Do you make these 13 common mistakes in voice over? These tips will help you correct them.
Apr 03 2015
Have you been following Edge Studio’s Weekly Script Recording Contest over the years? It’s a great way to get feedback on a simulated audition, and each week Edge Studio picks three winners who receive free educational opportunities. In the process, we summarize “why some people didn’t win” – some of those reasons are mistakes made by even long-experienced working pros. It’s all in a positive vibe, with Edge Studio Voice Over Tips to help put the kybosh on each of those all-too-common errors. Here are some Tips from contests past…
Note: We’ve done some light editing to make these tips clear out of context.
GENRE: Educational Narration (history)
Although most narrations don’t need dramatics, there are times in many scripts where there’s a bit of humor, or irony, or some other type of line that calls for a bit of “comment” in your voice. This was one of them, as indicated by the use of the informal interjection, “well.” Some people missed this opportunity – they just weren’t quite entertaining enough. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: If you value every word, you’ll more easily spot such situations and easily handle them. We don’t mean to ham it up. Just say the words – each of them – as if each is there for a reason. Because in good writing, each is. (And if it’s not-so-good writing, your job is to make it better … not by changing the words, but by how you read them.)
GENRE: Fiction Audiobook
Some of the accents were vague or unrealistic. For some reason there were a number of Russian accents, or something that sounded kind of Russian. In other cases, the “accent” sounded more like a speech impediment or general gruffness, not characteristic of any particular language. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When effecting an accent, if you don’t already speak that language, study up a bit. If the choice of accent is up to you, choose one that you know you do well (assuming it’s compatible with the story). If the accent is specified in the story, listen to people speaking the language, or people with that accent. One source for practice is The International Dialects of English Archive in EdgeStudio.com’s Voice Over Yellow Pages. To know if a particular accent is required, you’ll need to ask the author or director, or read the story or book before recording. If you don’t do the accent well, but they cast you anyway, just do it lightly, maybe choosing one or two linguistic characteristics. It’s more important to be consistent and intelligible than thick.
GENRE: Medical Narration
[In reference to Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation,] a few people spelled out the word TENS, which is not common practice. A few minutes of online pronunciation research will show that it should be pronounced like a w*d of Alexander Hamilton’s: “tenz.” Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Here are some resources that will help determine correct medical pronunciation: MediLexicon; Howjsay; Merriam Webster– and also their Medical dictionary ; Dictionary.com; Wikipedia; or do a search for medical pronunciation TENS.
GENRE: TV Commercial VO
Some people didn’t attract attention to the commercial. In Commercials, this is very important. The producer might grab attention by adding a sound effect, such as a giggle or a doorbell. You can help, by focusing on how you voice the first words. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Say the first word clearly and don’t rush it. This is always a good tip for auditions, and in a commercial it will give your listener a crucial split-second to switch their attention and catch up. It will also assure you’re understood over the tail of that doorbell or giggle.
GENRE: Corporate Video (employee education); Narration (nature documentary)
Many people paused after the opening words, “A smile.” But that’s not the way people usually speak naturally. Pausing after the first word is often a tip that the talent is new at this. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Unless there is an obvious reason for a pause after the first word, read the first word and continue on with the opening thought. … One place where a pause is not necessary, but where a pause is often inserted by novice talent, is after the first word or two (“The cheetah / is the world’s…). Granted, expert narrators can sometimes also be heard doing this, and sometimes it works effectively with the visual. But in this case there is no comma after “cheetah,” nor is there any other obvious reason for pausing there. By NOT pausing, you’ll clue the audition screener that you’re hip to this concern, and at the same time draw their attention further into your read.
GENRE: Audio Tour
Most people read the two lists too matter-of-factly. Generally, each item in a list should generally be read differently, otherwise the list will sound repetitive and dull. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Not all lists are the same. Sometimes the difference between items is just a change inflection (rising “inverted” tone, vs. descending), or pitch. For example, if you say “a mirepoix is chopped onion, celery and carrots,” that’s a pretty standard list and you probably won’t want to give a special emphasis to each item. (No crying over “onion”!). But the lists in this script involved a wide range of things, things that do evoke various emotions. Listen to our winners – they saw each word as significant, and read each with an appropriate, yet slight, change in emotion.
Inconsistent delivery or personality — some parts of the script were read well, others not. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Find the sweet spot in your approach. Record the entire script, then listen back and see what “worked.” Using that approach, record the entire script (or first paragraph) again “for real.” When finished with that first take, immediately deliver a second take (the real “real” one). This way, you get into the character during Take 1, and you nail Take 2.
GENRE: Commercial (legal disclaimer)
So, the producer just cranks up the time compressor, right? Actually, no, but some entrants actually did that. No, no no! Let the engineers do that. What is the point of an audition if you’ve used it?? Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: At Edge Studio, we often use time-compression software to speed up copy for a client. But to do that, we look for voices that are clear; otherwise the sped-up version can sound horrible. A good, clear – and real — human is the thing to start with.
GENRE: eLearning (technical school)
Some female entrants read pretty well – well enough that they would have made our short-list. Except for one thing. They sounded like they were talking to young children (ages 4 to 8). It’s doubtful that kids that age would be learning about carburetors. With countless women excelling in virtually all technical fields (did you know that four of the 33 drivers in [that year’s] Indy 500 were women?), it’s not surprising that a woman might teach engine mechanics. A woman should just approach this subject from the essentially the same mindset as we’d want to hear with a man. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Whatever your gender, age or voice, don’t assume outright that you are necessarily not “right for the part.” Especially if you were offered the audition. Okay, an 80-year-old man probably won’t be credible playing a third-grader. But If your performance is appropriate and done well, you might be the one performer that stands out admirably from the rest. There are any number of legitimate reasons why you could be chosen.
GENRE: TV Commercial (coffee)
Remember that this simulates and audition for a TV commercial. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Give your client a voice they can use … rather than one you want to do. In this instance, there’s a limit to how s**y most advertisers (including a classy, mass-marketed coffee) want to be! Many entrants went too far with it — costing them the job.
GENRE: Web video (pet store)
Another common mistake was in reading too quickly. Some people did well in the first half of the script, with a nice even pace, but then, like a horse who sees the finish line, started reading faster. Maybe it’s the lack of any commas? Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Whatever the reason, remember that the listener has to be able to mentally follow your thought, which requires some time. Sometimes a solution to this, in addition to marking up the copy to help you plan your phrasing, is to adopt a mindset where you think of yourself as speaking the lines, not reading them. In natural conversation, people seldom speak faster than their listener can follow.
GENRE: Corporate Video (fire evacuation)
One important part of clarity is enunciation. Another is “being natural.” (A conversational quality aids interest and credibility, and was stipulated in the Director’s Notes.) And, as in a script like this, an air of authority is also appropriate. Part of authority is being correct. Unfortunately, all these qualities don’t always go together easily. For example, enunciation can interfere with naturalness, and naturalness can interfere with correctness.
Case in point: In this script, in an effort to be clear and correct, many people mispronounced “evaluate,” at least by some standards. They started it with a long E (“eee”). But contemporary dictionaries say it is pronounced “ih-val-yoo-eyt” – our point being that it’s a short I sound, not a long E. That makes no technical sense, we know; the word is spelled with an E, after all! But over time, dictionaries tend to reflect actual usage and pronunciation, so, apparently, people these days tend to soften that vowel. (At Dictionary.com, even the word “enunciate” is shown to have a similar pronunciation: ih-nuhn-see-eyt. That might be REALLY surprising, because how many times have we heard our parents and teachers (or whoever) advise us to “eee-NUN-ci-ate!”) And, for the record, the printed Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, published in 1997, stipulated a long E as the only pronunciation.
What’s best in this case? As is usually the case, err on the side of naturalness. Pronounce it “ee” or “ih,” but don’t overdo either, and don’t get hung up on it. The matter of life and death in this case is not the vowel, it’s in capturing and holding the listener’s attention. Which is a matter of naturalness merged with authority.
The word “route” was another concern. In the United States, most people rhyme it with “hoot,” but almost as many people rhyme it with “out.” Usage varies all over the country, with the Northeast slightly favoring “hoot,” and the Great Lakes region favoring “out.” But in this mobile, mass-communicative country, both are heard just about everywhere, and some people even use both pronunciations, sometimes depending on whether it’s a noun or a verb. If you are not speaking to a regional audience and your own accent is not regional, go with the more common: rhyme it with “hoot.” Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: When the dictionary shows more than one acceptable pronunciation, the first one listed is the more common and is generally the one to choose. Most of all, be consistent.
GENRE: Narration (medical)
Once you know the correct pronunciation of words like “adenocarcinoma” and “neuroendocrine tumors,” practice each potentially troublesome word until you can say it, in context, without halting. For example, you’ve probably seen bilingual reporters who drop a word of, say, Spanish, into their English-language report, with good Spanish pronunciation and without pausing to change gears. Same thing here. It must sound like medical “good talk” is your everyday language. Edge Studio Voice Over Tip: Anything else? Yes, the above are just nuts and bolts. Above all, it is important to understand what you’re reading. You needn’t be able to perform surgery or medical research, or explain all the underlying principles, but medical copy is like any copy: it’s a story. Maybe the story is about the introduction of a new drug. Or explains a medical procedure. Or describes the hospital’s new oncology wing. Whatever, you can’t tell a story well if you don’t understand what’s going on, including the proper points for emphasis, emotion and where the listener might need extra time to grasp what’s just been said.
But as we said at the outset, medical voice over work is not all that different from other genres. The “story” factor would apply also to, say, an industrial video about carpet-making machinery. To someone buying a multi-million dollar carpet machine, the confident presentation of that story would be just as crucial.