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Floating on a Narrowboat in Yorkshire, England, talking into a microphone in a studio built into a room only 9’ long and 44” wide, Richard Di Britannia is probably the only British voiceover talent who lives and works permanently on water. His studio lacks only a landline, as you can’t get those on a boat. He says he lives in a suit and tie and his moustache reminds me of a 1920’s strongman.
Richard says that living on water has its benefits; ground and traffic vibration is non-existent. His wooden lined boat acoustics require only the tiniest bits of tweaking and if he finds his neighbours too noisy, he simply cuts himself (or them) adrift! The downsides? Too close to the fridge and at 6’2”, his roof is only 2” from his head. Joe posed a few questions Richard’s way.
Joe: How did you first get interested in voiceover?
Richard: Since I was young, I’ve always admired people who could twist and warp their voices so effortlessly and entertain others by doing so. Unfortunately, my broad ‘Narrowboat community’ Yorkshire accent seems to have been so engrained into my vocal chords that every character I ever tried to voice or imitate ended up with a Yorkshire accent. During my childhood, my voice was also extremely high pitched; however as the years went on it never truly broke, more so it kept getting deeper and deeper. I honestly thought as a child and teenager that my chances of ever succeeding in this industry would have been impossible. Turns out I was wrong!
J: You struggle with accents?
R: Yes, with the exception of RP and Pathe’ style voices, I struggle to even recognise an accent. I simply didn’t grow up with any other voice than a Yorkshire one. I didn’t watch TV as a child which cut my exposure even further. However, this might have been a blessing in disguise; it left me able to focus on my strong points; the ‘friendly Yorkshire accent’. It’s even been classified as ‘exotic’ by an American production company! Many people in the UK regard the Yorkshire accent as being trustworthy, reassuring and down to earth, which has led to a fair amount of religious narration, as people seem to connect with it on a deeper level. The American audience seem to enjoy it for hard hitting radio adverts as well. I’m normally an extremely slowly spoken individual, which I’ve been told helps with people getting past the accent barrier. However, some may say that a voice talent who can’t create many accents isn’t worth his salt, but I say being unable to reproduce accents has prevented me from falling into the trap of being someone who focuses more on impersonation, rather than honing my own natural voice.
J: How did you get into the voiceover industry?
R: After my sixth redundancy in three years and being unable to complete my university course (BA Japanese) due to visa fee changes I was left with very little options of what I had available. Being on a boat means that I’m not always able to relocate to an affluent area and seek work where I have a chance to progress, therefore I decided to follow my dreams from when I was younger and work for myself. After taking a plunge I initially bought a USB microphone, and I was extremely lucky to secure a 30,000 word narrative job with the Catholic Church which actually paid off the bills for all of my more professional equipment. However I soon realised that like many other people, I suffered from what I call ‘William Shatnerism’, aka, hamming it up for the microphone. It took quite a few months to get out of that mindset and listening back to those first recording makes me shiver. Like many others at first, I automatically assumed that a top of the range microphone would make me sound better… It just made the mistakes sound worse!
To counter my lack of skills I began really researching the industry and listening to the professionals. I actually chose to listen to an awful lot of Richard Burton, where it became my daily ritual to compare my own natural speaking style which was peppered with mistakes, to Burton’s flawless pronunciation. Through his biography I learnt that one should never talk louder than one does on the telephone, which almost instantly improved my speech. Even to this day I still practice tongue twisters and copy the odd scene from the Kings Speech. I also consider Bill DeWees’s YouTube channel a fantastic source of information.
If I could have any voice in the world, it would probably be the Japanese voice actor Norio Wakamoto. He’s the de-facto voice of all things evil in Japan animation, with an almost Godlike, unyielding stentorian voice.
J: What problems have you faced so far?
R: As mentioned I initially I thought my accent was going to be a hindrance, I spent several months auditioning for 90% of my work in a voice that was similar 1940’s BBC English thinking it would help. Yet listening back now I can hear why I wasn’t hired. It’s not often you hear those voices on the radio. Having over 200 audition rejections also really didn’t help, yet I realised even the pros can be getting numbers as high as those, if not more.
The biggest problem I faced however was an extremely severe acid reflux incident, which robbed me of my voice for almost 10 weeks. Even breathing was painful; I simply couldn’t utter a word. It gave me plenty of time to think about exactly what I wanted to do and how important my voice was. From that moment I decided that I wanted my voice to be heard by thousands of people. Almost a year later, my voice hasn’t truly recovered; it seems to have shot up about half an octave.
J: What equipment do you use in your studio?
R: In my day to day work I prefer to use a Sennheiser MKH 416, connected to a Focusrite Voicemaster Platinum Pro, with minimal EQ. Post editing is finished in Reaper. I prefer the 416 as I’m not the type of person who gets animated behind the mic (par my arms), which helps with the extremely tight polar pattern. I also use a Violet Design Black Knight when the project calls for a more rounded sound, I’ve found that it really flatters my voice. I also prefer to monitor with Beyerdynamic DT-150 headphones vs monitor speakers.
J: Are you working on any big projects at the moment?
R: Yes, I’m actually just wrapping up a 90,000+ word audiobook which should be on the market in a couple of weeks. It’s called ‘The Book of Magick Power’ by Jason Augustus Newcomb. The narrator contacted myself and said he thought my voice was suitable for his work, which is always a nice compliment. It is a large project and it’s not something I’d normally do. However I agreed to the work as I envisioned that people who are interested in metaphysics and meditation would prefer to listen to the work whilst meditating, rather than read it and try the exercises later. On that basis I’m hoping it’ll be a good seller. Other than that, I’d love to do some more video game work. Unfortunately for the ones I have done so far I seem to be getting typecast as fat, old, balding men!
J: Do you have any secret techniques when working?
R: Oh I wish! Probably the best thing I’ve done in my career was sit in with an extremely friendly and helpful person called Guy Harris for a few hours and just listen to him work. He answered anything I asked. I actually learnt more from him in 3 hours than I did in four months of browsing online. He also persuaded me out of bankrupting myself by spending thousands on pre-amplifiers and microphones that I wouldn’t actually need! Since chatting with him, he’s been more than helpful to motivate me along the way, no matter how quiet things may have gotten at times. He doesn’t know this, but he also makes me grin when I hear him working on the TV or radio, as I’m always able to pick something new from his delivery style. (Cheers Guy!)
Probably the only secret I have is a recent discovery; for long form narration I use an online teleprompter made by Peter Schmalfedlt. It seems to reduce my reading mistakes tenfold, cutting editing time down to a real minimum. I just wish I’d discovered it months ago!
I also try to avoid caffeine and drink plenty of water. I’m also almost forced to be teetotal due to the acid burn, which actually saves me a lot of money! I’ve found that a Propolis lozenge once a day seems to keep my voice in tip top shape.
You can listen to Richard via his VoicesUK showcase, failing that, just walk along a Yorkshire countryside towpath and keep your ears open!
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