Radio Station Sound Engineers

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And the Skills of Fast Production

Sound engineers at radio stations are often really under the pump, so they want to know that the voice artist they cast or suggest for the job can come up with the goods in the shortest amount of time.  If you want to find out how to impress them and be invited back for more, read on.

The amount of work produced by radio stations every week is amazing and a top rating talk station literally churns out the tracks, for some stations up to 100 tracks every week.

When you do a voiceover at a radio station, you’re often working with the engineer only.  In some radio stations it’ll be the engineer and the in-house copywriter…and in very rare cases a client may come to the session, although this is never encouraged, especially in really busy stations as it takes time to meet and greet the client, cater to them, take them to the studio and defer to them, as the creative process takes place.  Often clients don’t really know what they want, nor do they have the language to ask for what they want.

Yes, it would be true to say that in a radio station situation, the ideal scenario is for the engineer to be just left alone to do the job with voice talent.  Of course having the writer there for guidance is always welcome.

Just as mainstream recording studio engineers spend every day working with voice artists, so too does the radio station engineer.  However, unlike studio sound engineers they are hamstrung by time.  In order to produce the quantity of tracks they do, at the high standard their employer expects, they need to be able to get the job done fast and well.

Doing voiceovers for radio can be amongst the most satisfying work you can do and if you work skillfully and you have the type of voice that suits the listening demographic of that station, then it could mean regular work.

To find out if you would suit a certain radio station, tune in regularly, at different times of the day.  The voices you hear doing the ads directly reflect the listening audience or demographic that advertisers will be wanting to target. Music stations will often have very specific demographics, whereas a ‘talk’ station – usually the highest rating station in your city – will have a much broader range of ads catering to all kinds of different consumer groups, simply because the listening audience is so broad.

So let’s talk about the kind of voiceover artist radio stations like to work with and why… and then I’ll give you some definite no-no’s and to-do’s.

As you know, radio is all about creating great visuals and making meaning of the script in an engaging way.  The message needs to reach the listeners ears.  Often radio stations like voices that are ‘naturally energized’, that is the voice has ‘personality’ without needing to try too hard.  Often those voices travel very well on the electronic medium and the process of digital recording can enhance the voice in surprising ways.  You never know whether you have one of these voices until you’re in the studio and behind a microphone.

Yes, radio loves the energized voice, especially the voice over artist with that kind of voice, who also understands how to quickly sight-read a script, make sense of the message, read it to time, or know how to adjust the read, so that it times perfectly…and know how to do that in a few reads.  If you can get into the studio and do a damn fine job of a 30 second script, within 10 minutes, or up to 5 scripts for the same product within 20 minutes, you’ll be very popular.

Radio also loves the ‘voice of authority’.  Many scripts written and produced in radio stations are written as straight ‘announcer’ style.  They’re little bursts of information telling you, enticing you or sometimes even manipulating you to ‘do’ something, ‘buy’ something, or ‘go’ somewhere.

Often these scripts leave little room for creative content or concept.  The reason for this is to do with the amount of material written and produced on a daily or weekly basis.  Sometimes the client will write the script, leaving the copywriter no alternative but to tidy it up and make it run to time.

However, there are not only very sharp sound engineers in radio stations, there are some very sharp writers too, practicing their craft daily.  Don’t forget, radio is quick turn-around and very quick turn-over.  Many of the scripts recorded have a very short shelf-life.  There’s often very little time to ‘play’ with the script creatively.   However, sometimes, just sometimes they do get the time to craft really great, creative scripts or campaigns.

Some of my favourite work over the years has come out of surprise sessions at a radio station.   However, I like the challenge of a rather dull script as well.  Often the engineer and/or writer are apologetic, but the thing is, if you’re the voice artist reading this script, it’ll be you on air, so you need to know how to turn an average script into a listenable one. I love the fact that in voiceover, you never know what you’re going to be doing.

Here are few things that radio stations find hard to deal with and some definite points winners as well.

  • Don’t send a voiceover demo with work on it that has taken a lot of time to produce.  Mainstream studios may have time to work with you for an hour on a track but radio stations don’t. Only include material that you can replicate confidently and reasonably quickly…
  • Don’t be late…for obvious reasons.
  • Don’t waffle about your life or what happened on the way to the studio.  You’ll be able to sense just how pushed they are and whether there’s time for some bonding, otherwise get straight down to the work.
  • Don’t criticize the script, no matter how bad…they’ll know it is.  Make it your job to make this script work.  They’ll love you for it.
  • Do get really good at understanding what ‘reading to time is’.  Over time, you develop an inner clock, but for now, you’ll just have to know when to speed up and slow down at just the right pace to get the time right.  Of course, breaths will usually be removed, so the engineer can often slip and slide to make things work time-wise.  They’re expert at it.
  • Do understand how to listen to what you’re being asked to do.  Taking direction is essential if you want to be someone who gets regular work in radio stations.
  • Do make a study of the stations you think you could be working at.
  • Do record ad breaks and listen for yourself.  You can do this on your phone.

When it comes time for you to approach a radio station, because you’ve determined that you’re the kind of voice they use and you have a good level of expertise and experience, call the station, ask to speak to production or a copywriter and offer to send in your demo.  Send it with a covering email that says what kind of experience you’ve had and ask if they’d send it on to the engineers.

Remember, they are very busy in there, so sometimes, it can take a while to break in.  Be persistent, without being annoying!  And good luck.

And, if you feel you really want to work in radio stations and want to perfect your technique to the standard they require, let me know.  We can either do it privately or in the ‘One Dayer’

Send an email and I’ll get back to you.