About this article: It's for a simulated-audition contest that voice actors enter. Voice-over may seem
easy, but for most people, learning to do it
professionally requires training, practice and creative feedback (coaching). Edge Studio regularly runs a
contest where people record a short script and send it in, three winners are picked,
and the overall submissions are reviewed. Others judge the entries. I write the scripts and the overall reviews.
Many of the mistakes made by entrants are encountered in every contest. Without a
bit of editorial ingenunity, my reviews could easily all come out alike. Namely, "people mumbled,
didn't slate properly, lacked energy, had no emotion and didn't sound 'real.'" So
my writing must be interesting, encouraging, understandable, truly helpful ... and fresh.
I've written hundreds of these reviews. Some have been this length, many are much shorter. (I figure since I'm republishing
these (with permission) to show off my writing, I might as well show you my writing.) I also write the
Director's Notes and the scripts, which vary from VO genre to genre.
This is a simulated audition for an animated series about futuristic androids. Although they are
metal "robots," they are very intelligent, fully capable of human-like emotion, and they sound human ...
when they want to. In this script, one android is male, the other is female. They are named "Mo" and
"Jo," but we haven't decided yet which name goes with which gender. READ ONLY THE "MO" LINES, with a
one-second break in-between. The scene is an industrial setting that the two are exploring. Slate
your name or username after your read.
MO: "I'm impressed with how quickly you
catch on to how things here work. And I have to tell you now,
that I'm irresistibly attracted to you.
JO: Mo, I had no idea, you –
MO: No, don't get me wrong. Will you please
turn off that electromagnet?
Edge Studio Tips
Robots will one day sound and act the same as humans – at least, in futuristic movies they already do.
Which is why we were interested in seeing what the people auditioning to play a futuristic android would come
back with. The Director's notes said these robots "are very intelligent, fully capable of human-like emotion,
and they sound human ... when they want to." That purposely left open a wide range of creative opportunity.
Some took advantage of it. A few did well, by expanding the range of their robot character in a logical way
or adding a creative quirk. Others instead limited their robot character's speech capabilities by speaking
in a monotone or sounding disconnected, and thus limited themselves. Here are ways to expand your abilties.
A lot of people read without emotion. Or without any change of emotion. Or without logical emotion. How
many were trying to sound robotic, we don't know. In any case, by speaking in relative monotones, limited vocal
range, etc., they lost emotional expression. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Use the Director's Notes as a
guide to where you should step off. If you have a creative inspiration, it's usually okay to go beyond the
instructions, but always be sure you at least meet them. When would a robot not want to sound
human? Can that be applied creatively here? Read on.
A lot of people did vary their emotion, but not appropriately, given the overall script. In particular,
some slowed and said the part about "I'm attracted to you" in a very loving way. Except, in the next line we
learn that it has nothing to do with emotional attraction. The listener might not suspect this, but surely the
character knows it, so they wouldn't sound romantic, would they? EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP:
Modulate your emotion, sometimes splitting the difference so that it's ambiguous. Given the listener's mistaken
assumption in the first line (the "setup" or "premise"), it can be taken one way. Then after the punchline (the "payoff"),
we realize it was meant in another way. Making both interpretations valid is part of the art.
Some sounded human except for a robotic quirk, such as pronouncing each word discretely. In at least one case
this affectation was lost in the second line. In another case, the talent did just the opposite (sounding human
in the first line, then very robotic in the punch line.) The Director's Notes saying ".... when they want to"
gave liberty, so if the robot is realistically motivated to change its manner, do it. Otherwise, don't.
EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: If you give a character a quirk, use it judiciously. If it is inherent in their
normal behavior, it should be present consistently. If it appears only in certain conditions (e.g., stammering when
excited), that condition should be clear and the mannerism logical.
Some people didn't seem to get the joke. Or they need to work on how to tell it. Here's the scenario, as
exposed in the Notes and the script: a) These robots are metallic. b) Mo says "how quickly you catch on to
how things here work," so apparently the other robot ("Jo") is operating something. c) Mo also says "I'm
irresistibly attracted to you." These are the phrases to hit, because they are paid off later. So you can
say the line's other phrases relatively quickly – clearly, but without emphasis. Then the "punch line" is
"electromagnet." Why? Because it suddenly tells the listener that everything he or she assumed in the setup
was incorrect. This unexpected change in our understanding is what triggers us to laugh. EDGE
STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: If you dawdle on your way to the punch line, the setup and payoff will be less connected,
and the listener will have too much time to think. So don't extend or pause long after "No, don't get me wrong."
As for how to read the last sentence, people will vary. Some might read it rather flatly and without special emphasis.
An old vaudevillian might really hammer the word "electromagnet" (although we wouldn't). Others might pause a
split-second before it. Still another person might pronounce "please" in a comic fashion (e.g., "puhleeeeze")
and then zip right to the end. In short, there is a wrong way to tell a joke. But there may be more than
one "right" way.
Some people went too fast. In any VO script, you need the listener to keep up with your thoughts. Yet, don't proceed
so slowly that they have time to be distracted by their thoughts. And by all means, not so lethargically that they
think of the punchline before you say it! EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: If for some reason you want to read at
a machine-gun pace (for example, your character is a high-pressure, no-nonsense individual), you nevertheless must
enunciate so that all the words are clear, and allow extra time between statements, for the listener to catch up.
But this is when you read "too fast" on purpose. You rarely have such a need.
A lot of people were sloppy with their vowels. For example, they pronounced "to" as "tah." Were they just careless,
or were they overdoing a casual attitude in order to show how "humanlike" these characters are? EDGE STUDIO
VOICE-OVER TIP: Auditions are a bit different from actual jobs. Sloppy pronunciation is usually frowned upon by
audition reviewers, and they can't know whether it was intentional or not. So don't give them the impression that you
habitually sound sloppy.
A few people took liberties with the script, by adding, dropping or changing words, or getting words reversed.
EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Again, this is an audition. Once you are working with a director or producer,
they might allow you to ad-lib a bit, but if you ad-lib in an audition, the screener might wonder if you can read
any script exactly as written. Before proceeding, listen to your chosen take as you read along carefully.
A bunch of people didn't slate, and some people didn't slate correctly. The Director's Notes said simply, "Slate
your name or username after your read." Some slated before it. Some added information, such as the name of our contest.
EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: When given specific slating direction, slate specifically as directed.
There were various technical errors. For example, audio so low (quiet) that it was virtually inaudible. Recording
in stereo, rather than one centered mono track. Distorted audio was another common fault. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER
TIP: Of all possible technical errors, low volume is the easiest to spot and correct. Do this beforehand: Compare
your final recording to known-professional recordings, using the same player and setting. Once you have adjusted your
recording settings to have the same loudness as those other recordings do, make note of your values in all your
processing steps, so you can easily replicate the results on the job.