Any voice actor you speak to these days is likely to tell you that the DIY home studio environment is not only the future of commercial voice over recording, but the present. The digital revolution forced equipment prices to plunge over the past decade and being able to produce stellar results is no longer the preserve of the chosen few.
Despite the shift, of course, many producers still prefer working in a professional studio environment — even if it means they have to factor in the cost of the actor’s commute as well as additional studio time to the recording budget.
The big debate
“Home studios still raise a red flag for me,” says Tom Enslin, creative director at a well-established, specialist agency with a global footprint.
“Our clients have very high expectations and they prefer working with an executive producer in a pro studio. Producers also work with actors all the time. Briefing a voice actor well is second nature to them. They know how to translate what our clients want into a language the actor understands. Maybe I just keep having bad quality experiences with actors who work out of their own studios.
“‘What’s that buzz or hissing sound?’ clients ask me — and then I have to arrange to re-record the whole thing in a pro studio anyway. Our industry is deadline-driven and as professional audio practitioners we cannot afford to miss deadlines. The whole industry is very active on social media; a couple of missed deadlines and subsequent bad reviews can destroy your reputation very quickly. People talk.”
Sound engineer Steven Markham agrees. “It’s a lot more than briefing a voice actor. It can be a nightmare when you have an actor who’s not good at engineering his own stuff. Everything is software-based so they all have access to plugins that they rarely know how to use — but it says ‘voice over’ under presets so they apply the effect. The result is distortion, too much high EQ, too much compression; it doesn’t take much to kill a recording.
“Actors like to think they’re making themselves sound better, but they’re not. When I tell them not to add any effects to the vocal track, they get all edgy. In the end, I have the actor on the one hand and the client on the other yelling. I’m tired of getting stuck in the middle because sometimes it can get really hard and it’s just not worth the hassle. Some voice actors just don’t seem to understand the immovable reality of deadlines; a late submission is often a lost submission and as part of a broadcast package, it can be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. It’s always best just to get it done ASAP.”
“Change is inevitable,” small business owner Colin Krueger argues. “It’s about affordability now. For us, huge budgets are a thing of the past. Debate above-the-line and below-the-line if you can afford to, but like it or not — your target market is online and wrapped up in constant social networking. This may surprise you but as a company, we haven’t considered television; not even radio. Online is fine and our numbers are up. Actors with home studios are affordable for us and the quality, so far anyway, has been great — although you really do need to know how to communicate with the actor to get the right results. That can take some getting used to. But the ‘Net’s communication platforms can go a long way when it comes to briefing a voice actor.”
“Communication is key,” affirms Account Executive, Debbie Jones. “You need to know how and what to communicate when you’re briefing a voice actor.”
What then is the best way to brief a voice actor with a home studio?
“Don’t overcomplicate,” Debbie insists. “The actor will always ask for cues. Tell him what you want clearly, succinctly. Don’t get worked up. Feed the actor too much info, ask for too many repeat-reads and you’ll end up ‘breaking’ them. When that happens, you won’t get a good read out of them at all; you might as well all go home and try again the next day. And you can’t blame the actor — it’s not his or her fault. At the end of the day, voice actors are artists and one has to treat them accordingly. They’re creative people and if they lose their mojo during a session, that’s it.”
6 tips on how to brief a voice actor with a home studio:
You can’t operate in a live studio setting, so clarity is key. It’s incredibly important to be precise in your descriptions and directions. Never presume that an actor will automatically understand what you want if you don’t explain carefully.
Know how long you want it
Many misalignments occur when you are looking for 30 seconds worth of audio but you submit a 100-word script. Most actors can comfortably and articulately read 100 words a minute. More than that will start to sound rushed and inevitably degrade their performance.
Indicate pauses and emphasis
Odd-sounding names? A pronunciation guide is a must.
Give the actor a reference
Audio and video, or just audio — but some kind of reference that indicates tone, manner and inflection can often get everything recorded perfectly in one take.
As Debbie, the account executive, pointed out above, voice actors are emotional people; be enthusiastic and encouraging. If they get it wrong, don’t start sounding irritated or short-tempered in your feedback. Always be kind; after all, the goal is the same: all parties involved want the recording to be a success, so it’s safe to assume that no professional actor will deliberately mess up a read.
Give them time and a great script
Despite the inevitability of a pressing deadline, give your chosen voice actor time to read the script beforehand, prepare for the recording, breathe and settle in. While most professional actors can sight-read well, affording them preparation time is going to make the job easier for both of you. Oh — and as any actor will tell you: a good script is a gift they will truly appreciate!