How to Direct a Voice Over Session

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First Things First: Choosing Your Voice Talent

Before we get into directing, let’s look at the crucial initial stage of recording a voice over – choosing your voice talent.

When choosing the best voice for your commercial, listen to a few different voice artists’ showreels. Ideally you want to hear close to the tone of voice you’re looking for before you contact and book your voice.

If you’re planning on recording a live session with the voice talent, also satisfy yourself that the voice over has experience of live recording sessions and a long line of happy customers. It may sound surprising, but some people cannot take direction well and don’t sound in the studio as they do in their demos. This is an unexpected scenario that can leave you out of pocket as you find and record a different voice over instead (but usually still have to pay the first one).

You can take the risk out of this situation by asking your preferred voice to record a few lines of a demo before you book them. This is a service that myself and many other pros offer free of charge.

By checking off these points, once you’re in a live session with your voice over, you’ll be able to trust them and their ideas – and because we do this all the time we’re worth listening to! We’ll likely be able to deliver your script exactly as you want it, quickly and with little fuss, leaving everyone happy.

That said, should you have a specific tone, pace or style of delivery in mind you’ll absolutely want to play a part in directing the session. So, here’s how to prepare to direct your voice talent.

Preparing to Direct a Voice Over Session

  • Before the session, read the script aloud to yourself. While it might make you feel self-conscious at first, the more comfortable you are reading the script (placing emphasis and pause where you want it), the happier you’ll be to relay your aims to the voice over artist during the recording session.
  • Reading aloud also allows you to check that your copy is written to time. Adverts for the TV and radio are cut to exact times — usually 19 seconds or 29 seconds for TV and 10 seconds or 30 seconds for radio — so you need to know that what you have to say isn’t too long for your air time slot, and that it can be read at a comfortable pace within that time.
  • Print out a copy of the script, or look at it on your phone and annotate it. The following annotation tips will help you remember to read the script as you intended when you’re in the session:
    • Underline words to emphasise them (but use this sparingly; if everything is emphasised then nothing is emphasised!)
    • Place a diagonal line between words to mark places to pause (e.g. “Often you want to pause / for effect.”)
  • Before the session make a note of a read you like from the voice over’s showreel and let them know at the start of the session (e.g. “I like the tone of voice in your upbeat commercials showreel at 22 seconds”)
  • When thinking of other companies’ advertising campaigns, are there any that sound the way you want your voice over to sound? If so, find the commercial(s) on YouTube and send a link to your voice over before the session.

When the Session Begins

  • As voice overs, we love to hear about your project and your aims at the beginning of the session. Let us know:
    • Some general information about the product or service you’re advertising
    • Who your target audience is
    • Where they are located geographically, if relevant, as this could affect the accent we use to deliver your script, in order to resonate more with your audience.
  • Next, in plain-English remind the voice over how you want the read to sound, for example: ‘cool and powerful’, ‘formal and professional’, ‘upbeat and friendly’, ‘natural, real and conversational’
  • After the first recording, be honest with the voice. Tell them what you think – tactfully! For example, “That was good but it needs to be more upbeat”, “That’s getting there, but can you make it sound cooler and give it more attitude”, “It sounded too much like a hard-sell voice over and it needs to be more natural”, “I’d like to hear it with more light and shade”
  • Soon you’ll have a number of versions recorded, and hopefully they’re getting better every time.
  • Now is a good time to look back at the script you practiced before the session, is the emphasis where you want it? It’s normal to ask the voice over to re-record single sentences at this point, and then after the session, an earlier recording can be edited and modified by adding in these new sentences.
  • As voice overs, we always expect to re-do key sentences and the tag line; this will give you a good number of options to choose from in the edit or when you cut to visuals.
  • Important – With all of this said, it’s surprising how often a client will use a voice over’s very first take, even after exploring different alternatives. This is because, as actors, we do this all the time and our intuition is informed by the hundreds of scripts we’ve recorded over the years for many happy customers.

When to Stop Recording

Eventually, time will run out. It’s likely you’ll book a voice over talent for an hour, but that doesn’t mean you have to use all of the hour. In fact, It’s more common not to for short projects like commercials.

My tip here is simply: Don’t be afraid to call it a day once you hear what you like. Decisiveness is a good thing! Recording new versions for the sake of it will only make it harder to decide which one to use, and can lead to a loss of perspective about what you wanted to achieve in the first place.

After the Session – Editing & Post-Production

  • When faced with all of your voice over takes, decide on a clear favourite, test it with your music or visuals, and then consider editing in any stand alone sentences that you recorded as alternatives.
  • If you need more light and shade and you have a good range of takes, try taking a paragraph from here and there and combining them into one recording. This can sometimes give a more captivating sound to the overall read.
  • On the flip side, sometimes you’ll not want to do any editing. A voice over read that’s recorded in a single take can sound very comfortable and natural, and edits will only interrupt the authenticity of the performance given by the voice talent.
  • At the end of the day, use your ear – whatever sounds best, use it!

My Credentials

Thanks for reading this article, I hope you found it useful.

I’ve written it from my many years of experience working as a professional voice over artist. I’ve recorded literally thousands of live sessions, either via remote connection (Source Connect / ISDN / Clean Feed / SIP Audio) or in person. Some examples include recording with Microsoft in LA, ITV in London, and on a day-to-day basis connecting with clients in their homes or offices who are creating new marketing content.

People often comment on my ability to take direction very well.

Finally, if you don’t want or need to direct your session, I can also supply audio by e-mail. All you need to do is e-mail me a script. I will supply two or three takes recorded in my professional home studio. I offer 24 hour turnaround on most jobs.

I look forward to hearing about your project.