Lending a voice

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Hard work and determination are what separate the adults from the kids in the invisible world of voice-overs. Because simply having a well-modulated voice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to break into the business, says voice-over artist Brett J. D’Elia.

“You’ve got to spend tons and tons of time reading aloud,” says the Westport resident, who also spends a lot of time doing tempo and diction exercises to hone his craft. “It’s like working out to keep your body fit.” (D’Elia should know. He and his wife have owned Charged, a private fitness-training business in Fairfield for the past 10 years.)

Unseen and usually unsung, artists like D’Elia give voice to commercials, narration, promotion and animation.

The big money, though, is in commercials, like the Geico gecko gig. Each time the commercial airs, the voice of Geico’s cockney gecko (Jake Wood) collects a hefty royalty.

In recent years, you’ve probably noticed the influx of celebrity voice-overs, done by the likes of Jon Hamm, Alec Baldwin, Michael Douglas, Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman, among others. We may not always know their names, but the familiarity of their voices captures our attention and draws us in. And since voice-overs require a considerable amount of acting skills, said award-winning actors are a natural fit.

Why do they do it?

“Generally, when you’re going to be in front of the camera, there are expectations about how you should look,” says D’Elia, who acknowledges that there’s something freeing about the anonymity of performing voice-overs.

Perhaps it’s that anonymity that has made the television show “The Voice” a resounding success. The show is a singing competition in which contestants begin the show with a blind audition where they are judged strictly by the quality of their voices, not by how they look.

In the new indie film “In A World…” actress Lake Bell plays a struggling vocal coach who strikes it big in the cutthroat male-dominated world of movie-trailer voice-overs. Written, directed and produced by Bell, the hilarious film made its debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning the young actress an award for best screenplay. Intrigued by the quintessential omniscient voice behind the movie-trailers and the noticeable lack of females narrating them, Bell was inspired to write the script.

“When most people think of voice-overs, what usually comes to mind is the classic big-voice announcer, ‘Buy this set of knives and get the second one free,’” D’Elia says in a resonant voice.

But what most clients are looking for today, he says, is someone relatable, like a neighbor, a brother or husband, someone who is comforting. “It’s the antithesis of the big-voice announcer.”

The voice-over industry has also changed, becoming less insular.

“Now, anyone with a computer and a microphone – because the quality of all this stuff has gotten so good over the years that anyone can compete – can vie for the same voice-over work as thousands and thousands of other people. It used to be that most people were locked out, because it was such an insider business, but now it’s blown wide open.”

So the good news is it’s easier to compete. And hence the bad news: More people are competing.

“If you have enough ability on your own to create a start-to-finish produced voice-over … you don’t have to go anywhere. And that’s what’s amazing about the industry now. …It’s that much more accessible. Because you don’t need to have as many inside contacts as you used to, the field is just a lot more level.”

Like a lot of people whose voice becomes a central part of their lives, D’Elia started at a young age singing as a member of his youth church choir in Fairfield and later played in bands in high school.

“So there was really no question in what direction I would go in college,” D’Elia says about his decision to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated in 1998 with a degree in vocal performance, songwriting and music business.

“One of the things I learned from my teacher at Berklee College of Music is if you’re a singer, you have to literally treat your physical body like an instrument. I was actually introduced to fitness by my voice teacher at Berklee. So it made a lot of sense to me if you do intend to use your voice as a primary instrument, you’ve got to start taking care of it and, by extension, yourself. …It was my senior year of college when I started to devote more time to exercise and to fitness.”

After college the singer-songwriter took voice-over classes in Manhattan and then later at Edge Studio in Fairfield, where his instructors told him his voice would be best-suited for narration. Indeed, when we meet at his studio, I am immediately taken by the sound of his voice. The tone is rich and full and when he speaks each word is crisp and clear, which makes me realize this man could make anything sound interesting.

Admittedly consumed with the nuances and versatility of the human voice, D’Elia uses his as an instrument in a matter of seconds to convey an extraordinary range of emotions that run the gamut from pain and sorrow to excitement and joy.

For more information about the artist, visit his website, voxploration.com.

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