How To Direct and Work With Voice-Over Talent Online

Advice for media producers and others who hire freelance voice-over talent.
By Vicki Amorose,

The ability to hire and direct voice talent through the Internet has dramatically changed the voice-over industry. When I entered the field of voice-over twenty years ago, scripts were recorded in large professional recording studios with the sound engineer, the director, and the client listening in the control booth.

Today many voice talents work from a home studio. We record and edit the work ourselves and deliver the recording as mp3 files, frequently under very tight deadlines. We get minimal direction, often from email contact alone.

Certain voice-over projects will always be best when produced with a sound engineer and a skilled director. But for the crank-it-out, need-it-done-yesterday world of Internet voice-over, media producers could benefit from some basic guidelines.

Below is a list of suggestions for directing and interacting with long-distance talent. Thoughtful direction is extremely helpful to the voice-over talents who strive to do their job well. A voice talent will take responsibility for interpreting a script, but a director's input greatly assists the process. Following these guidelines should foster good communication, which in turn should keep the costs down and the clients happy.

Describe Your Audience: Start by providing a brief description of who will be listening to the finished recording. Whose attention do you hope to attract? It helps the talent form a mental picture of the audience.

Provide Descriptive Words: You should strive to be as descriptive as possible when conveying how you want the finished product to sound. Sometimes voice talents get a script with just one word of direction, like 'upbeat'. Maybe you are not that picky, and 'upbeat' will do the trick. But if you are striving for something more, here is a list of words you can use to describe to the talent how you want them to sound: Warm, friendly, compassionate, soothing, confident, light hearted, concerned, dry, emotionless, authoritative, comic, serious, straight-forward, sultry, not sultry, quirky, believable, engaging, clear, bright, mature, young, hip, upscale, classy, brassy, sassy, movie-trailer big, good diction, excited.

Or tell them you want them to sound like a role: a story-teller, corporate professional, mom-next-door, best friend, announcer, attorney, doctor, a trusted teacher, a bored receptionist. The list of descriptions is endless.

Provide Specific Examples: It does not help the talent to hear that you want them to, "sound just like Sharon Stone" or someone on a certain commercial unless they can hear those references. Provide a sound clip of the voice-over style you are seeking. Some talents can mimic voices, and if they hear an example of what you want, they can do what is possible for their range.

Choose the Right Talent for Your Job: The voice-over business is highly subjective. Two hundred talents can describe their voice as warm, but only you can say which voice is the right temperature for your project. When casting, ask for a short custom demo using excerpts from your script. Ask about the talent's background and experience. Many voice-over talents are versatile and have several different sounds, but no one can do it all.

You should be willing to pay extra for character voices; that is an industry standard. And remember, for narration or long recording projects, it is risky to hire a beginner. Pacing, sustained energy, and script interpretation are learned skills.

Provide an Easy-to-Read Script: Sometimes scripts are cluttered with multiple parts, editing notes, and revisions. Talents will appreciate a neat script in a 12-point font. Make it very clear what part you want recorded for the job. The script you send is the main tool for interpretation, and often it is all the talent has to work with. Most talents will charge extra if they are asked to re-record due to script changes. Changes include copy errors, so proofreading pays.

Spell it Out, Numbers and Pronunciations: Your script could say '1300 Broadway'. Do you want to hear 'thirteen hundred, one three oh oh, or one three zero zero?' Always spell out the pronunciation next to the numeral. The same is helpful for proper names, especially regional pronunciations. You may have heard 'Willamette' your whole life, but please spell out 'will- AM- met.'

Match Timing to Word Count: Ready for the number one voice-over talent pet peeve? It is receiving a script for a 30 second commercial with 45 seconds worth of copy, along with direction like 'caring and compassionate'. This commercial can only sound one way: it will sound fast. There is not a standard word count for a 30 second commercial because voices come in all speeds. When I write a 30 second spot, I try to keep it under 90 words. Read your script aloud and time it before sending it to the talent. Editing the script before recording saves a lot of wasted time. Most important, giving the voice-over talent an extra few seconds can make all the difference in getting the sound you want.

Some producers want the voice talent to record all the lines in a script even if they know it will go over time. They like to hear and then edit sentences. If this is how you work, tell the talent that it is acceptable to go over time. If this is not made clear, the reading sounds rushed or the talent feels frustrated because the timing is impossible.

Be Clear about Post-Production Expectations: These post production instructions are in regard to 'dry reads'. If you want to hire full production from the voice talent, make sure they provide those services. Let the talent know what you are willing to do in post-production. Do you need them to edit out all the breaths, or will you take care of that? Do you want three different takes on the closing line so you can choose your favorite?

For commercials, I normally provide two takes for the agreed upon fee. This is not true for every talent, so do not make assumptions. A second trip into the studio can increase your costs. If you are planning to add music, send a sample of the background song. Producers have occasionally sent me previous commercials or narration in a series. All of this is very helpful. Remember, talents are often working without benefit of images, sounds or context.

Following these simple guidelines should improve Internet communications, keep costs down, and allow everyone to enjoy exceptional results. Good luck on your audio project.

Copyright 2009