Voiceover is a particularly unique medium for a director because of the many issues that are unique to the voiceover industry. First, the majority of voiceover directing is done remotely. Whereas, on an on-camera commercial set, directors have the opportunity to converse face-to-face with the talent, in the voiceover world, the majority of sessions are conducted from two separate locations. Consequently, many directing nuances are lost due to the inability to interpret voiceover direction in-person. Next, often times, individuals that work outside of the creative field may be placed in a role that requires them to offer direction in a voiceover session. For instance, a corporate employee might be heading up a video project and struggle to play the role of ‘director’ in this unfamiliar creative landscape. As a result, the inability to “speak-creative” can become a barrier. Technology is another tricky concern that can complicate voiceover directing - lag-time, software barriers or other general Internet glitches can sometimes make it difficult for voiceover directors to accurately interpret the voiceover talent’s audio. Needless to say, with all of these unique directing challenges, discovering clever ways to communicate creative intent quickly and efficiently allows all parties to get ahead of any voiceover directing complications before they begin.
So what is the secret? Well, beginning with a clear and tangible perspective means that all parties can begin a critique from the same place. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I am a believer in operating from an objective piece of content to establish tone when working in a subjective medium. There are many ways to introduce an objective piece of content to establish a creative benchmark - one way, for example, is by leading a voiceover session with playback of the talent’s original demo and highlighting the nuances that prompted the director to cast the talent. Another alternative is to simply play a previous creative project from the brand that has a similar pace, tone and vibe to the one being created in the session. Still, there is also a much simpler tool to establish objectivity at the beginning of a voiceover session, and despite its effectiveness, this strategy is surprisingly much less utilized…
Consider beginning a voiceover session with the edited music-bed.
Music and voiceover are always dancing together – bringing out the best in the other. So if a music bed has already been selected and approved by the client, invite the voiceover artist to listen. A dynamic music bed saves every creative in the room a tremendous amount of time and frustration, because a song follows the traditional narrative structure and will have an introduction, emotional pivot and a resolution, just as a commercial has a beginning, middle and end. Meanwhile, nestled inside this narrative arc is a pace and a tone, or vibe. Therefore, the structure of the music, along with the pace and tone, all combine to create a roadmap for the direction of the voiceover.
Simply put, many times, the music-bed itself IS the direction for the voiceover talent.
By playing the edited music track, the voiceover performer can hear many subjective elements without requiring the creative team to explain the desired sound. The voiceover talent can hear the introduction, notice the music change (emotional pivot) and hear the resolve. In essence, a music bed offers the energy, tone, pacing and emotional adjustments as a nice bundled up package providing clear direction without the need for creative clarifications.
In short, having a music bed cut and ready-to-go before the voiceover session gets ahead of any voiceover directing challenges by saving all parties time. The sound engineer, voiceover talent and voiceover director can quickly get on the same page because they all have an objective piece of content that allows them to begin work on the same canvas. Each person can hear where the tone shifts in the music, agree on the pace and then immediately dial-in the overall vibe.
Remember that time you read a blog post on a voiceover talent's website and thought, ‘wow-that was insightful and extremely valuable information.’ Then you shared it with all of your creative friends and opined, ‘if only there was a way to meet Chris Burnett and we could work together…’ And finally you realized that…Wait! You CAN. Let’s connect and chat about your video project, creative and voiceover needs. You can reach me at Chris@ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com and I look forward to connecting and sharing your career successes.
Looking to maximize every voiceover session? Five tips to get the best out of voice talent with a BONUS tip at the bottom...
Let's be honest - placing a "process" on creativity can be a moving target due to its subjective nature. So how does an advertising agency, video producer or creative director ensure success from voiceover talent when every session is a little bit different? Below is a simple formula to maximizing sessions regardless of the different scenarios surrounding it.
1) Give the voiceover talent the script as early as possible.
Often times the voiceover talent receives the script immediately before beginning a session, so there is very little time to prep or read it through. For the best performance from the start, it helps to provide the script (even if it is rough) at least 15 minutes before the session. This allows the voiceover talent to have any pronunciation questions prepared while also noting any tongue-twisters before the session, and marking the script for optimal performance.
2) Begin by playing the original audio from the voiceover talent you hired.
In most cases, an advertising agency or director has hired a specific voiceover talent based on the pre-recorded demo that the voiceover talent provided.
It is preferable to begin the session by referencing this audio so everyone has an objective place to start from in regards to tone. At this point, as the director, you can offer early feedback on the audition that provides a road-map for both parties on how the piece should sound. For instance, “Chris – we liked the energy and personality you brought to this particular set of lines. In the first take, can you keep that same vibe but come down at the end of the line so it sounds more like a statement?”
3) Present a brief background of the concept.
It is surprising how often a voiceover session begins and the first comment from the director is, “let’s grab a take.” Time is extremely valuable, but before hitting the record button, consider beginning with a general explanation of the tone of the piece, the campaign and the company culture. For instance, "this is a friendly, welcoming piece inviting new customers to try out this company’s new product. Their current advertising environment centers around younger audiences who are in-the-know. So we cast you because in your demo, we liked how you sounded cool, hip and spoke to the target audience." Then, let the voiceover talent hear the music or see the rough cut of the picture with the scratch track. By providing a small amount of background information, this ensures that everyone, from the advertising agency to the voiceover talent, is on the same-page when beginning.
4) Lead Your Critiques with a Compliment
Every person, regardless of their field of expertise, enjoys a compliment from a professional peer. Voiceover talent and actors are no different. During the first take, listen closely for an opportunity to praise the actor’s performance and consider leading your critiques with a compliment. This small gesture invites the voiceover talent into the creative environment and softens future critiques. By extending a small compliment, directors can establish a safe-space for creative-play, and bring out the best in the performer.
5) Less is More
Performance is subjective and collaborative by nature, so voiceover perfection is in the ear of the beholder. Therefore, power is having multiple options of lines in various styles of delivery for the final presentation to the end-client. Rather than explain at-length what is needed, mention a small critique and let the voiceover talent give you variations. You can then hone-in on the target by referencing your favorite take of the variations. For instance, “Hey, Chris - can you give me an ABC of this line with a little more attitude?” Then, “those three takes were great, and my preference is C. Let’s roll another set of three in the style of C."
Here are a examples of simple, brief phrases that work well:
"Chris - that was nice - let's try it again with more of a smile throughout,"
"Great, Chris; this time let's try it more determined,"
"Wonderful read; can we go again with a slower pace on the front-half?,"
"I love the delivery. Chris, can we emphasize this word on the next one?"
By keeping brevity in the critiques and leading with a quick positive statement, it allows more time to actually record so everyone can operate from an objective piece of audio versus discussing a subjective idea of what they want. For this reason, when offering critiques and asking for alternate versions of a line, less is always more.
BONUS TIP! Did you notice the words "we" and "let's?" Collaborative words work best when offering critiques, because the best creative is a team-effort.
Did you find this helpful? Please reach out if you have any questions you would like addressed in future articles. For more perspectives from inside the booth and creative needs, please reach out at Chris@ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com
As a creative director, video director, copywriter, booth director or advertising professional, are you offering direction or are you simply paraphrasing the script for the actor? If you find yourself summarizing the script to voiceover talent, consider starting with the tone of the piece and then revealing the “why” to the talent.
Let us consider the following scenario from a creative director during a voiceover session:
Creative Director says: “Have you had a chance to look at the script? Basically, it’s a COUPLE who walks into a gas station and the STORE CLERK asks the COUPLE if they would like to buy a lottery ticket. The COUPLE finds out they won the lottery after they scratch their ticket and they can’t believe it. Let’s take a pass whenever you’re ready.”
Here, we see a scenario where the booth director has offered an abridged version of the script to the talent. Many times offering a short synopsis of the script is confused with offering direction to voiceover talent. If a commercial voiceover script has been provided with an adequate amount of time for the actor to prepare (minimum of 15 minutes), then a summary of the script is unnecessary.
Instead, consider focusing on the tone of the piece.
To communicate the tone of the piece, welcome the voiceover talent into the creative process by providing the context of the script versus a summary.
For instance, the creative director could say, “our client has a new scratch off ticket, and this piece is to create excitement around this new scratch-off. We are trying to communicate to the audience that even the largest purse can change the winners’ life.”
From this background information, it is clear to the voiceover talent that the message that is trying to be conveyed in the piece is ‘excitement and life-changing.’ Therefore, our hero, the COUPLE, now knows to dial up the enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the STORE CLERK might hear this tonal direction and think, ‘I need to ease off the eagerness and sound more aloof to elicit more contrast with the COUPLE.’
By simply communicating the context of the piece, the tone is established, and the creative director has offered the actors a road map for a more nuanced read.
After this tone has been established, focus on why your advertising agency created this particular script for the client. Often, creative directors that communicate the concept of the script to the actor will reveal the “why.” For instance, using the lottery scratch-off scenario: “Chris – our advertising agency created this script because we want to highlight that ordinary couples can change their lives with a scratch-off. We want the COUPLE role to highlight that partners can enjoy scratch-offs together. The COUPLE represents all partners – whether they are best friends, co-workers, love interests, any duo that would like to make a life-changing memory. Our creative team and copywriter envision the COUPLE walking in together after a hard day of work and the winning ticket changes their life. In this sense, the lottery is more than a ticket; it is a memory, a shared experience or a ritual that bonds co-workers, family members, friends, etc.”
Okay. Now we have some insight into the “why” or the purpose of the piece. With the intention of the piece now clear, the voiceover talent can make more informed choices based off of these insights. It is clear that the copywriter placed the “COUPLE” in the script to highlight the excitement of the lottery while also instilling in the listener that these tickets create lasting memories with your loved ones. To stimulate that excited, memorable feeling, the voiceover talent may choose to take the listener on a journey by beginning the piece tired from a long day of work. Then, the COUPLE might offer a slow build into a realization that life has changed. And then, “oh, yeah – I’m with my partner, too!”
In short, if you are a creative director, video director, copywriter, booth director or advertising professional looking to avoid summary-traps while eliciting deeper performances, communicate the tone and offer the “why” to voiceover talent. By welcoming the voiceover talent into the creative process, all parties can dive deeper into the commercial copy and offer more dynamic interpretations of the piece.
Remember that time you read an awesome blog post from a creative talent on his website and you decided you need to get to know each other? Audio, voiceovers, copywriting, editing, idea generation, turn-key creative...let's go. Do you have any creative needs? I can be reached at Chris@ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com or 213.761.8212.
Let's have a brief chat about the economics of content in today's market, because it is no secret that the "global attention span is narrowing." As the attention span of a viewer decreases, the volume of content has to increase so you still have the opportunity to catch the viewer. So how can a video production company, advertising agency, or producer shoot more content while maintaining quality?
Shoot in bulk with your Advertising Agency or Video Production Team
A simple way to gather more content quickly is to shoot the material all at once with the video production team.
So when developing concepts, strive for concepts that play well together as a series versus stand-alone ideas.
Then, rather than set up lights, camera, and sound for one concept, you will have a series of fleshed-out ideas that can be shot on the same day/time, maximizing your time and resources. You can then make the finals slightly different through wardrobe changes, different camera angles and lighting adjustments. Release each completed video separately on different days and boom – your advertising agency, video team and producer, look like a content-generating production machine.
Crowd-Source Concepts from your Target Audience
Content creation and idea generation can be difficult when developing ideas on a daily basis for video production. In order to navigate this challenge, reach out to your own audience for inspiration. Ask them what they would like to learn, see and consume from your advertising agency, video production team or creatives, so you can free up your creative energy for client projects and new business pitches. By simply listening and maintaining a dialogue with your target audience, you will discover content needs while simultaneously growing engagement of your followers.
Allow your Video Production Team to Edit On-The-Go
If your advertising agency is striving for quantity, a desk or stationary location will inevitably provide a barrier for your video production team, since you are required to be at that location to edit. As an alternative to spending many late evenings editing small clips for clients and social media on Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, download a basic editing app on your mobile phone. Quick, simple edits with royalty-free splashes of music dramatically increase editing speed because you can do it from any location - appointments, Zoom meetings, basically anywhere you find yourself waiting with downtime. By keeping your footage in the cloud and utilizing an editing app, you can take your editing with you on-the-go. This will increase the speed of completed videos from your creative production team.
Are you looking for quality content AND lightning speed? Reach out and let's chat about your creative needs. Audio, voiceovers, copywriting, editing, idea generation - do you have a creative idea that needs fleshed out? I can be reached at Chris@ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com or 213.761.8212. ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com
When sending a longer piece of copy to voiceover talent, it is customary to not always send the whole script. Why? Because many times you will not want to listen to the entire piece from a voiceover artist, since there are many candidates submitting for one job. However, before sending the trimmed down version of your script to the talent, consider doing the following:
Rather than arbitrarily picking a spot to the cut the copy, ensure that you are selecting a portion of the script that includes an emotional adjustment. Typical narrative pieces have a beginning, middle and end. For instance, in the commercial world, this might include a “problem and a solution,” whereas in the corporate narration world this might involve “where we have been versus where we are going.”
Therefore, if you would like to hear more engaging reads from talent, you must ensure that the copy has at least two emotional points in the trimmed-down version.
By keeping at least one emotional adjustment in your script, you have an objective moment in which you can note a transitional tone from the voiceover artist. Not only will you hear more nuanced performances in the auditioning process, but you will also arrive at your session with confidence that the talent can interpret the longer version of the copy.
If you have questions regarding your next project, please reach out.
As creatives, we may not always be communicating with clients that work in a similar space. For instance, as a voiceover talent, I may voice an internal piece and take direction from an HR representative, and this individual may not be accustomed to communicating tone and direction to voiceover talent. Therefore, it is important to meet your client in familiar territory.
Are you struggling to understand a client's desired tone? Rather than asking the client how they would like the project to look and sound, consider asking about the company culture.
Usually, the culture within a company is reflected throughout the branding, both internally and externally. By having your client describe their company culture to you, they are effectively communicating the tone and style of the messaging.
For instance, if the company offers a relaxed, remote working environment and encourages casual dress, their messaging is typically delivered to the audience in the same manner. Alternatively, if a company operates from a fun, creative, personality-driven space, then the messaging will more-often-than-not reflect the entertaining, quirky nature of its employees.
In short, communicating a project’s intended tone can be a tricky task for individual's outside the creative field. However, by having the creative team clearly understand the core values and culture of your client's company, you can easily grasp the style and honor this in your content. For several examples of different “styles” of corporate e-learning narration projects, please visit ChrisBurnettVoiceActor.com/elearning
If you have questions regarding your project, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Chris Burnett - seasoned voiceover talent, on-camera talent, coach, creative thought-leader and hopefully your new best friend. Let's chat-preferably over cocktails.