Why Some Voice-Talent Didn't Win:
This contest was a tough one to voice, and even tougher to judge, because it posed three distinct objectives for the talent:
1. Sound natural
2. Sound unscripted
3. Sound like you know the subject
Although, in any genre, talent should not sound as if he or she is reading, there is something of a difference in this one. For example, in a typical department store commercial or corporate video, the voice talent might announce a sale on lawn chairs or describe a factory in a “natural, real person” manner, but the listener, in the back of their mind, doesn’t really think that the words are unscripted.
In the case of this blog copy, however, not only should the speaker sound like a person talking in his or her everyday voice, we wanted them to sound like they’re really speaking off the top of their head. And that they know what they’re talking about.
Here’s why some people didn’t quite reach that “trifecta” level:
Some voices sounded polished and vocally free, but didn’t sound like they were speaking extemporaneously. Others took the “ad libbing” too far. In particular, they hesitated here and there, as if thinking before they spoke. But their hesitations just sounded choppy. In some cases, they had a lot of thoughtful pauses (real), but then charged through the text (unreal). Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Don’t overdo the thoughtful pauses. When overused, it gets artificial real fast. Besides, some thoughts just flow, so you don’t need a long pause at every period. If you want a pause, then instead pick just one spot where a pregnant pause would be most logical, one moment where the speaker really might be conjuring up a new thought. Pause briefly. You might even add “um” if you can make it sound unrehearsed. As for the rest of the copy, use other techniques to maintain interest and a sense of reality, such as inflection, and variations in speed.
Some people sounded theatrical. They had the right emotions, and their emotion may have changed from statement to statement (that’s good), but the way they expressed the emotion didn’t sound real. It was exaggerated, or too “polished.” Or, in some cases, they sounded forced or stereotyped.
Edge Studio Voice Over Tip:
Don’t focus on your voice -- take off the headphones. Instead, focus on who you’re talking to -- just one person who is with you. Further tip: Record yourself while simply talking with a friend. Listen to yourself later. You’ll probably sound very different from your “VO” self, and of course totally natural. Note the differences and practice those.
Many people were hard to understand. They ran words together (e.g., “let’s you” became “less you”), or mumbled, especially the first words, which they sometimes also rushed. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Adopt the mindset not of someone who is trained in VO, but rather someone who happens to have all those good qualities you’ve learned – enunciation, clarity, vocal freedom, etc. The more those qualities become a habit, the less you’ll think about them and the less “practiced” they’ll sound, so you can focus on the other aspects of what you’re saying, such as emotion, timing, inflection, etc.
Some people sounded like they didn’t know what “cinema noir” is. In particular, many people hit the word “movies.” In case anyone is still in the dark, the term (also known as “film noir”) means “black (or dark) cinema,”. It refers to a genre that was in its heyday in the 1940s and ‘50s. Since it’s a film genre, the whole discussion is about movies -- so why hit “movies”? The word to hit was “recent,” to contrast with the genre’s mid-century origins.Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When not entirely sure what a script refers to, ask the client or director, or (as in this case), do a quick online search. Google and Wikipedia are handy for this.
Some people mispronounced “noir,” or got very French about it.
Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Although even an expert on film might be excused for roughing up a foreign phrase, it’s nevertheless distracting, maybe even annoying to those who know better. When in doubt, favor your normal accent (e.g., American English, if that’s you), rather than venture on to thin ice. For a guide to pronunciation, check with howjsay.com.
Some people slated incorrectly; many included the contest title (“Noir et Blanc”). The Director’s Notes specified only “Slate your name or username.” In some cases, the talent mispronounced the title, doing themselves a disservice when they didn’t even need to take that risk. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When given slating instructions, follow the instruction precisely, no more, no less.
Some people fell into a pattern, which quickly became artificial and boring. In particular, many started each sentence in a high pitch and went lower.Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Variation in pitch is good. But saying every sentence the same way gets artificial. See our tip above, about recording yourself in an ordinary conversation. At a point when you’re really talking, and have forgotten about the recorder, you’ll probably hear lots of variation.
Some people spoke too rapidly, or too slowly. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When someone speaks impromptu, they usually don’t have all their thoughts and statements planned out beforehand, let alone exactly worded. So, although too much pausing for thought not only sounds choppy and artificial, it also sounds artificial if you don’t seem to be thinking at all. On the other hand, speaking lethargically gets kind of boring, even with an occasional change-up.
Someone submitted two takes that were very much alike. The only reason we noticed the second take was because we didn’t hit the stop button exactly at the end. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: In the real world, an audition screener is faced with maybe hundreds of auditions and other demands on their time, so if they hear a technical fault (e.g., hiss) or your first words don’t wow them, they may hit the Stop button within seconds of your start. If you include a second take, it should be significantly different from the first, and both takes should be equally impressive.
Some recordings had serious technical problems. Distortion, low volume, overly aggressive audio processing, hiss. One even consisted of only an outtake fragment. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When you make the MP3 file to send, listen to the file first, outside your DAW (e.g., using a media player such as QuickTime or Windows Media Player). Does it sound professional? If not, then figure out why not. In the long run, addressing that issue may be more important than this one performance. If you're not sure about your audio quality, Edge Studio has engineers you can email files to for assessment. Our engineers can also remotely log-in to your home computer and set up your recording levels, EQ, and other processing equipment, so you know that you're submitting industry-standard audio quality, and not decreasing your chances of winning work. For more information, visit our Home Studio Services page, or email
email@example.com, or call 888-321-EDGE (3343).
How “real” was this audition? That is, how often might you have the opportunity to read a podcast script? Well, if it’s your podcast, the answer is obvious -- regularly. And, since many VO professionals have previous or simultaneous experience in other fields, it’s conceivable that someday you’ll be asked to guest on a podcast. In that case, you might answer questions unscripted, or you might follow a script, or somewhere in between (e.g., talk from notes). But even if there’s no podcasting in your future, there are many situations calling for talent to sound totally natural and unscripted and unrehearsed.