Some seekers of voiceover talent may say they’re looking for a voice-over actor. But what they really need or expect may be someone who is much more than just a voice-over actor. It’s someone who can do double or even triple duty. In addition to playing a variety of roles in front of the microphone, professional voice-over actors often have plenty of opportunities to don a number of roles behind the scenes as well.
No, we don’t usually wash windows. But we do take on the roles of director, editor, writer, consultant – and in some cases I can even start to feel like an English teacher fixing up grammar and smoothing out vocabulary.
While these duties may not be part of a particular voice-over acting job description per se, they tend to come with the territory when you’ve worked in the business long enough, especially when running your own business as a VO actor entrepreneur. And they’re particularly common when you’re working with clients who are new to the scene or inexperienced with live recording sessions and the full scope of what voice-over work entails.
Many clients won’t even realize they need more than just a voice for their project when contacting me for assistance. An experienced professional voice-over talent will be able to understand some things the client does not know, and will ask questions and offer solutions to situations that the client may be oblivious to until partway down the road of hiring talent. It’s definitely something clients should keep in mind when they’re seeking out talent; being careful to choose someone with experience who can handle all the extras the job may entail.
You May Also Need a Director
In a voice-over session, the director is responsible for ensuring the session goes smoothly and the results mesh with the perfect sound the client is looking for. Even when I’m connecting my studio to another professional recording studio somewhere on the planet, (via ISDN, Skype, phone patch, Source Connect, ipdtl) and collaborating with the “creative team” on the line, (which could include the audio engineer, production personnel, writers, and the end client, among others) the studio engineer may act mostly as a conduit, leaving the creative team to perform the duty of directing the talent.
And at other times during a live patch session, I’m dealing with just one person, maybe the business owner, end client, or even video production manager, who may not be exactly sure what sound they want, and is expecting me to put on my director hat, and use my professional VO experience to interpret the copy as I see best. Voice-over actors can step in here, and I frequently do, by self-directing my own read and delivering a number of options that could work for the audience and script. After asking the client what they desire for the read during the session, I will parrot back to them what I’m hearing in their direction, and I may offer several different takes, each with a slightly different tone and feel.
This kind of self-direction always happens when we haven’t scheduled a live phone patch or ISDN session, and I am just emailed a script and expected to deliver final audio. In this instance, I use my best judgement in understanding what is needed for the vocal tone of the script, and may offer a couple of options as a sample for audio approval before proceeding with recording and editing the entire script.
In some cases, clients not only need help with the overall sound of the voice, but with the entire structure of the recording session. Do they want to record the whole script in one full take, record it in steps, or record a series of lines a few different ways (ABC series) and then review and adjust? It’s not all that uncommon to have to walk some clients through the entire process.
On the flipside, clients who conduct sessions all the time have the process down pat. They detail exactly what they want, how they want it, and provide helpful direction along the way.
Directing skills definitely come from experience in the industry, as evidenced by long-time VO talent and clients who have directed sessions numerous times and know how to get the best results out of each and every one of them.
an Editor or Writer
A voice-over actor’s editing duties include putting any final touches on the recording before delivery. But they sometimes start way before that point by editing or rewriting portions of the script.
Sometimes a piece of commercial voiceover copy just doesn’t fit, requiring words or entire sentences to be taken out and reworked into the script. And sometimes this needs to happen when the recording is already in session, with edits and reworking happening on the fly. You’d think copy writers and directors would time their copy, either with a stopwatch, or even by word count, to understand what can fit in 30 or 60 seconds, but often, this is not the case. Enough practice at this dilemma has given me a good handle on the word-editing process, ensuring we don’t have to cancel the session and re-book, just for copy changes to the script.
Another time editing and writing skills come into play is when the script is written by someone whose first language is not English. Certain words, incorrect verb tenses or other issues will be apparent in the script, and is something that’s usually fairly straightforward to fix while we’re moving through it. This is definitely where the English teacher part comes in.
While I haven’t been trained as an English teacher, my acting and communication experience has played a huge role in helping me with the editing and writing duties that come up. Strong writing and language skills likewise help me communicate with people not only during a live recording session, but also through email or over the telephone.
Communication skills are essential for running any business in general, and for the VO industry in particular.
An Experienced Consultant
Consultants get to provide insight, input and guidance about the voice-over project at hand, and there can be several areas that could use a little guidance. One area is the audio format type for the final recording; a question that can leave some clients baffled. If I can’t determine what audio format they need, (wav, mp3, ulaw, personal specs) I send them over to the company’s in-house production team or IT or IP person for guidance within their system.
Consulting on scripts is often related to the length, especially with outbound messages for phone scripts or short commercial spots. Some clients may not realize there is only so much copy that can fit into a 30-second spot – and the ear and mind can only take in so much information before the listener shuts down and simply won’t remember any of it.
Instead of outlining every single detail about a product, I can help clients boil it down to the most important points to mention during that 30-second ad or outbound phone message.
One more essential role voice-over actors are always playing is that of student. New things pop up all the time, especially in the realm of technology. Experienced VO talent will not be afraid to learn new things – even when those things can initially seem like a real pain – as technology is constantly evolving to ultimately make our lives easier (so they say).
Making the clients’ life easier is the overall aim of any seasoned voice-over actor, and most of us will have no problem playing the roles of director, editor, writer and consultant to ensure exactly that.