Dee Bradley Baker's "Basics of Going Pro in V.O."

In-Studio Basics

DO’S AND DON’T’S FOR AUDITIONS AND GIGS (in no particular order):

 

Arrive on time (a bit early).

Show up looking put together. “Going to work in your bathrobe” is a myth. Don’t show up looking (or smelling) like you’ve been clearing out your garage. How you appear can affect how you are cast!

Don’t piss off everyone in the studio by showing up sick (they can pick you up later). You’ll do more damage to your career by giving everyone the plague than by chancing missing a gig for the right reason. If you are sick but able to perform and feel up for it, it is also possible to at least let them know you are sick but feel able to deliver your read fine and give them the option of bringing you in or rescheduling. Let them make the call.

Don’t leave everyone in the studio choking because you didn’t shower, haven’t changed your shirt in a week or are covered in perfume or cologne. They probably won’t mention it at the time, but they’ll never forget you, not ask you back and then tell everyone.

Face the mic and keep your distance as consistent as possible for the engineer’s sake.

A voice actor doesn’t need to look a scene partner in the eye during a take either– it’s not on-camera! (Those from the on-camera world starting in V.O. often make this mistake.) Turning your head for eye contact (or for any reason) takes your sound off the mic’s “sweet spot,” and it won’t pick up enough of your performance. You’ll probably have to do a retake, wasting everyone’s time and making you look like a newbie.

If you’re going to get suddenly loud or very soft in your read (e.g, a very quiet monolog that suddenly ends explosively loud), let the engineer know of a radical volume switch up before they start recording, otherwise you’ll need to re-record it.

Is it okay to throw in a question or necessary comment after they’ve already slated you and are recording? Yes, because knowing specifics before you dive in saves everyone time and you voice. They can either trim it after the take or stop the take and re-slate if need be. Sometimes direction needs to be clarified or some other specific hasn’t been set (e.g., “Which line are we starting at again?” or “What’s the attitude at the bottom of page 3?” or “Are we reading the crowd lines in unison or separately?”)

A “take” is a recorded performance of one or more. It could be a single word or an entire scene with multiple performers. Generally speaking, wait for the engineer or casting director to slate your take before you begin speaking. (e.g., the engineer or voice director says, “Lines 5 through 18, take two!” and then you speak.) They need to slate every take so they know where to find their favorite “select” takes later. So, this is how is goes: 1. You get direction or feedback. 2. Engineer/director slates your take. 3. You perform. 4. Back to step 1, or you “move on.”

Looping or A.D.R. is replacing or adding words to already produced picture, where the vocal performance needs to be changed or added to what was already animated. The new performance must perfectly match the lip flaps and character attitude in the picture. (“Loop troupes” are groups of voice actors that replace or fix existing vocal performances and also add ambient crowd vocals to television and movies). If you are looping, you will first “preview” the take on a screen so you get the timing of the performance in your head. You then wait for the engineer to play back the video while three beeps count you down to the exact moment you should speak. You begin speaking where the fourth “beep” would have been (if the engineer has timed the beeps correctly, that is).

Bring a light jacket or sweater in case the studio’s a/c is cold. It may be warm outside, but it is often cool in the studio (especially when it’s hot outside!). It can be a regular “meat locker” in a recording studio! Remember, it’s okay to request a change in room temperature if you’re uncomfortable. For instance, you may become overheated with performing and need the room a few degrees cooler. Ask for it!

If you are late to the audition/gig, call and let the studio know you are on your way and your ETA (or have your agent do this for you). Don’t freak out about this or bring your freak out energy into the session. Acknowledge and move on. Don’t waste more time with fretting or lengthy apologies and don’t let it throw you off your game. Your job is to keep cool and deliver the goods professionally no matter the circumstances.

If you are using headphones in a group record and you step away from the mic for a break remember to unplug your headphones if you step out of the booth, otherwise the sound of others’ voices from your “cans” can spoil the take. At very least turn your “cans'” volume completely to zero, otherwise the engineer has to get up, come in the room and turn it down.

Don’t bristle at being given a “line read,” (some actors get miffed by this). Sometimes, the director just wants it said a specific way and the quickest way to get you there is a line read. Not a biggie.

Don’t be a slob. Show some class and pick up after yourself before you leave. Throw away your trash/drink and why not hand back your script as well.  Don’t you dare leave a half used water bottle or used kleenex sitting out at your stand for someone to clean up for you! Ugh!!

Please don’t bring your dog/bird/etc.

Never ever tweet or post cast info, in-studio photos or script details without approval from those in charge– this includes audition cast lists! A fellow performer may not want a picture posted either. Always ask permission. Thoughtless picture taking/posting is just bad form and could get you in big trouble– fired, banned or even sued.  Most companies and even some actors take their image, privacy and secrecy extremely seriously. They consider even a photo of them or their work as proprietary intellectual property.

From audition to performance until the project aires, you should consider your performance and what you know about the project to be covered by an “NDA–” a non-disclosure agreement.  You’ll be presented with a page or two of legalese to sign, possibly asking for more personal info than you really need to give. In any case, they’ll at least need your autograph. Signing this NDA basically means you agree to not talk about the project or any details about the project with anyone at all unless you are specifically instructed to tweet or post it.  This is the marketing department covering their butts and the company trying to maintain control over the show, their brand and awareness of their property, which is their right. Some projects require you to sign an NDA agreement before you can even audition. Whether you are asked to sign an NDA or not, it’s not a bad idea to assume one is in effect. Want to tweet or communicate anything about your audition/gig? Always ask first.

Never post anything on social media that you wouldn’t be comfortable with as a headline in tomorrow’s Daily Variety!

Familiarize yourself with the script (if provided ahead of time) but don’t over prepare, as you need to be ready to switch up your performance in the session. You may be called back for one thing and asked to do something completely different at the session! Copy and character descriptions may well completely change!

Roll with it and be a good sport always!

Generally, keep your between the takes chit chat to a minimum.

Don’t discuss pay rates or negotiate money or terms with your employers at the session. That is not your job and it puts you in a bad position! If there is a question, refer it back to your agent. If there is something not right, let your agent deal with it. If, for instance, you performed more rolls than you think you were originally asked, if your session goes way long or something was wrong in how you were treated or how the session was handled, let your agent (or possibly union) know afterwards. This kind of thing must be handled by you lightly and with tact. Your job is to deliver the performance goods, not hash out contractual details. That said, you must also stand up for yourself and not take any abuse or let yourself be taken advantage of. If someone’s gotta be the “bad guy” in this, let it be your agent or union, not you. Frankly, it’s their job and part of why you pay them.

Be sure you bring your driver’s license and social security card or passport to each gig in case you need to fill out start up papers in addition to your contract. Make sure your agent has up to date copies of this info, as well as up to date bio and promotional materials, a copy of your I-9 form and a copy of your articles of incorporation (if you are incorporated). A new gig often needs all this info to finish the details of your contract.

Don’t wear a Nickelodeon shirt to a Disney gig/audition (or any variation of this).

Don’t dress like a college student if you are performing as a super villain unless the super villain is a college kid (or any variation of this).

If you must wear your baseball cap when recording (must you?), the bill should face behind you when recording. The bill forward can cause problems for the sound engineer.

It helps to know the credits of the creator of the show you’re reading for. If you can, view a few episodes so you know the tone of performance you’ll need to deliver.

Don’t brag about your work in a project until the project airs and you’ve confirmed it with your ears (or someone has seen your name in the credits). You may find out upon viewing that you’ve been replace. That’s showbiz!

 

Finally, appreciate those on your side in the studio:

This includes the sound engineer recording you, the sound mixer, the casting assistant, and especially the voice director. These people work hard (often invisibly) to save you time and voice by translating the show creator’s vision into “actor speak” as well as capturing your best take the first time and generally protecting you as they “get ‘er done.”

These fine people may well appreciate and understand your talent better than those “calling the shots” and they often speak up for you (though you never hear it).  They might, for instance, remind the show creator that you are approaching the scheduled end of the session and they need to wrap this up or move it along.  They may point out your vocal fatigue and work with the creator to save your voice while still getting what is needed.  There are many ways they work to help you as they help the show creator.  Feel free to express your appreciation to these coworkers.

 

Be sure to also check out my: Top Six Newbie Mistakes!

10 Responses »

  1. Dee! This list is so on the money I could hug you! I’ve been a TV audio engineer for about 6 years now and I read this post jumping up and down as I felt a deep sense of validation. Thank you!!!

  2. Oh, man! Everyone should read this post, Dee. I learned so much just going over the list. What he said….and so much should be common sense, but I imagine you’ve seen and heard most of it happen in your experiences. What a rich learning experience here for the sensible who want to be successful while pursuing their career ambitions. Thank you, so much.

  3. Dee, I have a question about the topic on bringing in passports, ID cards etc. I notice sometimes, some V.O actors are often credited under a different name whether it’s because the show they’re playing roles in animated shows/movies especially in anime (Asian animated shows) where they have shows that are really inappropriate for under aged kids or for other similar reasons.

    A girl like me wants to be a V.O actress but I don’t want to be credited by my real name (one of the reasons being is my last name is a little difficult to pronounce from different tongues and I want to make it easier to be searched and not have people struggle figuring out how to spell my name and the other being a personal choice/matter) is it my choice to use a different name than my own or is it the agent’s decision?

    • I suspect an actor using another name when doing anime is to try and hide the fact that they are working non-union. They can get in big trouble with their union and peers doing this, as it’s seen as undermining the collective power of the union and the union’s bargaining leverage. I believe you can specify if you want your name different or want your name omitted, but I’m just not sure if the accounting on the production end would get it right every time. I can imagine it confusing any residuals finding their way to you (though this isn’t an issue with non-union work, as it pays no residuals). Have always used my professional name, myself. And I don’t work non-union as I see it as self-undermining.

  4. Hi Dee,
    Possibly a bit of a dumb question, but I’d like to know how to turn the page silently in the studio – is there a special technique involved? Thanks!

    • Not a dumb question. First off, set out your pages side by side. This can give you two to three pages ready to read turn-free off the bat. If you are recording further than that (which rarely happens), just pick up the last page and move it over as quietly as you can. The best time to do this is when another actor is speaking and your mic is probably not up. If you must turn the page in the middle of your read, just wait for a paragraph break close to the bottom of the page, take a quick pause and turn the page and then continue your line. The editor can edit it out afterwards.

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© Dee Bradley Baker 2014
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