What scares voice over beginners the most do you think? Listening to their own voices? Making a showreel? Learning to record from home perhaps? Nope, none of the above - it is getting that first job. Excitement soon leads to panic when confronted with the bald reality of actually having to perform for a client, a client who is paying good money and wants the work done on time and within budget. Scary stuff.
Here's how to prepare yourself for that first paid gig.
I was just settling down to my second Americano of the morning and the steamed skinny milk was still piping hot, when the email flashed up on my computer screen. It was written in capitals and looked urgent. It was a plea for help from one of my students, so I put my tempting beverage on hold and proceeded to see how I could help.
Steve (not his real name) had been offered the top and tail (beginning and end in layman's language) of a documentary. They only needed him for an hour and the recording was to take place in central London, indeed in the very heart of 'voice over land', Wardour Street in deepest trendiest Soho. I could tell from the tone of the email that he was panicking, so I suggested we had a chat.
The producers wanted him the next day at 2pm and said they had not got a script as yet and would be unlikely to have one prior to the recording session because the client was making last minute changes. The lack of information made the job seem even scarier. How could they not know what they wanted him to say with less than twenty four hours to go? I explained that last minute re-writes are very common. Steve did not seem reassured.
"How can I prepare when I don't know what the words are going to be?" he asked breathlessly. "I always thought my first voice over job would mean recording from home, but I'm having to go to a studio. What will they think when they find out I've never done this kind of thing before?"
This is the advice I gave to Steve.
Some situations are within our control, but others aren't. This was a case of the latter. Short of turning down the job (which quite rightly he didn't want to do), he had to roll with it. At this stage there was no script so his preparatory work was severely limited. There were however some positive steps he could take, and the first was to just accept the situation for what it was.
The Night Before
Although Steve knew very little about the job, he could help himself prepare in other ways. I suggested an early night preceded by a comforting hot bath and some not-so-taxing TV. I knew he was a gaming fan, but suggested he left this out so his mind was uncluttered. I also advised against alcohol and caffeine.
I suggested setting the alarm for a decent hour - not too early and not too late; we wanted to avoid any sluggishness. Camomile tea is known for its calming properties, but this suggestion didn't go down too well with Steve as he liked his morning cuppa. I conceded he could still go ahead with his favourite brew, but not to have a heavy breakfast. A light lunch was to be the order of the day for later.
Plan The Journey
Anyone familiar with London's transport system will know that it can work like clockwork, or be a frustrating nightmare. I asked Steve to plan his journey well (he was journeying from north London, but the Northern Line is notoriously capricious) and arrive at the studio with at least half an hour or more beforehand. Wardour St. and its environs are bristling with audio edit suites and it is easy to get the wrong one.
At The Studio
Once Steve had arrived I advised introducing himself to reception as the voice over artist for the 2pm session. I told him he would be made welcome, but to decline the biscuits .... those crumbs can play havoc with your larynx. If the magic hour comes and goes, he should not be tempted to question what was going on; it is not like waiting at the dentist's - although to Steve it probably would feel very similar!
One of the real advantages of attending an audio session as opposed to recording at home is you can just concentrate on your performance - there is no checking of levels or editing to be done. That is somebody else's job, so relax. Just do what the sound engineer asks you to do and be honest about the monitoring; if you can't hear your voice very well in the headphones, say so.
Working with a director means following what they say. Listen very carefully and act upon each direction - if you are told to slow down, do so. Remember when you are asked to record a line many times over it does not mean you are performing badly, but that the director wants to explore different ways of saying the same words. Voice overs are all about trial and error.
Above all you should try and enjoy the session. Everyone from the sound engineer to the client (who will be putting pressure on the director) is anxious to get the job done. But at the end of the day this is a creative industry - you are not managing a hedge fund or operating on a poorly patient, you are in the media and making your artistic contribution to a production. Savour every moment.
And Steve? He called me later that afternoon to say he had a ball; everyone was so kind and he really felt he was part of the team. What's more, they loved his delivery.
He started to thank me for my advice, but I stopped him in his tracks - he had performed the voice over, not me. Steve could now proudly and quite rightly call himself a professional voice over artist.