When I began in voice-over in 1984, scripts were recorded
in professional studios with the sound engineer, the director
and the client listening in the control booth. We did take
after take until the director got exactly what was needed.
ability to hire and direct voice talent through the Internet
has dramatically changed the voice-over industry. Today many
talents have a home studio. We record and edit the work ourselves
and deliver the recording as mp3 files, frequently under very
tight deadlines. We get minimal direction, sometimes from
directors we've never spoken with.
voice-over projects will always be best produced in a full
studio with a sound engineer and the presence of a skilled
director. But for the crank-it-out, need-it-done-yesterday
world of Internet voice-over, producers and directors could
benefit from some basic guidelines.
is a list of suggestions for directing and interacting with
long-distance talent. Thoughtful direction is extremely helpful
to the voice-over talents striving to do their job well. A
voice talent will take responsibility for interpreting a script,
but a director's input greatly assists the process. Following
these guidelines should foster good communication, which in
turn should keep the costs down and the clients happy.
Start by providing a brief description of who will be listening
to the finished recording. Whose attention do you hope to
attract? It helps the talent form a mental picture of the
audience they are speaking to.
You should strive to be as descriptive as possible when conveying
how you want the finished product to sound. Sometimes voice
talents get a script and just one word of direction, like
"upbeat." Maybe you're not that picky, and "upbeat" will do
the trick. But if you're striving for something more, here's
a list of words you can use to describe to the talent how
you want them to sound:
friendly, compassionate, soothing, confident, light hearted,
concerned, dry, emotionless, authoritative, comic, serious,
straight-forward, sultry, not sultry, quirky, believable,
engaging, clear, bright, mature, young, hip, upscale, classy,
brassy, sassy, movie-trailer big, good diction, excited. ("Excited"
is commonly used. Try using a one-to-five scale or an example
to convey how excited you want the voice to be.)
tell them you want them to sound like a role: a story-teller,
corporate professional, mom-next-door, best friend, announcer,
attorney, doctor, a trusted teacher, a bored receptionist.
The list of descriptions is endless.
It doesn’t help the talent to hear that you want them
to sound “just like Roz on ‘Frazier’”
or someone on a certain commercial unless they can hear those
references. Provide a sound clip of the voice you are seeking.
Some talents can mimic voices, and if they hear an example
of what you want, they can do what is possible for their range.
the Right Talent for Your Job
This business is highly subjective. Two hundred talents can
describe their voice as "warm", but only you can say which
voice is the right temperature for your project. When casting,
ask for a short custom demo using excerpts from your script.
Ask about the talent's background and experience. Many talents
are versatile and have several different sounds, but no one
can do it all. Ask talents what they think they don't do well.
Be willing to pay extra for character voices; that is an industry
standard. And remember, for narration or long recording projects,
it is risky to hire a beginner. Pacing, sustained energy and
script interpretation are learned skills.
an Easy-to-Read Script
Sometimes scripts are cluttered with multiple parts, editing
notes, and revisions. Talents will appreciate a neat script
in a 12-point font. Make it very clear what part you want
recorded for the job. The script you send is the main tool
for interpretation, and often it's all the talent has to work
with. Most talents will charge extra if they are asked to
re-record due to script changes. Changes include copy errors,
so proofreading pays.
it Out Numbers and Pronunciations
Your script could say "1300 Broadway". Do you want to hear
"thirteen hundred", "one three oh oh", or "one three zero
zero"? Always spell out the pronunciation next to the numeral.
The same is helpful for proper names, especially regional
pronunciations. You may have heard "Willamette" your whole
life, but please spell out "will- AM- met".
Timing to Word Count
Ready for the number one voice talent pet peeve? It's receiving
a script for a 30 second commercial with 45 seconds worth
of copy, along with direction like "caring and compassionate."
This commercial can only sound one way-fast. There is not
a standard word count for a 30 second commercial because voices
come in all speeds. Try reading your script aloud and timing
it before sending it to the talent. Editing the script before
recording saves a lot of wasted time. Most important, giving
the voice-over talent an extra few seconds can make all the
difference in getting the sound you want.
producers want the voice talent to record all the lines in
a script even if they know it will go over time. They like
to hear and then edit sentences. If this is how you work,
tell the talent that it's acceptable to go over time. If this
is not made clear, the reading sounds rushed or the talent
feels frustrated because the timing is impossible.
Clear about Post-Production Expectations
These post production instructions are in regard to "dry reads."
If you want to hire full production from the voice-talent,
make sure they provide those services. Let the talent know
what you are willing to do in post-production. Do you need
them to edit out all the breaths, or will you take care of
that? Do you want three different takes on the closing line
so you can choose your favorite? For commercials, I normally
provide two takes for the agreed upon fee. This is not true
for every talent, so don't make assumptions. A second trip
into the studio can increase your costs.
you are planning to add music, send a sample of the background
song. Producers have occasionally sent me previous commercials
or narrations in a series. All of this is very helpful. Remember,
talents are often working without benefit of images, sounds
fellow voice talents will surely have their own thoughts to
add to this article. I've tried to make these guidelines easy
to follow and applicable to most every job. Following these
simple guidelines should improve Internet communications,
keep costs down, and allow everyone to enjoy exceptional results.
2006 by Vicki Amorose
voice demos can be heard at: www.opuzzvoice.com/Vicki_Amorose.asp
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