In the modern voiceover world, with countless ways of sourcing work and endless clients seeking talented voices, the best thing you can do before you start a job is to ask questions.
In this blog, we're going to talk about the questions that need to be asked and why.
But first let me tell you about a mistake I made recently. A mistake you say, surely not. I know I know, it's rare, but every now and then I make mistakes, just like everyone does.
And that mistake was assuming I knew exactly what my client wanted.
I was recently working on an e-learning project with a repeat client. They sent me the script, we finalised all the details and I scheduled in the recording time.
I delivered the files without a hitch, and then the client came back to me and said,
"...actually Seb, we'd like to go with a more conversational, relaxed tone this time."
The client apologised for not making this clear initially, and then I had to re-record the entire job. Luckily it wasn't an enormous word count!
Now despite the client not being upfront with the information about the tone and style of voice they wanted, I actually don't blame them, because I consider it my job to make sure I have all the information I need. And I was lulled into a false sense of security because I had worked for that client before, and assumed I didn't need to ask.
But you always need to ask.
Even if someone hires me from my demos or an audition, either via a roster, a pay to play site or directly, I always ask either:
Which demo of mine did you like? and what was it about the tone you enjoyed?
Are you happy for me to match the style with my audition, or would you like to hear anything else?
Often times I have found that a client who books me from an audition likes my initial read, but also wants to add something - can we slow it down, speed it up, can we make it softer. Or just generally enhancing what they heard in the first place to be in line with the project they'd imagined.
So what are the things that we're guessing at when it comes to voiceover work.
The overall tone and pitch.
The energy behind the read.
The pacing and timing.
The style of music to be used.
Where the end product will be used.
Who the audience is.
Who the client is.
What the clients real ethos is.
Now of course, sometimes we get the script, and hey presto, it's glaringly obvious what we need to do.
And sometimes the client outlines everything for us.
When I first started voicing I remember having a sense of foreboding about having to send an email back to a client with more questions, we feel like we are wasting peoples time, we feel like we should just know. But trust me, the client is going to be much happier when you establish what they want professionally, then when you avoid talking to them and hope you get it right.
However, something I have found as a professional voiceover, is that words, like a good wine or perhaps european cinema, are very subjective.
Now we all know what the word sincere means, but how does that sound to you?
We all know how angry can sound, but it can be expressed in so many different ways and levels (are we talking through gritted teeth angry, or full blown shouting angry, or calm and severe angry), and me being angry is going to be very different than you being angry.
So being specific with your questions is just as important as asking them.
One thing I practised when I first started voicing was applying these individual words to my voice, and seeing how they varied.
So when I'm in a session and a client says to me, 'ok I love the sincerity, but we're getting a bit too emotional, let's just dial that back a bit,' I have the ability to scale those words. To understand what a little less sincerity sounds like.
So asking the questions helps to inform our inner ear as well, to trigger the emotional responses we have to the work, and how we portray those words.
Last week I voiced a script that started like this:
'Our industry is complex...and its issues are only multiplying.'
What does that sentence say to you?
A Serious topic?
A sense of being an employee through the word 'Our?'
An idea of things getting worse as problems multiply?
All of these things might point towards a serious, foreboding voiceover with a sense of gravitas and weight.
But guess what the client wanted, something light hearted, fun and easy going. Say that sentence in that way, go on I'll wait.
It totally works, of course it does, that sentence can be said in a myriad of ways.
But asking the right questions not only helps us establish what the client wants, but it helps to get us out of our preconceived ideas, which let's face it, can sometimes be wrong.
So let's go over the questions you have to ask, and some others that you might not have thought about before we round off.
Ok, the obvious ones:
Is there a time constriction to the voiceover / video?
What kind of tone are you looking for?
Do you have any examples of my work or others that you like?
Where will the voiceover be shown?
But you could also ask:
Whats the ethos of your company?
Is there a certain energy behind the script?
What are you hoping the listener will feel when they hear your script?
Are there any specific visuals that go with my words?
Good clients will give you lots of information, great clients will send you mockups of the video and images to inspire you. But sometimes, when you get nothing, start by asking yourself some questions, and then go back to the client with anything you are unsure of.
Trust me, you'll always get a better product when you know more.
Happy Voicing, Producing and Creating Everyone