Clients say the darnest things:
“I want you to sound stern but relatable.”
“Can you be friendly, yet authoritative?”
“You need to come across as decisive, but not too confident.”
“You have to SELL it, without being too salesy.”
“I’ll give you two seconds for the tag line, but don’t rush it.”
If you’ve been around the block as a voice talent, I’m sure you can relate to these confusing instructions. They usually come from people in power positions who have no clue how the sausage is made.
BITING THE HAND
Before you throw a hissy fit and set the client straight, remember who is writing your check. You may be the voice over expert in the room, but it’s unwise to bite the hand that feeds you.
If you want return business (and who doesn’t?) you need to be open to any suggestion, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. In fact, I always tell new clients at the beginning of our first session that they can tell me ANYTHING. And then I add:
“I have a very thick skin.”
This usually breaks the ice, and it creates a relaxed atmosphere. We sometimes forget that clients can be apprehensive too. They’re unsure what to tell the talent, and they don’t want to come across as a total nitwit.
So, whatever clients throw at me, I will VALIDATE. Even if it doesn’t make sense.
I’ll tell them:
“That’s actually a very helpful suggestion. Thank you.”
Why do I do that?
If you validate their instructions it makes the client feel good about him- or herself, and makes them feel good about you. And when they feel good about you, they’re more likely to accept your interpretation of their script.
Simply put, validation creates a positive connection and removes resistance.
Of course you won’t always fully understand what they’re trying to tell you. Language can be ambiguous. Under normal circumstances people don’t always communicate clearly. But even if you have no clue what the client wants you to do, PRETEND that you do. Acting is pretending anyway, so you’re only doing your job.
Ultimately, most clients want to have options, and you have to give them something to choose from. Of course they’re not going to accept your very first take. That would mean that YOU are in charge. Clients need to demonstrate that THEY run the show, so, LET THEM!
THE WEIRDEST SUGGESTION EVER GIVEN TO ME
When I was just getting started in voice overs, I was too eager to please, and I sounded overly friendly ALL the time. Secretly, I really wanted to be liked.
One client wouldn’t have any of it. He thought I sounded too lame and tame, and told me:
“For Pete’s sake, Paul… Put a big, spicy poblano pepper up your ass, and read those lines again!”
Oddly enough, I knew exactly what he meant, and it had the desired effect.
Luckily, I have a very thick skin!
PS If you’re a client who is unsure how to work with voice talent, I highly recommend listening to Samantha Boffin’s podcast Talking Creative (yes, the bold text in blue is a hyperlink). It’s the podcast that looks at voice over direction from both sides of the mic, “helping you find, prep and direct the perfect voice artists for your projects – so you can get the most from every. single. booking.” Even as a seasoned voice talent and coach I have learned so much from listening to Sam’s podcast.
PPS This blog post is a longer version of a story I published on the Nethervoice Instagram account. On Insta I write a new short story every day, and if you’ve enjoyed this contribution, I hope you’ll follow me @nethervoice.
Paul Payton says
“Perfect. Now do it this way.” (we all get that one)
“Can you sound taller and with more hair?” (stolen from a New Yorker cartoon)
“Can you do it faster but make it sound slower?” (really happened to me)
“Again.” (No additional direction, repeated for hours. My agent got me $1500 extra for that insanity – and the client asked me back!)
(after 87 takes following conflicting directions from a multi person client) “Well, why didn’t you do it that way the first time?!?”
Actually, I did.The engineer told me later they bought take 3.
Steve Krumlauf says
Were you able to eventually remove the spicy poblano pepper after the session, Paul? (Sorry. Just couldn’t resist!)
Joshua Alexander says
Haha! So true. I’ve written blogs about this before as well because this is an issue of epidemic proportions: clients who just don’t know what they don’t know. God bless ’em! It helps to validate for sure, but I also believe in taking charge and helping to establish some ground rules from the start so that they don’t beat the script to death. I once did a directed session where I did THREE HUNDRED AND SIX READS for a 30 second script! They wanted 17 lines delivered 18 different ways, for crying out loud. It was the dreaded “We got it! But just for giggles, and just so we have it, can we maybe try ___________________?” (insert your favorite unnecessary variation here). It was completely opposite from my audition and the reason I was cast, and had nothing to do with the stated direction of the voiceover script.
PS, sorry about the pepper. I hope the proctologist didn’t cost too much?
Paul Payton says
Gotta add one more: I was doing a multi-voice session in the waning days of analog tape and a famous and astoundingly talented New York DJ was doing the “announcer” part. They gave him 15 seconds of copy and 9 seconds to read it. He kept coming close, and after a dozen or so takes took a deep breath and said, “Let me try this.” Whatever he did it worked – he got it in nine! Then client gets on the intercom: “Yeah, good, but it sounded too professional!” Everyone flipped out, especially since we were all doing it “on the cheap” for a friend who owned the studio. Needless to say, it was a memorable event for every wrong reason! (But I did get to work with a radio idol….)