Voice for Sale! Studio Singers, Voiceover Performers, Vocal Health

By Bettye Zoller  Seitz – www.voicesvoices.com

I’ve been paid $1000 per word! (“Buy Oak Farms Milk at Seven Eleven“). I received $7000 in my mailbox every 13 weeks. Union spots pay residuals. The Burger King jingle paid residuals for 17 years. Bonanza Steakhouses paid for 16 years. I am one of the many telephone voices you hate: “The number you have dialed is out of service! Please look up your number and dial again.” I’ve yelled at you from the TV and radio for nearly three decades. I’ve sung songs for the Ice Capades and Disney that I hope you enjoyed. As an RCA Recording Artist, Chet Atkins taught me how to sing country western. That was his ‘vision’ of my talent. It was ‘an experience,’ to say the least.

Although we’re freelancers, the money can be wonderful. To outsiders, it may seem glamorous, but it’s not. In the recording studio, time is money and a voice talent is “at the end of the food chain.” (I often tell this to my students). There’s no applause. Sometimes, at the end of a difficult recording session, someone murmurs, “Thank you.” Many performers continue to seek theatrical or cabaret work because they crave a live audience. It can be lonely, just you and the microphone and an audio engineer. Competition is fierce. Vocal strain is commonplace. A cold or cough can cost you thousands in lost revenues. Take care of yourself. Talk over the music at a loud party? No! Yell at a sporting event? No! I’m saving my voice. The voice is paramount. It comes first-always.

We learn vocal tricks to make it through a jingle or a song that is pitched too high for comfort or  a cartoon role may call for a raspy, strident character voice. The role of a fairy godmother or elf may need a high, squeaky voice. Can you continue to produce that voice week after week and not end up voiceless? If the cartoon were to become a series, you’d get rich. The cast of the Simpsons TV show recently received a pay raise: Per person, each actor currently earns more than $300,000 per episode! Video games feature monsters and villains who yell and scream. Most female characters in video games meet horrid, bloody deaths. I can scream into a microphone without vocal harm. Voicing an audio book can sometimes take months if the book is a large one. Sessions usually are four hours each. Stamina is required.

Sometimes, sessions last all night. Recording stars need background vocals. They set the hours. We show up when we’re called. Backing Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, ‘Doc’ Severinson (and countless others whose names no one remembers) was tough. I somehow made it through. At 9 a.m. the next morning, I was sitting on a hard wooden stool in front of a microphone. Did the fried chicken and wine at four in the morning help? Maybe . . .

The Studio Singer and Voiceover Performer: Challenges to Vocal Health” Workshop, to be held Friday, June 4th during the Voice Foundation Symposium, identifies the many kinds of voiceover job possibilities including commercials, narration, automated phone voices, trailers, radio spots, airline announcements, cartoon voices, book reading and backups vocals for recording stars. Potentially abusive vocal practices will be illustrated with volunteers. You’ll hear recording examples of studio work. Tips are offered on coping with vocal fatigue, avoiding vocal misuse and rehearsing with warm-ups. There will be time for your questions.