Session Improvement Tips for Producers from Voice Talents

Tips-and-ToolsFill in the blank: “During my last session, I wished the producer would have ________________________.”

Or, if you’re a producer, “During my last session with a voice talent, I wished I would have ________________________.”

The job of a producer is not an easy one. They are part psychologist, part friend and part conductor. One minute, hand-holding a talent through a tricky script read.  The next minute, driving to keep the session from going off the rails.

Good producers want you to perform well and will do what it takes to bring out your best.

At the end of one of my sessions, I was asked by the producer if I had time to chat about working with voice talent. I was the first he’d directed and he felt unsure of his working method.

He was asking about what to do and know before the session begins and how to direct during the session.  I came up with a handful of suggestions, which I shared with the producer.

It Got Me Thinking

Afterwards, I wondered if I may have missed something so I asked the Voice-Over Pros group on Facebook for their thoughts and suggestions.

Their responses were brilliant and clearly came from the perspective of having worked with many producers over several years.

Another producer recently asked me for similar feedback so maybe there are others who would like the same. I think it’s good idea to make the info available to a wider audience.  So, I’ve compiled the best responses from Facebook and removed contributor names since the group is closed.

From The Mouths Of VO Pros

If you’re a producer, consider the things you may be missing. If you’re a voice talent, here’s some useful insight to remember during your next session.

Imagine being at the local pub or coffee joint and overhearing this conversation…

“Keep the sessions light, relaxed and fun where possible. Nobody’s life is on the line.”

“The thing about voice talent, as apposed to actors doing VO, is that we are generally affable and have a desire to fulfill the vision of the producer rather than have the producer conform to our artistic vision…”

“Always compliment them first.”

“Clear communication… From my time in the producer’s chair I found that open clear communication and friendliness got what I needed every time…it’s recording, not rocket science…”

“Keep their confidence high.”

“One safety is appropriate. When a producer asks for SEVERAL safeties then I’ve either not hit the magic spot or I’m totally clueless to what I’m being directed to do. In either situation, those extra takes are really not for safety, it’s more like the director saying, “what else ya got?” Yeah, there are times what a director says and what a talent hears is a mismatch.”

“…cant tell you how many sessions have been saved because of safety takes. Some times there are micro issues in your “good” take that you don’t hear until final processing of the vocals….and many times, the safety take can be even better than the “good” one….because the “pressure” is off the talent. I used that as a technique to get the delivery I wanted on numerous occasions…”

“In a commercial session, time your script before the session starts, and if it’s in danger of being long, have some edits in mind beforehand.”

“Always have the check cut so you can pay the talent when they leave!”

“Be positive, encouraging, and be mindful of the fact you both want the same thing and by working together you’ll accomplish it.”

“Trust the talent to tell the story. Don’t microdirect!”

“I’d never say this to a producer but: Know what you’re looking for before you hear it.”

“Sometimes the talent is not seeing the story the way the producer is hearing the story in their minds. I remember working with a talent once a long time ago in a galaxy far away where I was directing something that I had written. I could not get the talent to inflect the words I wanted inflected. I do this to myself in self-directed sessions. I record, and then during the edit I hear that I inflected the second word in a two-word grouping and send myself back into the booth to redo it. Sometimes by the time I get into the booth and find the script and record it again, I end up doing the same thing.”

“My advice to producers is, don’t settle. If you haven’t gotten exactly what you wanted, explain what you want done differently and go again. And once you do get what you want, say so.

“The moment a Producer makes the vo perp feel welcome, and at home, he/she can lead you a million miles in any direction.”

“It’s challenging working with anyone who isn’t sure what they’re looking for and it seems a bit time consuming coaching a client or producer on how to coach us. In the friendliest way possible, I would tell them to call me when they have a good idea on how they want the script read. Or, if the rate is good and the script is short, I don’t mind doing multiple takes for them and avoiding the live directed session altogether.”

“Know what you want! Be open to possibilities…but know what you want before the talent steps in front of the mic.”

“… remember why you hired this particular talent in the first place. They are trying to essentially interpret what is in your head and give their own spin on it.”

“…be clear in your communication on what you are listening for…. and if you don’t know, let the talent know that you would like to try a few different approaches to the project and even ask for suggestions. Creating a comfortable atmosphere is also a big help…”

“I agree with everyone else and would add: have another person look over your script and make sure it’s at least assumed to be the ‘final’ before you bring in the talent.”

This virtual conversion was priceless and full of suggestions that would help make most sessions a breeze to get through.

My Advice

Adding to what was said by other VO Pros, this is what I shared with my producer:

  1. Make sure the script is final and has been approved by the client.
  2. Keep the session relaxed and offer input when necessary.
  3. Allow the talent some creative freedom.
  4. Keep the momentum of the session moving forward.
  5. Take breaks during long-from narration sessions.
  6. When hearing mouth noises, suggest a water break.
  7. For short sessions with commercial scripts, allow the talent to make it through the script once before taking them in a different direction.

I’m sure there are more that haven’t been mentioned. So, I ask you, what would be the single best thing you would share with a producer or director that would improve their workflow during sessions?

Please leave your comments below.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow
Unplugged and Loved It!
The Disturbing Voice Disappearance

A Fish Story and Your Studio

Lake Quinalt Lodge
Lake Quinalt Lodge

A few weeks ago, Cameron and I traveled to the Olympic Peninsula to spend a few days at the beautiful, historic Lake Quinault Lodge. The weather was unseasonably perfect with sunshine and comfortable temperatures. It was a perfect getaway.

Before we made it to the lodge, we took a detour to Neah Bay to enjoy the Makah Museum and grab some smoked salmon Cam read about in Yelp. The museum was spectacular with many Native Makah artifacts and loads of historical references and information about the Makahs. It was well worth the drive.

TakeHomeFish
Take Home Fish Co.

Our other destination, Take Home Fish Company, was quite a surprise. When Cameron told me about it, I imagined a well-lit store with a refrigerator case packed with smoked salmon and other delicious Pacific Northwest treats. To my shock, my imagined fish shop was nothing more than a garage, slightly modified to be used as a fish shack.

Diesel flavored smoked salmon swam through my thoughts.

We walked in feeling skeptical about the offerings. Diesel flavored smoked salmon swam through my thoughts. The guy behind the small counter presented us with a number of options, which were neatly vacuum packed and ready for immediate sale.

This was it? I admit, I hadn’t taken the time to check out Yelp to see what this place was about. I was close to walking out without spending a dime. Cameron was a more willing customer and decided on two vac-packs of smoked fish, one salmon the other deep sea black cod.

Makah Bay
Makah Bay

As we drove away from Neah Bay with our purchase, I started thinking about the many voice talents starting out who create their magic from a closet, spare bedroom and other home areas that don’t resemble a studio, even remotely. If an area can be treated and used to record and the result is flawless fidelity, what does it matter?

I’ve read studio descriptions from established talent who don’t record in a closet or bedroom but have an acoustically designed booth of some sort. I congratulate them for making the financial decision to invest in their recording area. But, it’s uncool to trash talk those who work out of something less and still deliver amazing audio.

Evidently the clients don’t care as long as it sounds good.

The deliverable is what the client is most interested about. I’m pretty sure they care 1% or less how or where their ready-to-use sound was created. They know what sounds good for their project. I’ve read about jobs being done in hotel rooms with comforters, blankets and pillows used to create a satisfactory recording environment. Evidently the clients don’t care as long as it sounds good. It they did care where it was recorded few people, if any, would record on the road.

Lake Quinault
Lake Quinault

And, as for the smoked fish? Best. Smoked. Fish. EVAR! It was tasty and the perfect first meal at the Quinault Lodge. We gobbled down the fish along with some cheddar cheese, sourdough bread and a few glasses of port. Kimm, the owner of Take Home Fish Co. didn’t need a fancy store or state of the art tools to create what will be tough to beat by anybody else smoking fish. He had talent and an understanding of how to best use his workspace.

© 2015 J. Christopher Dunn

Other posts you might find interesting:
6 Questions to Ask Mr. Google!
Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Are You Available?

15 Unfortunate VO Mistakes to Avoid

oops

There are a number of voiceover successes I’m very proud about from this past year. I don’t want to gush about anything specific, lest I trigger your sensitivity to bragging.

No, instead, I’m going to share a handful of things that made me smack my head in disbelief. These are my “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments, those little slices of time that remind me that I’m human, and not above making bonehead mistakes that make my peers say, “You did what!?”

  1. Using an iPad for script reading in place of paper is a smart, efficient move. Attempting to markup text with a pencil on an iPad is neither smart nor efficient.
  2. Listening to the always entertaining “NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour” while reviewing scripts will distract me from catching even the most obvious mistakes.
  3. Rehearsing an audition script while participating in a webinar is a fabulous way to multitask. Note to self: Make sure to mute the microphone when not interacting with the host or other participants. Nobody is interested to hear my practice runs broadcast across the web over the top of a live webinar.
  4. Listening to classical music empowers me to have uber-focus and smooths occasional pre-session jitters. Rocking out to AC/DC or Nazareth before a recording session is great for getting my pulse pounding; nerves rattling; and ends up being the opening act for multiple takes.
  5. Tis a bummer to record an award worthy session only to find out no sound was captured. Headphones are useful to verify that my audio gear is in record mode and not playback.
  6. High winds on Whidbey Island create a bellows effect in my house while recording and treats the diaphragm of my trusty Bluebird like a brown paper bag used for hyperventilation.
  7. Deep cleaning the house gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Vacuuming, de-cluttering and dusting. I like a clean house. The dusting part is great for setting histamines in motion, giving my voice a nasally, plugged up tone, suitable only for decongestant commercials.
  8. A thick, all cotton sweatshirt is not only necessary to keep me warm but also acts as an extra sound absorber in my booth, a former wine cellar. The same cannot be said for shirts made of corduroy.
  9. Contrary to the wishes of one overseas client, no matter how hard I try, I cannot sound “un-American”. My auditions sound like me, and I sound like my auditions.
  10. Comfortable shoes are important for long periods of standing behind the mic. Wearing shoes of various sole or heel heights from one day to the next causes my voice to take on inconsistent characteristics because mic proximity and sweet spot target became victims of my shoe fetish.
  11. Corks from wine bottles are useful in improving articulation for a lazy mouth. Wine that is aged in the bottle can be delicious. Wine aged on the cork is disgusting. A washed cork is a more agreeable experience.
  12. Staying hydrated is super important for me. It ensures that dry mouth is significantly reduced and all the parts inside my mouth are well lubed. My keyboard and mouse are not in need of the same attention. A water bottle left in their proximity is a setup for desktop disaster.
  13. Eating a yummy ham sandwich an hour before a patched session will make me drink 48 ounces of water during the session and cause SEVERE mouth noises. (Sorry Matt!)
  14. Chewing gum assists in getting rid of cotton mouth. However, while building well defined jaw muscles, it has an adverse affect on fluid mouth movement, making most speaking less articulate.
  15. Altoids are a great substitute for gum chewing. Chewing one before entering the booth creates minty fresh breath. It also provides my tongue an opportunity for calisthenics as I attempt to remove the crushed Altoid bits from my teeth. Suck, don’t chew!

You know you have them. Don’t be afraid to share them. What were your “Oh, yeah… I probably shouldn’t do that” moments in 2013?

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Task Manage the Goldilocks Way
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow

10 Valuable Distractions

meter watchIs there anything but work? Sometimes I ask myself that question and answer with a resounding “yes.” I spend the day auditioning, working with clients, and marketing. I know it sounds oversimplified, but the truth of the matter is that’s spot on.

Well, the above is almost spot on. I’d like to add another item. Getaway. According to the dictionary on my iMac, getaway is an escape, or a quick departure, especially after committing a crime. I’d like to rewrite that last part to read, especially after committing to and completing an amount of work. In other words, I take a break.

You need to give your mind a mental vacation from what you do everyday. Focusing on one thing, being a successful voice-talent, can be a source of fatigue and even stress. Here’s a list of breaks I suggest. All are meant to get you away from your workspace.

Stretch

Instead of shaking out your muscles at your desk, find another place in your home. A momentary change of scenery will cause your brain to wake up to evaluate your new surroundings.

Give your iPhone the ability to help you stay flexible and comfortable while you work with Ergonomics. From the App Store: Ergonomics is a complete mobile workplace health solution that offers ergonomic equipment setup advice, a variety of workplace specific stretching exercises, and programmable reminders to help you time your breaks.

Enjoy the stretch.

Stretching Exercises at Your Desk: 12 Simple Tips

Hydrate Yourself

Do you fill a huge jug of water and lug it to your desk every morning? Adding a few variations to your daily intake and reducing the quantities will give you reason to get away for a few moments. Take a midmorning break for non-caffeine tea, and lemon water in the afternoon. Both are a refreshing change from water.

How to Learn How to Properly Hydrate Myself Throughout the Day

Eat a Snack

It’s easy to get over-focused on a project and not eat. I’ve missed lunch several times because of my desire to get to a stopping point. When this happens, I eat a snack. A piece of fruit will help you get to dinner time.

17 Healthy Snacks for Work

Listen to Music

The days when my mind is going in a bazillion different directions at once, I allow myself to indulge in a music break. I don’t want to relax, necessarily I just want a slight distraction to get my mind off everything. I’m a big fan of old rock-n-roll, The Eagles, Lead Zeppelin and Nazareth are waiting on my iPhone for immediate relief.

Pandora | Songza | Spotify | Allmusic

Take a Walk

A few of the breaks mentioned above involve walking as part of the effort. Go further with this idea and take yourself outside for some fresh air. This could be around the block, down the road, up the street, or any other destination cliche you can think of. Disrupt your day with motion.

Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health

Get the mail

This sounds ridiculously obvious, but I know it’s easy to forget. Owning this little task is an excuse to get yourself away from whatever you are focused on so intently.

Little Known Facts About the United States Postal Service

Call Somebody

We work in solitude all day and other than talking with clients (you do talk to your clients, right?) it can be a bit lonely. Give yourself 10-minutes to call somebody for a short chat break. Do it away from your workspace and computer so the only distraction you enjoy is the one that’s on the other end of the line.

How to Have a Great Phone Conversation

Read or Listen to a Book

My iPad is used for script reading and other freelance related tasks. Recently, I gave it another responsibility, to be the keeper of the books I read for leisure.  I’ve found many sources for digital books, my local library being one of them. I’ll take my iPad and find a comfy chair away from my work area and read for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s the perfect duration for a chapter.

New York Times Best Sellers | Audible

Pump Iron

This has nothing to do with laundry, which I’m sure is a huge relief to you. However, it does require that you take a trip to the gym. If you can, try taking a much needed midday break to exercise. Don’t limit yourself to working out. Look for classes that interest you and will help give your mind and body from your routine.

10 Minute Workout: Short, Intense Workout To Get Fit

Errands

Need a few groceries? Does your car need gas? Kids need a ride to after school sports? Jump on the opportunity to push away from the desk and take care of a few items on your personal or family to-do list. One or two short duration items will be the perfect distractions.

How to Make Your To-Do List Doable

Sitting at your desk all day might increase your productivity but it will also increase the size of your sit-upon-it-thingy and help fill your daily stress bucket. A few breaks is all it takes to help decrease the size of either one.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow
JewelBeat: A New Royalty Free Music Source
Five Ways to be Remembered by Your Clients

Unplugged and Loved It!

abstract ship in seaDuring the first part of June, I traveled with family and friends to celebrate a 50th Wedding Anniversary. We took an Alaska cruise for seven-days and enjoyed the beautiful scenery, ports of call; amazing food and entertainment; and each other’s company. It was a relaxing and restful experience.

While preparing for the trip, I though seriously about what gadgets I should take and how I would maintain my business connections while away from my studio. Should I pack my laptop or could I get by with my iPad or maybe even my iPhone and my trusty travel mic? Where would I record on a huge cruise ship that had a constant rumble from the engines? What was the price of satellite wifi to remain connected while on board? Should I accept calls at sea? How much gear should I take?

The cruise was supposed to be a relaxing, fun time with the focus on my friend’s wedding anniversary. After giving this considerable thought, I came to the conclusion that I would unplug. Yup. Totally disconnect. The stress of where to record, how to maintain contact, and run my business onboard seemed, well, silly.  Risky? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

The first thing I did was contact my clients with an e-mail letting them know well in advance that I was unplugging for seven-days and to contact me with any recording needs before then. I received many responses telling me to enjoy myself. Clients with voiceover needs contacted me immediately to set up session time. They were open to work with my schedule. I love my clients!

Time off was spectacular. I got to know my travel companions better. Spent time engaged with people face to face instead of gadget to gadget. Slept better than I had in a very long time. And felt like I had gobs of extra time on my hands.

Being unplugged is not overrated but does have some drawbacks. Since auditioning is the primary way I get hired, I missed out on a few of opportunities. Yes, it was a risk I considered and a price I paid.

One thing I’ll remember next time I unplug is to set up an e-mail auto response to let people know that I’m OOF (out of facility) and when I’ll be back. This will let prospective clients know that I’m not slow or ignoring them and existing clients who missed my unplugged e-mail that I’ll take care of their questions and needs soon after I arrive back home.

You know, everybody is SOOOO connected to everything. We spend a number of hours each day touching those connections to make sure we’re remembered. During the process we filter a significant amount of noise, content that just doesn’t fit a current agenda. It’s mentally exhausting. Unplugging and leaving the gadgets behind is a type of therapy. It was a little scary at first for me and by the end of the voyage, I was recharged and ready to plug back in.

Your experience may vary.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Get it to Your iPad with Instashare

InstashareIf you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I use my iPad to read scripts. The printer sits quietly while I type. I’m sure it wonders (yes, I gave my printer human qualities, thank you very much!) if I’ll ever touch it again. I’m sure it’s jealous of my iPad.

To get scripts to my iPad, I was using one of the popular cloud-based file share services. A few weeks ago, my computer would not connect to the service and I had a stack of scripts I needed to get to my iPad NOW! My printer saw this as the perfect opportunity to remind me that printing was a push of the print button away. Not to be persuaded, I switched to another file share service and finally got the scripts to my iPad. Work proceeded.

This little scenario got me wondering if there was something I could use that wasn’t Internet dependent. A piece of software that I could install on my Mac and iPad, to quickly copy files using my WiFi connection. I thought about it a lot and within a few days, BLAM!, the piece of software I was thinking about became available. If I didn’t know it takes months for applications to be developed, I would have thought the programers wrote the software after a Vulcan Mind Meld with me. And, they’re probably not Vulcan anyway.

The software is Instashare, developed by Lukas Foldyna and Martin Karasek, the team of developers who make up TwoManShow.

Instashare from TwoManShow on Vimeo.

Lukas and Martin have made installation and configuration amazingly easy and quick. First take a trip to the App Store and download the Instashare App to your iPad. Next, point your browser to InstashareApp.com and download the Mac version to you computer. While the Mac version is BETA, I’ve found it to be trouble free and plays well with the other applications on my Mac.

After installation, launch Instashare on your iPad then the app on your Mac. Using your WiFi network, both machines will look for each other. On your Mac, you’ll see in the drop window that your iPad is displayed as a destination for any files you want to copy. Your iPad shows your Mac as a destination. Copying files goes both ways. On your Mac, drag and drop a file to the drop window. Your iPad displays an alert requesting that you approve the transfer. Tap approve and the file is copied. Simple, right?

You can open copied files directly in Instashare or tap the ‘Open in’ button and you’re presented with installed apps that can open the file. When you’re done with the file, delete by tapping “Edit”, tap the red circle with a line in its center, then tap delete. Since you were working with a copy on your iPad, the original is safe on you Mac.

If you’re not a user of Apple hardware, the Instashare website indicates that Windows and Android versions are coming soon.

I’m sure I’ll still have some use for the file share service. But since I started using Instashare, I haven’t had the need. The icon for the service sits in my menubar waiting to be clicked, promising me that it’ll behave. It’s in good company though, my printer anticipates my return as well.

Other posts that you might find interesting:

VoiceWorld Toronto, It’s a Voice Conference

You may or may not be a professional voice person but you are somebody who enjoys learning about the biz, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a blog about voiceovers. Now that I have that out of the way, I would like to direct your attention the information below. You’ll find details about VoiceWorld Toronto Conference.

This will be a key opportunity for you to meet like minded people, hear from experts that have been doing the voiceover craft for decades and enjoy the beautiful city of Toronto.

VoiceWorld Toronto Conference

Date: Saturday May 4th, 2013
Time: 8:00 am – 5:30pm
Location: Toronto Hilton Hotel

Prepare to be educated, equipped and empowered

  • Audition like a pro — understand the do’s and don’ts of auditioning in person and online.
  • Learn the ins and outs of the voice acting business, and what it takes to be a successful voice-over talent.
  • Get into business — explore ways to turn your voice acting talent into a business.

About VoiceWorld Toronto

VoiceWorld, the industry’s premier conference, being held in Toronto in 2013, is an immersive experience focused on engaging voice actors from across Canada and the United States. Connect with amazing, influential people who can change your life through courses in artistic development, business and technology preparing you for success in the exciting world of voice acting. A breath of fresh air, VoiceWorld sets out to invigorate and intensify your love for the art of voice acting as never before with an action plan for you to take your business to the next level.

VoiceWorld Toronto Speakers

  • Pat Fraley – Man of Four Thousand Voices, CESD Talent Los Angeles
  • Elley-Ray Hennessy – Award-winning actress, Director and Producer
  • Deb Munro – International Voice-over Talent and Coach
  • David Ciccarelli – Co-Founder and CEO of Voices.com
  • David Goldberg – Owner of Edge Studio
  • Dan Lenard – The Home Studio Master
  • Sunday Muse – Voice-over Artist, Author and Coach
  • Dave McRae – The Voice Mann
  • Stephanie Ciccarelli – Author of Voice Acting for Dummies
  • Wayne Young – Audio Producer and Mixing Engineer

10 Reasons To Attend VoiceWorld Toronto

Early Bird Special ends February 28th!

*Tickets are limited. Purchase your full conference pass by visiting, http://voiceworldtoronto2013.eventbrite.com/

Voice World Toronto
Join us in Toronto for the voice acting conference of the year on Saturday May 4th, 2013.
VoiceWorld