Studio Tips for the Voice Actor

Understanding how Engineers and Producers Edit

Many of you working in voice over, especially in the US, are doing the bulk of your work from home studios.

But I wanted to give you some voice actor studio tips, that will help you worry less and focus more, for when you’re in the studio.

In Australia (where home studios haven’t taken off yet) we still get to have the fabulous experience of going to a sound studio.

It’s a collaborative effort between a producer and engineer (or sometimes just the engineer) to create a great result!

So, this blog is for the voice actor who’s doing voice over in sound studios or who’ve been picking up work in studios here and there, but still want to know more about the process.

I often get asked, ‘how does it all work when you’re in the studio?’ so before I talk about engineers and editing, I’m going to let you into a bit of insider info!

It can be slightly stressful for the newbie voice actor to understand exactly what’s going on in the studio – and some of you may have felt it already.

You may have thought:

  • I’m expected to get it right the first time
  • I shouldn’t make mistakes or trip over words, or
  • I need to know what I’m talking about

Well, here’s the drum on all of that…. you’re never expected to get it right first time!

Hell, you may never have seen the script – it’s the norm to only receive the script when you arrive.

Two reasons for that:

  • the confidentiality aspect, and
  • voice over is a spontaneous process.

Your job as a voice actor is to discover how this script is going to sound ‘off’ the page.

There may be many ways to perform the script and in the studio you’ll work out how through a collaborative effort.

When you’re familiarising yourself with the script, it’s completely normal to:

  • trip and stumble over those words you’ve never read before,
  • mispronounce things and go back over a line you’ve just read, and
  • figure out how the script will sound.

You’re not booked because you’re perfect and know absolutely everything instantly.

You’re booked because your voice is right for the ad.

Here’s the drum on that familiarisation bit: 

When you first read the script off the page, you’re reading just to get an idea of how all those words sound off the page.

You’re also working out what’s being said, where the product name appears, what the key words and phrases are, and any number of other things.

*And here’s a little tip that’ll help your confidence.

Never say ‘I’m sorry’  if you trip and stumble! 

Just say the line again.

If you do the same kind of tripping and falling again, it’s probably because those words don’t have an easy rhythm or flow – so, say the line a little slower.

Remember, being a voice actor is all about finding a way to make the words work.

Use the familiarisation part of the session to ask questions. 

You need to know why you’re saying what you’re saying.

So, if anything’s unclear or ambiguous, you need to ask.  You won’t be thought of as dumb – promise!

So please, feel free to trip and fall.

It’s not about being perfect…far from it.

It’s about finding your way into the words on the page, so that when you do start recording, you can offer variations in meaning.

Which is something I know that the voice over novice is not great at, but is something producers love.

So, now to the story of this blog, editing – engineers and producers love it!

It’s a big part of how they weave their magic over the whole job.

Editing for them may involve a music bed, sound effects (SFX) and the correctly timed placement of the voice over.

As I’ve said many times, a script is not one whole thing.

It’s a series of parts of language, each with different meanings, and in advertising terms, a different job to do. Which is why I coach people on the techniques for looking at each part of the message in a different way.

When you do this successfully in the studio, you’re immediately revealing yourself as a pro. And each time you do a take, it’s considered pretty helpful if you’re offering variations for the line.

So when you’re in there performing the script, the engineer will be marking on their copy each of the takes they liked.

But they won’t be marking the whole script – they’ll be marking each individual line, part of a line, or paragraph of the takes they liked.

Often voice actors don’t realise this is happening!

They may be in there with an eight line script, and have never felt that they got through a read, with everything working brilliantly.

And they may now be worrying that they’re not getting it ‘right’ or they’re ‘failing to deliver’ – and this can unravel some voice actors.

But out there in the studio they’re marking the lines and phrases they like, not  just the takes they like:

  • they may have loved the third line and the last line on the first read
  • you may have nailed line two on the second and then given another great version of line two on the third
  • you did two great opening lines on take four and 5 and then you really nailed that pesky line five on take six
  • lines six and seven were always pretty close, but then in magic old take seven they just gelled.

Okay that’s great”, they say, “you’re done.  You can come in.”

“What?” you think.  “I was terrible. I didn’t get one take right. Clearly, they’ve had enough of me and will be getting someone else for the job.”

Okay, stop thinking like that right now!

Because now you hand over the reins to the engineer and producer and they’ll do their thing.

Sometimes when this happens they’ll ask you to take a seat, while they put it together.

You’re amazed at how it all seems to fit so seamlessly – they move lines and shuffle and close gaps, and open up gaps for pausing.

They’re having the best time, and you’e starting to see that maybe you did a good job after all!

Of course, it may be that, after editing, there’s one line that just doesn’t quite fit.

You’re still there, you’re asked to go in do that line in isolation – relax and play!

I know that recording a random line is not always easy to do in isolation. 

You’ll need to jump back to where you were 10 minutes or so before, in energy, pace and mood and this is when you need to use your listening skills to adjust the performance until the read fits.

If they edit in the new line in and it isn’t quite right, ask to hear it back, so you know how to adjust it yourself.

Doing this can take some pushing and pulling – but don’t worry.

Just enjoy the fact that your voice has been in good hands.

The more you know about process, the easier it will be for you to just concentrate and focus on the job at hand –  making that read brilliant!

Hope this helps – happy Voice Overering!