We sat down with Richard Cotton, a voice actor and voiceover coach with years of industry experience, to discuss his new online voiceover course: The Voice Over Primer. The course aims to guide voice actors in their first steps to audio stardom, including an introduction to voiceover sessions, how to read scripts, technical advice, and finding voiceover work.
Richard also offers an exclusive 25% discount through the link below, so guidance in getting started in the industry is more accessible than ever! The first 10 VAs to book the course through the link below will also get a free 45-minute online consultation to discuss your voiceover aspirations.
25% discount code: VOICEREELS1
Let’s take a closer look at The Voice Over Primer and how it’ll prepare aspiring voice actors throughout its 6 detailed modules, offered in both audio and video form.
Richard: I grew up in a small village in rural Devon, UK, and we had a local drama group. We would come together once a year to rehearse and perform a pantomime, that most curiously English dramatic phenomenon. I mention this because those amateur productions embodied an unspoken community spirit and a will to share and keep old stories alive. My overarching philosophy around voiceover is that everything is a story, whether we are narrating an epic documentary, a seemingly superficial commercial, or a dry corporate video script. It’s our job as voice artists to enter that story’s world, see it happening in front of us and bring it to life for the listening audience.
After attending RADA, where at the time there had been very little voice recording, I decided to take voice acting seriously. I made a commitment to myself that I would have five non-exclusive voice agent relationships within the next three months, which I did. Eventually, one of those relationships yielded some serious fruit, so I signed with them exclusively and have been with them ever since.
“It’s our job as voice artists to enter that story’s world, see it happening in front of us and bring it to life for the listening audience”.
Voiceover began to change my life, and I think those around me started to notice. Consequently, people would ask me for advice and support in getting into the industry. Eventually, in-person sessions began to take up quite a lot of my time, so I had a choice either to stop doing them or formalise them somehow. I began organising the sessions more carefully, and voiceover coaching became a significant part of what was now a portfolio career.
This year I have a feature film coming up, ongoing self-tape auditions (which, as anyone who takes them seriously will know, take time!), two ongoing writing projects, and more voiceover work. So, there’s a lot going on. This year I knew I had to write down and film what I teach in my one-to-one sessions and turn it into an online course. Since most people who come to me are new to voiceover and want to break into the industry, I knew the course had to work for those people. It took me about five months from conception to launch. I’m really proud of it, and I hope people enjoy it and get enormous value out of it.
Richard: I was clear from the outset that I wanted to keep it simple and practical. A six-module structure emerged where I discuss different aspects of approaching voiceover and the industry. In the videos where I look specifically at voiceover skills, I provide scripts which appear on the screen. Here there are opportunities to pause the video, record, listen back and then modify your reading. Early feedback has been great. I’m someone who speaks when I have something to say and tends to listen when I don’t. So, every word of the course is valuable, and there’s nothing extraneous.
The great strength of The Voice Over Primer is that it’s coming from someone who is working as a voice artist all the time, right now. To turn anything into a career, you have to get asked back. Don’t give anyone a reason to look elsewhere. Because voiceover is so competitive, we have to optimise what we’re doing. That’s the purpose of the course.
“Every word of the course is valuable.”
Everyone has a different way of learning and a different way of approaching a script. My good friend Daniel Fathers talks about the four modalities of learning – Auditory (listening), Visual (watching), Read/Write (reading and reinforcing the learning by writing) and Kinaesthetic (doing). Individually, we tend to lean toward a predominance in how we best retain or absorb information from one or two of the preferred learning modalities. My course deliberately covers all of those: there are the course videos which Visual learners can watch; for Auditory learners, there are audio-only versions of each video, which they can listen to on the move; for the Read/Writers, there is a full transcript of the entire course as well as summary sheets for each video; and for the Kinaesthetic learners there are opportunities for practice in the early modules, and a 30-minute voice warm up in module six.
Richard: The video on setting up your own studio is fairly top-level. It’s a good starting point and tells you what you need to get going. From there, people can explore the thousands of online resources that dig deep into microphone selection, hardware and software comparisons and room treatment, which is its own online sub-culture.
“There’s no point in spending a fortune on a top-end studio microphone if you have no idea what to do with it.”
However, I also think there’s a deliberate mystique built up around recording components and environment. As anyone who writes music using electronic equipment (as I do) will know, we need to guard against the tendency to obsess about perfecting the tech at the expense of actually writing the song. I think to a large extent, this is transferable to voiceover. There’s no point in spending a fortune on a top-end studio microphone if you have no idea what to do with it. Equally, you’re selling yourself short if you deliver the perfect performance for a commercial but you can’t be heard clearly. There’s a balance, a sweet spot between cost and performance, and I talk about that in the course.
Don’t let anyone tell you that if you don’t spend six months researching, building and spending a fortune on an optimal studio, you can’t get started. You can, and it’s simpler than you think. Setting up a studio is not the meat of my course, but it is a well-cooked and perfectly proportioned side order.
Richard: This is really at the heart of my course. I feel strongly that the best actors are those that can leave themselves alone. Those that “act” less. My coaching style is student centred, by which I mean that I believe everybody already has it within them to read and record their voice and tell stories. After all, we were consummate storytellers as children, we just need to remember. The mystery is that when we get out of our own way, our authentic voice shines through. It’s a process of being present with the images that arise out of the text and allowing ourselves to simply describe what we’re seeing without “acting” or feeling like we need to sound a particular way.
Of course, there are techniques that we can employ to bring variation to our readings, and there are lots of those in the course; but the primary technique that I look at is about getting as close to the moment of expression as possible. Then the mechanics of our voice need to be responsive to that, so there’s a 30-minute voice exercise video at the end of the course, where we look at relaxation, connecting the voice to the breath and increasing flexibility.
“It’s a process of being present with the images that arise out of the text and allowing ourselves to simply describe what we’re seeing”.
The idea of whether to look for a niche in the industry is a personal thing in my view, and it’s nuanced. Everybody’s financial situation is different, and not everyone can afford to say, “Well I’m only going to do documentaries because that’s where I feel most comfortable” or because “that’s what I feel I’m best at”. Personally, as a voice artist, I tend to say “yes” to everything and then work out how to do it. That way, I cover as many bases as possible and leave myself open to as much work as possible. But I can only do that because I have lots of experience in the studio, and I trust that I’m going to be able to do it or at least have a good go. That said, there are people who specialise in one area, like video games, for example. They might have fallen into it, found that they have a facility for it, developed trusted relationships with video game producers over time and end up being amazing at voicing video games. Happy days. For me, I’m known as someone who does pretty much everything, and I like that because it keeps my work varied.
My course helps you to find your authentic voice, out of which you might discover a niche or an area of voiceover in which your voice sits well. From there, it’s a journey of discovery.
Richard: The course looks at how to quickly recognise the relationship between the ideas within a script, creating variation in our reading and helping us to see what we’re saying. I talk about the overall structure of scripts; we look at separating ideas spatially, we look at line endings and leader lines, actioning and approaching lists within a script. So, lots of detail.
“Getting the work IS the work”.
I don’t believe in making notes on a script for the sake of it. We’re not trying to impress anyone. I never rely on having advance time with a script, either. I believe in developing our ability to sight read, which involves reading ahead and lifting the text off the page to encourage everyone to continually practice reading out loud. By doing this, we start to develop a keen sense of the patterns and rhythms within language. Then we can hold all our understanding of the script within ourselves and don’t need to rely so much on notes.
There is a section in the course that looks specifically at auditions – getting the work IS the work.
Richard: Yes, there’s a section in the course about approaching agents. My experience is with the traditional agenting model of a group of people in an office, looking after a roster of artists that they know well, receiving breakdowns and putting artists forward who fit the brief.
I talk about how to approach agents, what might be helpful and what isn’t, and how to manage expectations. We all know there are a lot of voice artists out there, and competition is fierce. Getting a rejection from an agent, or not hearing from them at all, is NO reflection on your ability and much more to do with your suitability and how you might fit into an agent’s roster or not. That said, voiceover is not an industry for the faint-hearted. You have to fight sometimes.
Richard: In The Voice Over Primer, I talk about the importance of having a reel that sounds like you have selected your clips from the huge volume of work you’ve already done. If you’ve been doing voiceover for years, that might well be the case; but if you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t really have much professional content to show. This is one of the reasons I encourage people to go into a professional studio or use a professional voice reel service to create their reels and from time to time, go back to freshen them up, both to stay current with trends and to show recent work.
The Voice Over Primer prepares you for those performances to maximise your chances of getting an agent and booking work.
Richard: We need to develop our own philosophy to deal with rejection. If we don’t, we’re going to be miserable, and this means that our voiceover career is going to be unsustainable. There will always be loads of people going up for every job, and they will be doing their best to get it.
“We need to understand WHY we’re being rejected”.
When we’re talking about rejection in the voiceover industry or with acting in general, it’s hard not to view it as personal. After all, it feels like it’s us that’s being rejected, either the way we sound or the way we look. In a sense, that’s true, but we need to understand WHY we’re being rejected. Now, it’s possible that we didn’t nail the test. We didn’t quite get to grips with the brief. We rushed it a bit, maybe we had other commitments, and we just couldn’t assign sufficient time to the test. We’re all on a learning curve, wherever we are in our careers. That’s partly what makes life interesting. So, embrace it.
It’s important to understand the difference between what is within our control and what isn’t. The team in charge of a project might already have a specific idea of what they’re looking for, and when they hear you, your voice doesn’t quite match their preconceived notion of what they want. There is nothing you can do about that. If you’ve given a test your very best shot, then you’ve done everything you can. Send it off, forget about it and focus on the next thing.
I have lots of testimonials for my in-person coaching, and you can see those at www.richardcotton.org. Here are a few:
“I called upon Richard’s expertise to embark on a voice-over career and learn the fundamental voice skills to create a strong voice-over reel. Richard’s care, passion and attention to detail, together with his incredible gift for drawing out an artist’s authentic voice makes his service as a voice-over tutor the best time and money spent. I have successfully secured a voice-over agent and I regard his input in this process truly integral to the end result. Thank you Richard!” AMANDA
“The coaching Richard offered was just fantastic. He has a great way of meeting me where I am rather than where someone else might think I should be. Quite impressive that he has such a light touch but also assured. I loved the result.” LAWRENCE
“My coaching session with Richard transformed me from a green acting student with no audio experience to a confident and capable actor ready to enter the world of VO. His techniques and practices offered incredible insight into the craft of voiceover work and the industry. I feel very lucky to have crossed paths with him.” MIA
In the competitive world of voice acting, Richard Cotton’s Voice Over Primer course stands out for its practicality and authentic guidance. Rooted in his rich experience as a voice actor and coach, the course offers a clear roadmap for aspiring voice artists.
From the basics of voiceover to finding your authentic voice, The Voice Over Primer covers a broad spectrum of essentials to make it in the industry.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Richard!