TikTokers Are Showing Off Their Voice-Acting Skills By Speed-Reading Ads

Being a voiceover actor might sound like a dream job to many: performing without having to show your face or memorize lines, but still managing to captivate people with just the sound of your voice. Lately, a ton of TikTokers have been testing their chops to see if they could make it as commercial voice actors, as part of a new trend that's been spreading all over the app.

Vancouver-based musician and voice actor Adam Kirschner, 32, started the "Commercial Voiceover Challenge" on Sunday. In his initial video, he calls on TikTokers to try their hand (or, rather, their vocal cords) at performing four different commercial voiceovers in under a minute. Kirschner encourages people to duet his video, which has been viewed 2.4 million times so far, and read the copy that pops up onscreen. In a Zoom call with Newsweek, Kirschner called it "voiceover auditioning on steroids."

Aside from the scripts, Kirschner—who has done voiceover work for brands like Kleenex, as well as TV series such as My Little Pony—also offers some guidance to those taking the "Commercial VO Challenge," by offering some directions on how to perform the material. For instance, for the Nike ad script, Kirschner suggests you take a "Cool" approach. When you get to the text for a made-up medical brand, be sure to sound "Upbeat." Adopt an "Intimate" tone for the Kay copy, and try to convey "Quirky/Fun" energy when plugging the Planet Fitness bit. (Kirschner also performed the challenge in his own duet clip.)

"I wanted to have variation," Kirschner said, when discussing how he settled on the brands and styles to include in the exercise. "I wanted to give people the sampler of what it's like to be a voice actor in 40 seconds so having to go from each extreme of what you might be asked to do."

Kirschner, who also makes music under the name Noble Son, only started his TikTok about a month ago and learned quickly, from a video of him doing outtakes for a local ad, that people are interested in voice-work.

"I felt like there was a lot of people that wanted to try voiceover. There was so much interest in it, but I didn't see much content that was professionally produced that gave other people the opportunity to try voiceover," he said. "I figured since I have the equipment and I have the skill from the editing and production side, that I'd throw it together and I did it in just a couple hours."

In addition to everyday TikTokers who haven't ever stepped into a recording booth before, a few professional voice actors have also hopped on the trend, including the Los Angeles-based Shelby Young, 28, who has done voice work for TV series like Star Wars: Forces of Destiny, in which she voiced Princess Leia.

@shelbyhyoung

#duet with @noble_son Ayo thanks to everyone who tagged me in this! #voiceover #voiceacting #fyp

♬ original sound - Noble Son
@_iwani

#duet with @noble_son I really wanna hear @inkamagnaye do this challenge! #fyp #voiceover #voiceacting

♬ original sound - Noble Son

Young regularly shows off her voice-acting talents on TikTok, performing well-known ads (like the Spotify ad buffer) and the voices of animated characters (including Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series). She told Newsweek in a phone call that friends and followers encouraged her to try the challenge. At the time of this article's publication, her duet had pulled in 7.7 million views.

"My followers were tagging me in it, which is why I started it by being like, 'I'm being summoned,' and if I had known that it was gonna be seen as much, I wouldn't have said that, I feel like I sound so do**he-y," she said, laughing. "So I saw the challenge, but then I got tagged like seven more times and I was like, 'Alright, I guess they want me to do this. I should do it. It looks fun.'"

Kirschner and Young both acknowledge that the "Commercial VO Challenge" is hard, but they say it's very different from the average voiceover experience, which usually involves more takes and more direction about characters. One pro tip to help you really sell your duet if you record one, though—Young says don't simply read the script. Try to feel it.

"I kind of looked away when I was doing the KAY [script] because I'm thinking about: 'Who am I talking to? What does this mean to me?'" she said. "I'm using the acting skills I've learned over the years to make me feel genuine about what I'm saying, whereas if you're just reading it, it might come across a little different, a little more flat."

When it comes to the script for QMEXA (a completely made-up medical brand), Kirschner said he wanted to come up with a script that would put even experienced voice actors to the test, because medical scripts are usually difficult. "You have to be dexterous, you have to be fast, you have to keep your smile on, and you have to do it in a short window of time so that's kind of the the real measuring stick for me," he said.

And even if the "Commercial VO Challenge" isn't representative of what it's like to do real voice work, both actors said it's exciting to think that this trend could inspire people to try voice acting. Just don't think that being able to do an unusually deep or particularly famous voice means you're ready to be a professional.

"The misconception is, 'If I can do a silly voice or an impression, I can be a voice actor,'" Young said, "and again, it's so much more about the acting than the voice and the impressions and all that."

Still, for Kirschner, it's been exciting to see how many people on TikTok do seem genuinely interested in the challenge that he came up with. "It's been a wake-up call," he said, "to remember that my job is awesome, and that I'm super, super-grateful, because seeing all the comments and seeing how many people—even if they're kind of hamming it up—on some level, they want to be good at this."

Microphone Voiceover Acting TikTok Challenge
Amazon Basics brand microphone in front of a monitor and workstation, October 27, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty