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How Many Takes Does It Take
To Get It Right? Another View ...

January 6, 2014

By Dave Courvoisier
Voice Actor and TV News Anchor

The main point of this article is not going to sit well with many - least of all the accomplished voice coaches I’ve worked with.

So, consider this point of view more as an idea I’m floating out there as a counter-argument to the school of thought that says you do as many voice over takes as you need  until "it sounds right” … or until "you get it right” … even perfect

The idea that your first take may be your best take is tantamount to heresy for a good many seasoned, schooled, and mature voice talent. 

The common wisdom follows this general thinking:
  • You throw away the first take as just a rough scratch-track. You’re discovering the copy for the first time.
  • The second take is for finding some sweet spots in the flow of the copy, and the intent of the writer.
  • In the third take, you find the true emphasis on some key words, playing off other words.
  • For the fourth take, you’re sensing the timing.
  • In the fifth take, you’re putting it all together, and it’s starting to take shape.
  • By the 6th take, you’re feeling confident, and just a few takes away from the final? Etc.,  ad infinitum
REALLY? Or do you just continually add takes of certain sentences and phrases to the whole, editing it all together until you have the completed "perfect” spot?


So let me ask you - knowing what a perfectionist you are (we all are): When is the take good enough?
  • How long do you spend doing endless takes until you’re satisfied? 
  • How much time do you spend perfecting perfection?
  • By your 20th take, have you lost all perspective of what the client originally wanted? 
  • Do you have what YOU think is the best take, or have you truly hit the ball out of the park on this audition because you’ve NAILED it?
TAKE 23 ...

A couple of years ago, I rented my studio out to one of the top actors/voice-actors in Denmark.

He was in town playing the World Series of Poker, and had a full film crew with him. 

But a client back in Europe needed a re-take of one line for a spot, and his producer went hunting for an ISDN studio. My name popped up, and one afternoon he showed up at my door with his film crew. 

Nice guy! I showed him the studio, how to operate things, and gave him a bottle of water.  Remember, he was there to record ONE LINE.

Fifty-two minutes later, he emerged from the studio with something like 23 cuts of that one line … finally happy with the last one. 


I shook my head in disbelief. Now, the other side of the coin.

This line of thinking will feel familiar to anyone who’s done live broadcasting. Radio. TV. Even live announcing at events: YOU ONLY GET ONE TAKE. 

It better damn well be good. Necessity breeds intensity … even perfection (sometimes).

I remember when I got serious about voice over work. I was amazed that it was OK to do more than one take. Wow!  What a concept! How cool!

But … I’m pretty happy with the first one, thank you … why should I do another?


Mind you, I’m not saying your read comes from the first time you’ve seen the copy. I’m saying you only get one chance to deliver the line out-loud. 

In this school of thought, you first analyze things pretty good. Edit the copy. Mark-up the copy - maybe even practice under your breath once or twice.

But the idea is that the first spoken take is the best take.

In favor of the "first take” philosophy: It has the greatest first-time discovery of the words, it’s the most innocent, and in many ways the most genuine. 

It’s the one following closest to your comprehension of the client’s direction. 

So, could it be that it’s more the true you than the one that comes contrived from all that coaching you’ve had?

If the first take is so bad, then why do so many voice over sages encourage us to get IMPROV experience?  Lessee: you only get one take with improv, no?


Hey, all those coaches are telling you, what? Be the real YOU, right? Only YOU can bring to this spot the experience and savvy that is unique to you, so bring it.

Make it authentic the first time around and walk away. There I said it. Now, do I believe it? 

Not entirely, but I’m more likely to trust my instincts with the first take, than second-guessing myself on to continuous re-takes into the night, with 5-10 more auditions waiting for my attention.

But then again, my first-take comes after 30+ years of continually doing ONE TAKE three times a day, five days a week in half-hour portions. 


You can dismiss it as broadcast "newspeak" or puking in to the mic. But experience is an undeniably hard taskmaster, and I’ve learned my lessons well.

In last November's sweeps, all the newscasts that I anchor won their time-slots. That’s not bragging, or even taking credit for such success - it’s a team effort. But seeing as we’ve won 18 of the last 23 ratings periods, I think I can own a little of that accommplishment as my contribution of an authentic "first-and-only-take” to an audience appreciative of the fact that I didn’t keep reading the line over and over till I got it right.
Dave Courvoisier is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, writer, producer, voice actor, and the main weeknight news anchor on KLAS-TV, Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate. He also writes Voice-Acting in Vegas, a daily blog of voice over adventures, observations and technology.


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Comments (8)
Ron Whittemore
1/7/2014 at 10:07 PM
Good, thoughtful stuff as always Dave!! Best to you!!
Matthew Eagen
1/6/2014 at 8:21 PM
Loved It!!! I've been reading your articles religiously for a year, Dave. I'm a month or so from recording my first commercial demo and I felt compelled to thank you for sharing your experience with all those willing to read it. Thank You.

Be Well,
Matthew Eagen
jennifer m dixon
1/6/2014 at 5:47 PM
Hear! Hear! 'Nuff said. Happy New Year!
Chuck Davis
1/6/2014 at 4:47 PM
I absolutely agree, Dave. Too many takes tends to "suck the life" out a piece of copy. Just like recording music. You can work it to death. In auditions, I typically am happy with one of the first three takes. Sometimes the playback sends me back into the booth when you "hear something" that could have been better. For the most part though, if you spent a few minutes with the script before you hit record, you'll get it right early on.

Sessions typically go the same way, unless you have a director that doesn't have a clear picture of what he/she wants.
Ken Budka
1/6/2014 at 4:20 PM
Thanks for your insights and happy new year to you, Dave. This subject makes me immediately think of recording music as well as VO.

As a guitar player, I have always found the first lead to be the best, from the heart, filled with emotion and soul. Everything after that seems contrived and no matter how hard you try to get it back, it's never quite as genuine. Voice over recording is very similar in they both require some preparation.

Recording music requires practice to get things organized and learn your part. Then when it comes time to record, a soulful recording is often best when it comes from the heart without too much thinking.

A soulful voice over is very similar, it comes from the heart, but not after practicing. It comes after consideration, forethought and analysis. The best take is usually the first take, assuming you've done the work to prepare. The important thing I remind myself is preparation doesn't have to take long, but it's essential in the process. It's usually when I'm lazy up front that it requires many more takes to get it right.

The seasoned professionals can achieve this focus and make decisions very quickly. To me, the faster you move, the more ground you cover and the more opportunities come your way. Invest time developing your preparation chops and becoming brilliant with the basics.

You're the man, Dave. I'll keep in touch continue to learn from your years of experience moving towards my goals in 2014.
Pearl Hewitt
1/6/2014 at 2:56 PM
Thanks Dave,

I think you're right. Experience is very important. Second guessing myself is the bain of my life. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to try not to do that as much. I'm taking a class with Pat Fraley and Cliff Zellman in Dallas this weekend called the Art of Self Direction. Hopefully I will learn some nuggets of information to help me deal with my issues of constant self doubt, which is a huge time suck especially when recording audiobooks. The amount of editing I have to do is ridiculous! I can't wait for the time when I can be happy with my first take more often than not.
Scott Medvetz
1/6/2014 at 12:37 PM
Thanks Dave. I think there's a lot to,o this. I don't usually feel completely comfortable with my first take in the studio, but very often during editing find that the first take (or maybe the second) is the one that conveys the message best. If I'm struggling and get to multiple takes, it gets to the point where I become stiffer and less effective. I completely agree that advance preparation and mark-up of the script is key to getting it right quickly, and is a big time saver in the long run.
Tim McKean
1/6/2014 at 11:20 AM
Thanks for bringing up the discussion Dave. There is nothing as effective as experience and preparation. This is especially relevant to those of us doing audiobooks, elearning, and other long-form narration.
Who's got time to read that book three or four times?

Now, as a happy middle ground I have found that rehearsing out loud helps that first take to be cleaner and thus save more time in the editing process. I've also recently been taking more time between sentences and paragraphs to constantly pre-read as I go along, and then use Audacity's "Truncate Silence" tool to knock out the silent gaps in the recording. This also is giving me a better first take, and saving time in editing.

Looking forward to seeing more comments from other talent. What do you do to make that first take the best you can give?
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