/Mark Welker

Do a better voiceover

Tips for guiding a great record

While content trends come and go, voiceovers remain a staple of video production, and good character voices play a big role in a market where more brands than ever define themselves through video.

We would do around 10 voiceovers a year, and from time to time we still grapple with the right way of expressing feedback or defining exactly where we need to go next in a record. It’s easy to recognise a great VO in past tense, harder to guide it there.

So, I asked a few colleagues who do this every day on what defines good direction in the booth.

First up, Matt Gerber-Corn from Sonic Playground said producers and creatives should take their full allocated time in a VO record rather than nail it early and turn in.

"Typically, a voice artist is booked in for one hour. Use this time to explore what the artists voice can do. You may decide, after the voice record session, to use take 1 from the whole recording session, or you may decide to use take 45.

"I’ve been in sessions where the initial creative brief given to the voice artist has changed 2 or 3 times during the record. What was originally a ‘locked in’ style, has swung dramatically to another direction giving the script a completely different feel and tone."

To make the most of that time, head in with a brief and a list of experiments to try once that brief has been met. Performance in a booth can be just as artful and surprising as an on-screen performance, so use your max time to tease out a good read.

Matt says don't be afraid if you haven't got all the answers either.

"More often than not, the voice over artist has recorded hundreds of scripts in many may different environments with many many different clients. After every recording, I always open up the talkback mic straight away so they can be included in the conversation.

"VO artists have a wealth of knowledge in regards to how a script could potentially be refined, why not use it?"

Keeping the session open to discussion from all sides is a great way to explore every nook and cranny of a brief.

Paul McCosh from VivaSound says that while all feedback is good feedback, consolidating it is even better.

"Generally try to offer one piece of direction per take. This allows the actor to achieve what you intended each time, and allows you to decide whether that piece of direction has fixed your original issues. It also allows the actor to hone in on their craft for delivery."

To refine delivery, Paul also suggests playing the actor any examples you have in mind and sending through any video or music they’ll be reading to. Anything that sets the context for your brief and what you want to achieve.

"And before the session, be sure to time your script by reading it out loud, words read in your mind tend to be quicker. Sometimes well written words don't translate well aurally, and can sound clunky or disjointed."

At the end of the day, the best thing about doing voiceover is you're not doing it alone. Use the professionals at your disposal to guide your session to the best possible outcome for your project. 

And if you're still in the mood for more voiceover, here's a video essay on how Martin Scorsese has successfully used voiceover in his films, from Taxi Driver to The Wolf of Wall Street.

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/Mark Welker

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