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8 Practical tips for directing a voiceover
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29 February 2016

directing a voice-over

Directing a voiceover or a voice-actor can be a breeze. That is, until the voice-artist in question performs something in a way you hadn’t imagined. In this blog a couple of handy hints to make a real party of any studio session or home studio listen-along.

Before the recordings begin

Good prep is half the work. Let’s take it for granted that you are taking a definitive script into the studio session with you. How can you make sure that during the recording you’re not going to be crossing out and rewriting?

Test the script for speakability

Make sure all the vocabulary is clearly understandable. Very often you come across structure that simply doesn’t flow. On paper it may work just fine but when you say it out loud you’re soon tripping over your tongue. Those are generally the lines which are still very much written language, or where the timing doesn’t fit. A good line should be clear first time around. Not the case? Very often that’s because there is information at the beginning of the sentence that logically follows from something else you don’t hear about until the end of the line.

Keep an eye on the time

It’s handy to check in advance if the text fits against the allotted time. Good voice-overs can always speak quickly and techies can often do magic, but no matter what you do a text of 30 seconds just won’t fit into 20. You can prevent problems by dividing the total number of words by 120 (with a switched on voice-artist) or by 150 (with a naturally spoken voice-over). A commercial of 20 seconds is pretty much at max with 50 words.

How experienced is your Voice-artist?

Of the 1000 people that have the word voice-over on their LinkedIn Profile, only around 100 of them are experienced. No matter how good a demo sounds, you don’t know how long it took the other 900 to record it. With a good voice-over you’ll be on your way out of the studio whistling a happy tune within 10 minutes, with another it could take you an hour and half (and even then it may only be a 6 out of 10). In these cases stay patient and make sure the talkback mic is only on when you have something positive to say ; ) 
 

During the recordings

You’ve explained to the voice-over how you want it, what they need to take account of and maybe you’ve shown them a YouTube clip by way of inspiration. The recording can now begin.

With or without the client?

Opinions differ here. With a client in the room very often a recording can get the okey immediately. However, without them there can also be great (especially if you know in advance that they may be a bit of a directorial diva). Staying enthusiastic when talking to the voice-actor during a recording is really important. If they see lots of heads shaking ‘no’, slumped disinterested listeners, difficult glances or lots of laughing behind the glass, then the session may really backfire. At the end of the day though, the voice-over has only one reason to be there. They want you all to walk out happy and satisfied.

I was once in the studio with voice-over legend Ben Maasdam, and we had one of those difficult, totally draining clients in with us. At a certain point I saw, out of the corner of my eye Ben behind the window with an enormous grin on his face (a look of ‘Ok boys, even if it’s gonna be 20 takes, bring it on!’) That was a good lesson for me: voice-overs who openly let their annoyance with clients show are often not worth bothering with.

Give the Voice-actor freedom to play

Voice-overs can be opportunistic. That doesn’t mean voice-overs are not allowed to have an opinion. Comments about written language versus spoken? About the timing of a sentence? Take them into consideration. Most voice-overs aren’t charmed by a director who demonstrates for them the way to do their job. Better to try and give instructions on the basis of emotion, facial expression or body language to clarify how you’d like the recording to be.

First aid for inexperienced voice-overs

To really imagine yourself in the situation, that’s what will make or break the authenticity of your recording. If, as director, you don’t believe in what you hear then you won’t convince the listener either. In that case you can ask the inexperienced voice-actor to take off their headphones and to talk to you directly (but of course, don’t tell them you’re still recording.) That often produces the most believable takes. Let them use their hands while they talk. It’s also handy in these sort of instances to expect a 6 out of 10. When you have got the whole recording down, then see what else you can get out of them. Do it the other way round and you run the risk of them running out of energy, and then you may not even make a 6.

Involve the Technician

If you think that the sound technician is just sitting there playing with buttons, think again. They in fact direct every day, during every recording. Don’t hesitate to ask their opinion, learn from them or even let the technician co-direct. And, if you don’t agree with them, that provides no problem. You’re still the client after all!

Ask for just one more take

At the end of the recording, after you’ve driven your voice-actor completely crazy with direction, you can ask them to forget everything you said and take one last stab at it. You’ll see this is often strikingly good.

Voicebooking.com blogs together with industry experts. For this post many thanks to advertisers Edsard Schutte, Jan van den Bergh, Paul Hillesum, Victor Silvis, sound technician Guido Sprenger and several of our voice-actors from Voicebooking.com.

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