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VOICE ACTING
If You Could Give Advice To Voice Over
Producers, What Would You Tell Them?
April 25, 2017

By J. Christopher Dunn
Voice Actor

Ever want to be a fly on the wall to eavesdrop on a juicy, secret conversation that's going on with a bunch of voice pros?

A while ago, a few of my voice over friends and I got together for a virtual chitchat and came up with a list of helpful session tips we'd share with producers if they'd only ask. The discussion was sparked by two producers who followed up with me about what they could do better during sessions. 

Typically during a time with a producer or director, voice talent take direction. We hear what they want and we make every effort to make them happy. Producers and directors make us sound good and we can't thank them enough.

Yet by the end of our VO pro conversation, we'd essentially created a go-to list of best practices for producers and directors - things that might make a great session even better. Voice talent can pick up some helpful tips here, as well.

FROM THE MOUTHS OF VO PROS ...

Imagine being at the local pub or coffee joint and overhearing this conversation…  

"Keep the sessions light, relaxed and fun where possible. Nobody’s life is on the line.”  
"The thing about voice talent, as opposed to actors doing VO, is that we are generally affable and have a desire to fulfill the vision of the producer rather than have the producer conform to our artistic vision.”  
"Always compliment them first.”  
"Clear communication. From my time in the producer’s chair, I found that open, clear communication and friendliness got what I needed every time. It’s recording, not rocket science”  
"Keep their confidence high.”  
"One safety is appropriate. When a producer asks for SEVERAL safeties, then I’ve either not hit the magic spot, or I’m totally clueless to what I’m being directed to do. In either situation, those extra takes are really not for safety, it’s more like the director saying, 'What else ya got?' Yeah, there are times what a director says and what a talent hears is a mismatch.”  
"Can't tell you how many sessions have been saved because of safety takes. Sometimes there are micro issues in your 'good' take that you don’t hear until final processing of the vocals - and many times, the safety take can be even better than the 'good' one because the pressure is off the talent. I used that as a technique to get the delivery I wanted on numerous occasions.”  
"In a commercial session, time your script before the session starts, and if it’s in danger of being long, have some edits in mind beforehand.”  
"Always have the check cut so you can pay the talent when they leave!”  
"Be positive, encouraging, and be mindful of the fact you both want the same thing and by working together, you’ll accomplish it.”  
"Trust the talent to tell the story. Don’t micro direct!”  
"I’d never say this to a producer, but: Know what you’re looking for before you hear it.”  
"Sometimes the talent is not seeing the story the way the producer is hearing the story in their minds. I remember working with a talent once a long time ago in a galaxy far away where I was directing something that I had written. I could not get the talent to inflect the words I wanted inflected. I do this to myself in self-directed sessions. I record, and then during the edit, I hear that I inflected the second word in a two-word grouping and send myself back into the booth to redo it. Sometimes by the time I get into the booth and find the script and record it again, I end up doing the same thing.”  
"My advice to producers is, don’t settle. If you haven’t gotten exactly what you wanted, explain what you want done differently and go again. And once you do get what you want, say so."  
"The moment a producer makes the VO feel welcome and at home, he/she can lead you a million miles in any direction.”  
"It’s challenging working with anyone who isn’t sure what they’re looking for, and it seems a bit time consuming coaching a client or producer on how to coach us. In the friendliest way possible, I would tell them to call me when they have a good idea on how they want the script read. Or, if the rate is good and the script is short, I don’t mind doing multiple takes for them and avoiding the live directed session altogether.”  
"Know what you want! Be open to possibilities. But know what you want before the talent steps in front of the mic.”  
"Remember why you hired this particular talent in the first place. They are trying to essentially interpret what is in your head and give their own spin on it.”  
"Be clear in your communication on what you are listening for. And if you don’t know, let the talent know that you would like to try a few different approaches to the project, and even ask for suggestions. Creating a comfortable atmosphere is also a big help.”  

NOW, MY ADVICE ...

Adding to what was said by other VO pros, here is what I shared with the two producers on that chat:
  • Make sure the script is final and has been approved by the client.
  • Keep the session relaxed and offer input when necessary.
  • Allow the talent some creative freedom.
  • Keep the momentum of the session moving forward.
  • Take breaks during long-from narration sessions.
  • When hearing mouth noises, suggest a water break.
  • For short sessions with commercial scripts, allow the talent to make it through the script once before taking them in a different direction.
I’m sure there are more that haven’t been mentioned. So, I ask you, what would be the single best thing you would share that would improve workflow during sessions?
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ABOUT J. CHRISTOPER
J. Christopher Dunn is a professional voice actor who lives in the Pacific Northwest close to Seattle. He voices commercials, web demos, podcasts, product demonstrations, telephony projects and documentaries. His voice is described as friendly, warm and trustworthy - the guy next door or the voice of high profile corporate presentations. He also spends time with the Penn Cove Players, a Whidbey Island, WA troupe that performs original audio dramas, as we all as recreates old time radio shows in front of a live studio audience.

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Comments (2)
Janessa Cooper
4/25/2017 at 11:34 PM
Absolutely on the producer notes! I have been a producer and also directed as a Voice Over and being in both chairs has been a valuable experience.

All the above are things that I have actually talked about with my director Chris Shelton. He and I have noted the importance of the Client, Contractor, and Company and their relations sometimes it's difficult as a Company to be the "middle man" but it is most definitely something I would not give away for the world!

Thanks for hearing my comments!

Janessa Cooper
CEO//Voice Over
Mike Harrison
4/24/2017 at 11:54 AM
Great stuff, J.C.

If I may expand slightly on the point of timing the script: *especially* when a copywriter has a "feel" or a character type in mind, the ONLY – I'll stress ONLY – way to get an accurate timing of the script is to time it by reading it ALOUD... AND in the exact style they have in mind.

For example, if the character type calls for a dark, mysterious kind of read, that's going to be a much slower and deliberate read than a bright and cheery read. A read will NOT sound dark and mysterious if the talent is rushing. ;-)
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