Directing voice actors is about providing them with all the tools they need to deliver the best results. Now if your job is to direct voice actors, then you actually need to do it. You’d be surprised how many times directors (especially first-timers) shy away from doing their job out of respect for the experience of the voice talent. So apart from a one-line instruction at the beginning of the recording session, professional actors often end up self-directing.

This post has been updated in August 2021.

Never assume that a voice actor has a complete understanding of your vision just because they are experienced.

As a voice director, you need to provide guidance to the actor while giving them enough room to explore. The process of directing voice actors starts way before the talent sits in the recording booth. To get the best results out of actors, voice directors need to face up to the task of delivering specific and clear instructions. 

If you’re still feeling jittery about directing voice actors, consider this:

Voice actors want to make your job easier. This means that they are ready to take your instructions and get out of the recording studio as soon as possible. Besides, wouldn’t you rather guide the actor during the recording session than take more time to edit out all of their mistakes from the audio?

It’s in everyone’s best interest to record a great voice-over on the first few tries, and as the director, you determine whether this will happen or not.

If you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:

Directing Voice Actors Before Recording

There are a ton of things to get out of the way before the actual recording session. Both the director and voice actor need to be on the same page concerning the purpose of the voice-over, the tone, the intended audience, and the final script.

The very first step is to select the best voice talent for the job depending on the script, it will save you a lot of time. Do you need an announcer, a narrator, or a knowledgeable expert?

Here is a quick guide to the best voice actor type for you.

Directing voice actors before the recording session is about making them see the bigger picture of your project. This will help the actor develop a vision or goals they can work towards. Mention even the things that seem obvious, for instance, if the voice-over will be played on TV or on the radio. Make sure the actor knows who they are speaking to and about what.

Understanding the Script

Everything will fall apart if your script is not fully ready for voicing.

The best way to make sure you are on the same page as the voice actor is to read the script, or at least part of it, out loud. Go over the spelling and pronunciation of confusing words, but even simple words like either and neither need clarification when it comes to pronunciation.

Point out any rhymes to the voice actor so they can adjust their tone accordingly. Go over the pronunciation of any numbers and figures, people’s names, and foreign words. Answer any questions that they voice actor may have about the script.

Also, be clear about the timing of the voice track. If your script is timed correctly, a professional voice actor should easily fit the words into the desired timeframe.


Preparing the Recording Environment

It is the director’s job to make sure all the technical aspects of the project are running smoothly. Granted, you will not always be in the same studio as the voice actor when recording: a lot of voice-acting jobs are done remotely. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t inquire about their recording equipment.

You don’t want to start recording only to find out that the actor doesn’t have a soundproof recording studio and their neighbor Gary is mowing the lawn. Voice directors prepare the recording environment simply to avoid distractions.

If you are preparing a recording studio for a voice actor, make sure everything works perfectly ahead of time. Don’t squeeze the actor into a dingy booth and rush them through the process. The recording studio should be comfortable (not too small) to avoid casting a claustrophobic effect on voice actors.

Directing During a Recording Session

This is where it gets tricky.

To get your voice actor into the right headspace, play the music or visuals that their voice will be paired with. This will further help them understand the bigger picture and deliver the script accordingly. If you cant play the music on their headphones as they record, then just make sure they know what the voice-over will be played over an upbeat soundtrack or a classical piece.

During recording, if you hear something, say something, but don’t interrupt the voice actor in the middle of a read.

Direct the Voice Actor, Don’t Act for Them

Constantly stopping the actor to point out a correction will make them nervous to perform. As a voice director, it’s on you to make sure performing actors feel relaxed. So let the voice talent finish a take before you give your corrections. And whatever you do, don’t turn into a line reader. Don’t be the type of voice director that shouts out what the lines are supposed to sound like to the actor.

It messes with the voice actor and makes them forget about everything else, including the intention of the voice-over. An actor’s job is to build a persona based on the facts and direction you provide.

Line reading seems like the best way to direct, but you want the voice actor to have their own understanding of the script so they sound believable. You should only read the lines as you want them to sound when all other direction has failed.

You are the First Audience

Why do we even need voice directors?

Because people generally hate the sound of their own voice. Having a different pair of ears listen to the voice-over before approving it can help point out some obvious and not-so-obvious mistakes. When translating content from one language to another, a native voice director is essential to the project. They will ensure that the voice-actor pronounces the words with the right tone and intention.

Voice directors act as the first audience. When directing voice actors, therefore, put yourself in the shoes of the intended listeners. If the script should sound friendly, try to listen for this tone.

Which brings us to the next point:

Choose Your Words…and Give Examples

There’s nothing worse than too much direction. It’s confusing and frustrating to the voice actors. Giving concise directions ensures you record a great voice-over in the shortest possible time.

Use action verbs when directing voice actors. Don’t ask why just use them.

Seriously, rather than using adjectives like happy, warm, sassy, and so on, be more specific about what you want the actor to do. These adjectives help, but you should narrow down your direction to something like:

In the last line of the script, convince the listener to really believe what you are saying.” or “take your time with that word and infect on this word.

Telling the voice actor that a script should sound happy is not enough direction. The actor might think, “I should get excited while delivering the script.”

You also shouldn’t provide one-word answers when directing voice actors. Your feedback should be precise. Don’t just say try again and you’re getting there.

You can also ask the voice actor for suggestions to bring your script to life. Finally, provide previous samples when directing a voice actor so they can have something to reference. Guiding a voice actor through demos is a great way to direct voice actors, just make sure their voice doesn’t deviate from the intention of the script.

Just to recap:


Who is a Good Voice Director?

A good voice director knows what they want to hear and they have the know-how and tools to help the voice actor get it right. They don’t over-explain, they provide relevant instructions. Good voice directors also allow voice actors to play around with the script, within reasonable limits of course.

Above all, good directors respect voice actors.

With mutual respect, the recording process is much more fun, and easier. And you know what they say, two heads are better than one. Working on voice-over without a director is risky. You need a professional ear to filter your voice-over and polish it for your audience. Some voice actors work without directors, but voice talents are usually too close to the content and might miss some things.

Having a voice director is essential, but having a good voice director will certainly elevate your project.

Final Thoughts on Directing Voice Actors

It might not be much, but even experienced voice actors need direction. So make sure to do several takes of the voice-over even if the talent gets it right the first time. When the job is done, you’ll be grateful that you have too much audio as opposed to having less content to work with.

But if you have to do over four takes to get the perfect script, then you might want to rethink the compatibility of the voice actor with the project.

Remember than directing voice actors is not as serious as it sounds. The voice director has the vision, but this perspective can (and should) be allowed to change. Leaving room for the actor’s interpretation might lead to some happy mistakes that have a positive effect on the script delivery.

While you’re in there, go ahead and record a few giggles, grunts, and other incidentals just in case you need them later.

Have fun, make a joke, it will make both you and the actor less nervous. If they need it, allow your voice actor to take a deep breath, drink some water. Don’t attack them with your direction: be gentle and let them find the right voice one correction at a time. This way, the actor will be more relaxed and inclined to produce a more natural-sounding voice-over.

Finally, your intuition is probably your greatest asset as a voice director because it lets you give simple directions without over-obsessing on every little change being made.

Be confident in your vision of the script.

Happy directing!

Start your own creative project here