We asked Lisa Graydon, a voice-over artist and vocalist to share her story and discovered that, in her case, voiceover work is a real family affair!
How did you get into voiceover work?
A number of years ago I was in a recording studio in Soho, London, singing children’s songs for a well-known company.
At the end of my singing session, the producer realised they’d missed some lines for the voice artists who had been there in the morning. They wondered if I could try and voice the princess, seeing as I was singing her songs.
I did, and then also voiced a goat and a couple of villagers, and without realising it, my voiceover career started…!
Fast forward to now, and I‘ve also voiced hundreds of commercials, radio ads, corporate explainers, and sponsorship campaigns.
Why do you enjoy animation and games work so much?
I’m a regular ‘looper’ for films and love ADR, but my biggest passion is voicing for animation and games. In both, I can help the director ‘create’ the voice of whatever character is put before me. I feel confident, excited, and it’s where I probably feel most at home.
Playing with ideas for characters is immense fun. Sometimes, my job is to try and match the voice the animator/producer was hearing in their head when they started the project. Other times, I’m asked how I think they might sound from a detailed animatic or a single drawing.
In both animation and games, the scope and range of characters can be mind-blowing! I’ve played a cloud, a scientist, a special ops leader, an American boy, an evil advisor, a mother cat, an old woman, chickens, a French warrior and many others. My roles have required me to shout, whisper, cry, bully, laugh maniacally and even just mutter.
I invariably use all areas of my voice to produce a sound that will suit the character. Sometimes a session is like a workout!
You have to leave your inhibitions at the studio door, but for some reason (despite being an ‘extravert introvert’) I have no problem there…
Recording feels like a wonderful, fun collaboration. Being part of a creative, appreciative team, all with the same purpose in mind – to make the end result sound amazing for the project.
How and why did you build your home studio?
When our son, Alex, was six years old, he was chosen to voice the relaunch of Timmy Time for Aardman Animations. With 78 episodes to record after a full day at school each week, I decided it was the perfect time to build a professional home studio with a large booth.
We are 25 minutes away from Central London studios, but I realised that a home studio would allow me to be inside the booth to direct him and that he could literally walk into the session after a snack rather than a commute.
It took a week to draw up plans, and after much advice and many phone calls, my carpenter and I built the booth in 5 days. It weighs half a ton and takes up half the room so we had the joists checked by a structural engineer and then strengthened…!
Every episode of Timmy Time was recorded in my booth, with Aardman patching in.
What is it like directing children?
Inside the booth, I stand slightly behind and to the side of the children, and we work through scripts and auditions. Sometimes the client watches via zoom, other times we work alone and send the finished .wav files.
How I direct depends on the age of the child and how they prefer support.
Initially, with Alex I would say a line and he would repeat it, but very quickly he found he could read ahead himself. A child’s first instinct is always far better than them copying an adult – there’s an innocence to the read if they choose their tone themselves, naturally.
Later on he found it really helpful if I silently gesticulated with my hands – ie ‘Up’ for energy/tone up, down with hand and energy drops/tone drops etc. We always stop for a quick drink, a short chat or joke, and to ensure he understands the script and do silly mouth exercises before recording and laugh a lot to keep things fresh.
My daughter, Maya, (now 16), is a studio veteran! She has been doing voice work since she was 5, and is extremely comfortable in a voice/vocal booth.
It’s what she chose for her work experience (a week at Soho Square Studios, London). She has an ear for accents to the point that she can be a ‘one-take wonder’.
How do you prepare for voice work?
When you voice, whatever the job, it’s best to start by warming up the face and mouth. I like to do exaggerated chewing movements, say ‘wow!’ and make circles with my tongue. I drink warm (not hot or chilled) water – and I’m always amazed at the amount I get through during a session…
I normally receive the script before the session, so I print it out and make notes with a pencil. I highlight my lines when necessary. I also have the script on the screen inside the booth.
I use the script to warm up before the session starts and to familiarise myself with it. I always check the pronunciation of an unusual name or word.
What do you use to record your work?
If I’m being directed remotely over Skype or Zoom etc, I hit record as soon as the client connects with me, so I can relax about that part. I work on Logic Pro and only record what the mic picks up, so clients comments can’t be heard – unless they’re laughing very loudly and there’s headphone ’spill’ (I love finding those moments when I’m editing up a file!). When I run off the file, I just edit out any mistakes and all chat.
Even if the client is recording their end (for instance via Source Connect or Cleanfeed), I record as well my end as a backup – unless, for NDA reasons, they ask me not to.
For animation and game characters, I like to have the picture or a still from the animatic somewhere on my screen, to keep the character present in my mind as I voice.
Tell us about your non-voiceover work?
My husband James and I also have a recording studio at the bottom of the garden. This is where we write, record and produce music and vocals for commercials, film and TV, events, or for other artists.
As well as being a composer and producer, James coaches actors like Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams (Eurovision), Gwilym Lee and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and, at present, the stars of a new Danny Boyle project. We’ve often had chauffeurs waiting outside the house, and a range of incredible actors walking down our garden path to the studio…!
What have you learned during Lockdown?
Like so many others during this past year, I’ve realised I need to manage a lot in a week! I’m a singer and voice artist. I’ve taught myself to be an engineer and editor and I run my own business – invoicing, quoting, networking and promoting myself. I’m also a mother, a teacher (I was homeschooling my son pre-lockdown, so at least I was used to it), a wife and to top it off, I foster rescue puppies.…
The last year has drummed in that it’s important to celebrate all the little ways we succeed and the goals we reach. I recently won Voice Artist Of The Year 2020 and Best Demo 2020 (self-produced!) after 14 nominations. I signed to a great new exclusive agent (Damn Good Voices) and am managing to keep my studio running smoothly and reliably through a pandemic. I’m proud of these things.
So what if the washing machine still needs to go on and I forgot to post a birthday card? We’re only human…
Let’s all take in the little ‘wins’ we’ve had – however small.
Start each day by making the bed really well….