The Blueprint for Directing & Conducting A Seamless Voiceover Session
During a voiceover recording session, managing the client and the talent simultaneously is a juggling act. So to avoid things from going wrong, what can you do to create a productive, successful, stress-free, and enjoyable session? As a professional voiceover talent with 20+ years of experience, I have gained insight over the years into what sets apart smooth recording sessions from chaotic ones. The following steps will provide a blueprint for how to conduct voiceover recording sessions like a pro so that you can sign off with a happy client, a happy talent, and a show-stopping voiceover.
Understand the Vision
Perceiving a creative vision the way the visionary sees it is difficult. You are not a mind reader, and articulating a creative vision isn’t the easiest thing to do. Depending on how what stage of development the project is in, this job can involve some detective work.
If the project is at the bare-bones stage the voiceover often ends up setting the tone for the rest of the project, so it is vital that the voiceover sets the right foundation. This is a great time to ask the client what the deeper meaning is beyond the script? What is being said behind the words, and how should this message be best delivered to the target audience? The answers to these questions will help anchor your understanding of the impact of the piece and the voiceover’s role in creating that impact.
When voiceover is the final step and everything else is else has already been completed, there are still many interpretations of what kind of voiceover can work with the piece and often many different takes do work — so it’s imperative to understand what emotional appeal to the client is looking for. Is the angle the client is going for a humorous, and playful appeal? Or a more serious and empathetic one? It can be helpful to listen to examples of existing voiceover the client likes. Ask them to describe what kind of voiceover they envision (i.e. strong, determined, gravitas etc) and then pull some examples of the style to confirm it with them. That way you can nail down your interpretation of their vision so that when you are in the session you know exactly what to direct the talent towards.
Manage Feedback & Create a Safe Space For Everyone
Know your roles and stick to them. If you are the client and you are working with a creative agency, standard practice is that your feedback is never delivered directly to the talent and is instead filtered through and delivered by the director. Unless you yourself have experience with directing and you know the principles for how to speak to actors when giving direction. If you are the director and the client is on the line, again make sure that you are the intermediary of direction between the client and the talent. Why is this so important? Because in order to get the best possible performance from your voiceover talent, you must establish a safe space for them, lead by empathy. Showing empathy towards your talent and their creative efforts will help them deliver a stronger performance. Since creative work involves a lot of personal exposure, empathy and positive language allow for deeper performance. If feedback isn’t managed and negative language is used the voiceover talent may without realizing it feel hurt and shut themselves down creatively. Make sure to use supportive, constructive criticism and avoid words of judgement at all costs. If not you risk your talent feeling attacked and ultimately lessening your chances of them being able to follow that direction as they are likely going through an inner downward spiral. Sound dramatic? Good voice acting requires vulnerability from the performer. It requires them to tap deep into our psyches and expose our inner selves. Sounds less dramatic when you look at it like that, right? If you want more tips on how to direct talent, I’ve got a whole post dedicated to the qualities that make an outstanding director.
Time is Money, So Stick To Your Role
It can be very easy when you are in the thick of a session to forget that precious time and money are ticking. In my experience as a voiceover artist, the more time spent on preparation before the recording session, understanding the vision, communication expectations and setting a structure for the session, the less studio time wasted. This allows for extra time at the end of the session to make sure all bases are covered and also gives the talent an opportunity at the end to re-record the full script using all of the feedback they’ve received throughout the session. That final recording in my experience is when the magic is made.
If everyone knows their role - client, talent, director, sound engineer etc. and they come in to do their part on time - and they don’t step on other people's toes - then the session goes smoothly and time is never a concern. But when too many people start sharing their opinion and extending themselves outside of their roles then the inefficiency snowballs and all of a sudden time becomes a huge concern.
To make sure the session doesn’t become chaotic and inefficient, you must set boundaries. Possible sensitive areas where boundaries need setting include approval, revisions, pickups, and script changes.
In a live directed session, the general rule is once the client signs off their approval the voiceover recording is complete. Make sure the client understands this precedent, and that if they want a re-record it generally comes at full cost. In non-live directed sessions, establish a layout for how many files you need from the talent, what their pickup policy is, and communicate the client’s timeline to the talent so they can accommodate.
In regard to setting boundaries with regards to script changes, ideally, the script will be set in stone before the voiceover session begins. This avoids future back and forth and the inefficiency of having to rerecord. However, when this is not possible it is crucial to establish boundaries about what is acceptable for the client to expect, and confirm that with the talent. Illustrate to the client the loss of resources last minute or after the fact changes cost them. If that is not a concern to them, then make sure to ask the talent for the revision policy and inform them that this outcome is likely so they can plan accordingly. That way, everyone involved is on the same page.
Enjoy The Process
Now that you know all of the foundational steps to make sure your recording session goes smoothly, it’s time to enjoy the process. It’s a lot easier to appreciate your job when you aren’t concerned about trying to decipher your client's vision or how to get what you need from your talent. I hope that these steps helped to clarify what practices contribute to a productive voiceover session and make your job simpler and less stressful.