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Ask Rudy #1
On The Job, What Clients Expect:
Suck It Up, Baby - You're The Pro
Here's looking at you: Top creative director/producer Rudy Gaskins shares how voice actors are viewed from the other side of the glass - and what clients expect - in this exclusive VoiceOverXtra series.
By Rudy Gaskins
CEO & Executive Creative Director
Push Creative
Q: From the point of view of a creative director or producer, what's expected of the voice actor?
First, if you’ve been selected to do the job, that means I already recognize your voice as workable, and am expecting something similar to your audition.
That’s one down.
From there, what’s expected is that you:
  • show up on time,
  • express a great mood,
  • come ready to play, and
  • are prepared to deliver your best performance.
It is also believed that you can somewhat easily pick up on the general theme of the creative vision, and will be unafraid to ask “good” questions.
Now we’re ready to start laying down takes.
This process can vary depending on the nature of the script to be performed, so you should be flexible enough to facilitate the process for all involved.
Starting in the ball park of the creative vision, know that there exist a plethora of alternatives. Let the director direct.
Q: What if you're working through a connection from your home studio?
On the technical side, it is expected that any technical problems will be almost non-existent. If and when technical problems do occur, they should be quickly resolved with little fanfare.
You're also assumed to be accustomed to working in a professional sound studio, and thus have the temperament to deal with pressures that sometimes accompany the experience.
For instance, it would be a disaster for you to blow up in a fit of rage just because everyone else was going nuts, or because you don't like the way you're being directed.
Suck it up baby. It’s not personal.
Q: What do I mean by "letting the director direct"?
You have to be coachable, flexible and desiring of guidance. I sometimes liken the experience to the voice actor being led around wearing a blindfold.
A good director will let you know when to step off the curb and keep you from walking into a tree.
Let the director guide you to new creative places while you listen for opportunities to contribute through a continual process of creative discovery.
Q: But how to deal with a director who isn’t giving clear direction?
Since there is no formal way that sessions are directed, and no formalized jargon that suffices across the entire industry, it is incumbent upon the voice actor to establish a language with the director.
By this, I mean you should listen for cues from the director - for instance, how the director uses words, descriptors, etc.
It doesn’t matter what a word means according to Wikipedia. What does matter is what the director means by his use of the word.
For instance, the director may say, “Jazz it up a little.”
Obviously, that statement could mean a lot of things to different people. So, first look for your interpretation of this statement based on the theme and context of the script.
If you’re feeling lost, try something out and ask if it’s in the right direction.
Avoid debating the meaning of words as you understand them. Figure out the director’s language and you’ll have a lasting client.
The two of you will develop shorthand for getting things done, and that makes the work that much easier.
Q: What else can you do to please ever more clients?
Continue to train, challenge and develop your vocal talent. Your vocal dexterity can always be improved.
Some folks can even add other genres or styles - from promos to commercials to audiobooks to movie trailers - which may at times be of use to your client.
Of course, the client - unlike your agent - isn’t available as a general sounding board for whatever new trick you’ve got up your sleeve.
Save such announcements for times when the topic comes up naturally. It will not please your client to be pitched for future work opportunities.
On the other hand, if you truly have a good relationship - and only you know for sure - you’ll sense when it’s okay to share some recent work that shows off additional skills you can bring to the table.
Your agent can do this, as well.
Q: What do you need to understand about the client's job?
The more you know about the overall creative and production process, the more naturally you will fit into it.
This is a subtle point, having to do with being professionally tuned in to such a degree that you just seem to belong.
Being a pleasant, flexible and hard-working person will help you get to the voice-over Promised Land.
The last thing you want to be known as, is that voice actor who doesn’t know when to stop talking.
Everyone is in the studio to work. And while they may not tell you to your face, they do not have time to chat about your hobbies and politics.
Be highly observant of your producer and take your cues from him in terms of understanding the temperament of the room. For instance, he could be very tense and fighting against the clock, or he could be loose and relaxed.
Q: What producer/advertiser challenges should you be sensitive to?
Using a worse case scenario, be aware that your producer may be embroiled in highly difficult and sensitive in-house issues related to the production and success of the spot.
The script you perform usually goes through many people for approval, including lawyers - and all of them tend to create any number of creative gymnastics for the producer to perform before the script is ready to be recorded.
In other words:
  • Be sensitive to the critical attention that has been paid to every word of the 30 seconds you are about to read.
  • Be aware that your producer has two dozen other concerns he must manage while working to draw out the best possible performance from you.
  • Recognize that what the producer directs you to do must please the concerns of people who are not in the room during the recording session.
The very best thing you can do is show up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to do whatever it takes to connect and deliver on the producer’s vision – to be at least one of the elements he can count on.
Q: Do producers prefer voice talents who have ISDN capability?
Having ISDN capability from your home studio to the producer can be a huge convenience. (What's ISDN?)
  • For one thing, it cuts down on some of the logistical maneuvering to get the voice talent to the studio.
  • Secondly, actors with ISDN can work from wherever they happen to be, anywhere in the world.
  • Thirdly, it gives the producer access to a broader talent pool. How else could he get that one-of-a-kind voice who lives in South Dakota?
Even if you don’t have your own home studio, access to ISDN provides most of these benefits I described.
An added ISDN benefit for you is the ability to voice jobs from the convenience of your home - even from your car!
Plus, ISDN and other digital formats make it possible for you to be available to clients while on vacation. This is critical, because many voice-over gigs are lost to the voice talent who has replaced you during your vacation. This is a sad, but true.
Q: How long should it take - how many takes - to knock out a spot in a professional recording session?
On average, commercial spots may require 12 to 20 takes to get everything needed. This is not excessive, and often bears no reflection on the actor. It’s just the way it works - layering interpretive attributes, take-by-take, and seeking to capture the client’s requests as the process unfolds.
It may also involve capturing alternate versions that the client wants to compare and contrast.
However, in the world of promos, you will typically do fewer takes.
For instance, if you’re doing a regular gig for a TV station, where the style of the promo has long since been established and understood by the producer and voice actor, you might do no more than two or three takes.
Obviously, everything changes if you’re talking about long form narration, audiobooks, animation, etc.
Q: Should you challenge what you believe to be poorly written copy?
Hell no!
Generally speaking, this simply does not happen. Here’s what there is to understand:
  • The copy you are given has probably been written and rewritten several times, and vetted through a series of branding criteria to which you are not privy.
  • Marketing objectives, creative issues and legal concerns have been taken into consideration.
  • And most importantly, the all-powerful client has approved it.
The script is the script. Your job is to make it Shakespeare. End of job.
Now, if there is an obvious grammatical problem, and you have an easy rapport with the producer/director, then you may quietly ask if he thinks it’s a problem.
If you don’t yet have a rapport, and again, the error is glaring, find your warmest professionalism tone and ask if he would like an alternate read as a safety. Obviously, you would have already discerned that the alleged error is not an intentional colloquialism.
Also See:
Emmy-winning producer Rudy Gaskins is CEO and Executive Creative Director of Push Creative Inc., a branding services company providing strategic marketing, graphic design and video/film production for TV broadcast networks and corporations. Clients include Lexus, FOX News Channel, BET, American Express, Spike TV, ABC Television, History Channel, MSNBC, and NBC Sports. Drawing on his former experience as a filmmaker and writer/producer/director for PBS, Gaskins has recently expanded Push Creative’s production scope to include program development, and is actively developing projects in several genres. He also coaches professional and aspiring voice-over actors in the development of performance technique. He is co-writer of Secrets of Voice-Over Success by Joan Baker, with whom he also partners in offering voice-over training.
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Comments (7)
Tim Crow
12/9/2009 at 11:41 AM
Boiled down to perfection. Truly, nothing to add. As a talent you will be appreciated and remembered for conducting yourself using these rules!
Sande Sherr
12/7/2009 at 1:31 PM
It really helps to know all of this before stepping into that recording session. If the people you're working with like how you come across, I can't help but think that they would want to work with that talent again.
John Florian
12/7/2009 at 7:55 AM
Hi Lyle, we're glad this article helped. Now for home studio how-to, two suggestions:

1) Join VoiceOverXtra's "Building Your Home Studio" webinar series now in progress, with consultant Dan Lenard. For instance, Tuesday night (Dec. 8) we discuss Microphones & Digital Interfaces - and you can download past episodes. Here's the sign-up link:

2)Type "Home Studio" in the SEARCH box at the top of any VoiceOverXtra page, and you'll get a long list of articles with expert advice!
Tom H
12/7/2009 at 5:54 AM
Absolute pearls! These "tips" should be written on stone tablets. A valuable look behind the curtain.
Lyle Walford
12/6/2009 at 8:53 PM
Thanks, this article offers excellent advice, which I print and link to my browser. Question: What equipment would one need when building a home studio?
12/6/2009 at 3:19 PM
I found this Q & A very helpful and informative. Taking classes with the Push Creative team has help me tremendously and so any article the company tagged with it, I really take the time to read several times and digest. This is from such a wonderful point of view.
Pharmacy Tech
12/4/2009 at 4:40 PM
Nice post & nice blog. I love both.
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