Creative Directions : Capturing the Best Audio Performances

You sold a great script to a client. Congratulations. Now you just need to turn the promise of that script into a spot or voiceover that lives up to expectations. No pressure or anything. Capturing the perfect audio performance is essential. It’s not always easy to direct audio talent, but there are always things that can make it easier.

Casting kills.

Before the recording session even starts, choosing your actors can determine if your recording session will be productive or purgatory. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a weak talent can be coached to a great performance. Find strong, believable talent who understand your script.

Get the tone right first.

A spot is a story. Know what kind of story you are telling. Silly? Snarky? Serious? Establish the specific tone of the spot with your actors right away. If you can, play back their auditions so they can hear the specific performance that won them the job.

Keep the actors confident.

Be supportive of the talent. Be positive from the moment you greet them. Know what you want from a performance before the session starts. Be clear about what you want during the session.

Diminishing returns.

You can ask actors for adjustments to dial in a performance and get important lines right, but at some point, frustration will set in, energy is lost, and things rarely get better. The talent is a real human being with an ego and a soul. Don’t break them.

Close your eyes.

I am easily distracted. So, I find it helps to focus my ears more sharply if I close my eyes and listen without visual distraction. This is especially helpful when there are other people around you in the session.

Take quick notes as you go.

During the session, you are your own script supervisor. Print out scripts or have a doc that you can quickly jot notes on as you record. Mark down not just good takes but good sections and lines as you go. Takes accumulate quickly. On occasion, an actor will crush a take from beginning to end. More often you’ll need to cut together pieces. Make it easy to find the pieces you liked.

Go back and grab pieces that don’t feel right.

As you finish up, listen to the spot in its entirety to see how it flows. If something bothers you it will bother the listener… unclear words, unnatural phrasing… go back and rerecord those specific pieces as wild lines. Have the talent start with the preceding line to help it flow naturally when edited in.

You’re the boss, but not God.

You are the captain of the recording session. It is your responsibility to get the spot right, so you have the authority to lead the show. Still, other creatives, account people, or clients may notice things that can make the spot better. Ask if you’re not sure about something. Be open to their suggestions.

There are plenty more audio details that take a radio spot or a video to the next level, like sound design, music, and mixing. But those things are icing on the cake. By capturing a great performance, you’ve gotten the most important part right. The cake.

Dave Broscious

SVP, Creative Director

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