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  • Writer's pictureMitch Phillips

Talkin' VO with Mitch - The Agony & the Ecstasy of Taking Voice Direction

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Since it’s such a popular topic on voiceover social media, and since it’s something that’s fresh in my mind, today we'll talk about taking VO direction.

First, what is direction? In the broadest and most ideal sense, it’s the sound in the director’s head that he or she wants you to create or recreate in your interpretation and read. Sounds simple enough, and in many cases, it is.

Experienced and competent directors come in many different flavors. Some may be patient, friendly and complimentary. They will feed your ego and make you very comfortable Others may be harsh, demanding and very blunt, and enjoy dominating you. In my experience, great magic will happen with both types. Keep on your toes and maintain an even keel always. Don’t let a wonderful director get you too relaxed, and don’t let a harsh director get you down. This is the business we have chosen, and learning to accommodate all sorts of direction is skill you will have to learn.

Key point: The important thing to remember is to give them what they want. You were hired for a good reason, but it’s the director’s job to get the read he or she wants, and not the read you think it should be. Be yourself, but be modest and open for direction.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Case #1 The director is experienced and competent, knows your work, and perhaps worked with you in the past. He or she will have the expertise to know (before you’ve uttered a single word), that you will sound right for the job. This is the best case scenario, where the director is confident that you will “get it”. She may ask for a few takes of each paragraph or sentence or block of copy, and then give you feedback on how she’d like to change it a bit. Maybe the speed or the intonation, or mood needs a fix. She may even read a line (or more) the way ‘she’ wants it to sound. A line reading by a director is a powerful tool! Don’t dismiss it or get worried that you're not succeeding. - IN FACT - I often ASK for that line reading to streamline the process! In the above setting (experienced director/familiar with you etc.). In this scenario, the session should go swimmingly well!

Case #2 The director is experienced and competent, only knows you via your audition and demos. He or she will have no idea how direct able you are, but she is talented enough to work with you for the first time. She likely will start off with a more detailed discussion of the script, such as: speed, dynamics and changes, overall tone and what phrases or specific words need emphasis. What she is asking for is important, so make these notations on your printed out script right away, and listen carefully to the direction. A good director will get to the point quickly and use tools to find ways to get the sound he wants. Be patient and humble over multiple takes. If you feel confident about your reads and how the session is going, It’s OK to ask questions and politely offer a suggestion or two on a particular part of the read, but don’t overpower or take over the director. Go with the flow!

Case #3 The director is a hot mess, They are not familiar with you or your work, and/or haven’t had the time to listen to you. He or she may be new to all of this. They will rely on “descriptors” as a crutch, and in doing so, possibly confuse you completely. They will use phrases like smile, happy, realistic, serious, caring forceful - but leave you on your own to interpret. There is no simple solution to this, and you will use your voiceover training and experiences to draw inspiration. Tap into your training and think about positive things - like your coach’s words, a recent success or even the great demo you have.

However, this is the toughest scenario, and will require the most discipline on your part to avoid getting angry or frustrated and wanting to scream. Think of this situation as a great challenge, and a learning moment that will end well! As a professional voice artist, you will have to learn to deal with many flavors of directors and directing style.

The good news is, no matter how a directed session goes, the fact that you are experiencing different directors and directing styles, is the best voice training you will ever get, and a sign that you are working and making progress!

Good luck and happy Talkin’ VO!

Mitch Phillips

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