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How-To: Voiceover Tips & Tricks with Elizabeth Cottle

Tap into your inner voice with NY based Voice Actor Elizabeth Cottle

Have you seen our latest Open Voiceover Project for the new Addams Family 2 animated film yet? We are excited to partner with United Artists Releasing and MGM to host this unique, one-of-a-kind Open Project.

We’ve been eagerly watching the submissions flow in from all over the country over the last two weeks. We want to see you all succeed so, of course, we decided to do something a little extra just for our Zooppers!

New York-based voiceover actor Elizabeth Cottle sat down with us for a little chat last week and can’t wait to share the insights she’s so graciously shared with us and the Zooppa community. We talk about her background in acting and voiceover, the day-to-day of a voice actor, creating different characters, and more. Read on to learn more about Elizabeth and the Voiceover industry!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the voiceover acting industry!

I’m a film, stage and voiceover actor in New York, originally from the Midwest. I have a background in musical theater and began my voiceover career narrating audiobooks. My mother was a children’s librarian and growing up, I experienced very animated story times. As a kid, I immersed myself in storytelling, changing my voice to fit the characters in the books and express their various emotional reactions to keep the story dynamic and engaging. 

My first audition to narrate was for a romance novel. But the timbre of my voice at the time was more suited to young adult and children’s books. I didn’t book that first narration gig. But I was called back for another young adult title that I did book, and I fell in love! Since then, I’ve expanded my genres to include adult and educational manuscripts and have dabbled in other genres. 

Enjoying the character work and learning all the ways to safely manipulate my sounds to convey different emotional qualities or the physical circumstances of the character, I decided to check out the world of animation. I’m just beginning my journey with that genre.

What is the day-to-day of a voice actor like?

I divide my time between managing my business and developing my skills. On Sunday, I’ll schedule out the upcoming week. I allocate a couple of hours a day to auditioning, direct marketing, submitting or following up on invoices. I’ll also research new authors within my genres and watch cartoons to develop a sense of the style of voices, humor and types of characters and animations being produced. I take classes and attend virtual forums with other artists, engineers, producers and casting directors in the industry. I also write some of my own sketches to work on cultivating new ranges of characters from my singular voice. 

Of course, my timeline and tasks may fluctuate if I’m recording a project. Once I book a title to narrate, I read the entire manuscript and identify all the characters I’m reading. I make notes of any character shifts or pronunciations that I’m unfamiliar with such as moments of heightened conflict and/or vocal indicators such as “he whispered,” “she laughed,” “her voice cracked.”

Audiobooks can be long hours in the booth. Vocal care is very important. I need to make sure I’m properly warmed up and aware of when my voice is growing tired and needs to rest.

In what ways is character creation and acting in voiceover different from traditional acting? (ie. Do you act out with movements when you are in the booth? Do you focus mostly on the voice performance?)

I am definitely more cognizant of space, or rather lack thereof, with voice over acting. Initially when reading the manuscript or creating a character, I’ll read it in front of a mirror outside of my booth and analyze my posture, the way I naturally react under the given circumstance. Then I figure out how simulate that energy vocally without flailing and bumping into walls or equipment. That will create problematic noises in the recording and will need to be edited or re-recorded. I stretch and do physical and vocal warm-ups before a session in the booth. 

The equipment within the booth is also incredibly fun to learn as a tool to enhance the story. (i.e. the proximity to the mic, sound levels, etc.) The volume of my voice; the pacing; pitch and where it sits in my register; dialect or no dialect; placement within my oral cavity—all of these are important in traditional acting. But they become my essential focus in narration because the storytelling is solely accomplished through sound. On occasion, I also am able to tap into the sound effects I do for voice over work, whereas it’s not as easy to mask in real time or not needed at all in traditional acting. 

I found that with developing characters for voice over work, I also discover a lot of my voices through imitation. I hear something interesting and try to mimic that sound—working backwards to learn where I’m placing it and make sure I’m doing it safely. With traditional acting, I tend to rely on having an authentic, visceral reaction to the text to inform choices and physicality, thereby working from the inside out.

Whereas it’s almost the reverse with voice over acting for me. Traditional acting allows for much more expression with visual cues and movement that won’t necessarily convey the same intention or yield successful results in voice over. That being said, I’ve recently learned that voice over for video games may require a much more physical component. I have not yet explored that genre, but I do know that much!

How do you recall previous voices created/roles you’ve been in?

For audiobooks, I develop a key with various descriptors of a character I have created to keep them consistent. Some characters will be introduced, disappear and then reappear several chapters later, so I need to reference the key to make sure those vocal qualities are in line with their first appearance and also identifiable from the other characters to whom they are speaking. For some voices, the recall is like riding a bike. 

I have been developing characters my entire life just as a quirky habit. In high school, I had a particularly whiny, sassy character voice I would use for laughs among my friends or to annoy my mom and sisters. Her name was Rita. By naming her and giving her a definitive personality, I knew exactly where her voice fell in my nasal passage, my mouth and how her vocal pattern was drawn out, and certain catch phrases she used… Rita is still easy to recall.

How does voiceover acting differ between different industries? (Audio books to commercial to entertainment, etc.)

There is such a range of opportunities in the voice over industry. The time to record and edit from each project is a big difference. As I mentioned, audiobooks tend to take longer to record and edit than a :30 commercial spot. The material is different. Copy for an animated short may allow for more outlandish choices. Whereas a corporate narration is likely to call for a straight-forward, moderate- to slower-paced read, with a pleasant, instructive voice. All of the jobs require connecting to the material, which is where having a background in acting is so helpful. There are also announcer voiceover jobs, movie trailers, animation, video games, phone systems, eLearning, medical narration, political spots, explainer videos… To name a few. 

Producers, casting directors and project managers may be looking for a specific voice type or they might not know what they want until they hear a specific voice in a demo or audition clip. However, it’s important to read the specs for any audition first. For any other genre, authentic voices regarding age, dialects, ethnicity, etc. are more often than not preferred. If those descriptors are explicitly stated in the audition specs for the spot and don’t match my voice, I don’t submit. 

With audiobooks, there may be characters that require an accent and, in those instances, I’m able to apply those skills. I remember certain sound clips from commercials when I was younger having a more announcer-like quality. But the trend now is largely “conversational”, “friendly”, “genuine”, “warm”. There are fantastic coaches out there that will help talent discover the genre best suited to their abilities and voice-type. They will assist actors in unlocking new potential with which to explore other genres as well.

Can you offer us some insight into how you develop your own new characters and voices?

I develop an image of the character I’m voicing if one isn’t provided. Is it a person or an animal? Does the character have any physical characteristics to take into consideration that might affect speech? What kind of descriptors can I add about personality to give the character dimension and influence delivery, speed and tone? Those are some examples of questions I answer when determining a character’s voice. 

Probably no surprise, as an actor, I’m a fan of cosplay. I’ll frequently develop character voices when playing with different aesthetics to give them distinct personalities. In the booth, however, there isn’t much space to accommodate costumes. So, for recording sessions, I tend to keep my clothing simple and light with fabrics that don’t produce extra noise. I instead work from the imagery and adjectives I have selected for my character(s).

What has been your favorite role/job as a voice actor so far?

I’ve narrated many audiobooks that I have really enjoyed. I read a children’s book that was hauntingly beautiful called The Whispering Town. It’s about a Danish village in 1943 and how the townspeople helped shelter and lead a Jewish family to safety during the Holocaust. I also had a wonderful collaboration with two other narrators on a young adult title called Easy Prey. It’s about three students caught up in a scandal of releasing racy photos of their teacher online. Another fun book was about a middle-schooler called Hello, Future Me. It had a mystical element to it and a plethora of fun characters to voice. I’m beginning sessions on animation voice over work in November and I’m very excited for the opportunity to expand my character voice repertoire!

Any last words for aspiring voiceover artists and actors?

Do the research. Join virtual communities and ask questions. Right now home studios are very important. Making sure the space is well treated to reduce extraneous sound is vital to booking. There are many resources available that discuss equipment, setups, coaching, genres, personal branding, marketing, etc. 

I learned a particularly useful phrase in a voiceover webinar I attended recently: “Grow as you go.” While it was applied to voice over in this context, I think it’s a particularly useful tip for any career and any solopreneur. I discovered that I loved storytelling and am passionate about engaging people in those stories and the characters driving the narrative. There were a lot of skills and gear I have needed and will continue to need to acquire over time to improve. That can be overwhelming, but I also find that’s what makes this industry so exhilarating.

Want to put your new knowledge and insights to use? Earn the opportunity to potentially be in the next Addams Family 2 animated movie and $2k!

Check out the Addams Family 2 Open Voiceover Project on the Zooppa platform today. The US deadline is quickly approaching on November 11th!

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