Do the work first!
Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but in this blog, we're going to talk about how taking certain steps before you even get into the booth, and asking the right questions from your clients, can help to better inform your work, and put you miles ahead before you even get to recording.
That's right, ya gotta do the work first!
So let's imagine you've been booked for a job, and the client loved your reel/audition/custom demo and wants to book you. What are the essential things to ask?
We're not going to talk about quoting in this blog, that will feature in a whole blog all on its own. Instead, let's focus on the content of the voiceover.
1. Timing, Style, and Tone
One of the first things that I like to enquire about (even though I may have done a custom demo where I have nailed what the client wanted) is the timing of the piece, and what they describe as the style and tone.
How long does the voiceover need to be? Often times the pacing of my audition or demo might not really fit into the time allotted with the amount of script provided. This is important to catch early on. If the client is expecting you to get a high word count into 1 minute 30 seconds, it's going to change the way you read.
What is the style or tone of the piece? Now this is interesting in terms of the words the client uses to describe the job, and it can massively inform the way you choose to interpret the text. Is it easygoing, conversational, and approachable? Or is it strong, confident, and assured? Is it a mixture of these things? I've always found that defining this element can really help inform how I position myself in the booth, do I want to sit down because the piece is very informal? Do I want to put on a shirt because it's a very official piece of work? ( I know this might sound insane, but don't dismiss the idea until you've tried it - actors use costumes and props to bring their performances to life, so why shouldn't you).
Timing, style, and tone always feel like the foundations to me, so use them to make sure you know the basics, before moving forward.
2. References and Words
Normally when a client hires me, if they don't provide any kind of instruction, or aren't entirely sure what they are looking for, I ask them for any references they might have that are similar to what they want to achieve. Or I ask if they have any words to describe the piece. Now this ties into style and tone, but I think using vocally appropriate words can make a big difference.
References - so this can be both a great help and a hindrance, so be warned. I have had clients send me references for jobs, saying they'd like it something like this - and it is so far away from my vocal quality that I'm not entirely sure what to think. And so continues the conversation. But I have had clients who send over very relevant work, that's not necessarily another vo, but actually, music that they are considering, videos with the same feel to them, and materials that can better inform the way I approach my read.
Words - Ever had a client ask you to be more fruitful, more engaging, more.... light-hearted? Now these may or may not be valid directions, but knowing how to interpret them in the voice is a whole other thing. We're often asked to be engaging, but to some that might mean slowing down, emphasizing more, and speaking with crisp diction, but to others, it might mean picking up the pace, being more excited, and adding a certain quality to your voice.
So when I start describing how I interpret the work with my client, I always try to be specific to the voice, I use words about the pacing, is it energetic, calm, excited, or measured? I use words about the vocal tone, is it breathy, deep, melodious, or resonant? All of these things have a big impact, and even if you've provided a custom demo, can help the client to really hear what you're providing.
3. Proofing the Copy
Now I tend to take a hardline if a script hasn't been proofed in any way before reaching me. In this instance I politely send it back to the client, perhaps pointing out some of the errors, and inform them that it needs to be proofed properly.
However, when I say proofing the copy, I really mean VO proofing the copy. Which consists of formatting in a way that you are comfortable with, checking for pronunciations or unknown words, and then marking up the script.
Formatting - as someone who does a lot of long-form work, sometimes a page of words can just be a bit overwhelming. So why not break it down, add in some spacing, or just separate the text out when there are natural breaks in the structure or thoughts? This can really help when your recording. To let the brain know that it's okay to take a little break, or shift into another thought.
Pronunciations - Now this is obviously very important, and I'm not talking about the obvious stuff here. We all know that prestidigitation is a long word, and isn't the easiest to say. Those are the words that we all look out for, and make sure we say correctly. But what about the other ones, what about the simple words that perhaps the client wants you to say in a particular way? If there is any doubt, highlight the word, and double-check.
Remember a big part of this entire process is about nailing the recording in one session, ensuring the client views you as an absolute pro.
Marking Up - Now this is one of the final steps as we get right into the performance of the copy. Marking up can be done in lots of different ways, and really it's a very personal thing. But for me, I like to keep it simple. I use a red pen to make certain annotations.
/ side slash normally means a pausette (small pause, not usually long enough to breathe)
| straight slash denotes an end of thought, or shift in another direction
And then any lines above words mean I want to lift that word ever so slightly.
For me, that's it, I don't like to have too much on the page otherwise I find it can get distracting.
4. And lastly...
Some of the things that can also be important are defining and understanding the audience of a project, and knowing where it will be shown or listened to. These also tie in nicely with the style and tone process, all better informing your work, and creating an incredible voice-over that your client will love.
So remember, do the work first, and then when you step into the booth, the process will be easy, and effective, and you can concentrate on what really matters, the performance.
Happy voicing folks