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When They Get An Itch To Send You
A Scratch Track To Follow - What To Do?
June 9, 2014

By Rachel Fulginiti
Voice Actor

It’s happening more and more all the time. I book a job from my home studio. They forward me a script with an mp3 and a short note:

"Use this to capture the tone.”

Rather than getting actual direction on a piece, I get a scratch track of the director, writer or producer doing the voice over.


I think this stems from a combination of inexperienced folks with no real acting or directing history finding themselves in an unfamiliar position and the ease of self-recording these days. They don’t really know how to talk to actors and it’s so simple for people to record themselves these days, that they just do that.

Sometimes this can be helpful, for instance to get an idea of the pacing, or if the subject matter is something highly specialized or technical that I know nothing about.

But most of the time, at least as far as tone or attitude is concerned, it’s pretty unhelpful. Not to mention a tiny bit insulting, although I know they don't mean it to be. They really don’t know that I’m probably not going to be able to glean what they’re going for by listening to them do it, as they’re not professional VO’s.

For a trained actor, it’s much more helpful to receive actual direction.


So how do you handle this? Well, you can either:

A) Get mad and do it your own way.

B) Try to be a mind reader. I used to try this a lot and sometimes it works ... but other times, not at all! I would try a take based on what I thought they wanted and then wait for feedback ... and then do it again. But that wastes everyone’s time and energy. So I’ve learned it’s actually helpful to choose ...

C) Ask/clarify! A way I like to do this is to say something like, "Ok, what I’m hearing is that you’re looking for …” and try to put into words what I think I’m hearing.

This isn’t always easy, but it’s more polite than saying flat out: "I have no idea what you’re talking about."


Of course sometimes, this is the case and there’s really nothing to grab onto at all. But I can still put it delicately:

"I’m not sure I’m understanding what you want me to go for here? Can you try to use some descriptive words? Do you want it sound upbeat and friendly? Serious and authoritative?"

I also try to ask questions like:
  • Who are you trying to reach with this piece?
  • What are you trying to communicate/get across in this video?
  • What is the attitude you're looking for?
Sometimes they still can’t really put it into words, but at least by clarifying up front, you have a place to start and something specific to refer back to.

I'm so curious, fellow voice actors: has this been coming up for you more and more? How do you handle these situations?
Rachel Fulginiti is a voice actor, audiobook narrator and blogger living in Los Angeles. She’s represented by William Morris Endeavor and has voiced for hundreds of brands including McDonalds, Kia, Fox, Chrysler, Apple and Target.  


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Comments (13)
Jen Gosnell
6/13/2014 at 10:26 PM
Rachel, thanks for throwing this out there. It's not something I've had happen, but the article and comments have given me some valuable thoughts for when it (inevitably) does!
Rick Riley
6/10/2014 at 5:36 PM
Rachel, thanks for addressing my comments. I have never had a scratch track supplied that wasn't just for timing purposes or referencing where the VO would come in, in the piece, so when you referred to scratch track, that's what I drew upon. I HAVE had, on some occasions, producers ask ME to cut the scratch track so they can build the video and then come back for the final VO later, but that's my total involvement with them, and again, that would be for timing. As I said, I value any tool I can have to give the producer what they want, so, with that being my only experience, I would certainly write a 'pro scratch track' reply. And thank you for clarifying.
Rachel Fulginiti
6/10/2014 at 11:25 AM
Greg: yes! It happens to me too with auditions - especially for promo- and it is so tough to figure out what they actually want us to do with that.

Here are some thoughts:

Going with the pacing is obviously a good idea - do what the scratch did in terms of pacing.

Your voice print is your voice print, so do it in your voice - don't mimic theirs - although if it's a deep voice, I go with my deeper register, etc.

In terms of inflection, what I've started doing is doing a first take using their inflection and then giving a take or two where I do my own spin on it. Or sometimes, if theirs is just something I wouldn't do naturally, I will put "my" take first, and then do one with their inflection.

Ultimately, I think we all have to do "ourselves". We can be informed by a scratch but we have to do what we do, the way we do it. It's the only thing that makes us unique and that's ultimately what they're looking for.

As you said, why not hire the person who did the scratch? I often think that myself, especially when the scratch is another VO and it's good! It could be so many things: maybe that person isn't available for whatever reason, or maybe they want someone "like that but younger" or maybe they just want a "fresh voice"... or maybe the voice is close, but they still want something slightly different - and they might not even know what it is!

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this matter too!
Greg Thomas
6/10/2014 at 10:48 AM
Your comments about communicating with the client are right on, Rachel, but how should we handle AUDITIONS that come with a scratch track? I've received the second one in about a week, and neither one had a horrible VO on it. For one of them, I wondered why they didn't just go with that guy. (Maybe because he didn't sound like Donald Sutherland or Morgan Freeman, who were also references.) Are we simply to parrot the delivery we hear in the scratch track? Do it "our way" anyway?
Gary Terzza
6/10/2014 at 5:42 AM
You are right Rachel, a guide track is usually so bad it is of no use whatsoever. After all, if the client could do the voice over properly, they would have booked themselves!

That said, a scratch track can be helpful in terms of pacing and cue points .... but that's about it.
Rachel Fulginiti
6/9/2014 at 6:34 PM
Rick: Thanks for your comment. To clarify, I wasn't talking about being insulted about being given a scratch track under any circumstances. Of course, scratch tracks are great for timing purposes and obviously to see the video if it's done is a super bonus. What I meant is when they give you a scratch track in lieu of any type of direction. Often, I get cast without a custom audition at all - from repeat clients or a referral, or from off my demo, for instance. They pass along a scratch and tell you to "do it like that."

In many cases, it's difficult to tell what "that" is. I can't tell if it's just a bad voiceover, or ... what they're going for. Do they want me to copy the exact inflection that this person is using? Is it meant to sound overly announced or is that someone just doing a bad voiceover? That type of thing.

It's kind of like a line reading. Lots of actors get insulted by line readings. I'm actually not one of them. Give me a line reading, go ahead, tell me exactly what you want and I'll give it to you; I'm happy to. What I'm reflecting upon is the lack of clarity and effort in terms of communication.

But btw, if their intention actually WAS to have me copy the entire piece in terms of inflection from top to bottom (not usually the case, but it happens), well between you and I, I do find that a bit insulting - or at least a bit of a bummer. After all, I see every project as a collaboration and I prefer to bring my creativity and expertise to the table. Now does it get in the way of my work? No. Would they ever even know I had a problem with it? Absolutely not. Like you, I'm a professional and I'm happy to give clients exactly what they want. In this article, I'm just talking shop with colleagues about a growing trend I'm noticing, that's all! ;)
Rachel Fulginiti
6/9/2014 at 4:04 PM
Linda: I am cracking up! Totally!!
Tom: I'm glad to hear it's not just me! ;)
Tom Dheere
6/9/2014 at 3:32 PM
Great article, Rachel! I've had the same exact experience & reaction as you. I think voice actors are far better served having a conversation with the producer/director to articulate what they want. While their intentions are good, a scratch track almost never helps and sometimes interferes with a performance.
Linda Joy
6/9/2014 at 12:48 PM
Thanks for tackling this topic, Rachel!

The same thing has been happening to me, too. The last two were video game promo type reads, and in each case I found myself trying to 'interpret' the producer. Both hired me off a specific (gloom and doom) demo, gave me sale-sy scripts, asked for a sincere read, and added a scratch track that reflected none of that.

I think your approach of " What I'm hearing is that you are looking for…" is right on. Being able to pick up the phone and discuss helps, too.

Great article, Rachel, thanks again!
6/9/2014 at 11:21 AM
Jason and Rebecca, yes, I love your suggestions!! Thanks for sharing!
Rick Riley
6/9/2014 at 11:15 AM
Normally I wouldn't chime in, but I think you're giving some misinformation here. I've never been given a scratch track where I didn't book the job with an audition first. So apparently I've already hit the flavor of what they're looking for. And after booking the job, I welcome a scratch track, and if not offered one, I'll ALWAYS ask for at least a rough cut of the video so I can see what I'm working with. Sometimes their reply is, 'We're going to put it together around the VO, so we don't have one', but when I do get one, it's invaluable in being keyed in on what they're trying to accomplish.

I'm not getting why you would be offended. You're working with them. You're part of their team. Anything they can do to help you accomplish their goals, and anything you can do to realize the goal they're trying to accomplish is an asset. To be insulted places you apart from, and most likely in your mind, 'above' the team. And then... you're not part of the team any more.

I've worked with and continue to work with some of the most notable production houses in the industry. The further up the scale you go, the more you're going to run into scratch tracks. That just shows that they have their act together. They are prepared. They know what they want and from your audition, they've hired you to help them achieve that. I've never found ANY offense in that!
Jason Culver
6/9/2014 at 9:33 AM
Rachel, thanks for a great article. While the music (if provided) can be helpful with tone, being able to provide the objective is invaluable. At least a scratch track is better than a script with no direction and, when asked what they want to accomplish, vague, non-descript responses. In desperation sometimes I will ask for a "sounds like" voice ("Would you like a delivery/style/sound like X").
Rebecca aka LoveThatRebecca
6/9/2014 at 9:14 AM
Hi Rachel,

I think this is a good discussion but this hasn't happened to me all that often. I think you've evaluated the situation well in your article.

I think an option that might not be exactly included would be to give them a sample and clarify from there. That way they hear what you have understood in your own voice. Then the questions and sharing might be easier on both you and them. And depending on time and deadlines, which are often very short, sometimes I give two full takes with different but appropriate approaches. When I have a chance to use this approach, it has been a major win-win with clients and myself. Maybe it'll help someone else who reads this, or maybe you'll even like the idea.

Again, I appreciate the dilemma you've posed and the conversation it starts!

Best regards,
Rebecca Michaels Haugh aka LoveThatRebecca
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