Best Practices When Choosing Your Voice Talent
Getting the most out of the casting process, preparing for the recording session and ultimately keeping the talent for the long haul.
Casting is finally over: Best Practices begin
Out of too many auditions to count, you've managed to find the right voice over talent for your brand. It might be a commercial. It could be an explainer video. Maybe even an eLearning module or concert Promo. Whatever the project is, the voice you found has sure brought some life to those words! He or she gave an interesting take on the material - one that no one else thought of. Everyone else on the creative team is on board. Thank God! Now you can rest easy and focus on laying down the VO track and worry about adding all the remaining visual elements later.
And the fun part begins:
What can you really expect from your chosen voice over talent during the actual recording session? (and what is expected in return)
1.) Cordiality (And, of course, Professionalism)
You're an entertainment/media professional, whether that's a producer, creative director or some other role; you're a professional looking to hire another professional for their services. Chances are you're on a deadline and need to get the ball rolling and record your selected voice talent. We all get stressed from time to time, and your manager has probably delegated the recording process to you with only a few days left to secure a time and place. Where do you begin?
Introduce yourself, and congratulate the voice talent on booking the job. Make sure you inquire about their schedule. Assuming you've never worked with this person before, you may not be sure how to move forward. Don't cop an attitude or make it obvious that you're overwhelmed with mountains of work. Some important factors to consider before reaching out to voice talent:
Will you be needing an outside recording studio for the session or recording the talent from their home studio?
By which means are you connecting - Skype, Phone Patch, ISDN, Source Connect, ip-DTL, SessionLink Pro? If you've never heard of either, now might be a good time to get acquainted with the technology necessary for connecting with VO talent.
Is voice over part of your budget? (No, seriously, IS IT?)
Good news: we don't bite. Most voice talents are pretty friendly-- some, in fact, exuberant upon learning we booked a job!
If you have in fact worked with this particular voiceover artist, great. If not, you can simply start by introducing yourself and getting a sense of the best and most agreeable ways of moving forward. If you're booking directly from hearing a talent's demo (without asking them to audition), that certainly saves a step - simply exchange pleasantries and state exactly what you need from them. Chances are, the talent also has a schedule and both of you will need to do some juggling in order to make your project work the way in needs to. Write clear, concise sentences outlining project objectives. Urgency is totally cool. Lack of professionalism and informal, poorly constructed and vague emails are not.
Here's how a potential correspondence might go.
"Hi Christian, thanks so much for auditioning for our corporate video on Beavers last week (or Hi Christian, we are producing a corporate video on Beavers and we heard your demo on your website). The creative team listened to several auditions and have decided to hire you for the job. Apologies for the urgent nature of this message however we're facing a tight deadline and will need to get the recording done this week. Please let me know if that works for you and what your availability is in the next few days. I've attached the final version of the script for your review however there may be some changes. Please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you! Thank you."
"Hey. We hve voicever need. recrd ASAP. Urgent. Can get files by tonight? Need to make casting in hour. Please need to hear from immediately. Can I get quote?"
The first introduction is friendly, clear and easy to understand. The producer has stressed the urgency of the project but wants to make sure they haven't left any stone unturned. There are still specifics the voice over talent will needs to know (i.e. final video length and digital/online usage to account for and, most importantly, rate.) But it's actually a good thing that money isn't mentioned right off the bat. Doing so could invoke a sense of desperation and perhaps an unwillingness to work with a particular talent - a "take it or leave it" attitude. Doing it this way allows us to look at the bright side, where everything is negotiable. In this case, the talent might not feel uncomfortable asking for more information, as the creatives seem to be open to questions. As far as first impressions go, that's a solid start and hopefully will allow for clear communication down the line.
The latter example may be understandable for someone who has previously worked with said voice talent and/or is on a first-name basis. In that case, it could pass for a quick, last-minute communication, and I would likely call said creative director/producer and let them know I received their email and am delighted to get started, but would need a bit more information on the project before proceeding. However, as a first communication from a potential new client, it doesn't make me feel comfortable about working with them as they're clearly under the gun, as unspecific as possible and don't appear to be receptive to any questions. Needy much? Chances are, if I don't get back to them in an hour, they most likely have moved on to the next voice talent. While most voice talents certainly understand the nature of pressing schedules and variant timetables, it makes the hiring process that much easier when communication is clearer and done with understanding of scheduling on both ends.
2.) Availability Checks
Availability checks are a common means for industry professionals to secure a talent in their back pocket while a deal's terms are still being ironed out. During this time, an offer may be circulating or is being discussed but both parties are sometimes in back-to-back negotiations. This could be between the voice talent's agent and the producer, the voice over talent and the producer/creative director, the manager and the producer or the production manager and the client, whose work they're producing. Avail checks come with the job and are a familiar practice in the voice over industry no matter who is doing the asking, however, here's where things can get a little hairy:
The details, dates and times are secured and agreed upon by all parties -- all except for the rate. Some producers operate via this "bait-and-switch" method whereby they'll be pressed for time and the record date takes priority over the rate of pay for each talent - an egregious no-no. Recently I had this happen with a long-time client, a post-production house who employs a select roster of voice talent. They were asking for my availability on a project over a three day period. When I asked for specifics (i.e. session rate, usage (if any), terms, characters etc) their response was they would let me know once the time was secured. After declaring that I was not comfortable agreeing to a time without knowing a fee, they threw out a ballpark figure and I let it slide because they were a long time-client and I didn't want to squander a new opportunity.
Say It Isn't So Joe
Now how silly does that sound? Similar to when the real estate broker promises you that the apartment will be renovated prior to move-in date, charges you a 15% commission (of the yearly rent) and no renovations have been made upon move day. In this case, the production coordinator has told the client that I have "agreed to all aspects of the project" unbeknownst to me. When the final offer was brought up (including a buy-out on all digital media platforms, pre-roll, Amazon, Netflix etc.) it turned out to be a much lower figure. I countered with a higher number and ultimately, I decided to pass. Unfortunately, this was the straw that broke the camel's back as this company has a less than favorable policy when it comes to doing business with voice talent, so I decided it was time to cut ties.
Moral of the story, a pro voice talent should never agree to a date unless a monetary figure has been discussed.
3.) Let's Get Down To The Specifics
Ok, so you need a voiceover in record speed. The deadline is fast approaching yet the process of heading over to a casting site, filling out all the forms online and listening to hundreds of voice actors (some unqualified amateurs) seems like a drag. Or you could hire a trusted professional at the recommendation of a colleague, someone who has worked and continues to work with well-established companies across the globe.
It is vital to a voice talent to know all the details of a project before committing to it. Hence, the producer should be armed with this information and/or be prepared to answer any questions the talent may have. The following are examples of questions a talent might ask.
The Big One: Is your project broadcast or non-broadcast?
What is the commercial/promo usage? TV, Radio, Internet/Pre-Roll/Digital or all?
What type of spot is it- National, Regional or Local?
What is the spot length and quantity? :15, :30, :60, :120? Are there tags and if so, how many?
How long will it be running? 6-weeks? 13-weeks? 6 months? 1 year? Have you considered a buyout?
What type of project is this- Corporate Video, Whiteboard (Explainer) Video, eLearning Modules, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), On-Hold Messages, Award Show Announcer, App Video?
What is the video length? (Depending on the project, some voiceover artists may charge based on length Since the digital paradigm is changing, a talent may also factor in separate usage costs on top of that.)
Where will this video be used- Online (YouTube/Pre-Roll or Company Website), Trade Show, Internal conference?
4.) A Word Or Two On the Specs
Many voice talents subscribe to the school of thought that specs ultimately don't matter in the long run. "F--- the specs!" as one casting director once told me. Well, I think I realized their point -- that, specs are simply a "place holder" to give a general sense of the attitude/mood of a project. That we voice talents know the creative team - producer, director, creative director - may not ultimately know what they want...until they hear the read. "I'll know it when I hear it," goes the saying. And sometimes, these specs, can often get in the way of some real creativity. Most times, voice talents are already the specs.
That being said, a truly versatile voice actor will be able to keep his or her initial thoughts in mind and also inject an element of surprise to the read. Granted, professional voice talents (i.e. those NOT on Fiverr, Craigslist, or ODesk) cannot read minds, but should be able to take direction well. Things can get tricky when script direction becomes pages long, single-spaced, while the actual copy is less than a third of that. We're being pulled a few too many directions sometimes, so if you're going to choose a specific direction, commit to it. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else. Following your lead is what we're here for after all.
We know you don't know exactly what you want. And that's ok initially. Just trust us to be able to bring your copy to life the way you and client have spent your time imagining.
5.) Don't want an announcer? Hire someone else.
No, voice talents don't expect you to re-write the entire script, but in voice over there are certain copy buzzwords that can kill the authenticity of the message you are trying to convey. We understand if a copywriter is confused about how to get the brand's message out to your listeners/consumers (aka make the client happy). You want it to sound more personal, as if the voice in the ad is talking with the potential buyer not at them. After all, the original specs did say conversational, like you're talking to a friend, a guy/gal next door type, easy-going. Not a Billy Mays type. We know that may change in the actual session, but it's good to remember what your original objective was during the preliminary phases of casting, and remember why it was you chose us in the first place. Why we're standing in your studio or why our voice is the one you wanted.
If you're confused and want that hard sell read, most conversational-type voice talents will be able to refer you to someone they know and trust those who have that style down pat. Or maybe they've kept that read in their back pocket the whole time ;)
6.) Constructive Direction vs. Micro-Direction
There's nothing a voice actor appreciates more than being challenged creatively. Constructive direction can really go a long way toward surprising the talent and even the director with brilliant reads.
This is especially true when it comes down to getting a variety of different types of direction thrown our way. It may seem like a curveball but perhaps it's something that works within the parameters of the project. One thing I always appreciate is if a producer or director can have me do a few different takes to warm up, get a feel for my "live" voice to test if we're heading in the right direction. We'll do a test read all the way through and then a few extras for safety.
Micro-direction usually occurs when there are either too many cooks in the kitchen (read: groups discussing each take as it happens) or the producer/director is hearing something different in their head. What can exacerbate a session? Indecisiveness. Interrupting the talent in the middle of wild takes (aka doing an A, B and C version). Asking said talent to sound like someone they're clearly not. This is why if you do decide to have multiple persons listening in, it's helpful to make sure everyone is on the same page before proceeding to the next line or piece of copy. Also, if you only have the talent for a specified time, get the most out of your session by choosing who you really want in the room with you. Who are the key players on your creative team? Are all those junior creatives/interns absolutely necessary? Something to think about.
7.) Trust Your Talent
In this day and age where the voice over market tends to be more over-saturated than in previous years, it can be a challenge to find an absolutely professional voice over talent. With every other talent (including your doctor and accountant probably) calling themselves a "professional" it can be a challenge to assess every situation and nearly impossible to truly know what to expect. Just like in all of life, here actions speak louder than words. A true voice over professional will remain that way throughout the recording process. When you hire someone whom you have a good feeling about, are happy with their contributions, and are a breeze to work with, have faith that the final product will come out exactly as you dreamed it would.
You want to be sure you've hired the right talent for the job and they can handle the copy. Let them work their magic, so to speak. Let them be the awesome talent you thought they were during the audition process.
While it can get quite frustrating when a creative cannot make up his or her mind and is constantly in a state of indecision, ultimately the voice over talent is here to make you feel confident you hired the right person for your project and guide you in the desired direction.
8.) Final Steps
The recording has been completed, the files have been edited and delivered, the voice talent signed your release form and sent over all the appropriate paperwork, and everyone walks away happy. A few questions you may want to ask going forward:
Would you consider working with this voice talent again?
Did they give you everything you needed (for now)?
Were they easy/difficult to work with?
What were their strengths/weaknesses and how can you utilize them for potential projects in the future?
At this point what else can you do?
Consider that there may be a few pick ups to record down the line, perhaps in the next few weeks. This is a great opportunity to reach out to your chosen talent and thank them for the work and keep the lines of communication open.
Best practices to keep in mind, add to, and develop as you work with voice talent!