Murphy’s Laws of Voice Over
Look at the bright side. We wouldn't have blooper reels if it weren't for ol' Murphy and his perverse, previously unreleased laws of voiceover.
OK, let's take a count. Who here DOESN'T know our old friend Murphy? Didn't think so.
Yeah, he’s a real people pleaser. Always there for us. In a perverse, unwanted way.
For those of you scratching your heads, here’s the refresher course on Murphy’s 3 Laws:
1. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
2. Nothing is as easy as it looks.
3. Everything takes longer than you think it will.
Sounds like a typical day in voiceover-land, where usually one of those three laws will sneak up and conk you on the head.
So in the spirit of well, if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen ... I present Murphy’s 10 Laws of Voice Over. Admittedly, they’re taken from Murphy’s subsequent Laws of Technology. But hey, I used to work in IT, so I think in all good faith I can mangle, er, borrow, them a bit. And I’ve thrown in a few more that no voice actor will ever dispute. So here we go:
1. Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence
Take that, Mr. Spock! Yes, you may *think* that’s what the client wants, but just because they say so explicitly in the specs, doesn’t mean that’s truly what they’re looking for. Proven by that commercial or twelve that we’d auditioned for, only to hear it voiced completely different from what they had said they wanted.
Lesson here: do your best “you” and send in a second take that’s your unique spin on their story. The client may like it so well that they decide to go in that other direction that you just showed them. After all, most commercial messages appeal to the emotions, not the intellect. Highly illogical as it may seem.
2. Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition
Hello, casting sites? We’re talking about you. Just because it’s “new and improved” doesn’t mean it’s better.
This law also applies to those times when a client books you for a project and then completely changes its scope. Like expanding a 5 minute narration to 10 minutes without expecting to pay more. Or changing usage from “internal use only” to include paid advertising or deciding that it’ll be used “without restriction in perpetuity.” Clients, we love you and we know you’re no fools … but neither are we and we have to talk.
3. All great discoveries are made by mistake
Harkening back to Law #1, sometimes the client doesn’t really know what they want until you show them! It can inspire them to take their campaign in a totally different direction.
Likewise, as artists, sometimes we don’t realize what we’re capable of until we try something new. So don’t be afraid to work with that new coach in a different genre. You may end up discovering your inner genius. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!)
4. A failure will not appear till a unit has passed final inspection
Ouch. How many of us have completed a project and turned it in to the client, only to discover that an important name was mispronounced? Many failures can be avoided up front. That’s why it’s smart to check with the client BEFORE you begin to record to verify pronunciations, including things like numbers and currencies that could be voiced more than one way. You really don’t want the embarrassment of having your client point out your mistakes.
Sometimes the “failure” is the client changing their minds after the agreed-upon recording has been delivered. That’s why it’s so important to state your revision policy up front, so that everyone’s on board with client-initiated changes after the fact. It's the professional way to conduct business.
5. To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer
Hey, did AI enter anyone else’s mind? 😆
Yes, it’s here. Yes, it will improve. But will it ever truly replace the nuance and power of the living human voice? I think not. AI will be a fair substitute for some low budget projects or in areas that have always seemed a bit robotic, like telephony or basic eLearning scripts ("click here to go to the next slide.") But I truly believe that you get what you pay for. And quality shines through. We’ll see over time if businesses are helped or hurt by AI voices by how well their customers respond to them.
6. All things are possible except skiing through a revolving door
That and cramming 90 seconds of copy into a 60 second spot. Not that it’ll stop some clients from trying. Hey, I’m a fast-talker, but some of these expectations are a bit ridiculous. Unless you want to rev up the speed to Chipmunk Chat.
7. When all else fails, read the instructions
This earns a big, fat “duh!” It boggles the mind how many auditions get trashed by the client because the talent did not follow instructions. Not following naming conventions. Or by submitting for jobs that they in no way, shape, or form are a fit, especially when the client clearly specifies that they only want a particular gender, age range, ethnicity, skill, etc. applying. That’s disrespectful, people. A time waster. And it reflects badly on YOU.
Now for my voiceover-specific favorites:
8. The job or hot audition comes in as soon as you head out on vacation
Raise your hand if this HASN’T happened to you. My favorite was a rush request that came in while I was sitting on a plane, just as the overhead announcement told everyone to turn off all electronic devices. Quick! How fast can you respond before you get caught by an alert flight attendant?! It’s a whole new entertainment.
9. Neighbor fires up their lawn mower, leaf blower, or chainsaw just as you're about to start recording
Grrr. Yeah, it happens. It's worst when you have a directed session involved. Most clients are understanding, but it’s frustrating. Ah, the joys of a home studio. That’s why I keep my favorite local voiceover academy/professional studio on speed dial. And pray for an open appointment slot if the client can’t reschedule.
10. Internet goes down and stays down for hours. Just when your overseas directed session begins
Double grrr. This happened to me in my very first directed session ever. With my first overseas client. Who had a roomful of people in attendance. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to describe it. No appointments available for last-minute studio booking, either. Fortunately, my desperate prayers worked (or the ISP had a really fast-responding, skilled ground crew on hand), because that hours-long estimate turned into only 30 minutes. And my colorist was able to dye all those sudden gray hairs back into a nice brown on my next visit.
One more! A bonus Murphy’s Law on Voice Over, just because it’s my all-time favorite and appeals to my love for science fiction:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
I mean, how cool is that we’re able to do this work at all? And from our homes? And for the most part, on our own time?
My late uncle worked in the pioneering days of radio and television. He loved the equipment and collected some great vintage pieces. How incredible that we’re able to harness the power of major studios and funnel it all into a small laptop, some other small pieces of helpful equipment, and operate it worldwide from a closet in a spare room? Or wherever you’re working from. To someone from an earlier time, what we’re doing IS kinda magical.
So whatever old Murphy throws my way … OK, it’s just part and parcel of being able to do this wonderful work for which I’m very grateful.
Though it would be nice if he’d pick on someone else once in a while. But not you. You read through to the end of my post, so you're safe. For now. Maybe. Can't tell. I left my crystal ball back in my studio.