Previously a broadcast journalist & entertainment reporter for BBC R1, R4, 5Live, R6 Music & R2, Sinead Garvan talks candidly about her experience re-training as a voice actor and working with BRAVA.
I’d reached a crossroads in my career after 13 years at the BBC. I had achieved everything I wanted to as a broadcaster and journalist and needed a new direction and challenge, while still using my voice.
After being at the BBC for so long, the thought of being self-employed was scary, but I knew it was the most realistic option. I was considering presenting jobs, podcast and radio, media training and VO. It was interesting to see people's reactions when I mentioned VO to industry colleagues - their immediate reaction was ‘oh it’s really competitive, I’m not sure that’s the best idea’. This was disheartening to hear, but also annoying as being on the Radio 1 breakfast show is extremely competitive and I managed that!
So I was not deterred.
Break on through
I knew Melissa from way back, working at GWR FM (now Heart FM) in Bristol. I saw that she had founded BRAVA and was now training prospective VOs, so I got in touch.
BEST DECISION EVER.
I had been reading a lot online and asking VO's through forums for advice, but not really understanding any of it. When I first spoke to Melissa, suddenly things seemed less daunting, and I felt excited again. She really understood where I was coming from and how I was feeling emotionally about embarking on a new career and leaving the old one behind. I felt that if I decided to train with her, this would be a course tailored to me, which made me feel really comfortable.
The ‘Intro to VO’ course covers a lot of ground. Having the class once a week helped me to digest everything slowly. My biggest hurdle was trying to step away from my ‘newsreader’ style, which after nearly 20 years is not easy. Melissa has incredibly effective techniques to help you get out of that and now they are always in my head and body. I learned all about the wide range of VO work, which was completely new to me, as well as styles, techniques, script analysis and so much more. There is so much to learn about equipment, setting up at home, marketing yourself and understanding the business side of it all.
Cutting the first demo
Once I’d finished the Intro & Narration Intensive Course and spent time afterwards practising and perfecting my reads, I started working on my Narration demo when I felt ready - which was really exciting and challenging. Melissa worked with me on the scripts and helped guide the direction in which I wanted to go with them. I then had the live record at the BRAVA studios in Bristol (which is well worth a visit).
I was nervous the whole day before, but Melissa has a very calming presence, so I settled down quite quickly. The process is a lot of fun, and it is such good practice to have someone directing you. I was exhausted afterwards but in a really good way: I felt like I had achieved something really special. When you get the demo back it is an incredible feeling, I couldn’t believe I was listening to my own voice.
Again, when the time was right, I moved on to the Commercial Module, which I now realise was essential to my training. It's easy to hear an advert and think you can do that, but then you try, and you can’t. Building on styles and practising scripts was the most useful element of the module. However, learning more about the advertising industry and understanding how copywriters work has really helped me when approaching scripts. It’s a classic case of the more you know, the better you will be.
Get into character
I also took the Characters Foundation Course, which I would advise everyone to do. You try out various characters under the expert guidance of BRAVA Master coach, Elaine Clarke, who is amazing too. It was so out of my comfort zone, I was going red in the face half the time but it helped me let go of my inhibitions and just taught me to throw myself into it - which in turn helped my narration and commercial work.
Find the right fit
As Melissa said to me during our first conversation, a VO coach is a personal choice and you have to find the right one for you. Melissa was right for me, not only is she getting me on the path to VO but also she really helped me during that difficult transitional period between careers. She is a little ray of sunshine, so supportive and encouraging. I credit her with bringing back my confidence and self-belief which had been knocked out of me during the previous 10 years.
People presume that because I have a background in broadcasting, I could get going as a VO straight away. Now that I have done my first part of the training, I realise there is no way I could have done this by myself. It has taken a while for me to really let go of my newsreader style and I am still working on it, but I have definitely taken huge steps forward already and I am only at the beginning.
I still have lots to learn with BRAVA, plus they offer lots of other shorter Masterclasses, which I keep lapping up such as Advanced Audio Editing and The Shakespeare Sessions - which are mind blowing by the way!
I also love that Melissa has created a community amongst us all, so even if I am not on a course at a certain time, I know I can call her up for advice, chat to other members and feel like we are all supporting each other for the long haul. I think in an industry where you can be on your own a lot, having a group of people who are in the same boat as you, and rooting for each other is invaluable.
My advice to anyone considering VO - especially if you have the same background as me - don’t think you can do it on your own. You need the training, and you need the support, and BRAVA gives you all of it.
To find out more about working with BRAVA and your VO career, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org