Voice acting and announcing is a unique and promising industry, but what should you do to set your foot on the door? Lili Wexu, voice-over talent and creator of Get Clever About e-books, will show you the ropes and give you an edge in the voice talent industry. She was the voice of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the video game Assassin's Creed, as well as the Canadian Air Canada, Via Rail, Health Canada, Uber, and the Brick. In this episode, she talks about how you can stay true to YOUR character no matter what role you play, the do's and don'ts of voice preservation and the 5-step warm-up, and the tech setup you need to get the best sound quality at home. Your voice is a powerful asset in business. Use it and find yourself thrive!
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How Your Voice Is A Business Asset
Even though this show is named after me, it has nothing to do with me. It's about the amazing guests that I bring on to share their knowledge, skills and expertise. I'm so excited because I have somebody on that has never spoken on my show about this thing, this business opportunity, this skill that we so need to hone in on as thought leaders, coaches and people online. It's all about doing what we're doing, podcasts, Zoom and online summits. I'm talking about your voice. We're going to talk about different ways that you can use it and the creative ways that you construct yourself. If you fall in love with it, how to make a business out of it. Impact and income are what we're all about on this show. I have with me, Lili Wexu. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.
Let me tell you about Lili. She is a voice actor, announcer and author. You may recognize her voice from the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics games. She's also appeared in Grey's Anatomy, Alien vs. Predator in small roles. Her voice has lent her to the video game franchise Assassin's Creed. Canadians will recognize your voice from traveling on Air Canada, as well as Health Canada, Uber, The Brick ads. You are originally from Montreal but you have been living in LA for years. You have an eBook series, Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing for aspiring voice actors to use their skills, to tap into this rapidly evolving, expanding industry. You wrote it like the For Dummies series, which I love. It's that Keep It Simple and you know what the last S is for. Tell our readers a little bit about voice acting, how you got into this, how you made a business out of it and how you got here.
Voice acting is about who you are and how you deliver that story. It's not about your voice.
It was an accident. I wanted to be an actress. I was all about theater. When I was younger, around nineteen years old, people said, "You have a great voice. You should do radio." I was like, "How do I do that?" I happen to work in a restaurant bar and it happened to be a local hangout for DJs because we aired a local Montreal radio show at that bar. The lunch hour radio show was hosted there. The DJs hung out there all the time and they would say, "You should come by the station and record some voiceovers." One day, Howard Stern came onto the air in Montreal. Unknowingly, he insulted French Canadians as all good Americans or Anglophones tend to do from time to time. Not realizing that about 65% of his audience at that station was French Canadian.
The competing station, which was airing their show at the bar I worked at said, "We got to do a campaign. We got to do something to say that we understand that you're listeners, you're French Canadians and we care about you even though we're an Anglophone radio station.” Anglophone and Francophone are a big thing in Quebec. They did this campaign and they knew I was bilingual. They said, "This is your time. Come into the station. You'll read these liners in English but you'll translate them and read them in French as well to tell our French Canadian audience that we're listening to them." I thought, "This is a professional opportunity. I'm going to do it."
That's what I call beginner's luck. I had this thing going on. People paid attention. "You have a good voice." I had an opportunity and I got into the door. I did that and it went great. I loved it. It took me 50 takes to do two lines. I had to work hard to turn it into a business. That's how it started at the beginning. It can start with beginner's luck. It doesn't always, but it can. Everybody past that has to build something. I worked hard for years after that to build a business. It's a big thing. A lot of people start without the beginner's luck but it's the same process, which is, "What are my skills? What can I learn? Do I need any training to get better at this? How can I turn my strengths into a business opportunity?"
You enjoy it because you're still doing it.
It's like a miniature version of acting. It's more acting now than it was when I started. When I started, it was all about voice inflection, sounding good and having a pleasant voice on the radio. Now it's a lot more about acting, which is great, which I love. When I started, it was a miniature version of acting. You've got to learn some acting if you want to do this full-time. If you're a speaker like a lot of your audience are, those people have natural storytelling skills. That crosses over into acting. They have empathy. They can put themselves in the shoes of people whose stories they're telling. That's the same kind of skill.
The most beautiful voices don't necessarily stand out. It’s the best performance.
What was coming up for me when you were talking is that you always land where you were meant to land. You want us to be an actress. That was your goal. You weren't even thinking about voiceover and this whole area but you still get to do that storytelling, that acting, that character development, all of that fun play and hard work but you get to do it in a different way.
It's funny that you say that because when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I thought I had a good voice. Nobody told me I did. I thought my voice was lower than all the other kids. I'd noticed that. I thought I should be a singer and somebody should discover me. That didn't happen. I took singing lessons. It turned out it was a nightmare. I was told I sounded like a buzzing bee. It totally scarred me for life. I also thought I'll be an actress. It's funny that it happened that way when I was nineteen. It's my voice, which was the first thing that I wanted to do. I had morphed into acting but both together, conversion to voice acting. I find that when you're a kid, we know a lot of the times the things that we want to do. If you can think back to when you were 7 or 8 years old what you wanted to do, a lot of that will inform what you should be doing, some of what you're already doing and could be expanded as well.
That permission to dream when you don't have someone telling you all of that like, "You sounded like a buzzing bee. You sing awfully. Give it up," all those unhelpful things that scar us from leaders, mentors, coaches and all of that. In acting, you are in front of the camera. Do you find that you have more freedom and flexibility by not being seen by the camera and it's just your voice or do you think it's the same?
It's the exact same skill. There is the freedom that you cannot have any makeup on. Nobody's looking at you. There's not that scrutiny, which for women especially can be a little bit daunting when you're speaking but then it's a whole other thing. Speaking is almost psychological. I found over the years that people have a lot of insecurities about their voice and how they sound. They spend a lot of energy on that. It depends on the person. The thing about being behind the microphone is it's like the camera. They say in acting, the camera doesn't lie. The microphone doesn't lie either. If you're not in a good mood, it all translates. What I do like about it is that nobody can scrutinize your looks, which is a good thing but there's also a thing with a microphone where you can't go off the microphone. You have to always stay near.
That can be also jarring for people, especially people who like to move around like me. I'm always hitting my microphone. There is an adjustment there. It can be freeing for some people. Unless they have a thing with their voice, then it can be frightening as well. I'm here to tell you it's about who you are. It's not about your voice. I know a lot of people who don't have good voices like aesthetically pleasing voices who make a fortune. It's about who you are and how you deliver that story. It has nothing to do with your voice. It's like if you're beautiful and you want to be an actress, it's not going to hurt you. At the same time, uniqueness or whatever you bring to the table. There are plenty of people who don’t have collective conventionality and they do very well because they have other skills. They're authentic. They can tell a story like nobody else can. It becomes about what you're giving people and not about what you sound like or what you look like.
It’s not trying to fit into a box but being all of you. If you think about the actors and actresses that we love. We love Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. They don't fit in any boxes. They were quirky. They were awkward. They were weird. They were way out of the box.
You have to work with what you have. What you have is your strength. As long as you're plugged into that, you're aware of that, you reinforce that within yourself and you find teachers, coaches and mentors that will reinforce that with you instead of beating you down, that's important too. You have to celebrate all of your uniqueness. It's important. That's what people look for like casting directors. It's funny because it's a privileged thing to do but if you ever were a casting director, it's funny how the most beautiful voices don't necessarily stand out. It will be the best performance. That's what will stand out because we hear that with our hearts.
Any movie you watch, any music you listen to, sometimes it's guttural, emotion or that beat. It's like when you hear a cover song. It's one song but you can hear five different people cover it. You're drawn to one version over the other because of their interpretation of it and who they are. That's business basics. Don't try to do it like someone else. Don't try to act like someone else. Don't try to speak like someone else. Don't mark it like someone else does. You have to stay true to yourself. I love that you hit that message right out of the gate. It's so good. Let's talk about voice preservation if you're using your voice all the time. Tell us about that.
No equipment is going to make up for a noisy room.
One of the things over the years that I've found is you can overuse your voice. I've done it one time where I took this contract and it was demanding. It was hours and hours of recording on end. I was so scared of losing my regular clients because I had to cancel everything else and take care of this one client. I was so scared of losing everybody else that I didn't tell them that I was busy and I serviced everybody. I eventually ran out to a point where the voice got thin until there was nothing that would come out anymore. What I learned through that is I had to do speech therapy after that to learn to use my voice properly. One of the best things you can do is, this is hard if you have a family, but try to not speak for the first hour.
The reason is that when you're lying down, your larynx is this way and then when you wake up, your larynx will be up. It takes about an hour to reposition itself. If you do speak, don't speak a lot and don't whisper. Whispering is bad. You're grating on your vocal cords. Whispering is not a solution to not speaking. Not speaking is the solution to not speaking or speaking very little. After that, what you can do as a quick warm-up is, for ladies, before you do all your makeup and all that, you boil some water. You can put it in a bowl. Stick your face with a towel over your head and breathe that steam for about five minutes. That's like you're hydrating your vocal chords. It's good.
Drinking water all day long, you'll have to go to the bathroom all the time. If you're doing a public speaking thing, that can be tough. You don't want to drink water right before. Being regularly hydrated is important. As you warm-up, you want to inhale the steam. It's good. After that, what you can do before speaking, you start making a “Mmm” sound. You want to vibrate the Ms on your lips. Do that for a few minutes. You can do that in the shower. If you don't have time to do the steam thing, you're like, "I'm busy. I got to go in the shower." Breathe in the shower.
The vapor in the shower is one of the ways that a lot of the hydration comes into our skin. We don't realize that but that's a big way of being hydrated. Take deep breaths in the shower and then go for the M's. You vibrate those M's on your lips. You can add some vowels like, “Me, ma, mo.” You can do that for five minutes. After that, time is running short and you got to go. Just grab some tongue twisters. You can Google them. Say five of them 15 or 10 times each to get your mouth to start to cooperate with what you're going to say. It wakes you up and that will be that. There are longer versions of warm-ups but we're all busy and got a million things to do. That would be the short version. If you do that before starting to speak, you're going to help your voice to get going in the day.
Another thing is for people who love to sing, singing is Botox for the voice. If you love singing or you would like to sing, this is great. It will build some resonance into your voice. It makes the voice as good as it can get. Singing is a huge recommendation for me. Also, singing will force you to interpret the song. That's a good exercise as well. Sometimes you'll find yourself crying and then there are also kinds of traumas with singing. A lot of people have trauma with singing as I had. It's good to get all that out as well. Those would be my quick voice tips.
I prefer quiet in the first hour. Sometimes my house is in chaos with our seven-year-old and my husband. It's being intentional about your voice almost as a business tool. If you use it for a business like you need your microphone, computer, camera or your online calendar. Whatever tools you use, your voice is the same. Your website, you have upkeep and maintenance. Your voice is the same thing. I heard something once too that Celine Dion, when she would have her concerts, would not speak for a whole day. She refused to talk.
It's a real thing. You don't realize preserving your voice is a finite thing until you lose your voice out of over speaking. We lose our voice sometimes when we get sick of laryngitis. When you lose it from over speaking, you realize that there's a limit to this thing. Anybody who's a speaker knows. I'm sure you get tired. Your voice gets tired. You do have to take care of it. If you make a living with your voice and it runs out, it is terrifying.
I couldn't even imagine some of the conferences I go to or mentors I've studied with that do 3, 4-day events and it’s packed with thousands of people. What do you do when you are the speaker and on day 2 of a 4-day event, it's gone? That's a nightmare. There's warm-up. I'm sure the recovery is important as well if you've been speaking all day at a conference. Recovery is maybe the same. Don't speak.
It's the same. Recovery is don't speak. If I've had a huge day in the booth and one of my best girlfriends calls me and I know that every time on the phone with her, it's at least an hour minimum, I do not pick up the phone that day. I can't because the next day, my voice will be diminished. After a long day of speaking, do not speak. Don't go talking to your mom or your best friends. If you do, keep it short or text. Keep it simple.
If you're really good at what you're doing, people are not going to stop hiring you.
The last question my readers want to know is the setup. How do they have world-class sound when they're being interviewed or they're speaking, whether it's their own event, someone else's event or podcasts? Are there any tips or tricks about your voice, your setup or your equipment that they could know or should know?
The first thing's first is no equipment is going to make up for a noisy room. You want to pick the right place in your home to work and that's often, unfortunately, your closet for most people. If you live in the suburbs and you have one of those development homes that have those big closets where you can have your arms out, that's fantastic. Lucky you. Use that closet. Any walk-in closet is great. For other people, the smaller closet is going to be the solution. That's number one, picking the right space and then the padding in that space. I don't know if you can see behind me, it's all these white things. Those are acoustic panels. These are fancy. You don't need that. You can put in two blankets.
It's better if you don't wear anything that makes noise when you're recording, but you can put blankets on the walls like duvet blankets is what I'm thinking about or moving blankets. You can get them on Amazon. They're cheap. They're stinky when you first get them. You might want to air them out. Leave them outside for a few days before you bring them into the house. Blankets all over the wall because the padding is what's going to absorb a lot of the sound in that small, tiny closet space that you have. If you're in a large space, also you might want to have paddings in the walls. In a large space, we have echo and in a small space, we have reverberation, in which the sound is bouncing off the wall and coming back right back at us. You want to diminish that with some padding.
Once you've picked the space and you have good padding, you can put it on the walls and on the ceiling. You can have carpet on the floor or whatever's going to absorb the most sound, now you can get equipment. You're talking about a microphone. For podcasting, speaking and all that, you can get a USB mic that plugs right into your computer. For voiceovers, I don't recommend that because you might do sessions with other studios. We call them remote sessions. They don't like USB microphones. Not that they're not good quality. They just never work with them. They're like, "What's that? It's another animal. I don't like it. I don't want it." In the world of podcasting and all that, you can use a USB mic.
RØDE is a great brand but they're not sponsoring me in any way. I've had RØDE microphones. This is not even a RØDE microphone but they're good for podcasting. There are other brands as well but you can use a USB mic. The important thing is if you do use a laptop, be careful. If it's an older laptop, it has a fan. The fan can go off when you're recording and that'll ruin your recording. You don't want to introduce any intermittent sounds into your recordings. You want everything to be sounding perfect. You might need to put the computer outside of the room and then have a camera that comes inside. That could be a solution.
I'm not a professional podcaster for how to set up your podcasting situation, but it's important not to introduce noises that can be intermittent unannounced. For example, in my studio for recording, my computer, the actual tower is outside of my studio. I've drilled a hole. I have a booth. It's like a little house in a house. I've drilled a hole and a wire goes through there so that the computer can be outside of my booth because the fan goes off. I can't have that during a recording. For podcasting, you can have a USB mic on your computer. That would be great. If you want to one-up a little bit of the quality, then you can have an external sound card for your microphone. In that case, I wouldn't get a USB microphone. I would get what you call an XLR connection microphone.
It's got three prongs. You can look it up online, XLR connection. That's how the microphone connects to the external sound card. With that, your microphone can be a little bit of higher quality. It can still be a RØDE or you can look into other brands. There's one RØDE for about $200, NTG. That works well. You can get an external sound card. I've reviewed a few. If you go on my website, there are multiple pairings that have done that I can recommend. We'll share that with your audience. That's it. The most important part is the space that you're going to be working in and any padding that you'll need into that space. You don't need the top-end gear if you have a good-sounding space. I would say, don't spend too much money on the gear. Spend more time and energy working in a good space and making that space as good as it can be acoustically, which is the padding on the walls so that sound doesn't bounce everywhere.
I love that you hit that first because everybody automatically thinks of sound and lighting. Even in our home, we've had to shift and move to have a little guy virtual schooling. We were looking into A, the RØDE mic that you were talking about. I have the Yeti but the RØDE is so much better and B, converting one of our small bedrooms upstairs with the booth, the padding and making it smaller. Everything that you were talking about is what we've been looking into now that I speak so much. Everything is virtual.
I don't think virtual is going to go away. We are going to get back in person eventually but we've opened up the world to being able to connect in different ways and serve people in different ways. I love that you talked about the setup of your location first. If you want to be employee, get gigs and be in this, it's going to get competitive at some point, even who has the best stuff at home and how you deliver the goods from home. That's so important that you said that.
Sometimes they cast some projects and I hear auditions of people. Then I have to discard the ones that don't have good quality, even though they have a great performance and everything. Unless I can get them in a professional studio, we'll have to discard them. It is important if you want to be competitive. It's one of these things. It's a nightmare to think about it. You're like, "I have to work in a closet." You have to make it comfortable. The time you will spend doing that will pay off. It will. When people get the quality, they're going to be like, "I'm in business with this person. I don't have to worry about the technical issues with this person. I can hire them and I know it's going to be professional."
It shows that you care, that you're being intentional about the way you're delivering, which is huge too. Tell us about Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing. Tell us about this eBook thing you've got going on.
I wrote these eBooks, Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing. It took me many years but I love teaching. I'm that kind of person that friends always call for help and stuff like that. I call them too. I'm the person that loves to help people. When you do voiceovers, people always ask you, "How do you get into it? How can I do it?" It was always going to happen. It was always a matter of if and not when. I had a bit of imposter syndrome. Why would I do that? I did it. I take people from not having any experience, not knowing anything, how to get into it from A, B and C, getting into it from an artistic perspective to be getting set up from a technical perspective and C, how do you make money with this thing.
It's a journey. It's a compass through the maze because it's a bit of a jungle out there like anything. If you wanted to do digital marketing, Lisa, it's like, "Where do I start?" It's a bit of a manual from point A to B to C. After that, you have a good idea of what is expected of you, where you should be starting and what your endpoint could be. That's why I called it the street kid version of the Dummies because it's straightforward. I'm not holding anything back. It's everything I know that has worked for me for the past years and things have evolved. This is how it works, especially since the pandemic hit.
The books were almost finished when the pandemic hit and then I put the finishing touch at the end of March 2020. April 2020 is when I wrapped it all up because the whole industry was shifting. I added that into the book. You're getting an accurate picture of what's going on in the industry. I wanted to get it out on time too in the pandemic because so many of my actor friends were like, "They're asking me to have my own setup. I can't do voiceovers unless I do it from home." I tried to get it out as soon as possible. It's also helpful for teachers and speakers. If you have a connection to your voice or to storytelling in any way, this will tell you how that whole world works if you wanted to get into it more professionally.
One thing you said is generosity. How you are like, "It's everything I know from the last years." I love that so much because an eBook or something that is on the lower level price-wise, not value-wise but an eBook versus a course, a one-on-one or a mastermind, a lot of times creators have been given bad advice which is, “Give them a little taste and then make them pay you for the goods.” That is like nails on a chalkboard for me. Give them the best of what you have. Be generous. It's like karma. Not only will they refer to you, send people back to you. I believe in karma. What you put out comes back to you. If you're generous, the next thing you know is that big agent is calling you for that big movie or that big thing because you put these amazing eBooks and goodness out into the world.
It's also coming from a place of fear too. If you don't give it, it's like, "I'm scared. I'm going to give all my secrets and then everybody's going to do it. I'm not going to get any work anymore." If you're good at what you're doing, people are not going to stop hiring you. Also, to go back to what we were talking about in the beginning was what makes me employable is my unique thing. I have this unique thing that I do and nobody else can do it quite like me. Whatever you do, nobody can do it quite like you. We all have to believe in our uniqueness in what we do. Honestly, also the other thing is my books tell you everything I know but you have to go and do the work.
We all have to believe in our own uniqueness and what we do.
They're just a map. You have to go ahead and do the work. I can't charge you for that. I can give you the map. One of the reasons also I put it together that way is that voiceovers can be an expensive thing to get into because coaching is so expensive. There are so many things that you can end up having to pay for. You can end up spending a lot of money and not getting a whole lot out of it in the end and I wanted to give people a roadmap to know to be careful where you spend your money. If you do it the way that I'm explaining, you are going to get more return on your investment than if you pay this person and that person.
That's why they're affordable because it's like, “This is a roadmap.” A lot of people come into voiceovers too that are artists, teachers or people that don't necessarily have a huge budget. I've made the mistake. I've paid a lot of money because I could afford it but not everybody can do that. I wanted to give back also in a way where you don't have to spend thousands of dollars because it accumulates. The person has spent thousands of dollars out and they're like, "This didn't work." If you do it judiciously and carefully by following a roadmap, you have a higher potential for return on investment. You're still going to have to spend money to make it happen but at least with some barometers, with some parameters that can help you through. Otherwise, it can be like throwing money out the window. When it comes to art forms and all that, it can be tricky. I like to give people some structure if you will.
I love your generosity. You're saving people so much time, money and energy. They still have to do the work but it's like, "Listen to what I say and follow this. You're not flying blindly into it if you're wanting to do this and do this better." I love this. Where can they find you? Tell us your website or the best place that they can go to learn more about you.
The books are on GetCleverAbout.com. There's a page on Voice Acting & Announcing. You'll get on the site and you'll see it right away. There's a blog there as well about all the equipment that we talked about. I did some pairings and some testing. There are some even prices next to it. You can check all that out. If you want to check my voiceovers out, you can go to LiliWexuVoiceovers.com. Check the GetCleverAbout.com website for the books and any tips that I have about the business. I'm writing blogs. Sometimes more frequently than others but they're all there. You can also find me on YouTube as well. I have tutorials on YouTube about setting up your studio space and things like that. I'm everywhere.
Lili, thank you so much for giving us so much goodness. I love your message at the beginning about your unique self. That's so important as we are out there. We're creators and marketers. We're entrepreneurs and thought leaders. We're moms, dads and all these things that we are. It's so important that the root of it is never losing who you are and being authentic to you. That was a beautiful message, in addition to the hands-on tactical stuff about your space and all that goodness. Thank you so much for being here with me.
Thank you for having me, Lisa. You're incredible. You're also a very generous person. This was a delight. Thank you.
Readers, thank you for being here. We'll catch you next time on the show.
- Lili Wexu
- Lili Wexu - Youtube
- Lili Wexu - Instagram
- For Dummies
- Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing
About Lili Wexu
Voice actor, announcer, and author, Lili Wexu (Assassin's Creed Franchise, 2010 Olympic Games).
• You may recognize her voice from the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games
• She has appeared in Grey's Anatomy and Alien vs Predator in small roles
• Has lent her voice to the video game franchise Assassin's Creed
• Canadians will recognize her voice from traveling on Air Canada, Via Rail as well as from Health Canada, Uber and Brick ads
• Is originally from Montreal, Qc, and has been living in LA for 8 years
• Is perfectly bilingual (French/English)
She is currently promoting her e-book series Get Clever About Voice Acting & Announcing, which is aimed at helping actors (and aspiring voice actors) use their skills to tap into a rapidly evolving, expanding industry. The format and design of the e-books is similar to the popular "For Dummies" series - they're accessible, informative, and concise.