Those of you who own iPhones or iPads: When you’re asking about the weather/ demanding cat videos/ trying to find the nearest Starbucks, do you ever wonder about the person behind the voice talking back? If so, we have good news! We sought out the woman you all know as Siri: Susan Bennett, a long-time voiceover artist and singer. In this interview, she chats about her experiences as a professional voice actor, and shares her words of wisdom for those intending to follow the same path.
Natalie Bolderston: How did you decide to become a voice actor?
Susan Bennett: It was accidental! I was a jingle singer years ago, and the voice talent didn’t show up to read the copy. The studio owner asked me to read the copy instead, since I didn’t have an accent. I realized I could do the voiceover pretty naturally, so I got a voice coach, then an agent, and have been working ever since.
NB: During conversation, has anyone ever recognised you as the voice of Siri?
SB: Only once! I went to the bank to talk to someone about my account, and the banker said, “Boy, your voice sounds really familiar!” He went on to say his son had an iPhone, and the voice sounded the same. I told him he was right, and that he had an exceptionally good ear!
NB: I’ve heard that you can adapt to a lot of voiceover roles. How do you maintain your versatility?
SB: It’s hard at this point in my career, because I’ve been a bit stereotyped, so I mostly do a lot of narration, telephony, and Siri-type of work. I maintain my voices by preparing for my upcoming speaking engagements, in which I do a lot of character voices. Mostly, though, it’s pretty instinctual.
NB: I hear that you’re also a professional singer! Have you ever been in a band? What kind of music do you like?
SB: Yes, I’ve been singing for years, both in the studio and onstage. My husband and I had a private event band for more than 20 years, and we’re now in a couple of hobby bands: “Boomers Gone Wild!,” which plays nothing but 60’s and 70’s rock and soul music; and “The Siri Sings Band,” which features a lot of different styles. I love music, and I respect all styles, but my favorite is classic rock….Stones, Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Eric Clapton. My contemporary favorites are Keb Mo, Rival Sons, and Marc Broussard.
NB: Do you have any advice for aspiring voice actors?
SB: I put together a doc about how to get into the business, which I’ll enclose here. I started so long ago that the process is not at all the same, except for the basic skills. You have to have a good voice, and be able not only to read well, but act. As in any other profession, you have to learn the skills, practice, and put in the time!
I broke into the business many years ago, and the process has changed…a lot! Here are my suggestions for how to go about pursuing a career in voiceover (VO) now:
- Reading Skills are essential, and taking any kind of acting class or voice coaching would be beneficial. There are two types of VO performances: announcers (commercial tags, news, messaging); and actors, who tell the story in commercials, etc. Read as much as you can, and record yourself if possible. That should give you a sense of whether VO is something you should try to pursue. Taking an improv class would help in every way, because VO is basically acting for the voice, and learning to think on your feet will help you in any situation, whether you pursue a career in voiceover or something else entirely!
- Find a Local Voice Coach. Look on the web, call recording studios, and/or talent agents to find one who’s right for you, and who can help you put together a demo (:60 mp3). Many of you have said you’d like to be a cartoon, but start with a demo of you, as you….your voice print, as it were. Make a commercial demo first, then branch out into character voices, IVR, narration, etc.
- Auditions are the way you get work! Almost all VO work today is cast through auditions, so it’s important for you to get comfortable with that. You can sign onto VO websites like Voice123 and Voices.com. You’ll receive tons of auditions, so you can practice. You might also consider reading for the blind, or doing other volunteer projects for which you can utilize your voice and reading skills.
- Professional Sound This can be tough if you’re a novice, but look on the web for inexpensive equipment. It’s important that you sound professional, which means you need a good mic at the very least. Actually, you can do a lot with your smart phone, MixerFace (recording interface for smart phones), and a good microphone.
- The Web Today’s trend in VO is to sound “natural.” Even announcers today are often asked to sound “less announcery!” Use the web to help you. Practice with different commercials, and take advantage of the many coaching and instructional videos out there.
Remember that VO is a skill! It’s not enough just to have a good voice. You have to learn the “tricks of the trade” so you can be confident when you start to compete for VO work. Eventually, you’ll want to get an agent and join SAG-AFTRA to get higher level work. Check out Dee Bradley Baker’s site www.IWantToBeAVoiceActor.com as well. He’s got a lot of good advice for all levels of VO experience.
Good luck! A career in voiceovers is a lot of fun!