A little guide to the dream voice over session

Everything you need to know for a smooth voice over session

voice over sessionCustomer friends, this article is for you. And voice over colleagues, for you too - knowing what's happening on the other side can only benefit you, can't it?
A voice over session, whether in a studio or remotely, can be a joy... or a nightmare. To make the right choices, follow the guide!

First: choosing the right voice

I know, it sounds obvious... but what exactly is the RIGHT voice? You'd be surprised how many clients looking for a voice over talent don't know what they want when they talk to a casting director or agent. Or rather, they do, but they can't express it. Of course, they know whether they want a male or female voice, young or... with more experience, but beyond that, it's a bit David Hamilton: an artistic blur.
It's understandable. In the absence of predefined, specific criteria and with an inherent subjectivity, it is extremely difficult for a non-specialist to specify the emotions he wants his script to evoke, and therefore the type of voice that will read it.
And yet, finding THE voice that perfectly conveys the message you're trying to get across is essential. So what do you do?

Are you really sure of your choice?
You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Do yourself a favour: book a professional voiceover artist, with professional demos, a professional website, a professional attitude... and professional prices.
I'm going to be brutally honest: anyone prepared to do a voiceover session for a TV ad for €100 including rights is bound to be desperate - and bound to be mediocre. And I'm sure that you, and your client, don't want mediocre, don't even want OK... You want great, breathtaking, grandiose, epic. And that comes at a price.
Make sure that the actor you are going to hire is capable of doing what you want him or her to do. That's why it's a good idea not only to listen to demos and portfolio samples, but also to visit the websites of shortlisted actors. That way you can avoid surprises - some of them good, some of them not so good.

Top pro, immediately available and cheap?
Be clear with yourself about your expectations, both in terms of quality and availability. If you need a script recorded in the same day, say so from the outset, and be prepared to settle for a talent who will be available, and forget your first choice.
If you're set on your choice of actor, be prepared to be flexible about the date of the recording, and/or your budget. If you want Robert de Niro/Jean Dujardin/Omar Sy (delete as appropriate) in the afternoon for a hundred euros, you can always try, but I can't guarantee anything!

The script: the details that kill

First of all, it's obvious: without a script, there's no session.
The script is the cornerstone of your project. I devoted the article Hands Off My Script to the topic and I invite you, especially my dear voice over colleagues, to read carefully - the script is sacred. Yes, really.

Other evidence: the script must be written to be heard, not read, and must be fluid and not too dense. 150 words/min is the normal speed, but if you want to let the script breathe, aim for 130 words/min.

Now, less obvious: its presentation is crucial
Why would you do this? Try giving a voice-over actor a script in Times 10, single-spaced, photocopied and rephotocopied, formatted in columns 2 cm wide, or in Excel cells... You considerably increase the risk of errors because it's quite simply illegible!
As a result, if you're in a studio and you pay the actor - and the studio as well as the DA - by the hour, your voice-over session is going to cost you a lot more.
If you're sending the script to an actor to record in their studio, that's not the best way to build a good rapport between you and them. Try formatting your script in Helvetica (or a similar sans-serif font) 14 point minimum with 1.5 line spacing, you'll immediately see the difference - and a smile on everyone's face!

You give the actor a script of a few pages. This script is placed on the booth table when, for one reason or another, it falls. And then (as the saying goes)... it's drama. It's drama if it's not numbered.
The time wasted putting it back in order, the frustration... when it would have been just as simple to number the pages and eliminate such easily avoidable inconveniences at source.

Another detail that counts Each page should ideally end with a finished sentence. It makes life easier for everyone.

If you are working with images (film or motion design to which the voice will be timed), it is a HUGE plus to include the timecode in the script, at least at the beginning and end of the paragraph, for a number of reasons. timecodereasons :
- Firstly, it lets the voice talent know how much time he has for each section,
- and if you're working in a studio, the timecode also allows the sound engineer to know where he is in the film (especially if he's working with a foreign language...).

In short, it saves everyone time, and it's a well-known fact that time is money. Your money.
One caveat: while timecode can be a good friend, it can also be a pest when it's not accurate!

Plan your session
Still on the subject of the script: we're all time-poor and everything is always for yesterday, but do your best to get the script to the actor before the last second - the day before the voice over session, or before if possible.
Some talent have a supernatural talent for reading a script without preparation as if they'd grown up with it, but most are simply human and you'll help them help you by giving them a little time to prepare for their session.

Preparing a voice over session also means....

Be as clear as possible
A voice over talent's job is to appear to be an expert in all the fields for which he lends his voice, but we are not omniscient!
For all specialist terms, surnames that could be pronounced in different ways, acronyms (do you say it as a word or spell out the letters?), foreign language words - in short, anything that could lead to confusion - it's best to give the actor audio files with the correct pronunciation, or at least a pronunciation guide.

Working in a team
sound engineerIf you're in the same studio as the voice over talent with a sound engineer, ask their opinion. These sound professionals do this all day long and have bionic ears. And two opinions are better than one.
Of course, you are the conductor and the talent must follow your lead, as I explain in my article A Matter of Organs. But once you have received the performance you wanted from the actor, ask him if he has a different vision of the script he would like to record. They may give you an interpretation you hadn't thought of.

And finally...
Something that seems so obvious and which, in my experience, is not. Make sure that the script given to the actor is the same as yours - and that it's the final, approved version, signed by the customer. Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board, with all the extra costs and frustration that entails.

Thank you for reading this article and if you found it interesting, please share it with your friends and colleagues!

Feel free to share your experience here and leave your comments, suggestions or questions. Don't hold back, I'll do my best to answer them.