Have you ever felt “over your head” in a VO session while trying to direct voice over talent? Or perhaps you’ve underwhelmed with the final recording from your selected talent, even though you thought you gave them proper direction.
Getting exactly what you want from a voice over performance starts even before your VO talent sits down at the microphone. Here are a few easy things you can do before you get into the session that will help to guide you and your voice talent to the best possible end result.
Experienced voice over talent may not require much directing at all, although it never hurts to cover your bases to ensure your end result is exactly what you’re looking for. Even with more than 20 years in the industry, I typically prefer to do a phone patch with new clients (and repeat clients when they have requests that are outside the norm), just to make sure we’re both on the same page. And getting on that page is easy when clients provide some essential information before the session.
As a bonus, use this one-page checklist to help you remember everything mentioned in this post.
Before Directing Voice Over Talent, Provide This Info
1. Identify the Talent’s Role: Is your talent playing the bold announcer? The knowledgeable educator? The gentle best friend? Let them know the role the voice is playing. Experienced voice over actors will create their own personal back story to get into that role and execute it with conviction.
2. Give a Clear Rundown on Your Audience: What will the VO be used for? Where will it be played? Who are we talking to? Although these might seem obvious to you, they may not be obvious to the voice over talent. Certainly, announcing speakers at a conference of toy manufacturers would have a different feel versus narrating a video for buyers of a luxury car. These questions also play a part in pricing, so they need to be discussed before the session and even before the price is set. Share specific details about your target audience to ensure the talent knows to whom he or she is speaking.
3. Describe Your Desired Sound: Use highly specific descriptive words to indicate how you want a script to sound. Good choices are words like warm, friendly, concerned, emotionless, comic, serious, quirky, hip, brassy, sassy, movie-trailer big. Not-so-good choices are words like nice, flat, conversational. These tend to be much too general and open to many differing interpretations. Even though most experienced voice talent will have a pretty good idea of where to start, I often tell clients, I’m not a mind reader, and there can be varying levels of “friendly” which may or may not fit with the idea in your head.
Another ideal way to dial in on what you want your script to sound like is to fill in three blanks with one-word answers:
This read should sound ____ (ex: uplifting).
This read should not sound ____ (ex: serious).
The listener should feel ___ (ex: inspired).
4. Cite Some Specific Examples: Review the voice over talent’s audio and video portfolio so you can reference a specific voice over demo or sample that your talent has already created. Or, you could provide a link to an audio or video of someone else who has the desired sound. I get scripts sent to me all the time that have minimal direction but reference a particular demo on my website for the vocal delivery they want. That always makes it very easy for me to know exactly how to nail their desired delivery.
5. Video, Slide Show or Music: It helps immensely when the talent knows the visuals and music that will be paired with his or her voice. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a video is worth 100,000 words and the music is worth about 50,000 (give or take a thousand). I’ve even recorded VO with the background music in my headset, to get me in the proper mood during the session. It’s a great trick, if you can make that available to your chosen talent before or during the session.
6. Provide a Script That’s Really Ready: Read your script out loud, noting any tricky words, uncommon names or desired pronunciations. Phonetic spelling is good, and showing rhymes for a specific word or syllable is even better. You might even catch grammatical errors, which will save time during the session. Outline direction for:
- Numbers, including phone numbers (5500 = five-five-zero-zero OR fifty-five hundred OR five-five-oh-oh)?
- Words with multiple pronunciations, such as “either” or “neither”
- Pronunciation of people’s names if the name is difficult, unusual or strays from typical pronunciation
- Unfamiliar words, foreign phrases or other items that could benefit from clarification
Get additional tips for readying your script from my blog on Voice Over Mistakes to Avoid.
7. Be Clear on Timing Specs: If the voice track needs to be timed to a video or fit a specific timeframe, make sure you give the talent a head’s up in advance. Most pros work with stopwatch in hand and are extremely aware of how to fit copy into the desired timeframe. But also, make sure that the copy can fit into the timeline. It can be frustrating to talent when they get a :30 spot, that’s way over-written. Do your best to provide an accurately timed script.
8. Use Brackets for Direction: If certain parts of the script require voice over acting moments, use brackets to outline specific emotions and tones to hit at those points. Remember to keep those emotions and tones very specific, avoiding the too-general terms like “nice” or “conversational.” Try terms like “happily surprised,” “shocked and angry” or “unemotional and stoic” instead.
Regardless of the type of direction you’re providing, it’s important to be clear, specific and concise. Ambiguity, contradictions or way too much direction can only lead to frustration and confusion on both sides of the fence. Our goal as voice-over actors is to deliver the best possible performance in the shortest amount of time.
Proper direction ensures that “best performance” happens in every session!
Download: “The Voice Over Talent Director’s Checklist”
Be sure to also read Part 1 of this series: “How to Get the Best Voice Over Talent Performance: Choosing Talent“