Writing effective copy for your ad campaign, DVD promo, or even voicemail system takes a certain kind of expertise. Professional copywriters can do amazing things. I produce some content for many projects, and actually have training in technical writing, legal writing and radio scriptwriting as part of my Communications degree. But I don’t put myself out there as a copywriter. Still, there are mechanical limitations to how a script can be interpreted. With that in mind, I provide these few guidelines from a voice actor’s perspective:
- Be realistic about word count. If your message must be delivered in a specific duration, you can only fit so many words into the script. A :15 TV spot, for example, will accommodate only between 35 to 40 words. Deliveries that are supposed to sound rushed can definitely fit a few more words. But you can’t fit 100 word script into a :15 spot and expect effective brand building or ROI. Audiences can’t realistically understand let alone absorb a word-bloated :15 spot, if it can even be produced.
- Check your script before you send it to the voice actor. Nothing will delay a rush script faster than mistakes that could have been avoided, but are instead sent into production. Phone numbers and web sites are the usual suspects when it comes to script mistakes. Other culprits are bloated word counts for short commercial spots. To avoid delays and additional voiceover charges for script corrections, trim your script for the appropriate running time of your commercial, verify your contact information, and check any other detail before sending it for recording. Remember that voice actors are only responsible for their own mistakes, if such a thing can occur.
- Remember that numbers are words. A phone number is not a single word even if your word processor says so. A spoken ten-digit phone number is almost always ten separate words. Each digit should be included in your total word count to make sure it will fit in your :15 spot. (On projects that may be charged by the word, for voicemail systems for example, expect voiceover talents to appropriately count phone numbers and addresses as a separate word per digit.)
- Consider omitting superfluous information when script duration is an issue. For example, if your script has a web site address, remember that “www” is three words (or two if you use the more urban “trip dub”). The “www” is generally implied and you may want to consider dropping it from your script to save on precious real estate. Most web servers will in fact accept a web site address without “www.” Try your web site address and see whether it works without the trip dub.
- Don’t just write your script. Speak it. Conversation should flow, and often something that looks good in writing, sounds awkward when you say it out loud. Choose words that flow unless you’re trying to achieve a particular effect with the script.
- Create a script for your audience, not for your message. Describe your house first to an architect, then to a close friend, and finally to a child. Chances are good you would not choose the same words each time. Choose words that appeal to the people you’re trying to reach.
- Don’t translate more of the script than you should.
- If your script is to be translated into different language, Spanish for example, only provide a Spanish translation for a web site address if you’ve actually created the Spanish domain. Otherwise you’re sending people to a non-existent web site. That’s kind of a duh, but it happens.
- Similarly, only translate numbers in mailing addresses for English-speaking countries. Leave the “P.O. Box,” street names, citys and states in English (maybe with a slight Spanish pronunciation) to ensure that Spanish listeners correctly address mail the way an English-speaking postal worker will understand it.
There are no standards set in stone when it comes to soliciting bids and auditions from voiceover talents through a voice marketplace, but there are some tested guidelines which will mutually benefit both the voice seeker and the voiceover talent.
- Provide the essential details about your project. This is true for any project you need a quote on, whether you post it on a marketplace or request a quote directly from a voice talent:
- Type of voiceover: voicemail, DVD promo, TV tag, radio imaging, medical narration, audiobook narration, documentary narration, etc.
- Length of script: in seconds, minutes or pages. Keep in mind that a normal rate of speech is 150 words per minute and a standard page is double spaced with 12pt font which is about 15 words per line and 275 words per page. Movie scripts have larger margins and are closer to 160 words to follow a page per minute format.
- Your deadline: a rush is a rush. If you need it yesterday, expect to pay more, otherwise there is less incentive for a voice actor to set other clients’ projects aside to push yours through. Either way, be realistic about the time frame. Large IVR jobs and audiobooks can take a few weeks. Short-form projects can be turned around in a day, schedule permitting.
- Expected market: regional TV viewers in New York, local radio listeners in Tampa, in-store shoppers in Minnesota, a group of investors with a lot of money in Nevada, your Aunt Mae in Atlanta. Let us know who will hear the voiceover and where.
- Your budget range: let the talent bid between the numbers, but generally it’s best to let talent know the minimum and maximum you are willing to pay.
- The project rights you want to purchase: whether you’re expecting a perpetual buyout (you use it as long and as many times as you want) or other limited terms for your use of the voiceover (for example, a TV spot which you want to air an unlimited number of times, during a 13-week cycle). You’ll also want to let the talent know whether you’re offering residuals (pay per play) fees.
- Avoid wasting your time and the talent’s.
- Request only as many auditions as you’re willing to listen to. Generally, a marketplace will send you an email for every submission and those emails will fill your inbox for every project you post. The process can be overwhelming.
- Consider also that each custom demo you request has to be recorded and sent by a voiceover talent on the other side, which is a time-consuming process usually without compensation. The voice talent has already paid a hefty subscription fee for the privilege of submitting auditions to your job leads. So they have already invested time and money on your project. There is simply no reason to ask someone to submit an audition you don’t intend to listen to. A good practice is that you CLOSE THE JOB if you select one of the first submissions.
- Shop for prices first, talent later. Some marketplaces will allow you to post a job with an “open” budget. Well, if you must. But request a custom demo only if you’re willing to post a budget range. If you are merely fishing for low bids, do that first. Provide a detailed description of your project and request a related stock demo from the talent. That’s all you need for the first round. Otherwise you’ll get custom auditions from voiceover talents who are beyond your budget. That happens. But it is never appropriate to request a custom demo you don’t intend to hear. Consider also that many voice actors, myself included, have a policy of not providing custom demos for projects without a posted budget.
- Be realistic in determining whether your project even needs a custom audition. There is almost never a good reason to request a custom demo for standard voicemail – for english press 1 – unless of course you have unusual names for your company or staff which will be part of the voicemail script. If that’s the case, consider limiting your demo script to a couple lines with those unique names and provide a pronunciation key:
- “Thank you for calling Ouachita (WA shituh) Valley Bank’s Natchtitoches (NA ku tosh) branch…”
- Consider whether the project should be directed to a narrower pool of talents. If your project requires a more discernible level of experience and professionalism, you may want to limit the lead to union or accredited voiceover talents. Unlike union status, accreditation requires a voiceover talent to go through a peer review process for assessment of performance and technical proficiency. It is a growing trend and a good resource for voice seekers. Both union status and accreditation suggest a level of commitment to the profession that you may find more reliable.
- Expect some watermarking or script changes on audition demos from time to time. Some talents have had their audition demos effectively taken as a final product without ever receiving payment for them. As a result, voiceover talents may choose to watermark their clips with an underlying tone, fade on company names, or purposely change phone numbers and web addresses on the script to render them unusable as a final product. It’s not a mistake on the demo. This is as common a practice as buying CDs or clothing with security tags on them. Don’t take it personally. It should be an issue for you only if it prevents you from evaluating the overall demo. Although I rarely watermark an audition demo, as a matter of policy, I don’t audition for leads from voice seekers who object to their use unless they have a good reason and an established reputation.
- Consider providing additional information on time-sensitive projects. For example, provide pronunciation keys for unusual words. As a matter of course, always provide that information if you have it. I’m old school. Never reinvent the wheel. If you have the information, why force someone who’s developing a project for you to hunt it down on their own?
- Understand that a phone number is not a single word. Huh? In determining script durations and word counts for projects charged by the word, it’s important to understand that a ten-digit phone number is ten separate words: 9-5-4 – 5-5-5 – 1-2-1-2. If your script has phone numbers and addresses, expect to be charged by the number. You may not be, but expect it anyway. At a minimum, consider the digit=word rule when writing copy for short TV and radio spots since it can seriously affect timing. More on that in another blog.
- Tip. To get a more accurate word count on long scripts with lots of numbers, open the script in your favorite word processing program. Do ten quick searches, one for each digit 0 through 9, and replace each number with the same number but add spaces before and after the digit. Example: search for “1” and replace it with “ 1 ” so that this: 954-555-1212 turns into this: 9 5 4 – 5 5 5 – 1 2 1 2. Your word processing program will now give you a more accurate word count.
- Expect to provide your contact information. Voiceover is a business that requires financial transactions and accurate records. Each project I do results in an invoice that you will need in order to deduct the cost of the voiceover as a business expense. The invoice provides information regarding my business for tax purposes as well. It’s a necessary and mutual exchange of information. I frankly avoid doing business with prospects who can only provide a gmail address.
Follow at least most of the applicable guidelines – definitely the ones regarding project details – and you’re sure to have a better experience hiring voiceover talents either directly or through a voice marketplace. Good luck with your project!
Hiring a voiceover talent through a job posting marketplace is generally free to the voice seeker and extremely easy. There are a number of voiceover marketplaces where you can post your job and obtain auditions from qualified voiceover talents as well as others struggling to break into the business. The voice you are searching for may be relatively new and untested or a seasoned pro. At any rate, there is something you should understand before you post your job:
- Usually, anyone can sign up. Most if not all of the voiceover marketplaces work on a subscription basis. That’s how they generate their revenues and it’s in their best interest to have a lot of subscribing voiceover talents. This means their are no prerequisite auditions to join. The marketplace’s income grows with the talent pool and pretty soon everyone’s drowning. You can invest considerable time auditioning people who just can’t deliver. If you have that kind of time, go for it. The average open job can yield 100 submissions and most are probably upwards of 200 unless you’re able to set submission limits and do so.
If you’re OK with volume submissions, here are a few things to consider to minimize risks and make the process more effective for all parties:
- What is the talent’s voiceover background? All the voiceover talents answering leads in a marketplace are provided with web space for a profile page. That page should provide information regarding voiceover experience, training, and something of a client list (certainly if the voice talent does commercial work). There should also be links to quality demos.
- If that page has little or no information, you may be dealing with a hobbyist or a voice talent who doesn’t take the profession very seriously. You can still get good work but blind trust may have to factor in.
- Also look for an external link to the talent’s professional voice web site. Few professional voice actors rely solely on profile pages. It’s not a slam dunk but a lack of a pro web site may indicate you’re not dealing with a pro.
I don’t mean that to sound elitist but some projects require a level of professionalism and discretion. Maybe it’s a corporate DVD promo which includes trade secrets or a training video on hospital policies and procedures requiring non-disclosure agreements. Voice actors get the inside scoop on a lot of content. You want to deal with professionals who understand confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.
- What is the talent’s technical background? Although the voiceover industry in the 80′s developed almost exclusively in professional recording studios, today home studios are the predominant method of production and delivery. You’ll want to hire a voice talent with either easy access to a studio or who has at least a basic understanding of sound engineering for voice. If the information isn’t on the profile page or pro web site, find out how and where the talent handles recording sessions and whether they charge extra for the recording session.
- What and how will the talent deliver? A professional voiceover talent can accommodate all standard audio formats.
- You should know what audio file format you’ll need for your project: wav, aiff, mp3, uLaw. For example, uncompressed wav or aiff formats are generally better for broadcasts and film narrations. High quality compressed audio files at 16 bit/48k or 24 bit/96k are generally better for DVD, and 8bit uLaw is usually needed for older voicemail systems. Although you can generally convert audio quality down (downsample), you don’t want to convert up (upsampling). So don’t ask for 8 bit uLaw files unless you know that’s what you need.
- Mono is the standard for unmixed voiceover. Let’s be real. It’s one voice, one channel. You have a single source going into one mic through one cable into one channel on sound editing software. Even if you record through two microphones for a special effect, those mics each have a designated cable and pipe the audio stream onto one channel each. So, technically all audio production is a process of recording in mono (one source per channel ). Stereo and Dolby are post-production mixing processes. But I digress . . .
- Also, consider how you’ll get the finished audio files from point A to point B. Larger files are too cumbersome for email attachments and no one wants to wait for a CD sent by snail mail. See if the voiceover talent has a client FTP site for immediate downloads or create your own FTP site if you’ll be hiring a lot of voiceover talents. This will simplify the process of audio file deliveries.
- Many voiceover talents who maintain a client FTP site don’t charge extra for this type of delivery. I don’t. I find that maintaining my own FTP site which is reliable and familiar to me speeds up the delivery process and more than makes up for the cost of maintaining it. In fact, most web hosting packages will include at least one FTP account, so really there is little reason not to have that capability at either end.