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Listen: Pay Attention To Directors' Instructions
... Or They'll Stop Paying Attention To You
September 15, 2015

By Terry Daniel

Voice Actor & Coach

When was the last time you really listened to someone? Do you remember the last time you had an extended conversation with someone over the phone?

Whether personally or professionally, it seems as if technology has impaired our ability to communicate with each other.

Many people have adopted the mentality that whatever I need to hear from you, I can receive in a short text message, tweet or Facebook post. It seems as if our brains have grown accustomed to paying attention to short and sweet messages only, tuning out anything that is long and drawn out – even when it comes to the detailed instructions that are provided to us by our clients.

I personally know of quite a few voice talents who have lost jobs simply because of not paying attention to the instructions that were provided. One talent lost out because he was expecting to receive a phone call from the client instead of following the simple instruction to make the call himself.

Fortunately, this lost art of listening doesn't have to stay lost – you can find it again! You just need to make some slight adjustments to your attitude, approach and overall way of thinking when it comes to your work.


In the voice over business, your ears are just as important as your voice.

You have to pay attention to what a talent agent or a client is telling you. Especially when it comes to reading copy, delivering files or submitting a demo for representation.

For example, Jeffrey Umberger, of the Umberger Agency, believes that voice talents seem to get hung up on the "artistic” side of their work a little too soon and end up inadvertently shutting the door of opportunity by doing so.

Remember, just because you can be considered a vocal artist doesn't mean that you have the right to use your client’s projects to express your "creative liberties.”

You may feel that the script should be delivered differently when compared to the instructions provided by your client, which is why you might decide to take creative control when it comes to the actual recording.

By doing so, though, you are forgetting that you are not the one calling the shots – that job belongs to your client.

Think about any other actor – such as the A-list actors and actresses in your favorite movies. What happens when they decide to take creative control and not follow the director’s instructions? They are replaced with another actor that can!

Your target objective should be to professionally use your art to satisfy the needs and expectation of the Director (the client) and not the actor. You are not striving to achieve an Academy Award nomination for your performance – your job is to simply focus on providing the client with what they need.


Your clients hire you because they believe you are the best candidate qualified and capable of following their directions, and meeting (or even exceeding) their expectations.

That is why you got the job in the first place! By making the decision to change the play on the field against the coach’s instruction, you are basically begging to end up warming the bench.

The key is to work with the client. Prove that you can follow the instructions and meet their requirements so that you can build rapport along with a long-lasting relationship with that client.

Once you have earned the trust and respect of your client, you might be able to eventually have a little more breathing room when it comes to your creative input.

However, you need to always make sure that your first priority is to actively listen to and follow their clear and concise instructions – no exceptions!


Focus on the details that are provided within the instructions provided to you, especially when it comes to the desired tone, delivery and overall client expectations for the project.

If you are searching for an edge over the competition, focusing on even the smallest details that others may view as insignificant is an essential step toward achieving that goal. It will allow you to have a clear understanding of the client, the product and how you can quickly get your name added to their very short list of favorites to call for future projects and other opportunities.

The specific directions and instructions provided by your client should be viewed as the golden ticket of opportunity. Keep in mind that competition within this industry is very steep – the same instructions may have also been provided to many other potential candidates in the past or even the present.

Your goal should be to provide them with exactly what they need, so that they will not have to search for any new candidates in the future.


If you are not actively listening to your client, does this mean that you are simply trying to "rebel against the man” by resisting their instruction?

Not necessarily! I mean, if that is the case, then you are clearly just in the wrong line of work and should seriously reconsider your decision. However, in most cases, it is simply due to the fact that your selective hearing is getting in the way.

Erik Sheppard of Voice Talent Productions believes that either you are very reluctant about freeing yourself from your comfort zone due to a lack of confidence in your abilities, or you are overconfident and think that you know what is best for the project.

Regardless of which side of this fence you stand, you will still come across as either ignoring the direction all together or not being capable of taking direction – two great ways to get yourself blacklisted by those clients.


At the end of the day, you are running a business. We enjoy what we do and have fun doing it, but it is also how we financially support ourselves and our families.

So it is important to not become so distracted by the needs of our business that we forget about our customers.

Yes – you are a business owner, but that means very little if you don’t have any customers. You need to treat your position more like the customer service representatives working on the sales floor and less like the upper management tucked away in their corner offices – completely isolated from the customers.

Focus on finding effective ways to please your customers. Make sure they are able to come directly to you to get exactly what they need without any headaches, complications or exceptions.

Special thanks to good friends and agents, Jeffrey Umberger and Erik Sheppard for contributing some helpful nuggets!
Terry Daniel has been in voice overs for more than 20 years, today specializing in technical and medical narration. He volunteers his services for ASPCA - the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and is managing partner and creative director for the Voice Over Club, a voice over training organization.
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Comments (6)
Tom Donovan
9/18/2015 at 7:29 AM
Boy does this hit home! I've become aware that on pay to play sites, such as, it's important to be in the first 25 or so to reply to up the chances of booking the job. That pressure had tended to make me rush to record the audition and not take the extra minute or two to really study the specs and direction provided by the client. As the raven said... NEVERMORE!! Thanks for your "direction" and your willingness to share.

Best regards,
Terry Daniel
9/16/2015 at 9:51 AM
Steve, there was zero intention of cross-promoting anyone. How about being grateful that three people actually took a considerable amount of time to give some pretty good advice about taking direction? And yes, there are plenty of talents who struggled with the "listening" end of the business. I didn't just write this for the "sake of blogging." Don't be so glass half-empty. There are enough trolls on the Internet. Good luck to you and your career. :-)
9/16/2015 at 2:37 AM
Oh, lighten up, Steve. The only thing "incomprehensibly vague" here is your reading comprehension skills. You seem to have missed the point: there ARE talents who DO NOT listen to instructions, and it costs them gigs. And as for Umberger -- his little nugget is actually great advice, if you take the time to appreciate it.

What would you consider "productive" advice?
9/15/2015 at 3:18 PM
What did the incomprehensively vage refrerence to Mr Umberger bring apart from the obligatory voiceover blog cross promotion? Secondly, who DOESN'T listen to director's instructions? Yet again this is vague "for the sake of it" blog writing. Please come up with some thing more productive! "Why you really should speak into your microphone" or perhaps "Why pressing the record button will revolutionise your workflow"... sigh
Kent Ingram
9/15/2015 at 1:36 PM
Great article, Terry! If one gets so arrogant that you constantly think you know more than a client does about their product, then you've cooked your own goose. I might have a different way of doing a job than the client, but that's when I offer them a choice and tell them it's part of the service. Usually, they'll go with their own idea, but that's no problem. I've already shown them my good will by offering them a choice and still recording what they wanted in the first place. Most of the time, though, I go with the notion that keeping the ears open and mouth shut, unless recording, works best. You have to know how to take direction.
Elizabeth Holmes
9/15/2015 at 11:31 AM
Wise advice, Terry! Thank you for the reminder that little humility goes a long way when it comes to understanding our contribution to these kinds of projects.
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