Great voice over sessions don’t just happen. Much like a feature film, professional voice overs are crafted. A great script is written, voice actors that are perfect for the role are cast and an experienced director is chosen to guide the voice actor to the best possible performance. How does a director lead his team to get the perfect voice over?
VOPlanet talked with industry leading voice over pros Debbie Grattan and Kelley Buttrick about their experiences in directed sessions. They have great tips that will help you improve your directing abilities and valuable insights on what makes a great directed voice over session.
Top voice over actor Debbie Grattan has more than twenty-two years of experience providing quality voice over services worldwide. She has a degree in Drama from UC Irvine, extensive experience on stage, on camera and in the recording studio. Debbie has voiced more than ten thousand scripts for radio and TV commercials, infomercials, narration and phone-related audio. Debbie knows a thing or two about directed voice sessions.
Kevin: Debbie, you’ve voiced quite a few directed voice over sessions. A lot of focus is given to what happens during a session, which is vital. But it’s not just what happens during a session that makes things go smoothly. How important is preparation? What do you feel are the most important things a producer can do before a directed voice over session?
Debbie: A few things:
#1. Make sure we all have the FINAL APPROVED script. Sometimes, we find out with take 1 that the script I'm reading from may not be the same one everyone else in the session has been sent. So it's helpful for us all to be working from the same page.
#2. Designate a "director" beforehand if the session is a group call. Certainly everyone is there to hear and make suggestions as needed, but there needs to be a "captain" of the ship, who takes control of the session and keeps things moving. Sometimes, if that isn't evident, I will act as the moderator, asking the questions, garnering feedback, making suggestions, etc. But I always prefer to have someone else take that role, so I can just be the "talent."
#3. If there is a scratch track, or video timing that I need to hit, make sure to have that information to me prior to the session. Recently I was in a session that had been set up for weeks. But it wasn't until the beginning of the recording session when I was informed there was a scratch track video. As with most scratch tracks, it was not done by a professional VO, but one of the account reps. And they usually have no intonation or emphasis in the reading, but generally are reading as fast as they possibly can. The danger in that, is that the visual artist, graphic designer, or animation artist creates the video to match that timing. Then, when we actually meet online for the "real" VO, it turns out to be slower than the scratch read, and makes for additional work on the designer, to match new VO to the existing visual.
I can match a scratch track read...but often it just sounds too fast, and the client isn't happy.
My suggestion would be for the account manager to ask the VO talent for a scratch track, if they want to build a video prior to the actual session. Most talent are happy to provide this, as it makes their job much easier in the end to be matching your OWN VO rather than someone else’s...especially if that other voice is not a professional recording talent.
Kevin: What makes a great session director?
Debbie: Someone who knows what they want to hear and has the tools/language to be able to articulate it and make intelligent suggestions after each read to assist in getting talent to home in on what they want.
Someone who is succinct with their direction and allows the voice talent to do their thing. Sometimes, a director feels the need to explain too much. Professional talent get it pretty quickly, and profuse explanation is often just wasting everyone's time.
A great director is pleasant, professional, respectful and articulate and the voice talent should be too. Most sessions I'm a part of are a lot of fun. It's great to be able to collaborate on a creative idea with more than one mind. These days, many VO talents work on their own, without benefit of a director, so when we get that, it can bring the whole project to a higher level. Otherwise, we as voice talent are left to give our best guess as to what the client wants to hear. Sometimes we hit that easily, but other times, through no fault of our own, we may be going the wrong direction without someone there to turn us another way.
Kevin: What kind of feedback is the most useful during a session?
Debbie: It's good to stay positive as a director. I don't like to be placated, but if there is a lot of positive about the read and only a small bit of direction, then keep it light so we all realize we're on the same team, trying to create the best possible product.
Learn key terms to help voice talent understand not only the broad concepts you're looking to hear (i.e. more smile, professional, warmer, friend to friend, etc.) but also active statements that can help with pacing, articulation/pronunciation, and mood.
Since I come from an acting background, I will often ask who the audience is. Who am I talking to? Where are we? Where will this play? Corporate meeting? Doctor's office? Sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes I'm surprised at the answers I get in the session. So, it's important for us as actors to ask these questions to better inform our reads.
Kevin: Sometimes producers shy away from directed sessions because it can be intimidating to direct professional talent for the first time. What advice would you give someone who may be reluctant to jump on the line with a talent?
Debbie: I'm a very outgoing personality, so I enjoy getting to be in session with anybody as it's a nice change from the solo nature of day to day VO work. But I know there are those who are more introverted by nature and could be a little more shy about something like this. For them, it's like doing anything that may seem uncomfortable from the outside. Just do it. Jump in and just be yourself. You'll probably find your fears were unwarranted, and I doubt you'll leave the session traumatized.
We're all on the same team, just looking to do the best possible job we can. Voiceover actors are looking to please. They want to get you what you need and make your job easy. Most of us are very easy going and pretty good at allaying any fears that might result from a first-time director. And it's a lot easier to be in an online VO recording session, giving a few bits of guidance to talent to get what you want, than sitting in an edit bay, without having had a session, and grumbling that the talent didn't hit the copy the way you wanted to hear it. I like to get it right the first time, and save everybody time, and have fun in the process.
Getting it right the first time is what directing voice sessions is all about. No one knows this better that Kelley Buttrick. Kelley's clients often comment on her easy directability and knack for delivering the "voice in my head." She is a highly sought-after voice actor with clients like L'Oreal, Michelin, Country Crock, HSN and many others.
Kevin: Kelley, how should a director prepare for a session?
Kelley: A director's checklist will save time and money:
- Coordinate the Parties: Have the contact information of everyone involved on hand and make arrangements for people to be where they need to be at the time you need them to be there including end clients who may need to approve last-minute script changes.
- Time Script: Read it out loud or use an app like my free Time Your Script app where you can plug in a word count or cut-and-paste your script .
- Send Script: Distribute the approved script to the talent and sound designers as far ahead of time as possible.
Kevin: What kind of feedback is the most useful during a session?
Kelley: As a voice over talent, it's always helpful to get an idea of the intended audience, goals for the finished project and the general tone the director wants to hear before hitting the mic.
Kevin: What advice would you give to someone hoping to improve their directing skills?
Kelley: As with any skill, experience is the best teacher! To improve VO directing skills, I suggest sitting in on voiceover recording sessions. How? Observe directed sessions in your agency or ask to sit in with a mentor. Another way to experience a VO session would be to ask a local audio recording studio if you could observe a session.
Kevin: Tell us what the traits of a great session director? Do you have any tips for inspiring great voice actor performances?
Kelley: My favorite directors are those who know exactly what they want to hear but keep an open mind if there's time left to play. Since we've reached their target read quickly, they encourage playing with the read in the session time we have left. In many instances, the director hears something he/she didn't expect and will use one of those later "just for fun" reads.
Whether you are new to the voice over business or you are a veteran voice over director, insights from the voice actor’s side of the microphone are invaluable. Preparation before and guidance during a voice over session are vital to bringing out the best performance from voice talent. Working with session masters like Kelley and Debbie also ensures that your session will be a client-pleasing success.
VOPlanet chooses only top voice over session pros for our voice over team. The next time you have a voice over project that requires a VO session master, post it on VOPlanet.com. Casting is free and our voices are the best in the business.