The Voiceover Session

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Things to Never Worry About

When you’re starting out in any new job or career, there are always a million things you discover about the way things work in the first few days or weeks. Well, because having a voice over career means you may only spend a dozen hours, actually in a studio, in your first few months, it’s going to be difficult to pick up on all the ways things can happen.

So, I’ve put together a list of things that cover questions I get asked, by those who are new to the business, about what not to worry about in a recording session.

Never worry about

how long it’s taking.

Voiceover is a creative and collaborative process between the Producer, the Engineer (sometimes they are the same person) and you, the voiceover artist. Every job is different! Every job has different requirements and challenges. Sometimes it takes 3 reads and other times it takes 33. You need to remember that before the session, the words on the script were ‘written words’ only. In your hands they become ‘spoken words’ and in that sense are ‘heard’ for the first time. Sometimes the producer will take you around the world and back, trying the read many different ways, only to decide that take 2 was perfect. Just enjoy the ride!

Never worry about

…fluffing lines.

Hey, you’ve just been handed a script that you’ve never seen before, right? You’re never expected to be perfect on the first read, or the 2nd and 3rd for that matter. It can take time to create the right rhythms and meaning for someone else’s idea. And besides that, some words and phrases are real doozies. I had to say ‘unique New York style sofa’ once in a very fast retail read. Try saying that fast. Yikes!!! If you fluff, just go back to the beginning of the sentence or paragraph and go again, without apologizing!!! Very important. It’s not a sin to fluff! Just stay with words and get better at working out how the flow or the rhythm works best. Little tip. If you keep falling over the same line, phrase or word, just take a little more time with that part. Make it part of the performance.

Never worry about

…having to do the recording line by line, or paragraph by paragraph.

You may be surprised to know that some work is recorded in this way. It could be that the text is non naturalistic. Perhaps it’s just a series of random phrases for a television commercial and each phrase needs to have a certain meaning or inflection. When a decision is made to do this, it’s often because the producer is absolutely clear about the timing, pace, rhythm or inflection he or she wants. All you have to be able to do is follow their (hopefully) perfect direction, so listen well. And you do need to be absolutely aware of your energy and volume levels and keep them consistent, so that when it comes time to edit your work, it’s seamless. Sometimes at the end of this process of discovering the script, the producer may ask you if you’d like to now read it from the top, straight through. The best way to be prepared for a voiceover session is to be prepared for anything!

Never worry about

…being told, “that was okay, but let’s try something completely different”.

Don’t forget, voiceover is a spontaneous creative process. That’s one of the reasons you don’t get the script beforehand. Understanding how to be spontaneous and throw out all previous ideas in favour of a completely fresh approach is a winning voiceover skill. If you can pull this off, it’s full points to you.

Never worry about

…a script that’s running over time.

Don’t panic if your 30 second commercial is running at 34. It’s probably over-written. However, sometimes, you have to be able to shave 4 seconds off the read…and the producer will want you to go faster and not sound like you’re going faster. Mmmm…how do you decipher that one? Your first trick is to lower your volume, so it won’t sound so rushed. Don’t forget, the louder you are, the more energy you use and for some reason, that I can’t explain scientifically, as soon as you drop your volume level, you can get through words much faster without them sounding rushed. Then if it’s still over time, the producer will do some editing. They often have some options for removing copy or tightening phrasing, so just relax. Don’t forget, it’s not your job to edit, so I would avoid trying to be helpful and let the producer, who could often be the writer, make the decisions.

Never worry about

…not being able to hear what’s going on out in the control room.

Sometimes it happens that you are shut off from hearing what’s being said in the control room, although most engineers make sure they leave everything open, so that you can hear what’s being said. However, I have known people to panic in this situation because they think, “Oh no, they hate me…they’re talking about the fact that they’ve miscast me…” Panic not. It’s more likely that they’re talking about sound effects (SFX) or the sound scape, or the music track, or even what to order for lunch. Instead of panicking, just stay with the job at hand, ‘how to make this script sound fabulous’. Just focus on the script, stay in the world of the words and their meaning, and become more familiar with it while they do whatever it is they’re doing. Don’t worry they’ll get back to you.

Never worry about

…the producer ‘helping’ you by giving you directions that are impossible to decipher.

The art of being a great producer of voice talent takes a lot of experience and generally Ad Agency producers don’t work at it every day. However your engineer does. In fact, most of the engineers I work with are top class producers in their own right and more often the Agency or Production Company will choose to work with those engineers because they know how to drive the session creatively and work with voice actors to get a great result. So, even if you do have a ‘less than clear’ instruction from an agency producer, if you have a great and experienced engineer, he or she will be right onto it. Try to make eye contact and give that ‘I need some help here’ look, not that they won’t already be reading the signs. Don’t worry, you’ll be looked after!

Never worry about

…being the wrong voice for the job.

It can happen that you are cast because it’s thought your voice or style will suit the job…but when the words are ‘off the page’, for some reason it just doesn’t quite work.  Don’t freak out!  It doesn’t mean your career is over, just that you weren’t quite right for that script.  It still happens to me occasionally.  It’s never spelled ‘the end of my career’…only an opportunity for someone else’s.

So, hopefully these have helped answer some questions and relieved some anxiety.  Working as a voiceover artist is always great fun, exciting and very creative. The last thing you want is any level of stress or lack of certainly, because the first place anxiety registers, is in the voice!