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Voice Over Biz Etiquette ... Avoid
These Fatal No-No's (& Share Yours)
By Dawn Harvey (right photo)
Voice Actor
and Vanessa Hart (left photo)
Voice Actor / Coach
Voice over is a business like any other. You need to have a good, marketable product.
When your training has taken you to a place where you are ready to start selling your product, like any other business, you need to do some marketing.
So, now you’ve trained, you’ve marketed and, lo and behold, you’ve booked your first gig! Congratulations!
However, you’re not done yet.
Next comes the part that you have probably received very little training in - the specific business etiquette of the voice over world.
Maybe you come from a business background and think that your knowledge of how to conduct yourself in that world will get you through.
Maybe you’re an actor and think that the film and TV world have prepared you for voice over.
If you believe that, you’re wrong.
This is a different business, with different players and different social mores.
Your product is great, but you’re swimming in unknown waters.
How are newbie voice actors to learn the appropriate business etiquette to navigate these waters?
Are the rules for dealing with clients for commercials different than the rules for dealing with clients for audiobooks?
Are those rules different than the rules you need to know to do animation?
Is there anything you might inadvertently do in the booth that would cause the producer, director or engineer to never want to work with you again?
Generally, we learn in one of two ways:
  • the school of hard knocks, or
  • from the mistakes of those that have gone before us.
The latter method is much more palatable.
Many of us have, of course, learned many of the rules the hard way. Following are a few of them.
Rule No. 1: Don’t touch the equipment!
You will probably hear this rule at almost any introductory voice over class.
Several years ago, a now prominent voice over artist was hired to voice a commercial for a major, multi-national corporation.
She reached up to move the mic stand. The engineer shot out of his chair and literally ran into the studio, as the advertising agency people looked on in horror.
This could have been the start of a very lucrative relationship with a major client who produces literally hundreds of commercials annually.
The voice artist in question never worked for them again.
Rule No. 2: Do not cough, clear your throat or make other sudden, unexpected, loud noises directly into the mic.
This is particularly true when you are connected to a sound engineer wearing headphones!
Not only is this bad for the equipment, but once the engineer can actually hear again, he probably won’t be too interested in hearing YOUR voice in his studio any more!
Rule No. 3: Do not assume that the studio will have the copy you’ve been hired to read.
They almost always do.
But then there’s the artist who assumed that the studio would have the copy for the session they were scheduled to attend.
Wrong! And it was a half hour later before they were able to get the copy and proceed with the session.
Time is money in the studio, and wasting a half hour of the studio’s time does your reputation no favors.
Rule No. 4: Have a coach and go to them for advice early and often early in your career.
A newbie audiobook narrator received her copy and found many errors and ambiguities in it.
Believing it was best to get it sorted out beforehand, the talent emailed the publisher an exhaustive list of issues for clarification of the copy.
The publisher took the job away from the narrator, apparently afraid that the narrator was going to be painful to work with.
On consulting her coach, the narrator learned that she should have voiced the project, interpreting the copy as best she could. Any issues would have been sent back for corrections.
So, the result was a book deal lost, along with any hope of future offers from that particular publisher.
And the list of rules surely goes on and on and on.
Do you have horror stories from your early days to share? Have you made some serious mistakes that others could learn from?
We are working on a way to ease the transition for people new to the VO world. If you have advice to offer based on your experiences, you can help us to help them.
Please contribute them as a COMMENT to this article (below), or email us (addresses also below).
Using anecdotes we receive, we’ll put together a more expansive future article for VoiceOverXtra.
In addition, we are talking to James Alburger and Penny Abshire about the possibility of including this topic as a session to be presented at VOICE 2012, the international voice over conference coming to Los Angeles next year. 
With your help, we can ease the transition for those new to this wonderful business of ours.
Dawn Harvey is a stage, film (check out her new web series at, and voice actress as well as a singer who also happens to possess both Bachelor and Master of Law degrees. Based in Canada, and with over four decades of performing experience, she enjoys an immense amount of variety in her work. In the voice over world, she specializes in narration, animation and audiobooks, voicing from her state-of-the-art home studio.
Web and Blog:

Vanessa Hart is a voice over artist, actor and speaker whose work is heard every day across the U.S. She has performed hundreds of commercials, corporate narrations and national television promos, in addition to narrating dozens of award-winning audiobooks in her professional career. She was a finalist in the Best Female Voice category at the 2009 Voicey Awards and was also a finalist at the 2008 Audie Awards. A veteran voice coach and demo producer who works in her state-of-the-art recording studio in Los Angeles, her concise, informative overview for beginners The Power of 5 – The Fundamentals may be purchased at her website.
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Comments (11)
5/14/2011 at 12:19 PM
Business cards!

Finished up a session with the agency rep and the client present in the booth. Session went great. Before I left, the agency rep asked if I had a business card. Yes I did! Just got the box of new cards the day prior. I handed one to her, and then handed one to the client. Bid my goodbyes and left the studio. I was walking down the hall thinking "what a great session" ... when I heard the front door to the studio bang open and the agency woman storming up behind me.

She went on to read me the riot act ... about giving the client a business card. I honestly didn't think anything of it ... I had no ulterior motive. Never heard from her again.

Any thoughts?
Helen Jaubert
5/3/2011 at 4:14 PM
The stuff posted here is wonderfully "informative"! With all due respect to the seasoned pros ... and this is not to generalize.

I have witnessed while in studio a newbie had an excessive amount of bracelets, which obviously interfered with the recording, and the producer/director literally "bellowed" "F" words and what seemed to me were verbal insults.

Is any job worth this kind of verbal insult and demoralization?? Why, if anything, would a newbie endure this kind of treatment?

Everyone here speaks about newbie dont's - what about the positive do's?

My personal experience has been to be polite, well-mannered, & low-keyed and ask permission for everything while on their turf ... have always received call-backs!

Thanks for your thoughts and time.
Elizabeth Holmes
5/3/2011 at 4:04 PM
Thank you, Dawn & Vanessa, for introducing this topic! My "war story" is a mistake I made on the production side of things.

When I first opened my home studio, I had no intention of using it as a public venue. Then, another voice actor (a friend) recommended me to his producer to record a few more takes for an audio tour that he'd done at the producer's studio the previous month. I was thrilled to get the referral, and have the opportunity to work with someone I knew and respected.

Our session began well, and then - out of the blue - my friend's voice went husky and dry. It turned out that he was severely allergic to my cats! I had no idea that this would be a problem, because he'd visited my home before with no ill effects, and I'd thoroughly cleaned the studio before he came.

Fortunately, we got usable tracks, and all ended well. Also fortunately, pet allergies are unlikely to be an issue in professional studios. But the same thing could easily happen to voice talent allergic to other things, (like cologne, after shave, perfume, etc.).

The lesson I learned was: For best results, just assume allergies could be a problem. It's easy to avoid aggravation by taking preventative measures.

Philip Banks
5/3/2011 at 4:15 AM
For a sustainable career ... DON'T BE A VOICE OVER BORE!!! Really, really, really!

Herbalife people used to wear stickers, "Lose weight now ask me how!"

Most Voiceoverists need a tattoo across the forehead - "Stop me! I know I'm being a bore but I can't help it!"

Now the so-called SEO/Social media/Branding/Marketing/networking experts will tell you to be everywhere and never ever miss an opportunity to tell people ...YAWN ... Sorry, just the thought of it sends me to sleep.

In order to be interesting, one first must become INTERESTED, and if you master that, people like you and remember you.

The advice given above by other contributors can be summed up in one phrase: "It's not about me."
J. R.
5/3/2011 at 2:25 AM
If you do VO and you are booked into a studio that is not your own, you really need to concern yourself about health issues. Before I retired from VO I was often in recording studios that were very unclean and nasty places.

I was often asked to use mics, screens and cans that were so grimey and caked with makeup and God knows what else; boogers, hack ups, chew, you name it, that I would not even touch them.

VO artists should not have to put up with unsanitary conditions. I believe I developed a severe ear infection because I was forced by a producer to wear unclean cans, and lost most of the hearing in my left ear. After that I used to carry my own personal cans with me, plus San scrubs, alcohol scrubs, antiseptic scrub pads and carried a cross just in case.

Your voice is important, but if you can't hear correctly, Frankly my Dear, you're dead in the water.

What it comes down to is as a VO artist you should demand sanitized equipment before you even accept the offer. If the person offerng job objects, tell 'em to take a hike!
Frank Baum
5/2/2011 at 11:31 PM
A tip of the hat and a bow. A deep one.

(Mind reading the universe... in this WTF and OMG world, you mean ... the little things DO matter?

Thank you.
Joe Loesch
5/2/2011 at 11:59 AM
Great article ladies!

One of my biggest pet peeves as a producer is when the talent will yell to the engineer/director from the booth, completely unaware that the mic is still open. Always assume that the mic is open and speak in a normal voice.
Rick Lance
5/2/2011 at 11:49 AM
Good advice here. I first learned this etiquette singing demos in Nashville studios, before doing vo work. But the lessons learned were the same.

Additionally, arrive to the session early ... review the script, get comfortable, maybe even chat a bit with the client or engineer.

Always let everyone else speak first, listen well ,then ask a question or two. Even if you may know the answer. It shows involvement ... your commitment to the job at hand.

Listen to direction and do your best to give them what is asked. Try to understand why YOU were the one asked to voice the project at hand. At the end of the session ... if it FEELS right ... possibly ask if you can do a take with YOUR take on the script. Tread lightly here though. If everyone is happy ... end of session!
Say thank you to all and don't hang around unless invited to. The engineer and client need to edit the recording at that point. Maybe leave a biz card with the client. Then scram!

They'll ask you back again because you acted like a pro!
Scott Larson
5/2/2011 at 11:18 AM
Great post. Couple from a producers side of the glass:

Even if it's a read for a funeral home, remember to smile when you're delivering the read. Every time you do, it brings out your true delivery. If I want you to be sad and somber I'll direct you to do so.

Just my 2 cents
Paul J. Warwick
5/2/2011 at 9:37 AM
Oh my goodness!! Too many rules!! I thought we were the creative ones where rules didn't apply? Lol. Interesting stuff!
Darla Middlebrook
5/2/2011 at 7:13 AM
I seem to be learning through both schools.

When voicing an audiobook and prior to starting a new project, I have tried to remember to contact my coach (Vanessa Hart) when I was uncertain how to proceed. The one time that I did not, I messed up royally and probably lost the job.

Other faux pas:
- I touched the mic in one studio and they have asked me NOT to come back.
- Brought my own copy of the copy to a session but still had to wait because the studio decided to use different copy! (Since that wasn't my fault, I still work with that studio.)
- I was present when someone shreiked into the mic. Fortunately, the engineer had just removed his headphones. Since the rest of us in the room who were not wearing earphones found the sound painful, I cannot even imagine what would have happened to the engineer's ears.
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