OK. Never mind the “Master Class.” This isn’t a “101 class”, or even, God Forbid a “dummies” course. This is about getting back to basics. The real bottom line basics.
As many of you know, I’ve recently taken on the mantle of “Audio Editor”, while still providing Voice Acting services to my fabulous compliment of clients.
Editing. I refer to it as “Hack-n-Slash”.
In so doing, I have been able to glean new/old insights into the craft of “Saying Words.” It has been quite…educational. While, ostensibly, many of the voices I’m editing are those of working pros, I sometimes hear things that make me stop and take a knee. Sometimes I want to take a sword and practice the ancient Japanese art of Seppuku.
I would like to share some of the things that anyone who practices this craft for a profit, much less a living, should always bear in mind.
WHERE’S THE FIRE, CHIEF?
So. You just got handed a seven page script from an eLearning client. For whatever reason, you find the timing to be inconvenient. Maybe you’re staring down the throat of lunchtime and are starving. Maybe you’ve got a hot date and don’t want to be late. Or maybe there are a thousand things you’d rather be doing than teaching an aspiring plumber how to replace a toilet. Regardless, you’re in a huge hurry to put this one behind you. Terrific. But do the world a favor: please don’t sound like you’re in a huge hurry.
Remember: the words you’re saying serve a purpose. Most especially where eLearning is concerned, your spoken delivery has to convey meaning. Because regardless of what the client may think (because let’s face it, your client could be the client of a client of an end client who is relying on a developer to deliver the content to them so they can put this project to bed) what you’re saying is going to directly impact the success or failure of not the client, or the client’s client, or whomever. It’s going to affect the poor slob who has to endure the course material that you’re conveying to them. If you put off the vibe of someone who’s just “saying the words to say them” then the material isn’t really going to mean as much to those who are expected to learn it. Let’s face it: as the Narrator for such material, you not only have to sound like you care about what you’re saying, but that you actually know what you’re doing.
Got kids? Been one yourself? Can you recall a time when you or your kid received a poor grade on something and the initial reason was “Well, that teacher SUCKS”?
Guess what? When it comes to eLearning, you’re the “teacher”. Teach like you’d like to be taught. If you can’t do that, then don’t do eLearning Narrations. Period.
Here’s a secret: I’ve “taught” electricians how not to die while performing their jobs. That’s kind of a big deal. Truth to be told? I only know enough about electricity to know that I will hire an electrician for ANY job, rather than do it myself. Because even without eLearning, I know that electricity can KILL you. Be that as it may, I approach every eLearning gig like I did that one, whether it’s life or death or not. Because somebody has to hear this stuff. Somebody is responsible for learning this stuff. Remember your audience regardless of what kind of day you’re having. Regardless of what kind of hurry you’re in at the moment, treat every job the same. Treat every job like you’ll never get another one if “this one” sucks. Mostly, convey the material in a way that is meaningful for the material you’re presenting.
Which leads me to my next point:
YOUR DEMO SHOULD SOUND LIKE YOU, AND VICE-VERSA.
How, how, how, HOW MANY TIMES have I heard a Voice Actor, in the context of editing them, and wondered what their demo sounded like…and out of professional (or morbid) curiosity gone to their website for a quick listen…
…and had my jaw drop to the floor so hard I feared for my dental health? TOO many.
Let’s face it: there are lots of professionally produced demos out there. And, arguably, it’s a smart way to go about doing things. However, and maybe I’m showing my naïveté here, I’m still of the opinion that if you’re going to put out a demo, it had better be representative of what you’re actually capable of anywhere, any time, everywhere, every time. Otherwise, you’re just lying. If it took a demo director half an hour, three shots of bourbon, and two cigarettes to pull from you the best 10 seconds of your demo, and you can’t replicate that 10 seconds without him or her…then you need not put it out there.
And make no mistake: the same goes for audio quality. If your demo features clean and pristine audio only because you went to the best studio in a 100-mile radius of your house (the house from which you do all your work), then don’t you think it’s only fair you be able to replicate that sound from your primary “base of operations”? No room-echo on your demo? Then why is there all kinds of it in your “raw audio”? No mouth-noise in your demo? Then why does it sound like you’re chewing potato chips every time you utter a sentence in your “raw audio”?
And that leads me to the next item:
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
From spoken-delivery to audio quality, it is imperative that in the inevitable event you have to do a pick-up…or two…or three…that you are able to replicate the sound of your original recording session. Which means you have to be mindful of not only how you said the words the first time, but what those words sounded like. Did your Air Conditioner kick on half-way through your last session and give off a nasty low-frequency hummmmmmmmmm throughout parts of your preliminary recording? Well…if it did, then shame on you. That should never happen. However, if it did, then you’d better crank that bad-boy up for the pick-ups. Or, better still, be prepared to recut that entire section without your Carrier Air Conditioner making a cameo in the background.
But again, maybe that’s just me.
THE SCRIPT, OR NOT THE SCRIPT? THAT IS THE QUESTION…
Actually, there’s no question to this one.
Let’s face it. Not all scripts are created equally. However, and that said, you have to remember that in most cases, especially when dealing with eLearning, before you’ve ever been handed a script, it has been through more hands, been seen by more eyes, and been signed-off on by more people than you can probably reasonably imagine. Yes, probably even by more people than there were commas in that last sentence.
Ahem…but I digress…
The truth is that there is a trend where a reasonable amount of eLearning development has been “shipped overseas” to places where English is not the first language spoken by those writing the material. And sadly, when scripts are submitted to end-clients, they are given a cursory glance at best. Summarily, they’re “signed-off on” (Off On?) and given “final approval”. And suddenly, you find yourself having to recite a sentence that looks something like “Johnny went to store to buy bushel of the bananas.”
…and suddenly you find yourself wanting to commit Seppuku. Because you know better. So what do you do?
Easy: you read it as written. Period. However, it is an acceptable and often time helpful practice to provide an “alternate take.” Why not, as a courtesy, toss in the phrase “Johnny went to the store to buy a bushel of bananas”? It’s very likely you just saved yourself from doing a pick-up while at the same time providing good customer service. Double win. Now…that said…sometimes scripts are re-written. And sometimes you have to *GASP* say a sentence again. How you treat that is your business. It’s up to you to decide the fine-line between “customer service”, “taking one for the team”, and “enough’s enough.”
At the end of the day: be a pro. And it is noteworthy that when writing this, I took an “eLearning” approach to it all. However, the truth is that very seldom will you be handed any script that was written “for the jollies of the writer”. Even if it’s the funniest animation you can imagine…there’s a point to it, even if the point is a scatological punchline. Every word leads to the next, and ultimately there’s a meaning to the presentation as a whole. Your job, as a professional “Voice Actor” “Voice Over Talent” “Voice Artist” Voice Over Artist” however you want to say it or think of it…is to convey those words not only to the best of your own potential, but to the potential of the words themselves.
That said…don’t sell the words short. Ultimately, don’t sell your ability to sell…or say…those words short, either.