David Goldberg’s notes on the GET-A-BUZZ, GET-AN-EDGE CONTEST


David Goldberg’s notes on the

GET-A-BUZZ, GET-AN-EDGE CONTEST

Here’s who won, who lost, and why.

-- David Goldberg, CEO (Chief Edge Officer) of Edge Studio voice recording studios

* * * * * * * * *

Yippeee!!! VOBuzzWeekly and Edge Studio put on a script reading contest during December, 2013:

Director's Notes:

This is a simulated audition for Intel. The company is producing a national commercial to promote the latest version of their core processor. They are looking for a male or female voice over artist with a natural, easy-going delivery, not a hard sell. This read should convey warmth and intelligence, with a hint of excitement.

Script:

Intel Core i7 - Visibly Smart

The fourth generation of Intel Core Processors.

Stunning visuals.

Intelligent performance.

Visibly smart.

The most amazing thing you ever saw.

Intel Core i7.

154 voice actors entered and competed for a $2,000 prize!

I was fortunate enough to select the winner. And there were some amazing entries! It wasn’t super-easy to select the winner.

While listening to the entries, I observed a lot of ways that entrants could easily improve.

So I noted various performance patterns and avoidable errors, and intended to write a helpful little article. That article grew and grew. And here it is.

* * * * * * * * *

Over time, a voice actor becomes a “working pro,” someone who knows the ropes. They can literally mail auditions in and almost do it in their sleep!

And that’s a problem. Because eventually many pros DO mail it in, going into an autopilot mode that stealthily puts their career to sleep. They fall into habits. These habits may work for their current clients, but won’t impress new ones, and may not translate to new genres.

As the Founder of Edge Studio, I am one of the many people on the Edge Studio team who cast, record, and direct voice actors. And I see actors in this rut all the time.

So I regularly train and mentor working voice actors, helping them to expand their range, deal with restrictive issues and keep their performances fresh. Helping them get more work.

Our website, EdgeStudio.com, has many tools to help voice actors at all levels. One of its features is the free Weekly Script Recording Contest (“WSRC”) that we run each week. That contest is similar to this one.

A big difference between that contest and this one is that many more of the WSRC entrants are newcomers. As you’d expect, they make some mistakes.

I was shocked at how many professionals in this contest made the same mistakes as newcomers in our WSRC.

It’s understandable with newcomers. But in this contest, why did I hear dozens of obviously experienced voice over professionals make the same easily avoidable errors?

* * * * * * * * *

So before I declare the winner, let’s take a look at why some people virtually put themselves out of the running...

Mistakes you can avoid by reading the instructions:

Here’s some of what we received:

* 9 entrants did not include their snail-mail address, which was required. From my perspective, if someone can’t follow these directions correctly, I don’t have faith that they’ll follow directions for a paid job correctly. They were disqualified.

* The contest also asks for email addresses. A fair number of people did not include it. (Unless they expected us to take it from their header. In other words, they asked the prospective client to do what they were asked to do.)

* 3 people sent WAV files instead of an MP3. (Please always double-check your work.)

* 3 people did not answer the trivia question as required. (Two of them later answered it when we reminded them to do so.)

* 1 person submitted multiple takes when the directions said just one.

* About slating: 6 people slated at the end of their audition, which, as every experienced pro should recognize, is not standard procedure. A few slated with name and script title when directions said just name. Some said, “Hi” at the beginning of their slate. 2 people didn’t slate at all. These things may be acceptable if specific slating instructions are not given. But when slating instructions are given, clearly state as specified.

* Speaking of slating, many sounded horrible in their slates but sounded much better in their actual entry. In a real audition, when I hear such a bad introduction, I usually click “Stop” before they get started, as casting often has to be done quickly. (In any case, because this is a contest, I listened through each entry entirely.)

* 4 people improvised with the script – 2 of them going way overboard.

* A handful added music to their entries. And in almost every case, the music was louder than their voice. What did they think we are auditioning? Unless requested by the prospective client, adding music and/or sound effects can actually hurt the auditioning talent. The screener wonders, “Is he hiding mouth clicks? Sibilance? Is she directable, or must she always show off? Are there bad voice edits in there? Can he deliver a clean voice track without breaths? Is this from one take, or what? Such doubts don’t even take into account the possibility that your choice of music might be inappropriate, not anything like the producer is planning, or that your mix might be so bad as to hide good aspects of your performance.

These errors are absolutely tragic, because they are so avoidable. All of them put the performance under a cloud. When there are (at least) dozens of talent to choose from, why give your prospect a reason to say, “Next!”?

Mistakes you can avoid by thinking:

Beyond the absolutely clear errors above, there were many other mistakes of a subjective nature. Pros should know to avoid these, too. You can avoid them by employing thought and self-evaluation.

When I’m teaching a workshop or working one-with-one, it gives me joy to see how quickly most people catch on to these and are able to fix them:

* Many people sounded bored, timid, subdued. Some sounded too casual, as if they didn‘t care. There was no confidence, no “hint of excitement.” (The only good thing: reads like this save me time. I just hit “delete.”)

* A few entries were noticeably edited. The disjointed result is distracting. Worse, think about it from my perspective: it raises concerns over the talent’s ability to get through even a short passage without errors.

* About half the entries were read too fast. Please, give us casting pros time to follow, understand, and comprehend what we are hearing. If it’s an A/V script, we need time to envision the video or storyboard. Sometimes we sync your audition to the pictures. So in addition to proper pacing, help out the engineer by making your pauses clean breaks.

* More than half the entrants said “Intel Core i7” too rapidly. I separate this from the mistake mentioned above, because this involves the client name. From our client’s standpoint, usually nothing in the script is more important.

* Many people sounded forced, as if they were (surprise!) reading a script. To paraphrase Spencer Tracy’s famous advice about acting, never let them hear you reading.

* The script is a list. But many people didn’t leave enough space between the list items. As a result, it sounded like one long sentence. Along with our clients, we figure if you can’t “get” the script, then you can’t “get” the job.

* At the same time, many presented each statement in the list exactly the same way. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it is likely to be boring, and is not optimal. Even more important in an audition, it doesn’t show us your talent. (Hearing so many different talents conveyed well is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.)

* Many recordings were excessively sibilant (excessive, strident “S” or hissing sounds). Whether sibilance originates from your mouth, your mic, or your processing, a pro with a home studio must know how to recognize and avoid or handle this. When one of our engineers participates in the casting process, they delete such auditions.

* A number of people read with a big smile. As experienced voice artists know, smiling is audible and often very helpful. I often recommend smiling when reading, and always try to teach with a smile, too.) But not every script is a “smiley” one. One person even laughed during the read. It wasn’t appropriate. In fact, it sounded a bit maniacal. As a favor to all concerned, I usually delete these reads – never even letting our clients hear them.

* On the other hand, I’d say about 20% were too stern, too authoritative. The direction was to sound “natural, easy-going, warm, intelligent, and with a hint of excitement”. In other words, one in five entrants automatically put themselves out of the running.

And then there are strategic errors:

One strategic error in particular is submission timing – the contest ran for a month, but about a third of the 154 entrants submitted within 24 hours of the deadline.

That’s understandable, when working with pros – you take time to edit it, process it, review it dispassionately a few days later, maybe even record it all over again, and wait till just before the deadline to make up your mind. Sometimes an intentional delay yields a better performance. But sometimes a delay leads to over-processing, artificiality (including noticeable editing), or staleness from over-rehearsal.

In any case, in an actual audition, it can mean losing the job. If your entry is Number 187 of 238, and the client listens chronologically, finds a great talent at #45 and stops screening, you lose.

Moreover, think about this from my perspective as a casting person: if we want to hire a voice actor for an on-going series or campaign, I hesitate to hire someone who submits their audition at the very last second. It’s probably an indicator of their lifestyle. Show us that you are on top of your game; bust your ass, go with good decisions, and get the audition in early.

Having confidence in yourself, your training and your abilities is a major part of success in the voice artist game.

Here are some things I’d direct a voice actor to do in this audition:

Edge studio has cast thousands of auditions, and we deal with this industry from every possible angle. So I understand the audition process from the perspective of the engineer, director, client, copywriter, agent, agency, casting team, creative director, and more.

I can look at a script and, with near 100% certainty, tell you what voice actors will do in their auditions that will prevent them from booking the gig.

A few times above, I’ve invited you to consider my perspective. So it’s only fair that I show some of what I was thinking while screening these entries. What does go through the mind of an audition reviewer? Let’s take it in order:

Here’s the script:

[Include a slate of your full name.]

SCRIPT:

The fourth generation of Intel Core Processors.

Stunning visuals.

Intelligent performance.

Visibly smart.

The most amazing thing you ever saw.

Intel Core i7.

Slate your name. Few things concern/upset the casting team more than poor slates. For us, it sucks when an actor is perfect for the role … except they don’t follow directions. Because then we won’t hire them. As a result, we hire the second best voice. I’ve seen many, MANY talented voice actors loose gigs this way! TIP: You get only one chance to make a first impression. This your chance to make a great impression, while demonstrating that you can take direction.

The fourth generation of Intel Core Processors. The word “fourth” must be important to the client; otherwise they wouldn’t lead with it. So when an actor slurs right through it, our clients and I assume that actor is not good at script analysis. TIP: When a company is spending millions on their ad campaign, every word is chosen carefully. And, whatever the budget, assume every word is important; you can’t guess which the casting team might consider critical. Listen back for each word, ensuring it is well-said. Don’t blow any off.

Be confident when saying the first “Intel.” Many people hesitated before it. Sometimes it was the result of the voice actor “tiptoeing” through the words, but usually it was a glottal stop (an unintentional short pause before an initial vowel, caused by closure of the throat (at the glottis)). Glottal stops contribute to choppiness in the delivery, and choppiness tires a listener. TIP: Be smo-o-o-th. In this case, I’d suggest hitting “Intel” by raising your pitch or slowing down your tempo (elongating the word).

Stunning visuals. The word “visuals” has three syllables when correctly pronounced. Many people dropped the second one. And many more people don’t give that syllable full respect. It came out more like “vishuals.” Remember, as I listen to your audition, I am also imagining the music. Music can make a weak pronunciation sound like “vishels” or “fishels” or something even more nonsensical. TIP: Articulate the word “visuals” a bit more carefully than we naturally say it. In this case, make it like “vish-you-als.” Once mixed with music, it will sound just fine.

Intelligent performance. Pronounce the “T” in “intelligent.” Doesn’t everybody? No, some people said the first T weakly, more like “indelligent,” and that sounds sloppy. Many more dropped the T at the end. TIP: Clarify your “T”s when it makes sense, because it’s easier for an engineer to lower the volume of a “T” than to raise or add it. But please think carefully – there are times that clarifying a “T” doesn’t make sense. For instance, if reading an ad for Diet Mountain Dew, I would suggest to not hit the “T” in “Mountain.”

Visibly smart. What does this line in the script mean? Maybe it has something to do with the “Stunning visuals” line that came earlier. Or maybe it means the chip looks cool – after all, many gamers and other home-computer cobblers have see-through cases, fluorescent lights and flashy colored heatsinks. So do what I did: A quick image search shows that the chip itself isn’t visually interesting, so the script must be referring to its video-handling capabilities. Whatever, it’s a good bet that the commercial is showing something interesting to look at – something that grabs the TV viewer’s attention. So hit “visibly,” which clues the listener to look carefully. TIP: Always anticipate what the creative team might do visually, and hit words accordingly. And also include a clean audio break, which makes it easy for the engineer to match the audio to the visuals.

The most amazing thing you ever saw. Slow down on “most.” “Most” is usually more important than the word that follows it (“amazing” in this case). In fact, if you hit “most”, you’ll lure the listeners’ ears to hear “amazing.” TIP: Which word to hit? Consider which word the writer might have omitted but didn’t. In this example, if the word “most” had been left out, the sentence would have essentially the same meaning. So it’s the word to hit.

Intel Core i7. This is the product name. Be clear on this. Obviously. TIP: Stay in character all the way through the script … even if the end of the commercial seems more like a tag. If the casting team wants a different delivery, they’ll state so. When voice actors go into “tag-voice announcer” mode, they often lose the gig.

The Top Contenders:

Now let’s look at specific examples, with the identification omitted to avoid embarrassment.

First, let me emphasize that the thoughts of a good reviewer aren’t all negative. I heard many good performances that simply had a few flaws. And sometimes a mistake, while very significant, is something that would be easily corrected in the final recording session.

But that’s often the case in any audition situation. Ultimately, what I look for is a quality that makes the particular actor stand out from the rest – while still falling within the parameters prescribed by the direction, the subject matter and so on. It might be the quality of their voice, or a “freeness” in their delivery, or an unusual, effective creative choice in their script interpretation (e.g., what words they hit), or a mix of many good qualities. It might even be something totally unexpected.

Let me put it another way: In any audition, when I play the selected recording for our client, it should sound like the voice actor just intuitively “gets it.” Their read should simply sound great, without requiring any “analysis.” They make us look good to our client.

At the same time, I’m listening for mistakes that would be hard to correct, and anything that suggests the actor might be hard to direct or unable to replicate and develop the performance that they submitted.

In this contest, I didn’t penalize for poor technical quality, because the hypothetical presumption is that the final recording would be made at Edge Studio recording facilities. But in a real audition, if the ultimate recording will be made in the actor’s own studio, the reviewer is also listening for technical quality. In such a situation, a poor recording will tank even the best performance.

On those times that I do evaluate technical quality, I listen for a long list of factors, including:

* acceptably quiet room tone and lack of reverberation

* lack of background noises (including subtle things like room ventilation, computer fans, and such)

* capable processing and editing skills (unless a dry or raw recording was requested)

* proper mic technique and professional mic quality

* low system noise (no hum or hiss)

* the ability to meet technical specifications (such as file type) that might have been specified.

MY NOTES ON PEOPLE WHO MADE MY SHORTLIST:

When I cast, here’s my system:

I listen very briefly to each entry and jot down a few notes about their performance. Any candidates that have a chance are moved onto my shortlist, and I add more details to their notes. Rinse and repeat.

My notes are also a useful reference if my client asks for my thoughts on one of the auditioning actors.

Here are my notes on the people who made my shortlist. (I’ve left my notes
“as is”; they weren’t originally written for public viewing):

* great read – but did not include all requested info – disqualified

* a hair radio-ish. sibilant. hesitant – especially on “stunning” and on lines 3 and 4. otherwise, great read

* hesitant – trying too hard. good acting but the word “the” is overdone – probably have a theater background.

* a very noisy recording. obvious breaths that should have been cut. it’s missing excitement … but they may be able to get there with line-reads.

* too fast. tries to hit words too hard. nice voice though.

* too dramatic at times. but we should call him in for animation add to database

* tries too hard but nicely captures the essence otherwise

* a bit fast and high-pitched at the top, but then comes down to the right place.

* his slate was way too long. out. (I’d be scared to bring this guy into the studio – he’d probably talk our ears off)

* good emphasis, good timing. but is trying to speak in someone else’s voice. and that sounds affected. wish he’d use his natural voice.

* technically the sound quality is poor, but otherwise okay except for some pauses which i could probably smooth out at the studio.

* distorted sound. he extended the slate and added words to the slate. read is pretty good.

* too hard on his words. too hard on his voice. if he laid back, he’d have a great marketable voice.

* too fast. i could probably slow her down - her emphasis is quite nice.

PRETTY GOOD OVERALL (so I’ve written more notes):

* a really great read, but too much “trying to sound cool” voice – he’s using a bit of a promo voice. noisy recording (mostly electronic buzz).

* in the slate, she asks her name as a question … then she slates the script title. does not leave enough space between slate and script. noise in the recording - – a mixture of buzzing and reverb. she eliminates some of the noise by using a gate, but the gate is set too high and cuts off abruptly at times. at other times, the gate doesn’t kick in (strange). she says “pah-formance” instead of “performance.” Otherwise, perhaps the best read of this contest. I could probably direct her through this easily.

* close, very close. but she goes back and forth between being “vocally free” and “thinking about what she is doing.” she also alternates between being easy-going and cutesy/sexy/playful. otherwise she’d be one to hire.

* slurs a lot. noisy recording. otherwise super nice. if I knew that he could articulate if directed, I’d consider hiring this guy. last few lines are amazing (except for slurring another word).

TOP RUNNERS-UP (so I’ve written even more notes):

* slurs the beginning of the first “Intel”. “the” in “the most amazing…” is a bit too quick – with music, it would be lost. a lot of space (too much?) between phrases. otherwise it’s a solid good read – good emphasis, good analysis, good voice. but he’s missing something - there’s no spark. i think it’s because he’s a tiny bit stiff, not loose. if he’d relax and have fun when reading and loosen up, this would be the guy

* reverberant room. hesitant on certain words, such as the first “Intel” and “stunning” and “intelligent.” overall, he’s just too careful with his words, giving him a slightly stilted/stiff read. if he would trust himself and just go for it, he’d be great.

**WINNER**

voicetalent@amiebreedlove.com – She has a natural/easy-going delivery that is trustworthy, with a bit of excitement. She takes it a bit fast, even on the first mention of the client name, but I assume she could slow down. Unlike many other reads, she pronounces “visual” and “performance” correctly, she doesn’t overthink her delivery, and she doesn’t hesitate while reading. Sounds like she’s having fun while reading, and that the control of her voice doesn’t get in the way of that free sound.

Reminder:

Every Friday, Edge Studio.com posts a new Weekly Script Recording Contest, just like this contest. The contest is open to anyone who wishes to record it and send an MP3 of their read. The next week, we announce the winners. The prizes are credits good toward various Edge Studio training and mentoring programs, at whatever the winner’s level is. But just as important is what comes after – with every winners announcement, we include an article on how to improve your performance. So, even if you don’t enter, be sure to check the outcome every week!

Congratulations Amie!

Thank you for the the detailed notes - really helpful to us new folks!

Valuable Notes and thanks for being thorough

Well, I know where I screwed up and it was certainly a learning experience. Thanks for your pointers/tips. For you to go through all those entries and then give such great notes is beyond great and very special. Congratulations to Amie...Is there any way to hear her work? Anyway, you gave me a lot to focus on and use for better performance. Thanks for your time and your teaching.

Invaluable auditioning advice

David, Thank you for the sound advice and the wonderful opportunity. I will definitely take your words to heart and look forward to the next contest.

Wonderful notes!

Thanks, David, for these wonderfully frank and useful notes!

Congrats to Amie!

Congrats to Amie! What an honor and I am sure that she is very EXCITED!! Thank you David for all of your notes, tips, direction and techniques!! It is very helpful, especially to the newer people, like myself, who may not know how to direct themselves. This was an Awesome gift, and Blessing that you gave to us!!

I am hoping that one day, the light bulb will go off in my head, and I will know exactly how to send out a stellar audition!!

Many Blessings,
Carol

Thank you!

Many thanks, David, for so generously giving your time to carefully listen and give such excellent, detailed feedback!

Thanks for the learning environment

Thanks, David, for taking the time to share these extensive notes and tips. I really appreciate how much you guys are focused on making Edge a deep learning environment, with detailed free advice every week in the WSRC, plus newsletters, blogs, events, and tons of resources. What a terrific service for all of us.

Thanks for sharing your notes and advise.

As someone who has no experience with VO I entered this contest just to see what would happen and see if I would enjoy recording. It was fun and even though I don't know how I did personally I would like to continue learning and trying! Thanks for the feedback and for such a wonderful website full of opportunities to practice and investigate the world of VO! Congrats to Amie!

Thank you David (and VOBuzz)

Thank you David (and VOBuzz) for providing this exciting contest and sharing your very detailed insights and notes of our entries with us....this was/is something we can certainly learn from.
Congratulations, Amie!

Your notes

WOW! Those are some incredibly detailed notes. Thanks so much for sharing them. That you took the time to compose all this as a free learning exercise is very impressive.Clearly I need to come to the site more often and start participating in these contests. Really looking forward to working with you next week.

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