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.
Chris Burnett - seasoned voiceover talent, on-camera talent, coach, creative thought-leader and hopefully your new best friend. Let's chat-preferably over cocktails.