In my work-life, I continue to learn the difference between an amateur voice actor and a professional one. Amateurs may “know” what to do, but haven’t repeated the process enough times (or recently enough) to do a task without a checklist, cheat sheet, or laborious pre-work.
Professionals have gone through the process so frequently and fastidiously that they couldn’t skip a step even if they wanted to. They get a sinking feeling in their guts that tells them, “Hey! Heads-up! Something’s missing…”
On my last gig, anyone wanna guess which bucket I fell into face first?
Luckily for me, the client was happy with the outcome and there’s no need for them to see the inner-workings (or failings) of this amateur.
What did I do that was so awful? I neglected a step in the process.
I didn’t ask for a description of the “voice,” “attitude,” or “emotion” the client wanted to convey with different sections of the training. Just one little step. One simple question, and a word or two to write on the top of my script. That step would have made the content I recorded and edited go faster, smoother, and be more consistent.
Huge oversight (though in my defense, there were extremely extenuating circumstances). And it meant that when I finally got the actual script (as opposed to the sample script) some content was more difficult to record than it should have been.
I was seeing some content for the first time, and the rest I hadn’t seen in over two months. When I got ready to capture and turn around MP3s in less than a week…I stood alone in my recording booth, holding my head while my stomach turned to jelly. I didn’t have any direction around what the lines were supposed to sound like.
Now, I’d turned in an audition, and I…could go back and listen to that. But doing every script the way I had in the introductory clips would have been…really strange. My many years of experience whispered to me that the client had hired me, but hadn’t fully considered how off-putting a continuously “friendly” attitude would sound saying lines like, “That answer is incorrect. Try again.” Shades of Hal.
Because this was a first-time client, with the potential for future work, I made an investment decision. My initial session was shorter than planned, with different takes, at different speeds, and with different attitudes. Essentially, a second audition.
I edited and sent those to the client and waited for additional direction. This ate up extra time and ultimately made the project cost a bit more, due to additional editing on my end and review time for their staff.
The project came in at the higher end of the allocated budget. I prefer projects to come in at the low end (repeat clients!), but several issues, including missing content, and typos I was asked to re-record, meant that I put in more hours than a professional who caught the issues up front might have spent.
That, dear readers, is why it is critical to negotiate your fees properly. If you correctly estimate your work hours, then add a worst-case-scenario buffer, and negotiate that as your not-to-exceed limit, the client knows exactly what they are on the hook for. You’re in business after all, and you should be paid fairly for actual work you do, especially when unexpected things come up, or something in the script is wrong and you have to re-record.
In case you’re curious, I’ve shared my industrial VO checklist below. I’m sure that as an amateur I’m still missing a few steps, so I’d love to know if you do things differently.
STEPS FOR INDUSTRIAL TRAINING NARRATION:
- receive audition script and (if possible) ask about the target audience and any direction
- decide on the person, placement, pose, pace, and attitude for the audition (WRITE IT ALL DOWN!)
- record & send the audition
- get hired (YAY!)
- receive/review script
- negotiate hourly, or a not to exceed project fee based on the full script
- have a trusted advisor put a second set of eyes on the contract (if you don’t have an agent)
- skim the script so you understand the full scope
- practice any difficult parts of the script out loud
- note names, technical terms, user activities (for training)
- note shifts where the VO needs to convey different attitudes
- ask questions about anything unclear including pronunciations and abbreviations (do they *really* want, “double yew double yew double yew,” or are we finally beyond that?)
- ask the client to provide at least three words to describe the attitude(s) of the person delivering the information
- have fun recording!
- edit, master, and send
- get final sign off and send the invoice