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The Voice Over: 'I imagine myself with a nice tan and silicone implants'

Tanya Rich is a professional voice over artist and coach. She lectures in voice for recorded media at Bath Spa Uni, runs cabaret show Club Paradis and makes up one third of The BelleFleurs. Here's her story.

I always knew I didn’t want a mainstream job.

I was meant to go to drama school but I was more shy about performing onstage than I am now. Then punk exploded in the mid seventies and I ended up managing the punk legends Discharge. When I got into voice work it suited me perfectly because I could be anything I wanted to be.

I have two kinds of customers – clients and producers.

Clients can be anyone out there that wants a voiceover, and we work together to get the finished product. Producers can be a lot more demanding. You have to pick up on their vibe and as they’re in charge, you just have to do as you're told, even if you don't sometimes agree! It takes a lot of tact – hard for somebody like me.

You have to really believe you are who you are in that moment.

The art of voice overs is talking softly and listening loudly.

People come up to me and say ‘I’ve got a nice voice, could I be a voice over?’ and the answer is ‘I don’t know’. To be a voice over you need to be able to listen and take direction as well as talk.

You need to be able to say things to time, you need to understand nuance, light and shade. You have to consider an awful lot of things for a 30-second commercial. People have no idea..!

I imagine myself as a totally different person.

I do on-hold calls for adult TV channels and when I do that voice I instantly imagine myself as a stereotypical girl in the adult industry with long hair and extensions. I’ve probably got a really nice tan and silicone implants. When you’re a voice over, you have to really believe you are who you are in that moment.

It’s physical as well – you change your body posture. You couldn’t do the voice of a witch or an old lady sitting up straight. You need to bend your body, but without messing with your diaphragm. Same goes for doing a child voice – you sit and fidget and maybe hang your feet off the chair. It’s like I’m psychotic!

Yesterday I did a long documentary for a charity in Uganda and I was frowning slightly as I talked. I used my hands either side of my body or the mic to keep myself still and in my mind I was thinking of Kate Adie the news reporter. When you’re doing a doc with perhaps quite harrowing images you don’t need to be dramatic with your voice. The pictures are the drama, you’re just giving information – so you stay controlled.

One of the good things about smiling is that it warms your voice up.

I think about who I'm speaking to, and change accordingly.

I always think about the end user – except perhaps the adult channel ones! This morning I did some telephone answering systems for a medical company so they wanted it very factual, very corporate. Then I did one for an electrician company in Birmingham so I changed my voice slightly – they don’t want ‘please ahhhsk for help’ they want ‘please aaask for help’. Slightly Brummie, with a Northern ‘A’.

If I don’t think about who I’m talking to it’s not believable. If it’s not believable, it won’t work.

I follow what I call the Rich-ter scale of smiling. 

A one is a slight smile, a five is a noticeable smile and a ten is full on joyful. And you can really hear the difference! I’m not changing my voice, just my face. One of the good things about smiling is that it warms your voice up. People might not think this but you can smile to deliver a serious message. You don’t have to be grinning! But it makes the voice sound more genuine.

When I lecture it’s about being relaxed and having an open body posture. Hands are very important – not flappy, just to make points. If you’re presenting and you want people to really listen and it’s a very noisy room, talk softly. If you talk softly everybody has to listen to you.

Change the speed and rhythm regularly. One of the worst things that people can do when they’re talking is sticking to the same inflection on each sentence. Your audience’s brain switches off because they know what’s coming next.

People who have never met me imagine I’m all kinds of things.

Being able to use your voice well is a valuable skill.

Sometimes you go to a voice conference some of the most gorgeous sounding male voices – all brown velvet and chocolate – often have the perfect face for radio, but they still manage to seduce people with their voice.

I like being a mystery.

People who have never met me and don’t know what I look like will think I’m all kinds of things. And if they imagine me as the character I’m playing, I’ve done a good job, haven’t I?

About the project

The Everyday Engagement project is a series of interviews exploring the ways people communicate and connect in day-to-day life.

We want to learn about the instinctive skills and insights used in different professions, especially from people who deal with a spectrum of human emotion.

If you’ve got a story to share please get in contact.

More in this series:

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