Debbie Tarrier is an extremely versatile British voiceover artist – Mandy News asks her how she got started and what advice she can offer to newcomers.
Debbie, tell us when you decided you wanted to be a voiceover actor and how you went about learning or studying it.
Feeling I was neither young enough or old enough for decent acting parts in the late 1990s, I had been thinking about voice overs for a long time. Then the big names started doing them and I kicked myself.
I then did film courses in being behind the camera and then writing, directing & producing a short film which was screened at The Raindance Film Festival in 2002. After working as a 2nd AD on a British independent feature film – which was a fantastic experience – I still wanted to be in front of the camera.
And I felt that voiceover work (albeit behind the mic rather than in front of camera) wasn’t as ageist as acting and I figured I could be doing it at any age, even 100 years young!
When did you get your first gig?
My first gig actually put me off for a while. I was paid a small amount to go answer questions about mobile phones. I was later told the client was going to use my answers in a radio commercial and to invoice them for a very nice fee.
After not receiving payment, I was told they had gone with a celebrity after all. A few weeks later I was driving and let out a gasp (it may have been a swear word actually), as Ruby Wax was voicing a mobile phone commercial on the radio and I suddenly realised she was saying all my words!
Although Ruby wouldn’t have had a clue they gave her my words, my lip curled every time I heard the advert, or her name mentioned, for years after.
What was the secret to getting more work?
Networking has probably been most beneficial to me. Although work comes from different sources, getting out and meeting people has often proved really positive, though online networking can be equally useful for building connections.
Tell us about your short film “Blow Job” and what part that played in getting more work?
Ha ha... I’m not sure my film played any part in getting more voice work, however it was great fun making it and seeing the audience laugh at the film festival screening was a real buzz. It was a comedy by the way.
When and how did you setup your own studio? How long did it take to get yourself up to speed with the technical and acoustic side or recording?
I am so not technical, so that was a real challenge back in 2002. It meant learning on the job and dealing with problems as they arose. I really only dabbled for a few years, then started more seriously when there were more resources available. It's all thanks to the internet.
The good news for anyone starting now is that there is so much assistance to help learn what is needed, than when I started and muddled along.
What does an average day/week/month/year look like for you?
There is genuinely no such thing as an average day/week/month for me, as each varies enormously. I describe myself as a ‘creative with a twist of business’ and I’m not working full-time as a voice actor... yet. I could be.
What voiceover work do you do the most? TV, radio, gaming, immersive theatre or anything else?
I seem to do a lot more corporate narrations than anything else, though what I’d really like to do more of is voice acting, as I love bringing a character to life. An animated film or TV series would be my perfect voice job. Cue a bit of cosmic ordering to Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks.
One character I would love to have voiced is Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck It Ralph, or ‘Glitch’ as I remember her... I was extremely envious of Sarah Silverman getting to bring Glitch to life.
Tell us about some of your lengthiest, shortest or most exciting and challenging jobs!
The lengthiest is easy. I voiced all the internal training modules for Twycross Zoo, so all new staff at the Zoo get to listen to hours of my voice telling them about the animals, health and safety, hygiene, the zoo, customer service and more.
The shortest would be a regular character I voiced for a few years, for a very talented guy who put together various Top 10 Cartoon Countdowns on his YouTube Channel. It was just a few lines in each countdown as Gretel, who he interacted with but was never seen. She was a fun character to voice.
The most exciting so far was probably the TV commercial for Rubie's Disney Princess Dresses. Mainly because it was in a studio in London, with guys in Manchester linked in directing it. It was fun as most voice over work is just you and your mic.
The most challenging would be when I did a singing voice over. I loved it as I enjoy singing, however the client was as hard to please as Simon Cowell and wanted it in a very particular way, which meant several re-records.
Your voice has been described as “chocolatey and reassuring”. For the newbies, what other words are often used to describe voices? Could you tell us what a few famous voices might be described as?
Hah! My voice is quite versatile and has been described in a lot of different ways. To be honest, I’ve always struggled to pin down how to describe a voice, even after several years.
It is arguably better to have a much more distinctive voice, such as Peter Dickson – the X Factor announcer – or Marcus Bentley – the Big Brother narrator – as they are instantly recognisable.
You live in Dorset – how does that work for you work-wise? Did you ever live in the capital or another city?
I moved from just outside London to Dorset 10 years ago. For the majority of voiceover work, it doesn’t matter where you are if you have a good quality home studio set-up. Unless the client particularly wants you in the studio.
I’m actually spending a lot more time in London now with a mix of business and creative work. I’m doing more acting this year than I had in the last 10 years put together. Having easy access to London is a benefit.
What advice can you give to somebody who aspires to be a voiceover actor?
So many people say ‘I’ve been told I should do voice overs’, or they think they’d like to give it a go.
There are just two pieces of advice I can give:
I recommend people go and do a course and see what they think. If they still want to get into the business, they will need reels and again there is superb support available now. Two companies I rate personally are The Showreel and Gravy For The Brain. Both are in London.
The second piece of advice is to ensure you have another source of income and don’t suddenly give up a job, as there are not too many people working full-time on voice or acting.
Actually I’ll add a third, which is something I don’t do but if you can find a niche it can be a huge help. It helps focus on gaining work in that area.
Tips to keep your voice in good nick? Both when poorly and general upkeep?
Plenty of sleep and drink lots of water is probably the very best tip. Seriously, water is your best friend, particularly when relying on your voice.
I also recommend having the flu jab every year, as I have for several years. I’m the resident audio describer for the pantomime at my local theatre, which involves a live audio description during the performance for visually-impaired children and adults in the audience.
There is a large group who come each year and I really struggled when ill one year, so I’ve paid for the flu jab ever since.
Thanks for taking the time to write this. No wonder you were put off poor old Ruby for a few years, I would have felt the same having my gig swept out from under me.
I'm just started looking for voiceover work. Gotta get out more!!
Thanks for the input Debbie.
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