Why Some Voice-Talent Didn't Win:
Just 10 seconds, but oh, what a challenge seemingly mundane spots like this can be. Especially when the chosen talent could wind up voicing the advertiser’s brand personality for years. Hypothetically, the client here was Macy’s, which would probably suggest a different personality than, say, a bargain warehouse or a string of car dealerships ... that is, although urgency and salesmanship are key, a sense of friendliness is also desirable. In addition, it would be great if the voice is also distinctive in some way. For the reason we’ve just described, a “crazy” approach would probably not be appropriate, and it might be too much to expect, say, a new Tom Bodett (one who doesn’t sound like Tom Bodett, because he’s been done). But this is a mere 10-second spot that will run just a few days at most, for a one-day sale. It HAS to stand out from the advertising clutter.
Yes, accomplishing all that in 10 seconds is a challenge. Some people came pretty close. Various others fell short for various reasons.
We didn’t notice anyone going over 10 seconds, but if they had, it would probably be an almost sure disqualification. Broadcasters don’t allow any leeway, so being able to read copy within the prescribed time is absolutely necessary. On the other hand, a large number of people were significantly under 10 seconds – sometimes just 9 and even almost 8 seconds. While an advertiser, if otherwise entirely pleased with the delivery, might welcome that as an opportunity to add another word or two to future copy, more likely the talent is shortchanging themselves. Use that extra second to make sure the audition team will be entirely pleased with your delivery.
And if you’ve already dealt admirably with everything we mention here, use that extra second to be extra special. Depending on the script and client situation, you might stretch a word or two, or affect some distinctive, attention-getting or memorable mannerism, or just slow the delivery down a tad, so as to make it more friendly or whatever.
Some people sounded completely different in their slate than they did with their read. This can be helpful or harmful. On the harmful side, it might cause one part or the other to be disappointing. A busy audition screener might press stop after a disappointing slate, never hearing your wonderful read. On the helpful side (less frequently the case), it can let the listener know you have other vocal options than the one used in your read.
Another slating issue is when someone “mispronounces” his or her name by not enunciating (often by losing the ending consonant). Not to single anyone out here, we’ll pick an example at random: Is the talent’s last name “Harold” or “Harrel”?
Some people did not slate at all. In general, when slating instructions are given, failure to heed them is taken as a lack of professionalism (either lack of training, or lack of attention, or inability to follow direction). In the case of this audition, a missing slate might be especially annoying to the audition screener, because they might be using that time to start or reset their stopwatch. Similarly, when slating instructions say to slate your name, that means only your name. Many people added other information, which can be equally annoying.
Even more concerning is when someone omits or mis-states a word in the script, or adds words. Commercials for major advertisers are very carefully written to say exactly what needs to be said in the exactly the allotted time. Talent should never change the script without permission. Doing so in an audition suggests the talent might be prone to costing extra production time and/or causing embarrassment. (If you’re absolutely sure it’s a typo, the thing to do is inquire about it, or record it both ways and say “two takes” in your slate.)
As many entrants demonstrated, it is possible to read this script in 10 seconds without slurring words. But some people did not enunciate well. In a 10-second commercial, every word must be clear. Although enunciation is always important in voice over, in some situations the visual or subject context helps makes meaning clear. This is not one of those situations.
Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: To help keep from slurring, exaggerate your mouth and tongue movements to be sure you are forming your sounds fully. Listen back. Once you have this down, you may then want to reduce the exaggeration a bit. But probably not. It might feel exaggerated, but it will sound right.
There were also various technical snafus, including poorly edited-out breaths. (While, physically, talent can read this entire script without a breath, by the end of it your voice quality will probably be changed, even if you aren’t straining. So one or two “micro breaths” might be called for, or a bigger one that you’ll edit out.)
Many recordings had bad audio (e.g., buzzing, volume too low, background noise). Some people sounded as if they were on a speakerphone.
Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Although professional quality studio equipment and room conditions are not always needed for auditioning, it never hurts to sound technically as professional as you intend to be. It costs nothing more to use proper mic technique, pay attention to volume levels, and control reverberation with blankets or other materials you probably have around the house.
So much for mechanical aspects of delivery. That’s just the start. Now let’s get to the art of it.
It’s a sale commercial, and as we said, the commercial schedule and the sale itself are for a limited time. It’s also a fairly “ordinary” sale – the sort of pitch we’ve all heard many times before. The message needs to sound special, even if it isn’t. Which in turn means the talent needs to sound as if they believe this sale and its message is special. You need to have energy.
But as we said above, this read is also an expression of brand personality. So, considering the client, you should also convey a sense of trustworthiness, friendliness, product quality, any or all of those attributes and more. Are these two characteristics compatible? Sure. We all know plenty of friendly people who sometimes get happily excited.
Many people went too far in one of these directions, others not far enough. Some read the script too bouncy. Some sounded “happy,” but their happiness was not believable. Some of the reads were too forceful. Some were way too low-key for a one-day sale. In fact, some people sounded like they didn’t really care about it. And some had a false sort of energy, often described as “DJ-ish.”
Some reads were disjointed. Unnatural pauses in a 10-second spot are both disconcerting and a waste of time. Similarly, some people hit (emphasized) the wrong words. Examples:
* The most important words in this script are “Macy’s” (the client’s name is ALWAYS important), “savings,” and “Monday.” If listeners note only those, they have the message. But some people eased through the opening “Macy’s” and instead emphasized the word “coming.”
* In the sentence “Add them up, for summer fun!” which half is more important? We’d argue it’s “add them up,” because that is unique to this sale, and it’s a reference to “savings.” “Summer fun” is a nice thought, but there’s nothing urgent about it. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When faced with a choice like this, it is actually possible to hit both phrases without sounding pushy. For example, the second phrase might be preceded with the slightest of pauses, or might be in a different pitch, or said at a different speed.
* Another key word is “extra.” It sometimes got lost.
* While it’s hard to say which word in the phrase “save even more” is most important, by saying the entire phrase quickly, you can effectively call attention to it as a single thought.
* Some people misplaced the comma in the last sentence. It supposed to be “Monday only, at Macy’s!” Not “Monday, only at Macy’s!” The difference in meaning is significant.
There were even a few reads that sounded very nice ... nice voice, clear delivery, mellow manner ... every bit a friendly, “professional voice over” sound. But absolutely nothing was hit.
Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Always analyze and mark up your copy, using symbols that you come to standardize on. With practice, heeding the symbols will become a virtually subconscious process, so you can focus on the words, saying them as if from your heart. (And do your markup in pencil, so you can easily adjust it if necessary.)
Put it all together, and it’s a classic commercial voice situation, where you’re telling a friend about something you know -- something they don’t know but you think they should, and you’re really excited about this opportunity to clue them in. As a script, it’s challenging. But it’s achievable, and it’s not an unusual situation. In fact, outside the studio you probably do it every day.