Man, we just had the biggest weather front come through yesterday. Nothing I know like our fellow Oklahomas are undergoing right now.
But we did have some real weather here in Southern California. My rain gauge said 1 3/4″ rain, plus some of the scariest lightning and loudest thunder I’ve ever heard. Plus a brief power outage And it’s cold. Cold for us, anyway.
I’m feeling a bit under the weather myself right now so I’m going to post one of my golden oldies for us. I have chills, aches and a low-grade fever, so I’m going to take some time to feel normal again.
Enjoy the following article I wrote a couple of years ago.
This is about good studio etiquette, whether you are working solo on your home studio with phone-patch or ISDN, or if you are booked at an off-site studio where the studio engineer and producer/director are present.
While being a skilled voice actor is partly about the quality of your voice, it’s also about techniques, copy interpretation, performance skill-sets and behaviors that you’ll develop through application and experience.
Here are some skills I’ve learned on my own and from others and am happy to share:
Don’t wear noisy jewelry in session and remove it before you record.
If you have change or keys in your pocket, put them in your bag or just somewhere where they won’t make noise and ruin a take when you move
Don’t wear a watch that ticks, beeps or chimes.
Turn off your cell/mobile phone.
Don’t wear nylon shirts- or noisy fabric. Static and rustling noises will happen. Stick to knitwear.
And leather won’t rustle but makes a bit of a flatulent sound.
Do understand that a booking is for the duration you’re booked.If it’s an ISDN session, this is especially important, whether or not you’re working from a home studio.
For off-site gigs, arrive on time, maybe a bit early. It’s hard if you’re booked back-to-back & have to travel halfway across town during rush hour-ask your agent for lea-way.
Don’t play with the studio’s costly equipment. Sound booths can be cluttered with cables. If some technical equipment is in your way, ask the engineer to move it, don’t do it yourself unless asked and never ever touch the mic without first being given permission to do so.
Don’t spill stuff. Just about everything in the sound booth has a current running through it. Always be extra cautious of any liquids; you might be a great voice but you won’t work for the client again if you fry a couple of grand’s worth of equipment by knocking over your water glass or dump a coke on to the carpet. And you shouldn’t be drinking coke or any carbonated beverages that can make you flatulent!
Do be script silent. Learn to turn the pages of your script over without making a sound. You should be able to flip through your local newspaper without any noise in front of a mic. Laying out your pages in a sensible manner across the copy stand before recording will assist you in this. Practice this at home – it’s very useful.Better yet, read from a monitor or computer or iPad screen. Technology is a beautiful thing.
Do learn to take cues from a TV monitor, screen wipe or sound beeps or pips. Register what the cue-lights mean (sometimes there’s more than one), learn to read and work from a time-code and read the script brilliantly. And learn to do it all at the same time.
Do remember to eat something before your session, a while before the session too, but not too much garlic as you don’t want to offend. Munching on something prior to getting in the booth will help stop those annoying stomach sounds that can hold up a session. As we’re talking about food & drink, always take any trash with you when you leave and it’s always a nice gesture to bring out your empty water glass. Don’t expect the studio staff to rush out and buy you food if you’ve got the munchies…this is arrogant behavior that can work against you.
Don’t have coffee or tea in session because caffeine may dehydrate and give you jitters and if you add milk, it will bring on phlegm which can tighten the vocal cords . Instead just opt for a glass of room-temperature water. It’ll keep your voice lubricated and your lips moist but not wet-this’ll help stop mouth noises that the engineer will have to edit out.
Don’t drink sparkling drinks of any kind prior to or during a session; always drink the still or flat variety. Would you want to engineer for someone who was gurgling and burping through their session?
Learn to work a mic properly and practice the avoidance of popping your P’s- They’re called plosives; every time you see one of those plosive words coming up in your script get ready to slightly turn your mouth away from the mic when you hit the word-this’ll direct the pop sound away from the mic’s diaphragm and you won’t need to re take the line…practice makes perfect. I don’t use a pop screen when I record and you shouldn’t need one either. And they don’t really work very well, anyway.
Do practice drop ins or rolling punches. When you do drop-ins, match your breaths, your proximity to the mic, cadence, timbre & vocal pace at the drop-in point. As the drop-in point approaches, read aloud, along with run-up. This will create a seamless flow between the pre recorded piece and your drop-in point.
Play with word lengths, voice delivery levels and their timings to complement, or punctuate the background music or SFX …. Both of these techniques are useful for adding drama to your read. Extending a syllable can sometimes make the difference between a mistimed read and a perfect one. Usually additional tracks will be added to the mix after you’ve left the studio but always ask to hear the backing tracks to get a feel for the piece. Most engineers are happy to play the music to you as they know it will help your performance. Same goes if you are asked to deliver a louder voice than normal due to the scene calls for loud background noise or you’re in a crowd scene. Ask the engineer to play the relevant sound effects in your headphones during the recording if they can, It’ll help you get the feel right. But if the music or the SFX aren’t there, don’t worry, just imagine them. You’re an actor, right?
Massage, and or notice your syllables and words when you need to but don’t go overboard on this technique so it sounds contrived or too announcery. And avoid wearing headphones , except while editing yourself, so you won’t fall in love with the sound of your voice.
During a session, always be cordial and professional, have fun, and banter with the director/producer and the engineer and other studio staff to a degree… but don’t overdo it and eat up too much recording time and don’t get in the way when the engineer and producer are trying to work out a problem. Making a recording is a team effort, So become part of the team and don’t worry when the rest of the team ignores you. If the talkback is switched off they’re probably just discussing a point that doesn’t concern you.
Don’t brag or boast about your latest accomplishments. Don’t eat up expensive recording time telling everyone that you’re in a show in whatever theatre.
It’s boring, tedious, and not great actor behavior. As a voice artist you’re probably getting pai
d more per hour than the others on the end of the line gets a week. You may be worth it, but who’s to say you are. Leave your ego outside the studio.
Don’t ask, “Should I start speaking now?” This question is a red flag indicating you are a newbie. When you’re asked to “give levels,” or “give a read,” just start reading your script until you’re told to stop. Hesitating at the start of a recording is like shooting off fireworks that spell out, “I have never done this before.”
Read ahead. When you’re reading the script learn to read ahead so that your brain can “navigate” and can work out where the text or the thought is going, before you actually get there vocally. In most voice sessions you’ll end up reading a script cold, and if you work on this technique, you won’t need numerous retakes to finish the session. The faster you are, the more your employer has time to mix and therefore you’re saving him or her money…that is a BIG plus in your favor.
Do practice adjusting the overall speed of your reading/performance, a paragraph, a sentence, a word – learn how to adjust by seconds and frames and you’ll eventually develop a stopwatch in your brain.
About breathing: Don’t breathe straight into words as you begin speaking and don’t gasp an intake of breath when you finish, this makes editing more difficult for the engineer and will mean more re-takes. Always start from an open mouthed position and always be topped up with breath before beginning your take, a slow quiet exhalation before recording is useful too. Learn the silent breath…make the engineer think you don’t breathe. It’s OK to pause after a sentence, then breathe, keeping the script’s rhythm and pace in mind.
Continue your read/performance even if there is an echo or feedback in the headphones, this happens a lot in ISDN recordings, when you MUST wear headphones …an easy way to overcome this is just wear the one of the earphones off your ear so that you can hear your voice live on one side.
Sometimes there are technical problems out of your control. So you should be able to do a good read more than once !!!
Practice speaking in other languages. There’s bound to be a French or Spanish phrase cropping up somewhere in your first 20 jobs. Voice talents who do medical or technical voicing should earn 10 times the normal hourly fee. We don’t, but we should. If you’re capable, it’s just another way to bring in sacks of money.
Save your hearing, when self-editing don’t run playpack too hot. The quality and the level of your headphones can alter your performance- too loud or too soft a read, for example. In the end it’s up to you to make your performance work.
Do be cautious about your body movements and chemistry. Just about every studio now records in digital formats. This means that a lot of noises that used to be covered by tape hiss aren’t.
Dress in layers. Many studios don’t have air conditioning due to the noise associated with it…rather than steaming away, its better to get down to a T-shirt or tank top and pair of shorts than sweating it out.
If you are sent a script beforehand, do read it before the session. Find any problem areas and suggest changes/ and ask questions about trick or questionable pronunciations, grammar or syntax prior to recording- it may impress. Often the script will have been written by a new copywriter and might sound awkward to the listener. However, the script may have been approved by committee, so the producer or director may not be capable of changing a single word. Be sympathetic to their problems-practice tongue twisters so that you can say anything.
Don’t blow your nose/cough/sneeze into the microphone. A good mic can cost over 3 grand and a well-aimed shot from your schnozzola can kill it. Tell the engineer first or just turn away from the mic.
Don’t wander away from the mic between takes, unless you know how to get back to exactly the same mic position. If you need to leave the sound booth, mark your space in front of the mic and when you return close all the doors tightly. Check with the engineer if he needs to do another level check before you start again.
Always ask something; asking questions make you look like you’re on the ball. Every pro does it and you want to be pro, right? So why shouldn’t you? Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a take to say, “Oh uhmmm how do you want this word pronounced?” Don’t begin your read without asking (if you can’t tell) 1) to whom you are reading 2) what the intent of the script is. And for the love of God….don’t ask, “What’s my motivation?”
Befriend the receptionists, assistants at the studio. Clients will ask reception to recommend a good voice. The more the receptionist likes you, the more your chances of a recommendation. Don’t overstay your session unless you’re invited to hang out, just tell an amusing anecdote, say goodbye and leave. There’s mixing and other stuff to be done and you’re not needed for that.
Have fun in your sessions, enjoy them! Voiceover can be a lot of fun and you’ll meet some really terrific and talented people. Don’t get aggressive egotistical or abusive if you don’t like the way a session’s going, life’s too short and you don’t need the ulcers. And you want to be called back for future jobs, don’t you?