The glamorous world of voice over work.

(Disclaimer: I am not a regular in the studio. I do just enough work to allow me to take an extra vacation every year. Others may/will differ with my opinions and have different experiences in this field. You have been warned.)

Final installment. The day in the life of a recording artist.

Tuesday a few weeks ago was one of those days where I actually felt like a professional actor for more than a few hours. It was marvelous and entertaining.

Not the studio microphone but it sure was handy for this photo.

I got a call from my agent the week before about a voice over gig on Tuesday and when all was said and done I was hired for the work.

The whole process starts with a script. Somebody at the advertiser’s office decides to do a radio commercial and they jot down some things they’d like to say. It’s not always elegant, but it starts the ball rolling and gives the ad agency an idea of what information needs to be conveyed to the public.

The ad agency comes up with the script and hopefully the client approves it. I’m sure that sometimes dozens or even hundreds of revisions go into the final product. I’ve worked on spots where we changed it at least 20 times in the studio after I’d been sent two or three revisions in my email. Why? Because what looks great on the paper sometimes sounds horrible once you read it out loud.

Next, and it’s a big next, the ad agency books the studio time. That’s not always easy to do on short notice. The great recording places are booked well in advance. What makes a great recording studio is not always the equipment. That makes some difference but in the age of digital electronics the equipment is secondary to the “guy” at the board. I’ve been blessed to work with some great talents on that board. Every one of them made me sound better than I probably am “in real life.”

The magic is not the board itself but what they bring out of the talent. A great board guy is also a great director. The talent is standing in front of the microphone because of some quality in their voice and some modicum of acting ability. But the direction is what makes the spot. They hear things you don’t in the booth. They encourage, cajole, and (sometimes) whip it right out of you. And without them the result is the crappy commercial you usually hear on smaller radio stations. The one where the intern or the overnight guy records the commercial in their spare time and gets $50 a whack to do it so they do as many as they can as quickly as they can. The client thinks they are getting a bargain because they don’t have to hire a studio and a talent. But what they are truly getting is a cheap product. The board guy can spot that kind of hackery and put a stop to it before it gets too far. Not that the intern or overnight guy doesn’t have a good voice, but they cannot do justice to the material when they have nobody to quality check the work.

Now the agency has a time and a place to do the ad. They contact the talent agency (I work with Moore Creative Talent as a voice talent) and ask for a list of candidates based on the kind of ad and who they envision as the “person” they need. Sometimes they need a little child. Sometimes an old woman. Sometimes it’s the same person. I have worked with an actress in the past who can do both quite convincingly. She’s neither. She’s a beautiful woman in her … well, not her twenties and not her sixties. But the simple fact is that she has the most versatile voice I’ve ever heard. And that’s the kind of actress or actor you want in the studio for most things. Sometimes you need a specialist who does cartoon voices, or a simple plain voice that’s totally forgettable (I worry that I might be “that” voice on occasion) and will not focus the attention on the performer but on the product. But the agency does the wrangling and screening of talents for the advertising agency and submits some talents to be considered. Occasionally the agency just gets a call from the client asking for a voice they’ve used before or has heard on the agency’s website. That’s great for agents and talent alike – no auditions, no muss, no fuss, no bother.

On “gameday” you get to the studio a few minutes early. But not too early. They really don’t want you hanging around because the studio is tightly scheduled some days and your sitting there blogging on your tablet takes up a chair. Once you arrive and check in the smart people head to the bathroom. Nothing annoys the client like some talking head stopping hugely expensive studio time so that they can go potty. Get a drink of water, warm up your voice and be ready. Yup, gotta warm up your voice just like your muscles for a run. Your voice sounds different after a few minutes of talking. Your demo (the audio sample they listen to to audition you) was undoubtedly done after half an hour or more of talking. Going in cold means they have to wait for you to be ready and “sound like you.” So, sing in the car on the way over, talk to yourself walking down the street (in big cities nobody will notice) but don’t practice your screaming in the waiting room or the bathroom. Bad form. (Hint – if you must practice screaming at the last second, you can get away with it in the elevator. But make sure it’s empty and do it right after the door closes. It’s best not to be howling as the door opens at the end of your journey.)

Now, the script, the studio, and the talent are all in one place. Along with, in many cases, a representative or two from the advertising agency and the client. They stand or sit on the other side of the booth wall and watch while your technician adjusts the headphones, makes sure the microphone is spaced properly from your face and takes levels. You are isolated and can only hear them when they want you to hear them. But remember, they hear everything you say. So don’t opine on their anything. Be quiet between takes unless you and the other actor are trying variations to see how it sounds. They’ll shut you off if they need to do so.

And, after x number of takes they have something they like (hopefully.) You are shooed out to the waiting area while they mix it and play it for the home office in some cases. Or, if things went badly, sent home and the whole thing rescheduled. Sometimes they change their mind about voices part way through the event. You still get paid but it’s not fun to get sent home.

You may have to repeat the recording and wait for them to do the same thing until they are sure they have the product they want. Once that’s the case you get to go home. Paycheck is in the mail.

Kind of sorta. Your agency will wait for up to 30 days to get paid by the advertising agency. And then you will wait up to 90 days (or more, depending on the agency) to get your check. Minus the agent’s fee. Your agency fee shouldn’t be over 15 percent in most cases. And don’t nag them about the check. Most agents that are reputable will tell you right up front how long you have to wait to get paid. ASK when you start with an agency. Then don’t lose the check. Actor are spazolli’s and lose checks. Many agencies will take another full 15% out of your replacement check if you lose the first one. And for Heaven’s sake, save some of it for taxes. Most of the time you are hired as a contractor and will get a 1099 as a result. You’re the one who has to deal with Uncle Sammy on the taxes. Mommy will not hold your hand.

And now, after months (and sometimes a year) of getting ready your first broadcast credit is ready for the resume. Congratulations – You’re a professional actor. I still have a copy of that check in a frame. It’s a big deal.

What’s next? Do you branch out and try for on camera work? Modeling (If I can, anyone can) or a play? You’ve opened the door, now walk through and be blessed in your travels. And try to keep that perspective: success in this business starts with a blessing. If God hadn’t given you that raw talent and drive to make it you’d still be just admiring the people in the business. He’s given you the gift, now go chase it!

Thanks for sticking with the series. And, as usual, another tuba video for your pleasure.


And, because this will not happen again before the U.S.M.C. birthday, I just wanted to share this video as the final in our series.

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