Techniques for Approaching Voiceover Scripts
Whether you’re working in-studio or from a home studio, these tips and techniques for approaching voiceover scripts will help you navigate what can be tricky process at times.
First up, here’s your checklist of skills crucial to achieving a great result.
Before you even begin, make sure that you:
- are a proficient sight reader
- have a broad knowledge of words and language
- understand that language carries emotion, perspective and attitude
- know how to make the language in the script or text your own, and
- understand that you are the messenger.
The Bigger Picture
Before I begin, one of the above skills is, in my view, the most important ingredient to building proficiency with your voiceover scripts, and that is, you must ‘make the language your own’.
I want to expand on that idea
Your ‘read’ must sound fresh in every take, as though you’re reading it for the first time, or you just had that thought, or that you’re the expert, or at least, that you know what you’re talking about.
It’s not just about reading the words. It’s about creating authenticity no matter what you’re reading.
Voiceover is a very spontaneous experience. You may already know that if it’s either commercial or non-commercial, you’ll rarely get the script before you get to the studio.
Why don’t you get the script before?
Well, what they don’t want is for you to have ‘worked out’ exactly how you’re going to perform it and then be unable to change that. Spontaneous remember.
Let’s talk about the Studio Experience First.
I want you to think of the recording process as three things, problem solving, rehearsal and performance all in one.
First, let’s talk about problem solving.
You’re never expected to get the script right first time. Even if the script is 15 seconds long, there’s a lot to work out.
When you arrive at the studio, after greetings, you’ll be handed the script and given a brief by either the producer or the engineer. If there’s a jingle or music bed, you’ll listen to that. If it’s audio visual, the graphics and/or images and/or the sound bed or jingle will have already been completed, so you’ll look at that.
As soon as you’re in front of the mic with the script, begin by getting the words ‘off’ the page.
It won’t be perfect. Expect that. But don’t worry. It’s very normal to be a bit crap the first time you read it. It’s someone else’s language after all, and if it’s a non-commercial script it may be an information delivery about something you know nothing about.
You’ll need to understand and be clear about everything you say. So, ask questions. There’s no such thing as a dumb one.
It’s just as it sounds. You practice reading it.
You’ll be wearing headphones – and everyone’s hearing level is different – so once you have it set at a comfortable level, you’ll begin to rehearse for the performance. For this, you need to listen to yourself as you read the text.
Every script is different and it’s in this rehearsal period that you’ll begin to find the key words or phrases, find out how to apply any emotion or meaning and get a feeling for how it’s going to work.
And now, you can begin to work out ‘how’ you’re going to read it.
The Producer or Engineer will direct you, and together you’ll have worked out the best pace, volume and energy and you’ll be getting closer to finding the style of voice. At this stage, your engineer may begin to record the takes.
Then the fun begins. The performance.
Remember, each take is being recorded, so every time you do another take, just try a slightly different spin on a word or phrase, for the purposes of editing from different takes.
And because editing from different tracks is done often, remember to stay true to what was decided about pace, volume and energy, for each take.
What if you’re Recording from a Home Studio?
If you’re recording from home and the script is sent to you just before the job, you can use the same template of problem solving, rehearsal and performance but it’ll be slightly different.
First, make sure you read all the instructions in the email, once twice, three times. It’s amazing what you miss when you can’t wait to get a look at the script.
Then print out the script. Or, have it on your ipad or tablet if you’re able to make marks and notes on it.
Read the script and begin to understand what it’s about, what the language is saying or selling and to whom. Look at the language ‘forensically’. And by that, I mean a top-to-toe examination of the language.
Many writers, especially in the non-commercial area, where they’re used to ‘business writing’, are not always great at writing for spoken work and it’s here that they often make mistakes.
Sometimes, it may be that their use of grammar or tense is not consistent, or their language may be too formal for spoken word. An example could be using the world ‘whilst’ instead of ‘while’, writing ‘we will’ instead of ‘we’ll’.
Begin to read the script aloud after a while to begin to get a sense of what sounds ‘clunky’ or is an unnatural way to say something.
Make notes. There’ll be questions!
Then email or speak with your client with your questions; and refer to your desire to make it sound natural and connected to the message or information.
Once you get a response, you can rehearse, either before you record it, or before your client is with you as you record. This preparation will mean that by the time you get to the ‘performance’ you’re informed, rehearsed and ready.
All you need to do is take any direction offered, and do your best work.
I want to add something about auditions to this, because I know that some voice artists just look at the script, record it and send it off with their fingers crossed.
That probably won’t work.
Give it your best shot by working through this process with everything you do, including auditions, and see if the strike rate increases. I hope it does.