Directing a voice actor? Avoid these mistakes!

3 min read

You’ve been directing a voice actor. You’re now listening to the fourth voice over revision and you’re pulling out your hair. The voice actor (whose audition was great) is really struggling to capture what you have in mind.

Worst is, the voice actor is pulling out their hair too.

It’s red alert. Situation serious. Defcon 1. Armageddon is an email away…

These situations may be rare, but they certainly occur. Directing a voice actor can be tricky — especially across the sometimes immeasurable distances of the ‘Net! With the level of communication it requires, you could compare it to mind-reading.

So you have a clear idea of what you’d like your voice acting segment to sound like, and you’ve put hours into the ​perfect script​. You’ve given your instructions, picked a reputable actor with a fabulous collection of samples on their Voice123 profile. So why isn’t it this recording session going according to plan?

Well, directing a voice actor isn’t as simple as saying what you want, it’s a matter of how you say it. It’s in the delivery of the directing. Let’s take a look at some common mistakes when directing a voice actor.

Directing a voice actor: image of a director sitting in a chair
Image: Shutterstock

Line reading

Line reading​ can seem like a good idea at first. Let’s say the voice actor isn’t getting the intonation right, or the pitch could be adjusted. Why not just demonstrate by reading it?

Human hearing is a funny thing. Have you ever recorded your own voice and then played it back to yourself? Often, what people think they sound like, and what they actually sound like, are two different things.

You may end up in situations where the voice actor is successfully recreating your intonation, pitch and inflection, but it’s not what you think you sound like. It can become an unfortunate cycle where you continue to line read and the miscommunication piles up along with frustration.

Generally, it’s best to avoid line reading.

Then there’s the chance that the voice actor will start to mimic instead of act. Good voice acting is good acting. A voice can sound colourful and change in pitch, but if emotion isn’t driving the script read, it will fall flat.

With line reading, it’s easy for the voice actor to focus on mimicry instead of acting. Their attention shifts from breathing life into the script — which is what you want — to making the same sounds that you’re making.

Directing a voice actor: image of a script
Photo by Brooks Leibee on Unsplash

Being vague

Ideally, you want to give your voice actor freedom to act and express themselves fully. You don’t want to make them feel restricted and uncomfortable, which might disturb their performance.

So sometimes, you may feel inclined to give that extra bit of freedom by leaving things up to interpretation. You might want to tell them to be happier, warmer, or to be more energetic.

But these suggestions can be interpreted in many ways. “Happy,” to you, could mean more excitement and engagement in the voice, while for a voice actor, it might mean sounding more peaceful and content.

So while it’s good to give your actor room to create a voice and express, it’s more helpful to be specific​ about what you want.

You may want to tell them to emphasize a specific word, or to inflect on another. By being specific about what you want in certain moments, a good voice actor will pick up on the tone of the script, and use it to fill the rest of the script.

Being negative

Directing a voice actor: image of two dolls fighting
Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

It’s a rare occasion when someone is intentionally rude to a voice actor. Usually, comes from a miscommunication, or a poor attempt to get a voice actor to change.

Telling a voice actor that their performance is bad is certainly going to make them avoid making the same mistake. But it’s also going to crush their confidence!

It might be a quick way to get an unwanted script-interpretation out of their head, but it will also decrease the quality of the rest of their performance.

Instead, it’s better to be patient, sensitive, encouraging and kind. Don’t like what they’ve recorded? Avoid negativity, and tell them how to improve instead. Support what’s going well.

There’s a much better chance of your script read going well from that point on.

Rudeness and negativity can also come from frustration and a misunderstanding of what the script is supposed to be. Does the voice actor know who the audience is? Were they informed of the tone of the script?

The last word

Having ​clear communication​ from the start can save you from headaches in the future, and also builds valuable, lasting relationships. Getting frustrated and being negative when actors don’t understand the project is an easy way to kill a good relationship and the current project.

These are just a few common voice over mistakes, but being wary of these will save projects, relationships, and help your scripts come to life!

We wish you every success with your Voice123 voice over projects!