Maybe you or someone in your team needs some help on the process of booking and working with a voiceover artist?
From Sourcing your voiceover artist to project Sign-off, Guy Michaels leads you through the process of integrating a pro VO into your team. The chosen voice, the way in which it is recorded and the performance given, can make or break your production to which you've committed so much time, energy and focus. Guy's actionable tips will help you to find the right voice, understand the role of the voiceover, improve scriptwriting and direction, save time and ultimately make the whole experience more enjoyable and effective. The Step by Step Guide to Working with a Voiceover Artist is ideal for all media producers working with voiceover talent today.
The Step by Step Guide to Working with a Voiceover Artist
Even if you have been booking and working with voiceover artists for a while, is there anything you could do to improve the process? Make sure to always engage a true voiceover expert. Watch all of these videos or forward them to a colleague or member of your team who could benefit.
Sourcing a Voiceover Artist
How do you source your voiceover artists? When you do, how do you really know you are booking a voiceover expert?
Anyone can call themselves a 'voiceover artist' these days but only a very small percentage can really lay claim to being a professional voiceover expert. There's much more to it than simply speaking into a microphone. Covid has accelerated the need for voice actors to be able to deliver flawless audio from their home or 'remote' studio but this takes years of dedication, investment and experience to achieve.
When you are booking a 'full service' voiceover artist (meaning that they act as voiceover and engineer from their own studio), there are many things to consider. A voiceover expert will be able to talk you through the process, options and expectations.
Confused about rates and/or usage. No need, we can discuss this but it's best to be prepared with a budget in mind. Remember, the right voice and the quality of the recording can either enhance or undermine your project, so it's often worth budgeting a little more to engage a full-service voiceover expert.
Why do you need a voiceover artist for your project? What purpose do they serve?
The Step by Step Guide to Working with a Voiceover Artist - FULL TRANSCRIPT
Hello I’m Guy Michaels. Thanks in advance for spending time accessing this short course on Working with a Voiceover Artist.
At this point I’m heading into my 3rd decade in the industry. I’ve worked both sides of the mic, producing and voicing many hundreds of projects. I’ve witnessed slow but gigantic changes. Changes in the way voiceovers are found, auditioned, selected and paid. Huge advances in technology have made some of the work easier in many ways. The market and opportunities for voice actors have expanded year after year and whilst this now means that you have a far larger pool of voices to choose from, it also brings about risks; risks to the end quality of your production.
I’m very passionate about audio. You could even say obsessed.
I hope we can agree that audio should never be an after-thought. The right voice matters. A truly pro voiceover acts as the spokesperson for your brand, product or service - so please don't compromise. Not just the voice but the quality of the recording can make or break a production. As entry to the industry has become far easier these days - there’s a danger that inexperienced producers end up booking the ‘duvet over the head’ VO’ simply because they cannot hear the quality difference.
Check with an audio engineer if you are unsure about the recording quality or drop me an email and I’ll be happy to let you know if it’s a pro quality recording or not.
Whether you are an agency or brand, experienced at booking VO or entirely new to it, I’ll be sharing some tips on how to make it all a little bit easier and ultimately a more effective element of your creative process. I’ll be covering:
- the ways to find professional and experienced voiceovers who can get the job done
- what to look out for
- and the qualities of a voiceover expert that should set them apart
- when you’ve potentially found the voice, you’ll need to agree on rates, usage, re-records or pickups etc and it’s important to understand just exactly what the modern-day pro voiceover actually does…..apart from read the words in the right order.
- providing the all-important script and guidance, helping the voiceover to understand your brand, the tone, style and the aims of the project
- oh and connection options if you intend to sit in on the session to direct
- quickly creating rapport and an environment (albeit virtually) conducive to getting the best performance
- tips on giving purposeful direction
- clarity on file formats etc
- Is everyone happy? Do you need changes? Assess the process. What have you learnt that could potentially improve incorporating a voiceover artist as a team member for your future projects? Also, can you help each other in terms of a quick review or recommendation.
So, let’s get going. By the end of this programme, hopefully you will improve working relationships with voice actors, reducing stress with an improved experience for all and ultimately far higher quality performances representing the brand.
Working with a Voiceover Artist.
Not all voiceover artists can deliver the same quality - in fact far from it. On one-hand there is the beginner who purchased their microphone just recently and started using the term 'voiceover artist' with no dedication, training or experience. As producer I have had the unfortunate experience of working with many of these folk. On the other hand (like any industry) there is the Voiceover Expert. A voiceover expert will be able to deliver a flawless service. What has been your experience of working with voiceover artists?
Before you source your voice actor, try to picture the role as team-member - rather than simply a temp contracted faceless voice’.
As for bringing on any new member of a team what are the qualities you look out for? Ok so you’ve not time or the need to go through an extensive interview process but it pays to find the right voice, the right professional voice actor who will integrate seamlessly into your team. It is a collaboration. I love collaborating - for me it is the most important and most exciting part of the job. Voice actors spend a great deal of time locked away in a booth so I’ll take any connection or human interaction I can get!
So here we can look at the different ways in which you can source a voice actor.
There are a few different routes to finding a VO and which one you use would depend upon your budget, what is at stake and just how much time you have to spare. I’m not going to explicitly state which is the best route but as with booking any service or attempting to engage a creative professional there is often a chasm of difference between the working experienced pro and the cheaper options.
-Freelance sites -Voiceover Directories -Agents -Direct
One option is FREELANCE SITES such as Upwork, PPH etc - marketplaces where you can find someone to create a logo, build your website, help with social media OR book a VO. You are unlikely to find a voiceover expert on these sites.
Next up are the Voiceover Directories where in most cases if the VO can stump up the fee to have a listing they can then submit an audition for jobs you post. Again, very few of the voices found on these sites can honestly lay claim to being a voiceover expert.
Then there is the traditional VO agent route followed finally by working directly with the pro VO.
For any of these routes, there are a number of risks that need to be considered when booking a voice-over artist that you have never used or worked with before. In the last decade or so technology has made it very very easy for a new voice-over to enter the industry, to simply buy a microphone, stick a duvet over their head and call themselves a voice-over artist.
You need to think about what it is that you want in the voice, what your budget is for the project, what you expect from the voice-over and to ultimately be aware of what the differences are between an amateur and professional working in this field.
Here are are a few things to look out for, a few key qualities of the working pro:
5 qualities of a voiceover expert
1 - FLAWLESS AUDIO
Because of the movement towards the home studio environment for many voice-over artists there is wildly varying quality from one home studio to another. In amongst the voiceovers worldwide there is a small percentage who are able to deliver that final broadcast quality - which will easily fit into your project with no problem. Saving you time and potential embarrassment.
2 - CONNECTIVITY OPTIONS a professional studio offering VO services will have a range of connectivity options from the simple Zoom call, Skype etc through to Source Connect, Cleanfeed and others - ways for you to connect and direct the voiceover talent.
3 - CREDIBILITY / TESTIMONIALS - it should be easy, plain and clear to see who they’ve worked with and what past clients have said about them.
4 - a range of pro demos - so you can hear them in action delivering in different styles - but you should probably always ask for a CUSTOM AUDITION if you haven't worked with them before - this not only serves to see if they are the right voice for the project - you’re hearing your words in their voice - but it’s also and opportunity to check recording quality - if they are truly a pro their audition will have the finesse of an end product. No pops, clicks, hisses or any other background noise, interference or inconsistency.
There I am again being audio obsessed! Often VOs have a set of demos produced by a professional voicereel expert, but their own recording quality just doesn’t live up to those.
5 - Great communication skills - I’d always argue that the VO themselves need to be an excellent all-round communicator - not just when they are at the microphone. As someone so used to ‘speaking’ for a living, some VOs fall into the trap of loving their voice just a bit too much. So are they always in 'broadcast’ mode or do you feel truly listened to?
Vocal skill too!
Oh and we haven't even mentioned the VOCAL SKILLS. But I suppose we should take it for granted that a true experienced pro will have nailed the voicing part!
Before we get into ‘briefing the voice actor’ there are usually a few things that need a little clarification before any kind of contract is acted upon.
Before contracting a VO for the job we’d need to check availability. Not all VOs can turnaround a full recording super fast. In fact for me I’d tend to avoid VOs promising extremely quick guaranteed turnaround simply because this tells me that they are not busy. So please be reasonable with the expected turnaround time.
Sometimes, I can complete a job very quickly, from the moment a client contacts to the moment they receive the pristine production ready audio - but this is not something I can guarantee.
Of course if you are aiming for a directed session where you connect with the VO live then this needs to be factored in especially when differing timezones are an issue.
SCALE OF PROJECT
Turnaround is obviously influenced by the length of the script. Is it just a couple of lines for a commercial or a 5 page technical script?
Are you considering the voice for just this single job or perhaps you are interested in bringing them on-board for a series - maybe a series of explainer videos that wold benefit from the continuity of voice.
This could positively impact rates if you wanting to collaborate on a series of projects.
In recent years, because of technology, supply and demand etc, this has become a somewhat contentious issue. There are ‘rate guides’ out there and you may even have a clear idea or budget in mind but you and the voice need to be in sync here. And you need to be clear as to what that rate includes - for example pickups, changes etc.
Generally a voiceover will charge a BSF (Basic Session Fee) - this is the time spent at the mic and in editing.
Then there is USAGE. This is the licensing part, sometimes enacted as a BUYOUT - perhaps for a limited period such as 12 months.
There is likely to be a large difference in cost between a project meant for internal use only and one which is a global commercial campaign.
The voiceover will often have their own terms but also at this stage if you want to work under an NDA then this would be the time to get is signed.
I’m just going to emphasise what I believe is the very important need for a custom audition here. As mentioned, not only does it give you the opportunity to hear your words in their voice, it helps the voice to understand the brand at that stage and what to expect or aim for. It also quality checks the recording facility. Can the voiceover artist deliver flawless end-product recording quality? My advice would be to definitely test this before any kind of contract is entered into.
It's so important to be clear on the intention behind the voice-over script that you are providing to the voice-over artist in advance of the session. If you're not clear on the intention then how can they be? If you're vague on your intention then it's likely to be a vague experience for the end user; the potential customer or client.
Before hitting record, the voice-over needs to understand WHY they are saying something. They need to know WHAT you want your audience to THINK to FEEL and to DO as a result of this. It's really helpful if you could take a look at the script again before delivering to the voice-over artist with this in mind.
Also prior to delivering the script, the final script to the voice-over artist for the session - read it out loud yourself. Does it work? Does it sound like something that was meant to be read in your head on the page? Or does it ideally flow in a more natural and conversational manner?
Really though no matter the style, tone or intention behind the script or the effect you want to have on your audience, being as clear about all of these thoughts in the lead up to the session and then when we come onto the actual session itself will result in a RECORDING very closely aligned to the ORIGINAL VISION for the project.
It's even helpful to choose what ROLE you want the voice-over artist to play. In recording, the role that they are never playing is voice-over artist. Instead maybe they are satisfied customer who wants to shout from the rooftops about the benefits of the product? Or perhaps they are an educator? Or a potential customer seeking out a solution that your product or service provides. A truly skilled voice-over artist should be able to subtly and realistically play numerous roles.
At this stage in the process have you considered and are you make it clear to the voice-over what ROLE you want them to play in addition to what INTENTION you have behind the script
Is there anything else you could also do to help the voice-over maybe this means providing them with links to PREVIOUS CONTENT that you have recorded and produced which shows off the STYLE TONE PACE AND DELIVERY that you hoped for and expect? Or are there EXTERNAL EXAMPLE that you can send them a YouTube link to or something similar which would help them to understand perhaps a sense of urgency or a chilled out relaxed feel or whatever. Also maybe there is music or imagery you can share too.
As we are closing in on the recording what method do you want to use? Do you want to simply provide the script and all this information and let the voice-over go with it? In many cases and in much of the work that I do this is how it works the client with whom I built a relationship - they just trust me to get on with the work but if it's a new voice-over relationship you might want to sit in on at least the first session with them. Perhaps the client themselves, people holding the purse strings shall we say, want to sit in on the session or maybe you want to very clearly direct to make sure that you've got enough options for the edit.
Not all voice-over bookings will automatically come with the ability to direct the session. If it is a low-budget project then don't necessarily expect that the voice-over will probably providing a directed session facility.
When it comes to dialling in or sitting in on the session to guide to direct to give feedback to give the thumbs up for the best takes there are a number of different ways of doing this.
You may already have a preference or if you're unsure the voice-over, the professional voiceover expert, will be able to guide you through a number of different options that will suit both parties.
It may be that you want to use something like SOURCE CONNECT or CLEAN FEED or IPDTL. These systems enable you to connect live almost as if the voice-over artist is in the room with you in the traditional manner of recording a VoiceOver where the client, director/producer and the voice-over exist in the same physical space together.
If you are working with a professional voice-over they will have this facility lined up and ready to go and they will be delivering full on broadcast quality audio - down the line LIVE to you. This is LIVE CAPTURE. You will then immediately have those recordings at the end of the session which you can pass to your editor to get working on straight away.
If you don't need a live session in which you are receiving the audio in that moment then you can still LIVE DIRECT the session by connecting in a more simple way. So for example I often connect with clients using zoom audio or FaceTime audio or even just a phone call where I am in my recording booth with an ear bud - the client can hear the session / the recording as it goes on and give guidance and feedback which is very often very useful for the voice-over artist. If there are preferred takes the VO can then mark them as they go along.
Once you are happy with the recordings and you feel you've got enough takes to work with, the professional voice-over artist will then do a little bit of work on them providing them in the required format. I must emphasise here again 'professional voice-over artist' and the difference.
A professional will be delivering them to you clean without any background noise, without any flaws or anything intrusive, anything which is getting in the way of those recordings - making it easier for your editor to just get the job done straight away. A less than professional voice-over will be providing lower quality audio - in some cases barely usable.
Any pro VO worth their salt will have no problem whatsoever with delivering a short recording example of your text which shows that they get and understand your brand at that point, and the message that you want to put across - it gives you an example to hear those words out loud read by that voice and also gives you and your editor a chance to hear the recording quality that will be delivered to you whether it's a live connected session or if the recordings are being delivered to you after the session with you having directed them over zoom audio or on the phone. Get in touch today if you would like me to record an example of your script for your project.
Something else I must mention here of course is time zones - many of my clients are based in the States and I am UK-based - sometimes this means working quite unsociable hours. So please bear this in mind at the preparation stage - both parties need to be mindful of this and work to a convenient time-slot.
One final thing in the section about preparing for the session is delivery of the script in advance. Now, I have had it many times when a client has sent me the script 15 minutes or maybe half an hour before a session. We then begin a live session together whilst I am accessing the script in my email and then perhaps printing it off with zero prep time. Just because you've sent it half an hour before does not mean that the voice-over would've checked the email that second and read it because in reality they're likely to be in another session. Even if you send it three hours before and also bearing in mind the time zone difference - that might not be enough so do you do try please please please to get scripts in advance as much as possible - and check that the voice-over artist has received it and if they have any questions about it of course they can get back to you prior to the session.
This helps to negate any awkwardness that may come in a session. I've had situations where someone thinks they've sent the script and someone else thinks that they should've sent the script and actually no script has come through - 10 minutes into a session and then the script comes through once someone has located it on Dropbox! If the script then is a little bit tricky in terms of terminology, acronym, phrasing etc then the VO would benefit from more prep time. Be prepared to give pronunciation guidance too if needed. So please help us with this and help yourself too.
We’ve covered sourcing your voiceover artist, negotiating terms including costs, expectations, timescale,
and of course you have provided as much detail as possible about the project and the script….we’re about to start the session!
You may have chosen to leave the VO to their own devices and simply record and deliver or let’s imagine that you and a colleague want to ‘sit in’ on the session and give direction/guidance and thumbs up for particular takes.
Before we hit record though, in either situation we need to consider CONNECTING - basically creating some rapport ‘quickly’.
You are about to begin a working relationship with a stranger and hope to complete the project in a time-limited session. The choice of voice, the way in which they perform and capture (or not) the essence of the brand - reflects on you.
If we can quickly create rapport, the connection between you and the VO, believe me, not only will the session run smoother but the end product will be superior.
Now as the voiceover expert myself, I’m lucky to have built long-term relationships with clients who get me - and I get them. We’ve worked on so many projects that they are at ease to let me do my thing - and if it is a directed session then we click - sometimes with them declaring ‘that’s exactly how I heard it in my head!!’.
There are a number of factors at play here
- my experience
- my instincts
- flexibility and playfulness
and just as important as my skillset is the CONNECTION that we have. We are part of the same team.
Now, you’ve dialled in to work with the voice. You are using Zoom audio or perhaps something like Source Connect or CleanFeed which was mentioned in the Preparing module.
You, your colleague and the voiceover artist have aligned diaries for the session. You have 1 hour booked to cover, let’s say, around a page of text. Around 500 words.
Here we go!
There’s money and reputation at stake. You’re a little bit nervous. Perhaps the voiceover is a little anxious and hoping that their internet doesn't drop out or something similar.
Before we hit record, it is essential that both parties put effort in to make a connection. Here are some ideas as to how you can do that……...
- Introduce everyone on the call - who you are and what you do.
- 'Big them up' - compliment them say why you loved their audition read and why you chose them - this will instantly make them feel good, and confident as the session begins.
- Thank them in advance for making themselves available for the session.
- Ask them how they prefer to run the session. Do they want to just dive in and record the whole thing or work section by section.
- During the record allow them to bring their own ideas - after all this is what you have employed them to do.
Remember what we covered in the PREPARING section on INTENTIONS. Don't leave it until now to decide what you want out of the session. Make sure you have discussed with the client and colleagues what you want then end-lister to:
If you have done everything we covered in that section including a clear decision on what ROLE you want the VO to play then it should be plan sailing from herein as they hit record.
Here are a few tips on giving direction during the session:
Whether you are recording your end capturing using Source Connect or similar or they are recording locally to then deliver the files to you the same direction tips apply:
- one director - if you are a team then have a leader a director and take suggestion but try not to confuse the actor with too many cooks….it’s a good idea to get the client in on the session if say you are producing a video for them - get the approval at the recording stage to save time
- encourage playfulness - trust their professional instincts too - after all you have booked them not just for their voice but for their experience in recorded spoken word
- Keep it simple - try not to bombard them with too many directions
- make the most of the time and get varied and alternate takes so you don't have to rebook another session at additional cost and hassle.
- mark takes - or ask the voice to mark a specific take if you loved it
- line reads - some VOs really dislike being given a line-read but sometimes if the VO is just not getting the phrasing you have in your head then of course go ahead and let them know - just not for the entire script - instead collaborate playfully to find the right tone, emphasis, energy and pace.
- Finally and this is not direction but make sure you are clear on the file formats you need and by what method the VO will be delivering them
I know we’ve covered lots and there will certainly be many action points, further research and I’m guessing you’ll want to revisit the modules to make sure it’s all sunk in. Of course, these are my opinions scattered throughout - but highly informed opinions from thousands of hours of collaboration in VO sessions.
But before you go let’s just make sure we are happy to sign-off on the imaginary VO job you’ve just recorded.
Is everyone happy with the finished recordings. An addition the the ‘just right’ performance - is the recording quality high enough for your project? Hopefully the pro VO has delivered the files flawless in the desired format - ready to seamlessly integrate into your project.
Do you need changes. What was agreed in terms of re-records or we might call them ‘pickups’. Sometimes these can range from just grabbing a few extra takes through to a re-record of the whole thing when you realise the pacing is off. To negate this, in the preparation stage make sure you know exactly what you want and use the session to the full to get those alt takes there and then.
Oh and don't forget to pay them in a timely fashion - or pass on details to whom they should raise their invoice.
If you were very happy with every aspect, from the performance, the recording quality, the communication throughout then do try to refer them to colleagues. We always really appreciate this. A large portion of my work comes from repeat and referral and my best work is always when I’ve been treated as part of a wider team of creatives.
Before you move on to booking your next voiceover, assess the process.
- What have you learnt that could potentially improve incorporating a voiceover artist as a team member for your future projects?
- Are you developing your ear - your purposeful directorial ear?
- Could you help the VO to help you by providing the script a little earlier?
- Try to spend a few minutes with colleagues to assess the process and incorporate anything useful from this programme into future engagements with voiceovers.
- Also don't be afraid to call upon other more experienced ‘bookers of voices’ for their input into the process.
As with anything really, it’s all in the preparation so try not to skip any part of that process. It will save time and stress and you’ll improve your confidence when running voiceover recording sessions. I wish you the best of luck and if there’s ever anything I can help with please drop me a line below.