dan!! So many people are thinking about the next thing they are going to say or do that they don’t take the time to listen. We miss so much when we are in that state of mind. Have a great night!

  5. Lance Blair says:

    This is all so true Dan, thank you! I was an audio engineer and so technically I hear just great…but you have to connect your mind and heart to it. Yesterday I was listening very thoughtfully to other talents’ demo reels to try to figure out who I really sound like and try to be honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I figured out that I really sound like certain types that aren’t the ones that I idolize. And that’s okay! The ones I’m more similar to have good careers – some of them are among tops in the biz. I need to listen more and figure out what they have that makes them special. They’re honest with their voices…because they know their sound. Casting directors want The Real Deal. To be real, you’ve got to listen!

  6. […] Now, in our digital world, one of the skills that a voice actor must have is the ability to edit audio.  This is a task that was once reserved for men wearing lab coats. The fundamental tasks involved in editing audio are not much different than those used in editing a word document… cut, copy and paste. However, editing audio involves significantly more time. It also requires developing the most important skill of them all, listening. […]

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