The Voice Artist's Best Friend

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Mainstream Studio Sound Engineers

One thing you need to know about working as a voice over artist is that it’s always a collaborative process…between the voice artist, the producer/director and the sound engineer…but I need to tell you this.  It’s the engineer who is almost always our most reliable collaborator.

Engineers work with voice over artists’ day in, day out.  There’s no one else who knows better how we work and how best to get the most out of any recording session.  Sure the agency producer or director may know their client, their campaign, their target audience and their message but when it comes to the finesse of a spoken-word performance, that is, words off the page, rather than on it, it will, more often that not, be the engineer who’s able to make the most of the session.

Sound Engineers who work solidly with advertising agencies, or corporate producers really know their stuff.  To begin with, to get a job at, or run a studio where they’re dealing with the sound design for high budget productions, they must have top class technical expertise as well as the ability for solid creative input.

Often these engineers are sought out by Advertising Agencies because they’re expert at sound design, which covers recording the script with a voice artist, sourcing sound effects, creating or sourcing music or a sound track and sometimes even ‘foley’ recording, which is the creating of sound effects from scratch in the studio.

When you work with this calibre of engineer, understanding the nature of your relationship is paramount.  If you’re a working professional, often you’ll have worked together on many scripts, for many different clients, so you know each other well.  The engineer may have even submitted you or suggested you for the job.  Sometimes, if you’re new or inexperienced, he or she may even have ‘gone into bat’ for you, suggesting that even though you haven’t done a great deal of work, it would be worth giving you a crack at it.

Here are some examples of what might happen in a session and some tips on making the most of your experience.

The engineer is in control of how the session will run.  He or she will always do the introductions and  fill you in on what’s happening. After you’ve been handed a script, received a ‘brief’ from the producer and had a read through, the engineer might ask you if you’re ready to get into the studio…or you might ask the engineer if he/she is ready for you to go in.  The engineer will always follow you in to make sure the microphone is set at the right height and the script stand is positioned just right.

Once the engineer is back in the control room he or she will call for you to have a read through, while sound levels are set and your headphone level is adjusted. With headphone level, make sure you are speaking while the level is being adjusted, so you can quickly discover the comfort level for you.  At this stage you read the script aloud, with the brief in mind, although you are by no means expected to be perfect at this stage.  Reading it off-the-page may bring up questions about a meaning, an emphasis or a preferred pronunciation.  These are almost always directed to the producer.

The engineer will always indicate when he or she is ready to begin recording.  Depending on the style of script, several things could happen next.  If this is a retail script, it will all be about time.  Is it too fast, too slow etc?  The focus will be on how you’re going to get the read into time.  As you know there are tricks to working through an over-written script, so it doesn’t sound over-written, but if, even in the face of your good voice over technique, it’s still sounding too long, it’ll be the engineer who will suggest making some edits…that is if the producer hasn’t already been making some.

If the script requires you to create a slice-of-life situation or the script is character-driven or requires you to create a character voice, then this is where the focus will be first of all.  You may work for quite some time on perfecting style and character before the element of time is even mentioned and then it will be just a matter of adjusting pace and rythm in some areas.

The engineer will also take care of guiding you through technical aspects.  For instance, if the script is wordy and you know that most, if not all, the breaths will be removed, you need to mark on your script where you’ll be taking the breaths and then let the engineer know.

Or, if the final ad is going to be pieced together from all the ‘good takes’, then it’s the engineer who will have marked those ‘good takes’ and remembered just where you were from an energy and sound level perspective.  If it happens that all the good takes are from several different reads, then engineer will ask you to come in and take a break while he edits something together.  This is just to make sure that, before you leave the studio, enough material has been recorded to satisfy.

Engineers are at the heart of this process, constantly making sure your needs are being taken care of creatively and technically.  If you happen to have a control room full of ad agency people who can’t decide what they want, it’ll be the engineer who’ll help make sense of what everyone wants.  If you have a director who just can’t find the right words to explain to you you what he or she wants, it’ll be the engineer who translates it into something you can understand.

Engineers are on your side!  They want your performance to be great and they’ll do everything they can to make sure that happens.  All you need to do is allow yourself to relax and work with the words, and trust that their intuition and expertise, gleaned from years of experience, will take care of the rest.

Next month, I’m going to fill you in on the slightly different set of skills require by the radio station engineers.