50 tricks for voiceover talents... Your voiceover or "voice artiste" can be your friend or foe. They can totally ruin your script - or they can turn your mediocre script into something vaguely acceptable. They can make your award-winning script into, well, an award-winning script - or not. But then YOU - as the producer or writer or director or engineer or account handler or client (especially client) - can do exactly the same. If you are in "star-booking" (clean version) mode, remember that a lot of "tv/film stars" actually have rather boring, indistinguishable voices. Without their face in front of the listener/viewer they could be Joe Bloggs. (Sorry Joe! This is a huge generalization - but try watching films/tv with your eyes closed.) Often screen/stage actors are not experienced at voiceovers and can be a complete waste of time & money - unless your client needs to bolster his/her image at the golf club. Having said that, there are some "minor TV personalities" and jobbing TV character actors who are just brilliant at voiceovers. If you've got a friend who is an out of work actor - steer clear unless you've got the time to train them. Being a good voiceover is only partly about the quality of the voice. It's also about general skill levels developed through experience and application. So read & study the following points.
1. Learn to read ahead so that
you can work out where a sentence is going to - before you get there. For many
sessions you will have to read a script "cold". We had a session not
too long ago where two versions were required of the same corporate video
script - a male version & a female version. The scripts were to be recorded
"wild" (not to picture) and the video edited to match the narration.
The male actor required two or three takes of each paragraph & lots of
drop-ins - he just couldn't work out where a paragraph was going. He took 2
hours. She took forty minutes - and was brilliant. Guess who will get the most
2. Practice adjusting the
overall speed of the whole read - or just a sentence - by nanoseconds
3. Inside each microphone is a
tiny sexual organ - which can only be stimulated with YOUR voice. You have to
make love with it. You have to perform as you've never performed before. You
have to show it ALL positions from the Vocal Kama Sutra...
4. Don't breath straight into
words. Don't gasp straight out of words
5. Practice with eplosives. Don't POP. Watch the old-timers -
superb & intuitive microphone technique.
6. You must be able to match
breaths, timbre. & speed at drop-in points. As the drop-in point approaches,
read-along with run-up. Some engineers like you to match the performance during
the run-up so that the dropn-in point is less critical. Some engineers hate it.
7. Learn to play with the
words and the timings to complement background music or SFX - or to work
against them. Elongating a certain syllable can sometimes make all the
difference. Often everything will be added & mixed once you've gone. But
don't be afraid to ask to hear a snatch of the music so that you can get the
right feel. Sometimes the engineer will happily play the music just down your
headphones (cans) if it helps your performance.If you are supposed to be
shouting above the wind or a hubbub - ask the engineer to play the relevant
sound effect down your cans during the recording.
8. Be able to take cues from a
TV monitor, register what the cue-lights mean, read a time-code display, read a
script brilliantly - all at the same time...
9. Lovingly caress syllables -
10. Indulge in verbal foreplay
with the director/producer and studio staff. Don't just sit there being the
great A C T O R. We're all in this together. A team.
11. Don't keep telling
everyone that you'd rather be doing a season at Stratford (for any Americans -
Stratford is where The Royal Shakespeare Company is based. It is not a golf
12. Learn to carry on with a
read even if the producer is whispering instructions down the talkback, and the
engineer is telling you to ignore the producer...
13. Carry on with a read even
if there is a delayed echo in the headphones
14. Don't make a meal of it if
the engineer whispers that he/she forgot to record the last take - especially
when everyone agrees it was the best out of 72... Anyway, why can't you do a
good read more than once?
15. Do brush up your Latin. People
who do medical/technical commentaries & narration should earn 3 times the
normal hourly rate! But don't tell them I said so...
16. Get something to eat
before the session - but nothing full of garlic - another actor will be in the
voice-booth after you. Take your litter with you. How about a nice gesture like
bringing out your empty drinks cup? Don't expect the studio staff to rush out
and buy you a snack.
17. Resist the temptation of
that lovely studio coffee - it encourages phlegm. Have a glass of warm water.
Although smoking can help give a good "cutting" edge to your voice,
it also dries-out your mouth - giving rise to more mouth noises which the
engineer then has to edit out. Try not to smoke in the booth. If you must smoke
& there isn't an ashtray - ask for one.
18. Resist sparkling mineral
water, drink the flat variety. There's nothing worse than opening the
microphone fader & hearing the bubbles burst in the mouth
19. Don't wear chunky, noisy
20. Don't wear a loud ticking
21. Do have a set of dental
plates that don't clack
22. Do have a silent heart
23. Have insurance so that
when the whole studio "howls round" and your eardrums burst, you can
at least get a job as a producer. Seriously, if you feel that conditions at a
certain studio are affecting your performance adversely, or that a particular
engineer is consistently not getting the best out of your voice, DO let the
studio manager/owner now.
24. Don't wear nylon shirts
25. Don't wear leather
trousers, jackets or smalls
26. Don't expect studio staff
to answer and take messages on your mobile
27. Do understand that a
booking is for a whole hour.
28. Do be brave enough to have
informed your agent of any inadequacies or moral objections so that you aren't
booked for unsuitable jobs
29. Arrive on time, preferably
10 mins early. It's not our fault that you've been booked back-to-back &
have to travel halfway across town.
30. Enjoy the session. Don't
be aggressive - you don't need the ulcers
31. As a voiceover, you're
probably getting paid more for an hours work than the runner earns in a
fortnight. You may well be worth it, but on the other hand... And who's to say
you're worth more - or have a higher social standing - than the writer, the
producer, the director...
32. Have some good stories and
one-liners - but judge the timing of the telling of them very carefully. Give
the client a good story about a celeb that can be re-told by the client at a
dinner party - thus enhancing his/her social standing - and you'll be re-booked
again & again. Till your stories run out...
33. Remember that we love you
all (well, some of you) really. Half the fun of the job is taking the mickey
out of our esteemed voice artistes. The range and breadth of discussions &
chats brighten up the day. And when you do something brilliantly, we all feel
that inner self-satisfied grin - realizing yet again what a wonderful, self-indulgent
industry we all work in!
34. Most studios record to
digital formats. This means that bodily noises are no longer masked by good old
1/4" tape hiss.
35. Dress accordingly. For the
reasons above, many studios have had to reduce the air-conditioning flows to
the voice booth - so it may be quite warm. (Again, there's no tape hiss to mask
air-flow noise.) Actually it's just a ruse to get voiceovers to expose more of
their bodies... mmm, nice.
36. If you are sent a script
beforehand, at least try to read it BEFORE the session. If you really haven't
had the time, find a paragraph where the words could be changed to make it read
a little easier. Suggest this minor change before the recording stops - it will
impress. Oftentimes the script will have been written by a press/brochure
copywriter. It will be difficult to read - and sound uncomfortable to the
listener viewer. However, the script may have been approved by several
committees and the MD's au-pair. The producer/director may not dare change a
word. By sympathetic to his/her problems.
37. Don't ask the studio to
feed your parking meter. Put enough money in to last for any unplanned
over-runs. Why should we suffer 'cos you're too mean to plan ahead? Or use the
train/bus like the rest of us.
38. Don't blow your nose
straight in the direction of the microphone. A good mic can cost over £2,000. A
well-aimed nose-blow can destroy it (especially if your tissue bursts). Tell
the engineer first.
39. Don't get up & wander
round the booth between takes - unless you have the experience to get back to
EXACTLY the same mic position. If you have to leave the booth, make sure you
close all the doors firmly when you come back. Ask the engineer if he/she needs
to take levels again.
40. Learn to turn pages
silently. You should be able to read the New York Times from cover to cover
without a single paper rustle. Develop and practice this technique at home -
41. Cultivate the studio
receptionist. Clients often ask if we can recommend a good voice artiste or
voice agency. They may not know how good a voice is in the studio - but they
know who they like!
42. Don't cram your showreel
with too many impressions. The bulk of voiceover work is for normal reads. Make
sure we hear some "straight" voice within thirty seconds. With many
showreels now on agency compilation CDs, it's very easy to press the
"skip" button to the next voice. If you can't demonstrate your vocal
abilities within 2 minutes - don't bother. This doesn't apply if the bulk of
your work is TV doc narration - then we need MORE time to judge.
43. Don't outstay your welcome
after the session. Tell a gag & then say your goodbyes - unless you're
invited to stay.
44. Some producers/directors
are full of bullshit - and devoid of talent & tact. They haven't the intelligence
to realise that it's their rubbish direction that causes the problems in the
first place! Conversely, some actors are not capable of taking direction no
matter how good the studio director.
45. The quality and level of
your headphone feed can affect your perfomance. You may subconciously alter
your delivery in an attempt to compensate. Studio engineers will often use this
effect to compensate for your inability to take direction, or the directors
inability to give proper direction. Or the studio engineer may be so
insensitive that he/she has no idea that it makes a difference.
46. Booths are sometimes
strewn with cables - the previous session may have had six actors individually
mic'd. If the cables are in your way - ask the engineer to move them.
47. Apart from mains voltages
in the booth, even quite innocent-looking pieces of equipment may have
relatively high voltages inside. Be careful with any drinks. A careless spill
could cost thousands.
48. If you have a drink
problem, confide in your agent. Tell them not to accept any bookings after
lunch. Better to be known as someone who will, from choice, only work in the
mornings rather than someone who is incapable of working properly in the
49. Be ready to learn new
techniques. Your never too old to learn.
50. Oh, & the money is OK