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VOICE ACTING
Striving For The Perfect Voice Over
Take Will Drive You Nuts - Edit Instead
August 24, 2015

By Jim Conlan
Voice Talent, Coach & Producer

What do you mean by "Perfect”?  

There’s probably no group more devoted to perfection than artists – among whom I include voice talent. We’re constantly wondering if we did our best.

In fact, back in the day it was an oft-heard comment that "I did my best take in the car going home.”  

But what is perfection to you?
  • Is it reading a script without a mistake?
  • Is it the mythical One Take?
  • Is it the painstaking process of recording take after take until everybody is deliriously happy?

RECIPE FOR DISASTER

My opinion is: none of the above.  

I have worked with a number of directors who really believe that if you record enough takes, eventually you’ll get it perfect. What a recipe for disaster! It hardly ever works, and it often drives the voice talent nuts.

More enlightened directors know that it’s the result you’re after, not how you get there. And since these days you’ll probably be your own director, it has become easier to focus on the result.  

RECORDED, NOT LIVE

After all, this is voice over. That means it’s recorded, not live; it’s audio, not video. So there’s really no reason to get it all perfect in one magical take.  

Let’s say that after two or three takes you feel like you mostly got it.  Maybe there were a couple of glitches - a line or two you didn’t quite like, or it came in a bit long. 

But that take had something special about it. At this point you don’t really need to try for another take, hoping that the magic remains while you iron out the glitches.

LISTEN, THEN EDIT


Instead, I suggest you do two things.

First, listen to other takes to see if maybe the glitches in question didn’t appear in them; if so, a little cutting and pasting might give you a complete, seamless take.

Second, if you don’t find what you need, do pick-ups and paste them in place. If you’re good at matching tone, pace, level, etc. – and if you’re adept at seamless editing – you may end up with a "perfect” read. It’s something you, the narrator, created with you, the editor.

At that point, of course, how you define "perfect” is between you and your client. But at least you didn’t have to beat yourself senseless to get there.
------------------
ABOUT JIM

Jim Conlan is a voice actor and narrator with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction titles available on Audible and in bookstores. Some of his favorites include Moby-Dick, Island Life, by William Meikle, and To Timbuktu for a Haircut, by Rick Antonson.

Email: provomaster@yahoo.com
Web: www.provomaster.com

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Comments (6)
William Williams
8/26/2015 at 3:47 AM
I'll often do a pickup or two of a sentence I feel didn't come out right while I'm doing the read. Then I just whack the bad ones out and leave the remaining good one and voila! it's done.

But there's balance between editing and just doing it over again. A 60 second read takes you 60 seconds to repeat and nail, where slicing and dicing between several different takes to find the best bits and pieces can take 10-20 minutes. Sometimes it's better to just redo it from the top.

Good advice.
Steve Blizin
8/25/2015 at 1:08 PM
So true! Just this morning I pieced together a paragraph of puzzle pieces that culminated in a "satisfactory" read. There is a balance, though. I have often found that the first take was the best when reviewing/editing. And the time factor can turn against you quickly. I recently got offered a second book from an author I'm working with and while it's very gratifying, I feel like it's because I read his book 20 times: Once before recording, and 19 times in the booth!
Ed (Ed-VO) Waldorph
8/25/2015 at 12:00 PM
Perfect take: "Thank you. We'll send the check."
Johnny George
8/25/2015 at 9:14 AM
That's usually the way it works out for me. But yet, you hit the nail on the head in the audio vs video analogy. So very true. Such sage advice. Thanks Jim. You've confirmed my thoughts. I too ask to do one more take after we got through the whole script and now feel I know where the pitfalls are and feel I can do just one more. Always get a kick out of it when a producer/client says, "Why didn't you do that the first time?"
Laila Berzins
8/24/2015 at 10:24 AM
Great advice! When I first started I did drive myself nuts trying to get the perfect take - all in one take. Now I keep my takes limited and will pick up just the spots that may need helpc- and do an ABC version. Constructing one solid take with the puzzle pieces, or VO surgery, as Bob Bergen puts it, can be fun and even, dare I say...magical? :0) Perfectionists can have some solace, and the client is happy. Win-win.
Ken Farmer
8/24/2015 at 9:27 AM
Interesting. Good stuff, Jim. I've done commercial VO for over forty years, just started doing audio books in my new home studio and only have finished five to date. I have, on occasion, done a one-take job, but the interesting thing is, even though the client and director loved it...I always feel there's a better one inside somewhere. So, I ask, politely, "May I do another...just for grins?"

On the other foot, there have been times (especially when there are more than two representing the client listening in) when I did it over and over. I think that we all know it will begin to get stale after a bit.

I found a little trick that seemed to work when the client and or director don't really know what they want...After a particular good take...to me, I will announce right after I finish the last line, "You can print that sonofabitch." It usually works.
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