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How To Ace Your First Session
In A Professional Recording Studio
 
By Maxine Dunn
Voice Actor & Solopreneur
 
One of the biggest milestones in your early voice over career will be working in a professional recording studio.
 
And having a session in a pro studio reveals one very important fact: You’re going about your business in the right way:
  • you’ve been working with a coach,
  • you’ve created a voice over demo and, most importantly,
  • you’ve succeeded in getting it into the hands of someone who wants to use your voice for their project.
Congratulations! You’re on your way.
 
PREPARE FOR SESSION
 
Although every recording session has its own unique personality - and no experience will be identical to another, there are certain procedures and experiences that will be very similar in every session.
 
Being aware of what to expect, having guidelines of how to behave, and remaining flexible and cooperative will help your experiences in pro studios go much more smoothly.
 
So take a deep breath and let me walk you through a typical recording session. I’ll give you some tips along the way to help you get your bearings.
 
THE DAY BEFORE ...
 
Your preparation for your session will begin a day or two before you set foot in the studio.
 
Avoid foods and beverages that will “clog the pipes” and make your body produce more mucous for at least 24 hours before your session. These include:
  • dairy foods,
  • fatty and spicy foods,
  • alcohol, and
  • carbonated beverages.
THE NIGHT BEFORE ...
 
One of the best ways to assure that your voice is clear and strong is to get a good night’s sleep the night before you record.
 
THE MORNING OF ...
 
A few things to avoid when dressing / preparing for your session are:
  • perfume,
  • cologne or strongly scented lotions, deodorants or oils,
  • “noisy” jewelry like long earrings or bracelets,
  • clothing that is stiff or synthetic or makes “noise” when brushed against itself. Those microphones are ultra sensitive.
Also be sure to have fresh breath!
 
HOW TO DRESS
 
I prefer to dress professionally or fashionably for voiceover sessions, as that’s what I feel most comfortable in.
 
However, the basic guideline for attire is business casual.
 
WHAT TO TAKE
 
I recommend taking the following items to your recording session:
  • room temperature bottled water,
  • a pen, pencil and highlighter,
  • lip balm, if your lips tend to get dry,
  • reading glasses if you need them,
  • business cards, and
  • your voice over demo CD (some clients will appreciate having a hard copy).
GETTING THERE
 
On the day of your session, arrive at the studio 10-15 minutes early. (And that means being INSDIE the studio 10-15 minutes before your session time, not driving around the parking lot looking for a parking space!)
 
Make sure you have good directions and have the studio’s telephone number with you in case you need to call for any reason.
 
MAKING YOUR ENTRY
 
When you first arrive you’ll be greeted by the receptionist and may have to wait in the lobby if the client has not arrived yet.
 
If you didn’t receive the script the day before, you’ll most likely be given one now. Take advantage of being there early and review the script.
 
Breathe.
 
CLIENT ARRIVAL
 
When the client arrives, you’ll be walked back to the control room and typically there will be a few minutes of consultation with the client and engineer about what your clients wants.
 
This is a great time to ask questions or get clarification on the script:
  • terms used,
  • pronunciation of acronyms,
  • what delivery and tone they want, etc.
FOCUS ON SCRIPT & CLIENT
 
If this is the first time you’ve seen the script (and especially if it’s a long one), be sure to request a few minutes to look it over so you’re not “cold reading” it.
 
No client will object if you say, “Since this is the first time I’ve seen the script, I’d like to take a few minutes to look it over.”
 
If you’re feeling nervous at this point, remember to breathe! Just relax your belly and take slow deep breaths through your nose.
 
If you focus very clearly on your client and their needs, you’ll find you have less attention to focus on how you’re feeling.
 
INTO THE BOOTH
 
Next, the engineer will take you into the booth and get you situated in front of the microphone.
 
The booth might be a tiny closet-sized room or a cavernous suite with grand pianos and musical instruments in it.
 
Don’t worry - your only concern is the area directly in front of the microphone.
 
Don’t be intimidated by whatever surroundings you find yourself in. Bring your attention back to what you are going to create for your client, relax, and feel confident.
 
You’re there for a reason!
 
SIT OR STAND?
 
Be sure to let the engineer know whether you’d like to sit or stand – it’s up to you, so don’t be shy about stating your preference.
 
I prefer to stand, since I feel it allows me more room to move my arms and gesture, as well as allowing me to have better breath control.
 
You’ll also be given a set of headphones so you can hear direction and communicate with the client during the session.
 
RECORDING - PART 1
 
Once you’re properly situated in front of the mic, you’ll be asked to read some of the script for “a level check.”
 
This will allow the engineer to set the appropriate recording levels for the session. When reading to set the levels, read the script at exactly the volume you’ll be using when recording the session.
 
Note: Don’t touch the microphone. If you need something adjusted in the booth, ask the engineer to come and do it for you.
 
RECORDING - PART 2
 
Before you start to record, the client will most probably give you some last-minute direction:
“Be warm and conversational.”
“Remember to really hit the words FOREVER and TOMORROW!” Or,
"Give it a sultry, sensual edge.”
TAKE ONE ... TWO ...
 
Then the engineer will let you know he’s recording – Take one. Take two. Sometimes Take 30!
 
Don’t be alarmed if you have to read a script many times in many different ways. That’s perfectly normal.
 
The director’s instructions are not criticism, so don’t take their words personally, just stay relaxed, creative, and cooperative and keep your energy up.
 
Some sessions will be a breeze and you’ll be finished in 20 minutes. Others will take much longer and require stamina and a great attitude.
 
Stay positive and keep your focus on what you’re creating for your client.
 
BE PATIENT
 
You may be required to wait for extended periods in the booth while the client and engineer confer and work with the audio and video.
 
I’ve sometimes waited in the booth for over 30 minutes, with no communication from the control room.
 
Just keep breathing deeply, move your body (while making sure you know your mic position) and be patient. (I’ve even done leg lifts or jumping jacks or yoga stretches to keep my blood moving around!)
 
They’ll let you know when they need your attention again.
 
BE FLEXIBLE
 
Your client also may do script changes on-the-fly.
 
This is common when recording commercial copy, as many times there is too much copy for a :30 or :60 second commercial.
 
Be prepared to change your script (with a pencil, as they may also change it back) and be flexible with your read if the copy changes.
 
Remember, you’re an integral part of a creative process, and a recording session is a fluid, changeable medium.
 
Nothing is carved in stone. Stay loose.
 
WRAPPING UP ...
 
When the client is happy with the finished recording, the engineer will let you know that you’re finished and can come out of the booth.
 
There’s usually a congratulatory feeling all around and, for you, a great sense of relief and pride! You did it!
 
I always ask my clients for their business card and always give them one of mine and thank them heartily for the opportunity to work with them.
 
But don’t stay and chat too long, they have work to do!
 
 If you’re working through an agent and have a voucher or a contract to be signed, make sure you get the paper work completed before you leave, either with the client, studio manager, or receptionist.
 
FOLLOW UP
 
Always, always, send a thank-you note to your client! And it should be sent within  one to three days after the job.
 
Just send a brief, sincere note of appreciation for the opportunity to work with them (and I always include another business card) and thank them for their business.
 
Then include them in your database and be sure to keep in touch with them throughout the year.
 
YOU DID IT
 
And you’re done! You’ve got your first pro studio job under your belt and there are many more before you. Congratulations!
 
Of course there are many more variables in a recording session. But this overview will help you feel  more prepared when you head to your first professional recording studio voice over session.
 
ABOUT MAXINE ...
 
Maxine Dunn is a top voice over artist and on-camera spokesperson who has been seen and heard in hundreds of commercials, documentaries, corporate narrations, voice-mail systems and websites. She is a British native and her ability to also deliver a perfect American accent gives her business a wide range. She works with Fortune 100 companies, award-winning creative teams, and maintains an extensive clientele - locally, nationally, and internationally. Best known for her voice over and spokesperson expertise, she is also an avid writer who enjoys bringing stimulating and motivating material to her readers. Her free weekly e-zine, The Creative Business Advisor, is available at her website (below).
 
Complimentary newsletter sample: http://conta.cc/MaxineNL 
 

 

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Comments (10)
Brook
3/26/2015 at 10:00 AM
These are such great tips for people who are preparing to go to a studio for their first time. I really liked your list of things to remember to take! It's helpful to have a list so that you don't accidentally forget something important. I totally agree that it's important to remember to bring water. Especially if you're going to be singing, you'll want to be prepared with something to drink!
Brook | http://www.Burnrecording.com
Rick Lance
7/24/2011 at 1:54 PM
Good advice here, Maxine. I think a lot of us who have been at VO for a while tend to forget that many of the newer folks have never been to a live session. Of course, this is mainly because so many sessions now are conducted from home studios. Often with little or no direction at all. Even when compared to being directed via phone patch or ISDN, there's nothing like a live session.

I love it when I get the chance to work in live sessions. Usually for me it's every several weeks or so in one of 3 studios I work in around Nashville.

When I started out about 1993, I took the "look, listen and learn approach" since my studio experience had been as a singer working with Nashville musicians, producers and songwriters. They were a much more casual group of people than the ad folks in the VO sessions! So I just kept cool and conservative as I learned.

What Paul had said is good to know, but I have to agree with Maxine that only as you relax into doing more and more live sessions, those things Paul mentioned become more valuable. At this point, all of what Maxine has suggested I routinely do as second nature. I've since added those things Paul suggested and continue to do these days. It's a great feeling knowing that you are treated like a professional at the session and the project you just voiced is a winner!
Maxine Dunn
7/15/2011 at 6:59 PM
I was just re-reading the article here and the comments again before posting a link to this article on a couple of Facebook voice-over groups, and I wanted to add an additional comment.

In the comment below, Paul Strikwerda made a number of suggestions. These include speaking with the engineer before the session and before the client arrives, making script suggestions to the client during the session or offering “something they might want to consider,” and, asking for retakes if you’re not happy with the way you’re sounding.

As my article is specifically written about a voice actor’s FIRST session in a pro recording studio, I personally do not recommend asking to go back to visit with the engineer before the client arrives, making script suggestions, or subjectively critiquing your performance and asking for a retake if you don’t like the way something sounds. The client will let you know if they don’t like what you’re doing.

At your first session, in fact in your first several sessions, just listen, watch, and learn. Don’t try to do more than you know how. You’re just getting your feet wet and learning pro studio etiquette, so I suggest taking the steps that Paul outlined in his comment at a later date when you have much more experience and are more familiar with the whole process.

Don't rush your learning process or take liberties you're unsure of. Take your time and absorb all the information you can, but don't presume to know more than you do or you could come across as looking very foolish.

Re-read the section “Client Arrival” to see the best time to ask questions, and always ask questions during the session if you’re unsure of how a word or line should be delivered.
Jen Gosnell
10/29/2010 at 2:00 AM
Thanks for your reply, Maxine! It's very helpful to hear from experienced folks such as yourself.

I've subscribed to your newsletter and will look forward to reading it, as well as finding out more about how to access the archives. I'm sure there will be lots of good food for thought there.

Kind regards,
Jen
Maxine Dunn
10/28/2010 at 10:22 AM
Hi Jen,

I find that approaching that question at the end of the session is best, when you’re back in the control room with the client & the engineer. Prior to the session the client may have mentioned when/where the spot or piece will be running, so after the session I normally say, “Would it be possible for me to get a copy of the spot? Perhaps Ed (engineer’s name here) could just email me an Mp3?” I find that the client is usually happy to say yes and may also offer to send you a DVD or CD once the spot's finished. (Having a business card to offer with your contact information on it is important, so they know where to send it.)

However, you may not always be able to get copies of your work. For example, the industrial/narration work I do for P & G is never made available. It depends upon the company/client … but always ask.

If your client is conducting the session remotely (via phone patch or ISDN), you can ask about obtaining the spot while you’re still in the booth & communicating with them with your headphones on. It’s perfectly fine to ask, so don’t be shy.

In my opinion, thank you notes should only be used for saying thank you. (As opposed to containing other information or making a request.) I’ve written a very informative article on “thank you note etiquette” that’s in my newsletter archives. You might find that helpful as well.

As you start working, try to gather as much of your work as you can so you can slowly start splicing real jobs into the spots on your demo. And before you know it, your demo will be all real spots!

Best of luck!
Maxine
Jen Gosnell
10/28/2010 at 1:38 AM
I appreciate this advice, Maxine - these are good, solid, basic things to be aware of that a newbie would not necessarily think about. I always feel that the more I can prepare beforehand when going into a new situation where I want to be at my best, the better! Thanks!

Also, thanks to Paul S. for his helpful comments below.

One question I have is, at what point would it be considered appropriate to ask for a copy of the work you have done? I assume that typically you would get a recording of the finished product (for example, a commercial spot fully produced)? Is it best to ask for this with your thank you note, directly after the session, or some other time? I'd love to hear opinions on this from those who have been there.
Tom Conklin
10/27/2010 at 10:22 PM
Great article, Maxine! It's a keeper!
Carl Bobb
10/27/2010 at 4:48 PM
How fun! I got to hear from Maxine and Paul in the same day. I've learned so much from you two. Thanks for investing in the careers of others who are trying to make a go of it in this industry.

Cheers and Doei,
Carl
Strasburg, CO
Paul Strikwerda
10/27/2010 at 8:57 AM
Excellent article, Maxine. Well Dunn!

May I add a few pointers?

Apart from the fact that it's professional to arrive early, you don't want to burst in all sweaty and out of breath because you've been running to the studio. Studio time is very expensive and there's no need for you to be the one holding up the entire production process.

When the receptionist tells you: "No one's there yet," it often means that the client/producer/director hasn't arrived. However, the sound engineer is usually getting ready (or bored, waiting for the crew to arrive). If it's okay, I always go in and chat with the engineer. I can't tell you how much I have learned from them.

Clients come and clients go, but I often run into the same engineers. In my experience, most of them are the nicest, most qualified people you'll ever have the pleasure of working with, and they don't always get the credit they deserve.

There's another side to that coin. Engineers make you sound good. Engineers see a lot of talent. Most engineers do other recording work on the side and - if you're any good - they can and will introduce you to the people in their network.

I've also learned that it's fine to speak up before and during a session. Intimidated beginners are often too terrified to ask questions or comment on something. Especially in foreign language productions, I have had to correct translation errors and educate producers on the right pronunciation. However, if you're running into big egos, it's even more important to do this tactfully.

I always package my comments as "suggestions" or as "something you might want to consider." Nine out of 10 times, the client is appreciative of the feedback and it has lead to return business. Sometimes they think they know better and I bite my tongue (not a good thing for a voice-over artist).

Secondly, I have learned that it's okay to ask for a retake if I am not happy with the way my mouth was behaving behind the mic. Think of it this way: out of all the people present, only you truly know what you're capable of, and you want to perform to the best of your abilities. So, if you really feel that you can do better, ask for another take.

And - just between you and me - some producers don't seem to have a clue, and their standards might not be as high as yours. They book a studio for two hours but they just want to get in and get out. Remember: at every production you're involved in, your reputation is on the line. It is in your best professional interest to make sure you nail it each and every time!

Last but not least: if you're working with other actors, be nice to them! Don't share all your horror stories or act like a Diva or Divo. They don't need to know the last thing that the great Don LaFontaine said to you in his limo. Focus on the job. Make your colleagues feel comfortable. You're all in it for the same purpose. And most of all: have fun!






Paul
10/27/2010 at 8:05 AM
Maxine,
Thank you very much foe the primer!
Paul
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