I have been a diverse millennial voice actor for about four years. I have worked on hundreds of voice-over projects with clients internationally and felt it would be a good idea to write an article on the exciting topic of how to direct a Voice-over Actor in a live-directed session. Most clients I work with are not professional voice-over casting directors. They may be casting directors for commercials or explainer videos, producers, or the owners of a small business. There is no perfect way to direct a voiceover actor as each is unique, but there are methods that can help make the job a little easier.
There are many ways to hire a voice actor, such as contacting their agent, social media, email marketing, or online casting sites. By the time you hire them, you will have discussed terms, usage, and budget. It is time to decide how the job will be done. Will the actor do it, or will there be a live-directed session?
Preparation is Key to Getting Started
If I am to record the job on my own, I usually provide two or three takes, depending on the length of the script. Sometimes, if the script is just one sentence, I will provide 8-10 takes varying tone, pitch, and pace. If the client wants a live-directed session, we will discuss a time and date that works for all parties and a method to connect. My clients usually connect by Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams. Source Connect is the more popular method with agents and prominent casting directors from New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
When I’m ready for a live session, I will print out my script in advance if it’s not a long script. Any script longer than two pages, I will read off the screen. But I like to read from print in advance and mark the page with areas where I would like to highlight the tone, pitch, or pace. My commercial voice-over coach Marc Cashman taught me this method, and by doing this in advance, I’ve noticed that it helps prevent a series of re-takes.
Direct a Voiceover Etiquette
After reviewing the script and making my notes, I will log onto the platform that the client has desired and wait for the casting director, video producer, and clients to join in. I make it a rule to always log onto the session on time. Never be late; always be professional and wait quietly until the participants join. As each person begins to log in, I introduce myself to the group, thank them for hiring me and tell them I look forward to working with them. As they introduce themselves, I write their names and make it a point to use them as the session proceeds and concludes.
Direct a Voiceover in a Practice Run
The client will then usually go into the project and explain the purpose, the target market, and the audience, as well as the tone that they desire. My favourite sessions are the ones where they will send a reference video in advance so you can review the video and see and hear their preferred tone of voice. This technique helps voice actors tremendously. If no video is provided, I listen and write down keywords that they provide and make a mental picture of the tone they prefer. I write words like “Professional, Engaging, Warm, Hopeful” to find the right tone and keep it in mind. After we have the tone nailed down, they will either tell me how the session will run or ask me how I would like it to go. If I have the choice, I usually say that I prefer to read the script top to bottom once, and then they can give me their general notes. If the script is long, I will read one paragraph and ask for notes.
Take One and Feedback
Once they are ready for me to proceed, I ask them to please mute themselves in case any sounds on their end bleed through my recording, and I hit record on my end. I then say thank you, take a deep breath and begin. Once finished, I remain quiet, waiting for them to unmute themselves and provide feedback.
Too Many Cooks in the Demo Booth
It’s important to note that voice actors never really know how many will join the line for the session. In my experience, there has been a minimum of one client and a maximum of 10. I appreciate that clients take voice-over-directed sessions and have their co-workers join but have you ever heard the expression “There are too many cooks in the kitchen?” That applies when there are too many people on the line. Too many opinions can feel overwhelming. I’ve spoken to many voice actors about this subject, and we all agree that the first 1-7 full reads of the script are the best. After more than that, we begin to feel tired, sometimes exasperated, and our confidence wanes.
When we begin, we are excited, energized, and confident. When too many are on the line giving their opinions, it can be a confidence killer, and we begin to wonder why they even hired us in the first place. I can’t say this always happens, but it has happened a few times throughout my career. Mostly, 2-5 takes of the entire script are enough for variety, and the client is happy. Once the client is content, they ask me how the file will be sent to them. I tell them I will bounce/save the file and can fire it off to them within minutes.
Direct a Voiceover Actor with Gratitude
Live-directed sessions usually mean the client will receive the raw file with all takes and banter. I don’t touch or split up the file. If they ask me to, there is usually a small fee attached. Most clients prefer the raw file to pick and choose the takes they like. It usually takes me 5-10 minutes to bounce and send the client the file. I send it to them either by email or through the platform on which they hired me, and I always thank them for working with me.
The beauty of live-directed sessions is that the client’s chance to ask for revisions is slim. If a new session is required, then a fee is attached to that. The voice actor also really appreciates getting to speak to clients.
If you want to hire and direct a voiceover actor, remember that we love our job and want to make you happy. We thrive on enthusiasm and affirmation, so if you are happy, let the actor know. It will help build confidence, and that will show in the recording. Contact me if you have more questions about how to direct a voiceover actor!