The Voices Of VO


Today's interview features VO talent, screen actor, director, teacher, and all around cool human, Marcel, who hails from a small village called Luceville located in Quebec, Canada. Marcel has been working with CMD since 2009 and records VO for many French Canadian and American English projects.

Check out our interview below to learn how he got his start in VO, and the benefits and challenges of being a VO actor.

CMD: How did you decide to get into VO, did you do some acting as a kid?

Marcel: Yeah, I did some acting as a teenager, a lot of clowning and improve, stuff like that. When I got to New York I wanted to get into voice over because I knew Spanish and French.  I saw an ad for this Calvin Klein ad on Backstage, so I did three little demos with a tape deck. I booked the job and because of that I got into SAG and just continued with it. My agency CESD, who I was with for commercials, has a huge VO department. So one day I just knocked on their door, and I've been working with them for the past 16-17 years. So I kind of got into VO from the acting, and then realized there would be another way of going to work and not having to shave.

CMD: Do people ever tell you have a face for voice over?

Marcel: It's funny because I mumble a lot, but when I do voice overs I don't, it's a very different style of acting. I come from Strasberg and Meisner and you know Strasberg has that reputation of being in the moment, but it's a different style, it's more. You only have your voice to convey these intentions as opposed to your physical body. So it was very interesting at the beginning. I was trying to feel these ads, so now I realize it's more of a style of acting, just punctuating, and really coming at it from a different standpoint.

CMD: Yeah, I actually just sat in on the Fundamentals of VO class, a techniques class that the Voice Shop has. I personally don't have much experience with VO work, so just sitting in on that class and understanding what it takes to deliver was really eye opening for me. VO acting really is a whole body experience even though it's just audio that's being recorded.

Marcel: Yeah, you have to be really expressive because you only have one tool. What I find fascinating is that I'll see my reflection in the booth, and you're overacting in a sense because you want to make sure that… it would look like overacting if there was a camera there, but you're just making sure that you get the right tonality. I use my hands a lot when I do it just to make sure I punctuate certain things or stress them, or tone up & tone down if that makes any sense. So once I was like "okay, I'm not acting for the camera" then it was very freeing, then I developed a way of falling into it.

CMD: I guess in a sense you're not really limited by anything when doing VO.

Marcel: Yeah, once you realize there's not a camera, that's great!

CMD: So I know with us you do a lot of commercial reads, have you ever tried another genre? And do you have a personal favorite that you tend to do more?

Marcel: I've done industrials, these long audio books, cartoon stuff, animation, and sometimes just descriptive things like documentaries. Commercials are fun because there are different challenges. If you're doing cartoons, you have that voice which you have to keep for longer periods of time, which can put a strain on the voice. Then there are the long records, it's exhausting because you have to focus and you have to be in that style of acting for so long.

CMD: Like sounding the same the whole way through?

Marcel: Yeah, which is challenging in a different way. Sometimes there's such a concise script that has to be very specific, as opposed to the audiobooks where it doesn't have to be as specific, so sometimes that can be a challenge, but I like all of them because they're fun for different reasons. The cartoons are fun because they're silly, and it's like "WAAH! Oh okay, that's too much." And the audiobooks are fun because you get to read a book at the same time, or you learn certain things that you didn't know about.

CMD: Speaking of challenges, what would you say is the most challenging project you've had to do if there's one that comes to mind?

Marcel: The most challenging one was this VO I did for a non-profit which was an 8-hour day. This was really hard was 8 hours. I was the voice of the pope.

CMD: The pope?

Marcel: Yeah it was challenging because it was a long session. It was in Connecticut too, so it was a train ride there and a train ride back.  There was a lot of translating religious vocabulary, which was redundant. A lot of times there's not really that many challenging or annoying projects. Sometimes you do have a client that wants something very specific, and you want to make sure you get that for them, so that can be challenging. Sometimes you have clients that are like, “yeah, the sounds good” so you want to make sure you get what they want. For example, with Bob (CMD's head engineer), he knows me, so recording is really easy. I record and move on, so that's great. But sometimes you have clients who have a harder time directing, and I have a harder time understanding what they're saying because I'm not used to their terminology. That can be challenging, but once it gets going it's fine.

CMD: I was having a discussion with Bob and one of our older VO actors about how in newer & younger companies there isn't always a VO Director present. Because of this, some clients aren't familiar with how to effectively direct audio. It takes an extensive vocabulary. A client can't tell an actor to "sound happier," and expect to get what they want right off the bat.

Marcel: There are weird terms that just don't come in acting. When I direct acting, it's like, what's the beat? What's the objective? What do you want? What do you need? The objective in VO isn't as clear. So it's more about using these subtle words. Once you have that image and you connect to it, then it's easier. But yeah it gets a little tricky there sometimes because "softer" to one person means one thing, and "softer" to another person means a different thing. I'm a fan of just trying things and seeing what works.

CMD: Is there a certain project you've worked on that has been exciting or interesting?

Marcel: I've done a lot of ADR work, which is really fun. I just did ADR for Super Troopers 2.

CMD: What's that?

Marcel: Super Troopers is this really crass, funny over the top screwball comedy. It was really challenging because, it's improv, but voice over at the same time. Voice over is usually so subtle and you're really making sure you hit those tones. And for Super Troopers, you're in a big room, there are a bunch of other actors, the director’s there, and it's a little bit more nerve racking. You have to make these big improv commitments and back them up. And you have to be loud too, so it's a very different way of expressing oneself in the medium. That one was really fun because it was so silly and they allowed us to go for it. Those are fun because you can hear yourself in the movie. I was in another movie called "Dabka", which was really interesting. There was an animation showing how Somali pirates get onto a ship, and I got to play the French captain. They needed me to do French improv, but not say any French words. So it was like (gibberish in French accent). It was fun because I've never done that gibberish of a language, cartoon and loud, and ADR in front of a bunch of people. So that was the most fun thing, because it was a comedy, as opposed to really making sure my VO sells the non-drowsy Tylenol. But all of them are fun because there are different challenges in each one. There's no genre that I don't like or that I like so much more, but comedies are so fun.

CMD: What do you love most about voice over work?

Marcel: The fact that I don't have to shave, it's one hour at a time, and it's lucrative. Yeah!

CMD: I think that's the biggest appeal to voice over work -- you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

Marcel: I've done some work at home and it's very easy to squeeze it in your schedule. The finances are obviously very appealing, and the comfortability is just great, and there's also a sense of completion. When you work on a film it takes a long time to see your work. With VO, you know right away and you hear it at the end. It's like when you're moving stuff. It's boring to move things, but there's a sense of having done something, an accomplishment, take something off a list.

CMD: What are your hobbies outside of VO?

Marcel: Mainly acting and directing for films. I play music; I used to play music in a band.

CMD: Oh cool, what do you play?

Marcel: I used to play bass, but now I play mainly guitar and sing, acoustic-y sad songs for myself. But in this band it was British rock it was called "Hot Seconds." It was just loud, fast, and fun. So music is nice. I read a lot of books and watch movies that are black and white and foreign.

CMD: So artsy!

Marcel: Yeah that's kind of the stuff I like to do. I drink wine.

CMD: You sound so cultured, so French.

Marcel: Yeah I sound snooty; I'm not trying to sound like that.

CMD: Last question! Do you have any advice for people looking to get into voice over work?

Marcel: Just practice, practice and practice. I used to read Shakespeare sonnets. Like once a week I would pick one on Monday, and every morning I would wake up and read that sonnet out loud, by the end of the week I understood it, but I would also work on my diction. There's also this book ‘The American Reader' which has all these famous American speeches from Lincoln, to Bob Dylan to Martin Luther King. So I would read those speeches out loud and get used to just reading copy cold. I've been doing it for fifteen years now which is crazy, and you get to a point where you're just comfortable walking into a room, and you're not nervous, and you breathe, and you're able to listen when they (clients) give you advice, notes, or direction. Don't be afraid to ask questions when they give you direction to make sure you get it specifically and understanding you're on the same page to save time. But it was practice, and practice, and practice, and breathing, and really breaking down scripts, and even watching commercials, or listening to commercials and seeing the different tones from different shows, from different mediums of voice over if that makes any sense.

But those would be the main things. And obviously speech classes, Shakespeare classes I highly recommend, that would definitely help, it can't hurt. And then just recording stuff on your own with Garage Band, or Logic or Pro Tools, or whatever you have at home and listening to it and getting used to hearing your own voice. Our voices sound different to ourselves because of the vibrations in our skulls, I find the eyes are the same too. But when you really hear yourself, you can see it's clear, "ok I was too breathy there, I was running after the breath, I wasn't really on the rhythm of my breath," you can really hear the difference and then adjust. And smoke a lot of cigarettes, it's really good for the voice [Laughing].

CMD: Smoke a lot of cigarettes; drink a lot of dairy. [Laughing]

Marcel: Bananas before a VO session are the best. [Laughing]

To see a photo of Marcel chillin' in our studio lobby, visit our Instagram. Thanks to Marcel for speaking with us!

More resources for The Voice Shop and CMD

The Voice Shop is CMD’s voice over coaching and education initiative. Our mission at The Voice Shop is to help new and experienced VO artists establish and develop the skills necessary to succeed as a voice over professional. For VO classes ranging from the fundamentals of VO to how to nurturing and caring for your voice, check out The Voice Shop.

CMD is an audio post house and VO studio located in NYC. If you are an experienced voice talent who would like to join our roster, we invite you to complete our New Talent Form for consideration.