Making a scripted video or a radio commercial? If so, you’ll need to ease a voice actor into giving the performance you need. Guiding actors is an oft-overlooked part of the voice-over craft, but it’s no less important than choosing the right performer.
The truth is, everyone, no matter their skill level, needs to be coached and directed. Sure, you’ll want to choose somebody who knows their stuff, but if you want good results, you’ll need to guide the performance towards success. You can’t make a bad actor good, but good actors have given bad performances due to lackluster direction.
Guiding voice actors entails providing the most pertinent information upfront. That means having a script and performance notes ready. This is all part of your working outline to show your voice talent you mean business. It also provides a suitable roadmap for you to have an idea of what the finished performance needs to sound and feel like.
It also means taking these tips into account, so get ready!
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This post has been updated in August 2021.
Describe Your Audience
Who is your video or recording intended for? Is it a math video for an educational game for kids, a science video for a YouTube channel focused on high school students, or a trailer for an adult science fiction novel?
Knowing your audience means you are sure of the right type of performance for your project. When everything’s said and done, you don’t want to be sending mixed messages. This entails having a working knowledge of your demographic and the most suitable style to reach them. A British accent may sound authoritative for a wildlife documentary but may put kids off if it’s for a video about Fortnite tactics.
Tom Scott, a famous YouTube personality, referred to this very phenomenon. He has said that he may not have become famous in science YouTube had it not been for his accent, which is often conflated with trustworthiness and knowledge.
If you know your audience, then you know what they want and how to best convey it via voice acting. If the shoe fits, then you’re on the right track. Guiding Morgan Freeman to perfection will not make him a good fit for a commercial about feminine hygiene products.
Describe the Reading Style
Describe the qualities you want in the reading. Ironically, as writers, we try to avoid excessive adjectives, but you should come up with some good ones for how you want your performance to sound. Words like cheerful, factual, humorous, boisterous, conversational, out of breath, and so on will give your readers a strong indication of what you’re going for. So far, this is a great start in showing potential readers what you need, but there’s more.
Describe the Pace
Do you want your script read at a leisurely pace, or more quickly? We’ll get more into this during the working phase, but this is an important aspect of the reading. Sometimes the performance has to be synced with a video; others, it has to be read at a particular speed because of the script’s demands.
It’s been described that the optimum words per minute is around 75. Still, you should be safe if your performer doesn’t go above 90. This is due to several factors. The established scientific metrics for quantifying communication are:
- Information Density – how much data, or useable information, is contained by a fragment of text or speech.
- Speech Rate – the speed at which an individual speaks.
- Information Rate – the speed at which information is dispersed. Someone with a higher information density may convey more meaning in the exact same timeframe than someone with a lower one.
In general, if you’re trying to go for something complex that requires information retention, go for slower. If the topic is relaxed and loose, maybe you can risk upping the ante a bit more. Go on a case-by-case basis.
Are there words in your script the reader may be unsure how to pronounce? Yes, these days, it’s easy enough to search for the pronunciation of words. However, names, numbers, and differences in dialect can cause confusion.
Instead of using numerical values for numbers, spell them out. For example, 1905 could be read nineteen-oh-five, nineteen hundred and five, or nineteen-ought-five, depending on what you want. For names and other words, you could provide notes. You may share a link to a video in which the word is pronounced the way you want it, or you may describe what it rhymes with, to help the performer.
Share an Example to Guide Your Actors
Are you aware of a commercial or video that sounds close to what you’re looking for? Then link it. Before auditioning, your actors can listen to it and do their best to bring the same qualities to their readings. This is a direct way to lead potential voice actors to what you want.
The more resources you can share with actors that approximate your desired end results, the better. Quentin Tarantino made Leonardo DiCaprio watch hundreds of hours of footage for his turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. You’re probably not going to want to go that deep when guiding voice actors, but it can’t hurt! Give them a sizable amount of inspiration to guide their performance and you can bet they’ll thank you for it!
Provide a Script
Of course, they have to read something, so provide your potential voice actors with a short audition piece. Remember that their time is valuable, so don’t make it too long. A half-page page should suffice, and it should come from your script.
The script should look professional. Use a 12 point that’s clear and easy to read. Here’s a good place to note that the importance of an error-free script. Make sure it’s as clean as possible before you even submit the job.
It almost goes without saying that you’d better stay on topic. Make your sample script relevant to the part that the actor’s going to be reading for. If the final script is for a car commercial, don’t give them a script for a difficult scene from Macbeth! They may knock it out of the park, but it won’t be information you can work with.
Now, all you have to is wait for some auditions to come in before you move on.
Assess Your Voice Actor Auditions
Once you have some auditions, you can assess them and pick a reader. You’ll get to hear each person’s interpretation of your script, their take on your writing. Then, you can decide whose version best matches your vision, and hire them.
If you have more than one voice that you like, consider it a blessing in disguise! Sometimes, you just like a few takes. That’s when you need to consider extra-vocal considerations. See if the personality of the actor fits with your brand. Do you like them personally? Are they established voice professionals? Who’s got the best rates? Who seems like they would be easier to get along with? Do they respond to queries promptly or does it look like they’re not really putting much effort into it?
When you’ve got one more than one prospect, it’s best to start getting into the details. The more fine-grained your choice, the better your chances for ultimate success.
Help Your Chosen Actor Refine the Performance
If you’ve done everything described above, you should either have a reader who knows exactly what you want and is ready to provide it, or one whose performance is close but could use a little tweaking.
Before they begin their recording, communicate what you would like your voice actor or actors to do differently. Sometimes you love what they’re putting down, but in others, guiding voice actors to perfection requires your input. This is when the previous steps converge — you need to be able to tell them exactly where they’re going. Don’t compromise your vision if you feel they’ve got it in them. Multiple takes and revisions are always preferable to redos that may cause scheduling or deadline conflicts.
Once you feel they have it down, you’re just about ready for them to do the work.
With some scripts, timing will have to be strict, so let’s cover that.
Set the Timing
We covered pacing for the auditions, but you may need to get even more specific for the final product. For example, if you’ve already created the video, you’ll want the reading to fit within the time constraints of various scenes. If you have music, a particular passage of the script may have to fit within a certain portion of a song.
Inform the reader of this and provide them with the auditory and visual resources they need to make it work. In fact, you can provide such notes within the script itself. They’ll thank you for including timestamps and references!
Pickups and Finalizing
With all this done, you and your reader will be able to maximize productivity so you’ll have a great voice performance ready for your project. However, no one is perfect, and there may be “mistakes“. In the audio recording world, we refer to those as “pickups,” and it’s a good idea to provide a pickup sheet, which will help guide the voice actor to read exactly how you want.
Each line provides information on a moment in the reading that needs to be altered. It should, therefore, include the audio file, the timestamp, what the reader said, and what they need to replace it with. If the mistake was in your script, you will likely have to compensate the reader a little more money for the correction. Those issues are between you, the reader, and your chosen platform or agency.
Leave a Review
Just a reminder here: if you’re happy with the reading, leave a review for the reader. This will help them get additional jobs and keep them working.
Now, you have all you need to know to get started hiring a tried-and-true voice professional for your project, and getting a fantastic performance! It’s best to go with vetted pros for your projects. It’ll save you the hassle of having to assess whether they’re actually up to their claimed standard because someone else has done it for you.
You have a variety of online platforms and agencies at your disposal that curate a list of available pros. There, you can select based on accent, age, even voice type in some cases!
Then, it’s just a matter of selecting someone you like and presto! Instant audition! If you don’t like what they’re doing after you started, most platforms and agencies even offer money-back guarantees. It may not be the same as hiring yourself, but it’s a good enough safety net that it makes up for it.
Keep that in mind!
Write your script or record your voice over today at Bunny Studio!
So, now you’ve got some bulletproof tips to help you with guiding voice actors. From outline, preparation, script, auditions, and guidance, getting a good performance is an involved process. It requires patience, perseverance, and tact. You’re probably going to be walking this pro through multiple takes and versions of the same performance. That’ll require you to build a bond of trust while staying the course with your trusty outline.
If you’ve planned meticulously and have the endgame in sight, guiding voice actor becomes a matter of steering the wheel. With the right script, the right performance and the right mindset, you’ve got what it takes to lead the way to success!