There's a theory about voiceover work that never seems to go away.
Voiceover is simply "talking into a microphone".
Well, at it's most basic level, yes it is. But really, it definitely isn't.
See here and then read on.
So, that's what this blog is about - all the other bits that go unseen, unconsidered and unknown. My process is an amalgamation of things I learnt during voice over training and mentoring, bits I picked up during my own further research and of course some of my own ideas. After all, it's important to use your own experiences to make a piece sound authentic and real.
I’m not going to be talking about the aforementioned training, mentoring or research. This is concerned with what happens when a script arrives on my digital doormat. It's a "how to do voiceover" piece without telling you how to do the actual speaking bit. If you're recording voiceover yourself, you can pair this article with my post "10 tips to improve your reads".
Read and proof the script.
First, I read through the script a few times to understand the content, the subject matter. I get a feel for the sort of language being used. It might be very straight, or it could be more conversational. Whatever style it's written in, this will help inform the delivery choice.
Next, I proofread and edit any typos. It's important to make it as tidy as possible in order to minimize the chance of stumbling during recording.
I also look out for places to contract the text too. For example: “We will look after your money” becomes “We'll look after your money”. Contractions are common when speaking but much less so when written down. The point here is to make it easier on the ear.
Now we get into the good stuff.
The effect on the audience.
It's imperative to find the emotion within the script, so I ask myself how I want the audience to feel. Do I want to make them happy? Sad? Do I want to inspire them to purchase CROCS? Probably not... This is another thing that will really inform how I end up delivering the script. If I want them to feel excited about going to a theme park, I need to sound excited too.
The effect on me.
Then I flip that on its head. What do I want from this? Well, most of the time, I want to help the audience understand the message I’m conveying. It could be trying to make them realize how good a product is or how important it is to plan ahead – whatever it may be, the script needs to be delivered in an appropriate way for that message to come across effectively.
The purpose of the script.
Next, I need to work out what the script is trying to achieve – what’s the purpose? Is it trying to drive sales? Website hits? Is it for informational purposes? Or is it simply trying to build the image of the brand. If you think of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, that didn’t mention specific products, that was for brand recognition and recall.
This can change a delivery style dramatically. If the script is looking for sales, I might be more persuasive in tone. If it’s trying to make people remember the brand, I might sound more inspirational.
One of the most important things to remember with voiceover is that I’m not talking to myself, the microphone or the director.
I’m talking to the audience, the “customers of the script”.
After analysing the script, I can vividly imagine one person who’s from the target demographic. This is crucial to get right. If I imagine I’m talking to my nan about the latest Puma football boots, it would sound different to talking to my Oxford United fanatic acquaintance who plays 5-a-side every week.
Another opposite here. If I know who I’m talking to, I should be able to work out who I am as the speaker. I have to take on a role. In the above football boots example, I could work for Puma. I could be a football coach. I could be a player on the opposite team. Whatever my end choice is, I need to be from the audience’s world. In this case, the football world.
I also like to imagine where we’re having this conversation. For corporate scripts, I often picture myself sitting in an office I used to work in, taking somebody through a presentation on my laptop. It might seem silly (and sometimes it is!) but giving as much context as I can helps to make the read as suitable for the script as possible.
The next part is often called the “back story”. That could be a one line lead in or a mental image of what’s occurred immediately prior to me speaking. The way I do it is to ‘hear’ exactly what my audience has said, then the script becomes the response to that. What the audience says is my reason for speaking – my motivation. If I have something I'm responding to, I'm more engaging and conversational. If I don't do this, I'm talking AT you and not TO you.
From the way the script is written, I can identify the mood. Is it light hearted? Is it serious? If the audience is business people, perhaps the tone needs to be totally professional. I make a note of this so I know how I should be speaking.
By now, I’ll have a strong idea of how I’m going to deliver the piece, so I settle on a definite style and fix it in my mind. I’ll sometimes test a few sentences with different tones, just to make sure.
Try and imagine some of these styles being used for alternative scripts in the video - there's a high probability they would just sound wrong!
After that, another imperative part. We need to connect emotionally to the script – in turn, that will connect on an emotional level with the audience. How do I do this? I think of a memory where the thoughts, feelings and emotions are in line with what the script is about. For example, if I’m going to be reading in an excited manner, I recall a moment from my past where I was buzzing with adrenaline. I note that memory down. Without this emotional connection, the read won’t sound authentic and it will quite likely sound dull and uninspiring.
Without really thinking, this memory will make me react to the script physically – shrugging, fist clenching, raising my eyebrows, finger pointing. All of these things will add more expression to the read. Voice actors don’t have the benefit of a camera picking up on subtleties of body language. I have to do everything I can for it to all come across in my voice.
We're nearly there, stay with me!
Prepping the script.
I grab a pencil and make lots of lines all over the script. Not just straight lines, but wavy lines too. Exciting!
They’re markers on the page so I know where to pause, emphasise, go faster, slower, breath and humanise. I don’t try to memorize the lines, so these notes help me through the script like little sign-posts. I underline important parts like company names, the messages of the script, I mark where I should make my voice go up, down, stay the same, go quieter, louder and sometimes change in tone.
THANK THE LORD, I’M ABOUT TO START RECORDING.
Now I warm up. I do a physical warm up first – arm swings, hip circles, shoulder stretches, that sort of thing (this isn’t HIIT). I move quite a lot during recording so I like to be ready for action. The stretching also helps to open up the muscles around the neck which is where the important bit lives!
Then, of course, it’s a vocal warm up. Just imagine lots of stupid noises and that’s pretty much it. For example...
FINALLY, I’M RECORDING!
But only to test the mic levels. I don’t want it to be too quiet, otherwise when I’m editing I’ll have to boost the overall volume which will raise the noise floor. I don’t want it to be too loud either – it can clip and distort the audio.
OK, NOW I’M RECORDING.
Yes, I’m in the booth. I breath deeply a few times to relax myself. I recall my memory to get into the zone – the emotional state for the read. I imagine where I am and who I’m talking to. I picture the backstory. I take a breath and I begin. But it’s still not over.
During the read, I’m scanning ahead in the script, so my eyes are further along than where my voice is. This is very important because it helps make it sound like I’m not reading. It prepares my brain for the upcoming words and minimizes mistakes. In those fractions of a second before my mouth gets to where my eyes were, my brain has processed it and worked out what needs to happen.
At the end of the script, I have a listen. If I’m not happy with it, I’ll do another take. If I like it, I start to edit the file, taking out any mouth noise (gross), removing breaths if necessary and making sure the file is of a clean, broadcast ready standard. I edit once on my monitor speakers, then I edit again on my headphones, as these are more sensitive. Editing on monitor speakers or headphones is a must for voiceover work as they give a true representation of how the voice sounds, without being coloured by bass boost or other such design features.
So there it is. Proof that voiceover isn’t just talking into a microphone. There’s extensive preparation of the script and huge amounts of concentration during the read that make the whole process less simple than some people think.
That said, there’s one part I forgot to mention.
I have fun.
If you need a bit more proof, have a look at some unusual voiceover projects I've been involved in. Some don't even include talking.
Don't forget to check out "10 tips to improve your reads".