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 a recorded self-guided walking tour of Warsaw, New York. Warsaw
was a center of the abolitionist movement. To set the scene for you: This stop is at the Warsaw Cemetery,
resting place for many people associated with the cause. Two of them are a slave woman and daughter, who at
the time of this story was 7 years old. Please slate your first and last name, or your username.
The trip from Washington, D.C. to Warsaw took 22 days. During that time, mother and child remained hidden
in the wagon's secret compartment. A few months after arrival, Mary gave birth to a son.
Edge Studio Tips:
Narration comes in many forms. One of them is the audio-guided walking tour. In some ways, a walking tour
is like a narrated video, but in other ways, sometimes it is not. In a video, it's axiomatic that the visual aspect
is the "star" of the show. The narrator's job is to explain or supplement it ... usually not adding extra dramatic
effect or distraction. Sometimes that's the case with a walking tour, as well. For example, a tour of an old home
or artwork. But some tours don't have much of a "visual" component. For example, an urban tour that includes the
sites of buildings long ago replaced. Or, as in our Monthly Audition Contest for February, a simple cemetery.
Our winners added just the right amount of interest to this bunch of gravestones. Some others added too much,
or too little, or made other mistakes. Here are tips on how to improve:
Some people sounded a bit too perky for the subject matter. This script was about the escape journey of a slave
and her daughter in 1849. Obviously it is an excerpt from a larger story. While the end-result was happy
(both mother and daughter reached freedom), the mother died shortly after giving birth to the son, and the
overall subject, after all, is slavery. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: How do we know things that might
give clues as to the tone for your read? Although the Director's notes in this case provide a pretty fair guide,
they don't mention all these details. But they do mention enough for you to look up this story online. And it's
a rich one, indeed. To get an even better feel for the audition script, understand its context. You don't have to
flesh out the script yourself – it's enough simply to set the scene in your mind. But to illustrate how this works,
we have fleshed it out – suppose you knew the following, all using information that can be gleaned
online in just a few minutes. How might it affect your read?
Pleading for the sympathy of the very gardeners whom she had just finished providing slave labor for,
Mary convinced them to take her and her 7-year-old daughter on their trip back to New York. They agreed. They
would not send the slaves back to their master.
Their produce sold, the brothers modified their wagon to create a hidden space just big enough to
hide the two slaves. The supplies they were bringing back to New York were enough to camouflage it.
Although Mary was six months pregnant, it was exactly what she had hoped for. The two farmers set out
the next day, carrying their illegal cargo.
The trip from Washington, D.C. to Warsaw took 22 days. During that time, mother and child remained
hidden in the wagon's secret compartment. A few months after arrival, Mary gave birth to a son.
Some people sounded bored, or spoke very matter-of-factly. They evinced no emotion, and had little energy.
In fact, some people sounded like their voices were computer-generated. Remember, although there is no visual
excitement in this case, the excitement is in the story itself, and your reaction to it. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER
TIP: There is no gauge that tells you how much emotion is too much or too little. It's a matter of experience
and judgment. To get experience and develop your judgment, listen to similar work by expert narrators. It will
probably help to think of the people you're talking about as real people, not just the subjects
of an adventure or circumstances. In other words, develop your empathy.
A number of people slurred their words. They did not articulate. Sometimes this was in contrast with their
otherwise formal manner. In other cases, the lack of enunciation was part of an approach that was too casual
overall. Not only were some sounds dropped, sometimes words were mispronounced. For example, "mother and child"
sounded like "mother and chod" or "22 days" sounded like "22 day" (by abruptly ending the word). EDGE STUDIO
VOICE-OVER TIP: For another example, consider missing "T" sounds in the words "twenty-two." All three T's
should be enunciated, as should the T at the end of "compartment."
On the other hand, some people overdid their enunciation. This may have resulted from being too "careful"
(or rather, sounding overly careful), or might have been part of a regional or cultural accent.
For example, the word "hidden." Being extra careful to pronounce the "D" sound isn't exactly "wrong," but it
can be distracting. The trick is to enunciate, yet still sound natural. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Enunciation
decisions sometimes depend on context. In this case, it is arguably acceptable to say "hidd'n." Why? Because not only
is it a natural, accepted pronunciation, it comes after the word "remained" – where the D definitely needs to be
pronounced – and another "hard D" right after it kind of "bounces around," distracting the listener. Listen to
our winners, who vary within acceptable bounds. But don't take this as license to be too cavalier. Don't say
"hitt'n" (as some did), and don't say "hidd'n 'n the" ... that would sound sloppy, and if there is music or
background sounds could even be inaudible or confusing.
Then there were the regionalisms. In particular, the word "Washington." In some parts of the United States,
it is commonly pronounced "Warshington." But in most auditions (and especially this script, which would be used in
upstate New York), neutral American English is called for. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: If you have a regional
or foreign accent, work with a coach to soften it or "lose" it. But – retain the ability to revert to your natural
accent at any time. In some situations, it can even be an asset.
Some reads were choppy. Especially, many people paused after the first couple words: "The trip (pause) from
Washington, D.C. to Warsaw took 22 days." That's a common error, possibly the result of having heard so many other
narrators make the same error before, as a misguided "dramatic pause." EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: A dramatic
pause adds nothing – is not dramatic – if it's gratuitous. Yes, sometimes a pause after the first word or two
can be dramatic. (As in "The city, site of a million stories.") But there's no punctuation after "The trip" and
certainly not much drama without the following words. Generally, assuming the script is well written, let its
punctuation be your guide.
Some people overdid adherence to punctuation: They paused after "Washington" &endash; maybe because
of the comma in "Washington, D.C"? EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Some punctuation is there just for grammar.
This is one of those cases. (In fact, a very strict grammarian might want a comma after "D.C.", too!)
Another such case would be the comma before "Jr.", as in "Martin Luther King, Jr." especially if the parent ("Sr.")
is not notable. In some MLK contexts (e.g., a biography), his father might be relevant, but in most modern contexts
Every so often, someone emphasized the wrong word. Or rather, they emphasized a word haphazardly, either for
no particular reason, or for the wrong reason. One example: in "Mary gave birth to a son", there is no reason to hit
the word "Mary." From the Director's Notes, we know that the daughter was seven years old, so she couldn't have
been the one giving birth, and there are no other women in the scenario. The more logical choice would have been
"birth" or "son." EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: When emphasizing a word, ask yourself: "What is the emphasis
saying .. as opposed to what?"
Five people did not slate properly. The Director's Notes said "slate your first and last name, or your username."
That is, it said to slate and it specified what content. Some omitted it altogether. Some people added extra words
and even extra information (e.g., the title). One person added the words "This was recorded by username ... ", and
then, after saying his username, he spelled it. That's not only more than was specified, it's stating the obvious.
And spelling it out may just drive home the fact you didn't enunciate it well in the first place. The one saving grace
is that it came at the end; in an actual audition situation the screener may have moved on before even reaching it.
EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Whether to slate an audition before or after the read, unless specified, sometimes
depends on the situation.
Many people, including a couple of our winners, went too quickly. Although, as we've noted, there is no video to
let play out (as you would with, say, a nature documentary on TV), there is still a visual aspect. It's in
the listener's mind. They are imagining the scene as you describe it. Not only that, but as they gaze out
over the cemetery, they are subject to distraction (for example, by a bird, a sound, or other interesting gravesites).
EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: Imagine the scene in your own mind. If there were an actual video component, how
would it progress? To develop your sense of pacing, it might help to video-record some programs featuring respected
narrators, write out some of each script, and read along with them.
There were also a smattering of technical deficiencies. For example, audio level too low (too quiet). Boomy bass.
Or a hollow sound. EDGE STUDIO VOICE-OVER TIP: A good pair of studio headphones can help you spot problems that
won't always be apparent with speakers or in a poorly conditioned room. You don't have to go overboard; adequately
responsive, "flat" frequency range, closed-back monitoring (studio) headphones run about $75-150. Don't confuse them
with headphones that use bass-boosting technology and or active noise reduction (e.g., for use on an airliner). If not
sure, ask us for recommendations, or check with Sweetwater