A premier voice-over talent provides practical wisdom for enhancing professional opportunities in the voice-over marketplace. BY BRENDAN RILEY
On September 24, 2011, some twenty translators, interpreters, and voice-over talents gathered at the SFSU downtown campus for a lively day-long workshop led by Maya León Meis, entitled Using Your Voice to Make Money.
In addition to being a former news anchorwoman and the host of Los Secretos de Maya, her own TV program about healthy living, Peruvian-born Maya León Meis is a premier voice-over professional in the U.S. She is president and CEO of Voice Productions International in Arvada, Colorado, near Denver.
Persons attending both morning and afternoon sessions were treated to a day of learning and laughter. Maya explained that voice-over is really voice acting, and drew on a lifetime of professional experience to inspire her students. She delivered a dynamic series of lessons that were as direct, clear, and effective as the workshop’s title promised. “Many clients do not appreciate the work required for translation,” Maya said, “but are willing to pay for voice acting talent.”
Workshop attendees comprised a truly international group hailing from Japan, Taiwan, Peru, Mexico, and Spain, as well as the Bay Area. Students included experienced voice actors looking for fresh ideas as well as those new to the profession. Maya engaged everyone’s interests and needs with clear insights and sound advice.
One student from Tokyo wished to improve his voice quality for interpretation work; another from Taipei was interested in acquiring skills for voice localization. Maya explained that while it is difficult for Asian-born speakers of English to lose their native accents entirely, well-modulated Asian-accented English is highly marketable in the U.S.
Other students, from the University of Barcelona, expressed interest in audio visual and script translation. Maya emphasized an important difference: while texts are translated to be read silently, scripts must be written and delivered with the ear in mind. When students from Mexico City expressed interest in enhancing their voices for legal and medical interpretation, Maya stressed the need for clarity in speaking, and not to let nervous pressure rush one’s speech. She reminded interpreters that voice acting jobs can strengthen and refine their live voices: “A great voice is also a great court room asset,” she said. For aspiring voice actors who lack confidence, Maya offered an encouraging perspective: “It’s not that you don’t like your voice, you don’t like what you’re doing with it.”
Maya also identified the growing role of voice acting for medical training videos that provide instruction for patients who need to safely perform procedures at home. Similarly, the Internet’s wide variety of “how-to” videos represents a growing market for skilled voice actors.
Prep, practice, payment
According to Maya, it is essential for voice talents to comprehend that they form part of a large, multistep production process, and to be good team players. She showed students how to read, parse, and mark a script, identifying key ideas, transitions, and logical places for emphasis and effective delivery. She also discussed proper voice care and a sensible diet for clear vocal delivery and successful recording sessions.
Volunteers experienced the challenge of delivering a simple English phrase like “A cheese sandwich for lunch” with clarity, intonation, and meaning. In the playful spirit of the workshop, Maya rewarded their efforts with oversized green $100 bills—play money—to remind voice actors of the job possibilities available to them. With characteristic humor, she highlighted another important benefit: not only can voice acting pay well but it also involves “less brain damage” than the multi-lateral stress of translation or interpretation.
The afternoon session focused on more challenging vocal practice, including short advertising scripts for partners. One scripted scenario involved a suspicious spouse intercepting their beloved sneaking into the house after a late-night run to the sandwich shop. Suspicion turns to joy when both discover their shared love for food and savings. Students paired up and gamely worked to bring the characters’ voices to life, often with hilarious results and abundant laughter from the class.
The final part of the workshop focused on contacting agencies, starting to obtain work, and a discussion of payment rates, all of which brought Maya’s theme back into focus: there is money aplenty to be made in the ever-growing voice-over marketplace. BR