10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Voice Actor
Save Time and Money on Your Next Project
Congrats! You have your project all mapped out. The script for the video is written to perfection. You have selected the perfect voice to narrate it. And now you’re ready to schedule the recording session and direct a spot-on performance, just like you’ve imagined it should sound.
OK, maybe it’s not a directed session. This could be an eLearning course or an explainer video, in which case the voice over may be recorded (and perhaps edited) remotely from the talent’s home studio on his or her own time. But with the right script and the right voice, you’re golden, right?
Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s best not to leave anything to chance, especially if you have something specific in mind. The last thing you want to end up with is a recording, while technically what you’ve asked for, that misses the mark and needs to be partially or even completely redone.
And if you’ve never worked with a voice actor before, you may be unsure of how to even proceed once you’ve selected the talent you want.
In any situation, it’s smart to avoid unnecessary waste of time and money. The goal is to get it right the first time, and that’s done with diligent upfront planning and clear communications. In no particular order, here are my Top Ten Tips for getting the most out of your voice actor:
1. Use a broadcast-quality studio
It doesn’t matter if it’s an outside professional recording studio or a home studio – just make sure that the voice actor can deliver audio with a sufficiently low noise floor (-60 db or lower) without extraneous noise ruining the quality. Without a proper recording environment, your audio engineers will find it very difficult to turn the audio files into something useable.
Your voice actor may have recorded his or her audition from the studio that would be used for the job. Great! You know what you’ll be receiving. Otherwise, you may want to ask for a very short voice sample before the job begins or have the talent connect with your audio engineer to test the dynamics first.
2. Clarify the scope of the job
Oftentimes, these details are communicated to voice actors BEFORE they audition for your job, especially if you had posted the job on a casting site, sent it out to agents, or asked certain talent directly to audition. Otherwise, make sure that the talent understands exactly what the voice over will be used for:
genre (ex. commercial, corporate narration, video game, etc.)
length: number of words in the script OR the approximate length of time of the finished recording (ex. 90 seconds for a narration or 15 minutes per eLearning module) OR any time restrictions (ex. 30 seconds for a commercial)
character (if applicable) for a video game, animation, or certain eLearning scenarios
audience: who is it for? Are they to be informed, persuaded, or entertained?
3. Describe the tone of the project
Again, the vocal tone is often described prior to auditioning, but make sure that the voice actor knows what you’re looking for. Do you want a friendly, casual read that purely conversational? A brassy, sassy type of voice, perhaps like that of a well-known celebrity? Or a serious and authoritative read? Be specific and provide several descriptive words like these to let the talent know where you’re coming from.
Experienced voice actors will often provide two different reads, especially if the description allows for multiple interpretations. For example, asking for a read that’s conversational, like your best friend who’s talking frankly with you, may provide you with auditions that sound friendly and helpful, or serious and a bit sarcastic, or even motherly and protective. The voice actor may even give you one read that is as close to your specifications as possible and another “wild card” read that he or she thinks would work, too.
4. Spell out the job’s usage, payment details, and revision/retake requirements
Usage – is it for broadcast (radio, TV, streaming, etc.), non-broadcast (internal usage)? If it’s broadcast, how long will the voice over spot run and in which size markets?
Payment – how much does the job pay? Is it one in a series, for which the voice actor will be paid the same amount per job?
Revision/Retake requirements – the voice actor will probably have their own revision/retake policy, but state your expectations or requirements upfront.
5. If the recording will take place in a directed session, list the connectivity tool(s) you expect the talent to have available
Options include Source Connect, ipDTL, Zoom, Skype, or any other connectivity tools that your audio engineers use. ISDN, once the industry standard, has been eclipsed by these other software-based options that do not require a significant hardware investment, though it is occasionally still used.
6. Specify what you need to receive from the talent after recording has taken place
There are several options here:
Nothing! - In a directed session, especially if the voice over is recorded by your audio engineer through Source Connect (as an example), the talent may not need to do anything but voice the script. Most voice actors, however, also record the session on their end as a backup. If the original recorded by your engineers becomes corrupted, misplaced, or is interrupted (an unexpected break in an internet connection), then the backup avoids needing to schedule another recording session. The backup would be sent as a raw (.wav) audio file.
Raw (.wav) audio file –If you are connecting for a directed session via Zoom, for example, then you’ll probably want the voice actor to record at his or her end and send the raw file (.wav) to you afterwards. A .wav file is high quality, uncompressed audio and provides the best sounds quality. It’s also the format that is needed to be incorporated in the project’s final mixdown.
Processed (.mp3) audio file – Auditions are sent in as .mp3 audio files, and you may prefer to receive a processed and compressed .mp3 audio file from your voice actor if it will posted “as is” without further mixing.
File Splits – If your project has many components to be voiced, such as with multiple modules within a single eLearning course, be sure to tell your voice actor how you want the file split and labeled.
Sample rate and bit rate – Most voice actors default to recording with a sample rate of 44.1 kHz and a bit rate of 16 or 24. Tell them ahead of time if you want anything different.
7. Send the script ahead of the session
Help the voice actor prepare by sending the script ahead of a directed recording session, so that any questions can be addressed before the appointed time. Even when the voice actor is self-directing and recording alone, offer to answer any questions regarding pronunciation of names, places, or even numbers. For example, is the number 100 to be voiced as “one-zero-zero” or “one hundred” or “one-oh-oh?” And for words like “either,” provide notes with the script if you wish it to be pronounced “I-ther” or “E-ther.” The same goes for tomato (“toe-may-toe” vs. “tah-mah-toe”), potato, and other regionalisms.
It’s also helpful to have descriptions of emotions or changes in tone or pace in the script where you think they’re essential. Most voice actors will intuit what’s needed, take the clues from the punctuation, and incorporate them without direction, but if you want a particular emphasis somewhere, note it either before the script begins or imbedded in parenthesis within it. Just don’t overdo the performance notes; it’s counterproductive to try to direct the voice actor sentence by sentence. All too often, the actor’s attention becomes more focused on honoring your direction, rather than on interpreting your script and effectively communicating its message. A little direction is good, too much can interrupt the natural flow of the performance and cause it to come across as stilted.
8. Ask for a short sample read
Especially for long-form projects like eLearning, it can be helpful for the voice actor to send you a short 30-60 recording to ensure that the pacing, tone, and quality of the recording is on track with what you are expecting. This way, you can redirect or correct the talent early in the project, which will make everyone much happier than if the correction came after farther into the process.
9. Share other components of the project, if possible
Are you using a music bed? Visuals to highlight the narration? Either of these things can provide clues to the voice actor as to what the finished project will look and sound like, and help him or her adjust the performance to match the music or visuals.
10. Don’t rewrite the script after the voice files are submitted
Save yourself time, money, and aggravation by providing the voice actor with the final version of your script. Yes, small changes like a phrase here and there may be necessary or an extra sentence may need to be added, but professional, experienced voice actors will not re-record an entire long script without additional session fees. This ties back to my fourth point above; spell out in advance your expectations and understand what the voice actor’s retake/revision policy is. Most actors will not charge for very small changes, especially if they’re due to mispronunciations. Whether they do or not really depends on the scope of the requested changes relative to the length of the finished product. But you’ll save money – and certainly time – by presenting your voice actor with a script in its final form.