Wren Ross    617-924-SING

Wren teaches voice over workshops in Boston, MA, Cambridge, MA,
Albuquerque, NM,
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Voice Over Articles

April 2011

Wren Ross has secrets for success that she’s willing to share. This veteran Boston-area actress/voice-over artist/singer/author/teacher works countless hours with talent and would-be talent, sharing valuable tips on how to perform better.

‘The most important thing is to have a good time,’ Ross explains. ‘Because if you’re having a good time, you’re going to be focused. You’re going to be right there.’

Working with news talent around the dial, she tells her students who deliver broadcast news to think about talking to one person. ‘Rather than thinking about it as a million people, think about it as one person that you’re having a dialogue with,’ Ross continues.

‘It’s very exciting to see the results when I help them get into that moment, and talk to that gal who is ironing her shirt before she goes to work in the morning. To think about ‘why does she need to hear the story?’ or ‘why does she need to know what the weather is?’ Ross instructs news talent to be able to ‘convey it to them like they were friends, and that they need to hear the information.’

‘A lot of times, the news people are so distracted by chatter that gets into their minds,’ she explains, ‘Is it going to be good? How are my ratings?’ All that kind of stuff takes their mind away from telling the story.’

Her advice is sage. ‘Open up your curiosity because that’s what really fuels the event of a newscast. The curiosity. Why? How? And answering the questions. It’s your curiosity as a reporter, but you’re also addressing the curiosity of the viewer and giving them what they need, which is to answer their questions.’

‘There’s so much distraction on the set. It’s difficult to be focused on the story when someone is shouting in your ear that you need to adjust your blouse. Instead of just getting into the moment and having fun, sometimes, it stops being fun for them. It’s really gratifying to help remind them why they got into it to begin with.’

Ross encourages the people she’s coaching to connect with their audience. ‘I help them to be more in the moment, so they can be more dynamic, so that their eyes are communicating. And when they do a voice-over, we can ‘hear’ their eye contact in the voice-over,’ she reveals.

Ross illuminates key criteria for the success of on-camera news talent. ‘It’s really important to like your viewer,’ she continues. Talent is often so concerned whether or not they are liked, that they often don’t seem to like their projected viewer. ‘But if they assume that the viewer likes them, they’re going to like their viewer and they’re going to be generous. It’s really going to feed that dialogue.’

‘Some people only think ‘do you like me?’ ‘Am I good?’ she explains. ‘What about making that viewer have a better day? Or touching that viewer’s heart with a story? Or what about getting that viewer to think about something? That’s your job. Have a relationship. Communicate with the viewer. A dialogue.’

‘Once I was working with a vivacious young talent who would read every piece of copy flat, no matter what direction I gave her. I asked her: ‘What do you think your viewer is thinking when you read your script?'’ She said with great honesty, ‘That it stinks and they wish I would get it over with.’ A light bulb went off in my head. If she projects that the viewer won't like her, then she won’t like her viewer. If she dislikes her viewer, her fears will be realized because her performance will be dull, flat and boring. But if she enjoys herself and gets into the event of the script and the relationship with the viewer, her performance will be fun, engaging and dynamic.’

Ross has advice for those in the media reading news, commercials, any type of script, whether it’s for an on-camera performance or a voice-over. ‘Change the sentences on the page into thoughts, and communicate thoughts. So that it’s not words, it’s ideas. I say in my classes that ‘read’ is a 4-letter word. Don’t read. Engage.’

Ross works with people in all walks of life, not just media people. She helps teachers, lawyers, sales people and does inhouse corporate workshops. She works with anyone who needs to improve their performance in front of people and have their confidence boosted.

Ross speaks from experience. She’s been performing professionally since her early teen years when she discovered her voice. She had an agent at the ripe old age of 14, and sang in coffeehouses, synagogue choirs, Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs. With some of the money she made, she bought a Martin guitar, which she still owns today.

Ross earned a scholarship to Boston University in music, but soon switched to the Theatre Department and became an actress. ‘I realized that I was a singer but not so much a musician,’ she explains. A while after graduation, she realized she had to make money and was cast in the long-running show ‘Shear Madness’, Ross has recorded countless spots for radio and TV in the region for 3 decades.

When performing in “Shear Madness’, she also discovered commercial acting, doing both on-camera and voice-over commercials. She never went to school specifically for that area of the business but longtime voice-over announcer, Don Wescott, offered her valuable advice on how to do voice-overs. He said, ‘One word at a time.’

‘When I learn, I also teach it,’ Ross explains. ‘As soon as I was learning acting, I was teaching it, whether it was kids or little groups of people. So I’ve been teaching acting about as long as I’ve been doing it.’ Her resume includes stage work, training films, on-camera work and a lot of voice-overs.

Her true love seems to be voice work. ‘In the womb, the ears are the first organs that are fully created. So your first experience with the world, unless you’re hearing-challenged, is a voice-over.’

‘We didn’t learn words (at first). We learned intention. My job when I coach people and when I do voice-overs is not to communicate words. It’s to communicate ideas, and truly make an event. I’m not thinking of it as a script. I’m thinking about it as an event, where something happens, something changes.’

Her students almost universally praise Ross for the way she teaches and what her wisdom does for them. Former WHDH and NECN anchor Margie Reedy Larkin loves her ‘natural approach’. ‘She encouraged me to take risks and I’m glad I did,’ says Larkin. ‘I love her attitude—that this should be fun and your voice should be authentic.’

WHDH anchor Sorboni Banerjee explains, ‘Working with Wren helped me find my voice—my unique and true self, and once that happened, I could truly feel what I was reading again. She helped me block out the extraneous stuff. It’s almost magic—what she does.’

Among her other accomplishments, Ross and her partner, Daena Giardella, co-authored a book called ‘Changing Patterns: Discovering the Fabric of Your Creativity’. The publication looks at how developing a dynamic relationship with your creative process can change your life. Ross can be reached at her website, www.wrenross.com and at 617-924-SING.

Feature - Imagine News
June/July 2002

Yada, yada, yada. We speak all day long. We act out our words as drama queens, fragile princesses, knights in armor, protectors, heroes and villains. We love, inform, sympathize, bully and cajole without thinking about the range and tone evident in our voices. However, stand up in front of a live mike, in a room of people judging what you are saying and you regress to that tiny terrified child reading aloud in second grade. T ripping and stumbling over the words, sweat beading on your forehead, the copy fluttering in your shaking hand. All the regulators that were ever imposed on you come flooding back. The resulting read is a gasping, ragged, breathless, wooden mess. Even as your brain is screaming the words, your tongue is holding them hostage. The pitch of your voice may be given to you at birth, but the ability to act out words is a learned skill. That means lots of practice and a good voice coach.

Wren Ross is a person to turn to. While you may not recognize her on the street you most likely have heard her voice. She has done so much in the field that she seems to be everywhere. She is the voice of documentaries, ads, answering machines and more. From Shear Madness to Nova to Songs of the Holocaust, she has a great body of work and a passion for what she does. She passes her experience along to both voice-over novices and established talents in one-on-one coaching sessions or in-group lessons. It is her ability to tear down those regulators that enables her to bring on new talent and spice up experienced actors.

"Boston is a great voice-over secret" Wren confesses. "There is so much opportunity here with corporate training tapes, video games, and so much more".

While you may not have the voice of James Earl Jones or Katherine Hepburn you do have your own unique sound. learning to play it like an instrument is what voiceover lessons are all about. For actors trying to break into the business it seems almost impossible to make the leap from classroom to studio. To bridge the gap Wren holds special sessions where talent and producers meet to discuss their needs. These two groups often think of themselves as "us" and the other guys as "them". Opening up the communication lines helps to tear down those labels.

Recently, one of these communication sessions was held at the casting agency of Tighe and Doyle. Thirty- five eager students, demos in hand, were looking for the answers on how to get noticed by producers and casting agents.

Four area producers gave up some of their precious time to pass along what they have learned over the years; Jen Cobb of Jet Pak Productions, Mark Wile of WorthWile Productions, Roger Lyons, Producer for BZ Productions and Ollie Hallowell of Ollie Hallowell World Wide Productions.

Successful submission of a demo CD is the first step. What every producer or casting agent hopes to hear is the "wow" factor. It is that indescribable moment when an artist presents him or herself in such a compelling manner that the listener is hanging on every word. It is the pin drop phenomenon.

The producers recommend that you put your best work first. Keep the demo between 1 to 3 minutes in length. If you want to be heard, you must be brief. Also they state that they want to hear lots of variety in that short time span.

"Turn in a whole marketing package. The spine of your jewel case needs to stand out and scream "PICK ME" as we have hundreds of demos stored. You have to make yours stand out from all the others." The members of the panel admit they listen to every demo CD sent in, at least once. James Earl Jones is the only James Earl Jones and that is just fine. Imperfect voices can be valuable in certain situations. Almost as important as the voice itself is the professional manner in which you present yourself. You must be able to package, market and sell yourself. You are your company and your talent is what you have to sell. All the materials you submit should be professional in appearance.

For new talent, the problem always seems to be that you need a resume to get a job but you need a job to have a resume. Many seek that first break without a resume to back it up.

Mark Wile recommends that you send in a biography if you don't have a resume. List your skills in your biography. Are you multilingual? Can you ride a horse? We all have skills outside our jobs and these can sometimes be needed. Wile also recommends that novices take advantage of Community Theater. college courses, small studios and even your local access cable station.AIl of these add skills .and experience to bulk up your biography and resume. One thing both sides of the equation agreed on was their dislike of the audition practice. The actors dread the fact that a few seconds can determine their fate. The producers say they find the auditions to be time consuming. often non- productive. hard work and difficult to measure. Once you know a voice in person it seems as if you hear that voice everywhere.

That is often the case as most casting agents have a stable of actors they turn to for many of their production needs. However, since they never know when a certain look or voice will be needed,they are always on the lookout for fresh talent. Sometimes the client will have a different sound in mind for the product. No matter how great you were in audition that can prevent you from getting the job. This doesn't mean you stink, are hopeless, or even that the producer is an idiot for not recognizing your talent. It only means you have not been chosen as the voice they envision for the product.

"The audition process is very subjective and you need a thick skin. It is important that you stay positive through rejection and keep trying;' says Mark Wile. " It is all about perseverance. If you want it badly enough you will get there."

Although there are plenty of voiceover opportunities in Boston, getting that first job may take a while. The good news is that you don't have to be a Jones or a Hepburn. There is place for every voice somewhere in this business.

The Conspicuous Consumer
Quaking in Your Booth — Not!

Radio, ironically, is a visual medium — invisible, vivid pictures are being "drawn" by the voice of the announcer. Learning to do this convincingly is what Wren Ross' workshops are all about, and it's fun. You may have unknowingly heard her own well-supported, confident voice of honey in a New England Telephone ad, or elsewhere, but she was making you think of the product, not her voice. In her various workshops, students get to work in a recording booth, improvising alongside various kinds of music — the 1812 Overture, or even "cheesy mall music" that help set the tone and lead the announcer along.

"Don't think, 'this is how it's supposed to sound,'" advises Wren from the adjacent room full of listening and laughing along students. "Think, 'this is how my voice sounds.'" She adds, smiling, "Don't try to be wonderful, you'll scare everyone." Students alternately improvise, read from scripts, and then improvise off of those scripts, developing greater bravery and range with each successive round. One exercise involves the introduction of a not-very-nice word before each sentence, adding farcical contradiction and texture to the script; when the student returns to reading the script "straight" she has much more assurance and solidity in her voice.

encourages them to get "stronger, more specific energy" into their reading, to let their spontaneity flow, to pay attention to the subtext, and to introduce variety and conflict into whatever they are reading — a voice-over, an ad, a radio announcement. "Taste the language," she advises. "Every word has so much delicious meaning." The friendly atmosphere, the chance to really experiment and rock out, and probably some electronic magic in the recording studio equipment makes the students sound plummy and professional. The workshops are three hours long, and some are directed to making a demo tape and learning the business end. Call for information.

Imagine 2000 "Focus"
April, 2000
Voice Over New England
by Joe Gallo

A good, clear speaking voice may be a gift, but it takes a lot of time, care and effort to turn it into a viable professional tool.

One of the most underrated skills is that of the professional voice over artist. In the industry they are referred to as "talent". The moniker alone suggests that the person in question has some — in addition to a good voice, that is. But what exactly is a "good voice"? And is that all that's needed to break into New England's competitive market?

"First of all," says Rhonda Berkman, voice-over talent and casting director at Soundtrack Recording Studios, "Voice over is not something to dabble in. It's an art, and for the most part it is an art that can be learned." Berkman speaks from experience having been the voice for national spots such as Alka Seltzer, Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's.

As casting director for one of the busiest commercial sound recording studios in town, Berkman gets a lot of calls from prospective talent. "They tell me, 'I've been told I should be doing voice over work. What should I do?' Well, take acting classes, voice over classes where you learn how to (cold read) effectively. You have to learn how to read to time, shave five seconds off a piece without sounding as though you've speeded up...it's an art."

Veteran voice over talent and teacher, Wren Ross, speaks of the acting side of the craft. "It's the most intimate form of acting you can do," Ross says. "Voice over talent should know how to communicate and understand that the contact you have is more important than the content. People will listen to you if you have strong intentions." And these intentions show up in the color, inflection and sincerity of the voice while relating copy. "A performer needs to be comfortable in their own voice. It's not just a matter of talking into a microphone."

"Commercials are very philosophical right now," Ross reflects. "It's clear that people are looking for something that has more substance, and a voice over talent needs to have some substance as well."

And then there's the business end of it: making contacts, joining the Union, self-promotion... "The people who don't want it badly enough lose interest," Berkman cautions, "but those who do — they go after it with a vengence! It's a very competitive business."

"It's relative expensive to get started," says veteran voice master, Sonny Default. "You have to take lessons, get a good demo, and then, if you're serious, doing it."

Wren Ross, one of the "best and most ambitious" in town concurs, "It takes a long time to break into this business. I've paid my dues and now most of my work comes from my reputation." Ross's national spots include Marshall's, Bausch and Lomb, and Sunglasses Hut International. In addition to working in radio and television she has also done voice over narratives for the Museum of Science and the New York Stock Exchange, and has even left her voiceprint on voice mail systems across the country.

"In Boston you have to do your own marketing," Ross says. "You have to develop contacts with ad agencies, production companies, sound studios, corporate and freelance producers, and you have to develop your own data base as well as follow up marketing."

Currently it is possible to find steady work doing voice over in New England, if one perseveres. "We're constantly busy here," Berkman says of Soundtrack. "I've noticed an increase because of all the 'dot.coms' and interactive CD-ROMs. Also, industrial work is being expanded for website development."

Kevin Fennessy, casting director of Kevin Fennessy Casting, agrees. Although Fennessy has had experience casting voice over talent, he says, "it is the smallest area of work that comes through my office." The main casting agency for voice over talent in New England is Tighe and Doyle, who also have a New York office. But the vast majority of talent have no affiliation with casting agencies.

David Porter, project manager and engineer at Sound Techniques recording studio, would like to see casting agencies sprout up around New England. "We try to cast new talent at Sound Techniques whenever possible, but it's more of an extended service. What this town could use is the development of new talent that will stay here. Clients think they've exhausted their possibilities here, but that's not true. There's just not enough representation in Boston. Most of the talents do their own legwork. In New York you've got casting agents that have contacts with production and advertising agencies. Down there you could pull a session together in an hour if you had to. You can't do that so easily in Boston. They (voice over talent) are on their own."

"The bottom line," Fennessy says, "is if you want to get work, you have to have a ood demo. The quality is really important because you'll be competing with people who have actually worked in the field." Fennessy points out, "A homemade tape isn't really going to help you."

When Berkman receives a voice over demo at Soundtrack she listens for "good tone, flexibility, whether they can do a natural read, a retail sell, what the level of their acting ability is, can they do characters? Is there anything about the voice that captures your attention."

Although the final choice of talent is left up to the client, Berkman and Soundtrack Recording continue to promote local talent. "We've been very generous to talent in the area. Periodically we run open mike nights to get local actors in here to audition on the mike. This is only open to union talent who have not produced their demos yet. We'll record them, keep them on file, and call them in to audition for clients. Sometimes it's all the encouragement they need."

But, even if the demo tape is well-produced, and voice over skills are sharp, there is no guarantee you'll be working tomorrow. Advertising agencies and their clients seem to like New York. To those who are laying down a big budget, they still believe they'll get their money's worth with New York talent.

But now, with ISDN, a client can hire New York talent and record them here in a Boston studio without any loss of sound quality. "All you have to do," says Porter, "is call 'em up on the phone. It's more efficient in terms of budget — it's not cheap, but it's useful. It's definitely shifted things in the industry." Peter continues, "For every job we lose to another city, there's also work we gain. The client now has more options and, ideally, so does the local talent."

ISDN has made recording more convenient for the client and the talent, but according to Porter, an engineer has less control over a recording session. "It opens up the session to variables that are outside of your control. When the talent is in (my) studio I have access to every detail from mike placement, EQs, how the talent is dealing with the mike...but ultimately the sound is just as good — and the (ISDN) boxes also help keep talent in town."

And what exactly is a good voice? There are just as many answers to this question as there are voices on this earth. It might be nice to be represented by a mellifluous, unique, or flexible voice — but those in the industry agree that the best voice is the one that gets heard.


Contact Wren Ross by phone at 617-924-SING (7464) or email: wren@wrenross.com
Copyright © 2002 Wren Ross. All rights reserved.