We’ve all heard nonsensical vocal direction but few of us are given the opportunity to share it!
Recording in a studio outside of your home affords you interesting opportunities to be directed and to receive interesting direction.
I’m curious to learn more about the funniest, most absurd or ridiculous vocal direction ever given… anything that made you scratch your head or crack you up?
Share the most ridiculous voice over direction you’ve ever received here with your friends on VOX Daily!
Bizarre Vocal Direction
Every now and then as a voice over artist, you may be given seemingly abstract direction… here are just a handful of examples.
“I have heard sooooo many. Examples – First direction from client, “Can you do a wry read for me? After first take – ‘OK that was good — this time, how about……’toasted’ wry?’ Another example, ‘can you make it sound a little more purple?'”
— Billy Serow
“…less snakey and more lizardy…”
— Herb Merriweather
“If we are comparing rainbow colours, I’ve had ‘can you make it more orange?.’ I just re-read it with a slight smile and the producer said ‘that’s perfect!'”
— Louisa Gummer
“Of course, there’s the classic New Yorker cartoon of the producer directing the talent: ‘Can you do it a little taller and with more hair?'”
— Paul Payton
“Doing radio spots in the ’70s, one client wanted a ‘voice like a rusty old hinge’ and another wanted ‘a quiet shout’. Sorry I can’t recall the copy or the details, but those two phrases are etched in my memory. I satisfied both requests.”
— Mike Scullin
“Didn’t receive this one, but heard of it and think of it often: ‘Could you spray a little chrome on it?'”
— Rick Ellis
“Here’s a good one: I was putting together a demo tape of song intros (this was Contemporary Hit Radio, back in the ’80’s!) and my producer friend suggested I ululate as a bridge between cuts…!”
— Dan Deslaurier
“Oh there have been so many… My favorite was ‘Do it again. Just better.’ or ‘I know this is :60 seconds of copy and we are needing it to be a :30 but can you still sound relaxed and leisurely?'”
— Mercedes Rose
“The funniest, most absurd, or ridiculous voice over direction I ever received was for a cold product. I had to sneeze and the end of the copy, I sneezed a few times and the direction I received was make it ‘wetter’, the next direction was make it more ‘Living roomy and wetter.'”
— John di Domenico
“I think the best is ‘No, she’s not British. She’s English. You know, from England!'”
— Candace Werry
“I was producing a session recently for a major NY agency where the ‘creatives’ felt that the Voice wasn’t making the tagline we were recording sound ‘purple’ enough… it was for a well-known soft drink. ‘It just doesn’t sound purple to us, and blackcurrants are purple, right?’, they kept saying.
It was taking hours to do a job that should have taken minutes. Voice stressed, creatives stressed, bad, bad atmosphere. Told them all to take a break and go outside the control room. Then promptly found an early take that was fine, chopped it out and cleaned the clicks n stuff… called them all back in, told them I’d ‘processed’ it with some ‘special plugins’ and time expanded it here and there (I hadn’t done anything but comp and clean)… Result? They all loved it. Job done.
Turns out they weren’t able to get the original voice they wanted.
Best one though, in my early days of engineering was when a ‘director’ told the Voice to ‘imagine you are in a jungle… how would you speak there?’ (The character was supposed to be… ‘in a jungle’) The voice replies ‘Yeah! I know what you mean! Thanks’ One take. Job done.
It ain’t all about the Roosevelts baby, it’s all about perception… and confidence.”
— Danny de Matos
Confusing Vocal Direction
“Okay, I want you to do it like that again, only a little less, but more so.”
— Melba Sibrel
Could you try and sound MORE phlegmy?” to this day I’m sure gravelly was the term they were after, but that’s the direction I got!
— Jef Brown
“I think this one needs a little more …… well you know what I mean.”
— Michael James Brown
“No I’m not getting a tree there. It’s not sounding like a tree to me. Could you be more tree like? More bark and a little greener possibly?”
— Jonathan Kydd
“I have a pal who was asked to sound ‘a little taller.'”
— Sean Sullivan
“I had it all. ‘Can you make it like Chinese, but in French?’ ‘Can you go even deeper, but in a light sort of way?’ ‘Can you do it more modern, but ageless and classic at the same time?’ ‘We booked you because we want your voice and nobody else’s, we know you are French and cannot do UK RP accent when recording in English because of that and love your French accent in English, but could you record in RP English for us anyway please?'”
— Pierre MaubouchÃ©
“In 1998 I was asked to VO for the German Tourist Industry a script was sent through as a parody of the infamous ‘Nuremburg Speech’. From what I recall, it went something like this.
‘Nicht hundert tausend, nicht zweihundert tausend oder drei hundert tausend aber das deutsche Touristengewerbe des Ganzen werden zu den Britischen StrÃ¤nden fÃ¼r den Sommer vorangehen. Churchills Luftwaffe gewinnt nicht den Kampf fÃ¼r die Himmel. Lufthansa ist frei, an jedem Flughafen in GroÃŸ Britannien zu. Fliege Lufthansa dieser Sommer – GroÃŸ Britannien begrÃ¼ÃŸt Sie…’
Which translates as:
‘Not one-hundred thousand, Not two hundred thousand or three hundred thousand but the whole German tourist industry will be heading to British beaches for the summer. Churchill’s air force will not win the battle for the skies. Lufthansa will be free to land at every airport in Great Britain. Fly Lufthansa this summer – Great Britain welcomes you.’
And they say only the British have a strange sense of humour…”
— Anton Lang
Funny Vocal Direction
“Can you sound like a Mother who actually ‘likes’ her kids?”
— Alexandra Barta
“I had a producer ask me if I could do a ‘chipmunk’ voice. I laughed and joked, ‘Sure, if I had some helium!’ He then walked over to a storage closet and brought out a huge inflated balloon bouquet and said, ‘Great! Let’s get to it!’ Very fun gig, by the way!”
— Laura Branch Mireles
“I have a few of those stories but the most recent is when I started being played on national radio in Finland for a certain leading cola brand. One of my friends thinks I sound like a cross between Sean Connery and an infamous Finnish ski jumper. Anyway, he asked me to make a voice message for his answering machine (in my best Sean Connery) at his job and now he gets lots of blank messages because people just call up to hear it. As a result I’m currently working on a comedy character in that imitation voice. It sheems to impresh lotsh of people, which is rather shplendid, yesh yesh:)”
— Ian Burden
Questionable and Offensive Vocal Direction
Some of the talent who submitted stories for this article, and I’m sure many others can also relate, have received not only odd but uncomfortable and embarrassing vocal direction, particularly relating to race and sex.
While I have made a conscious decision not to include those stories, I want to stress that you may encounter offensive direction or treatment in your career and I apologize if you already have.
Should you find that you’re in a similar situation, you do have rights and I hope you exercise them to both remove yourself from the situation and stand up for yourself.
Unreasonable Vocal Direction
You’ll find that some direction is completely ridiculous and impossible to deliver on. Here are a few instances of some very silly and nonsensical expectations.
“I have one client that always wants to squeeze as much copy into their spots as possible. One of my favorite comments was when a revision was submitted on a spot that already had about :22 seconds of copy read at lightning speed. The client called and said, ‘We had a copy change so we are adding 2 lines. We also need you to shave :03 seconds off the read to make room for the tag.’
Time to reach for the Time Squeeze button.”
— Keith Alan
“A friend of mine just shared this with me – I find it incredulous! He walked away from the job and didn’t even bother to audition. Can you blame him?
All reading is with energy unless otherwise noted:
– Black is read in a factual voice but with energy
– Red is HIGH energy
– Blue is conversational — just talk to the listener
– Green is relaxed almost a secret
– Lines or dots represent a slight pause without energy lost — usually to set up a slight emphasis of the next phrase
– Italics or bold indicate emphasis
– Things in parentheses should be spoken almost like an afterthought or an “aside”
– An underline indicates a slower pace or sometimes maybe each, word, separated, a little for emphasis”
— Laura Martin
“Listening remotely during a voiceover session with one of my junior producers I once heard her direct the voiceover actor thusly, ‘That was weird. Can you do it again?’ At that point I hired a voiceover coach to work once a week with my entire producer staff to insure that they understood voiceover from both sides of the microphone. Equally funny, is how difficult it can be, even for the best directors, to convey an abstract idea to a novice VO talent. Eventually, the director gives up and says, ‘Thank you that was great.’ and then calls the agency for someone else. The talent, unfortunately, may never know what happened.”
— Rudy Gaskins
“The first thing that occurred to me with this, was a phone call I received from a ‘casting director’ in Las Vegas. He sounded very legit, and was doing some commercial for a cold remedy, and wanted a natural and very large sneeze, and was ready to audition me right over the phone. That sounded a little odd, but in this business, you hear lots of things and just go along, so I agreed. He coached me over the phone, and wanted to make sure I could create it (and not just fake it) so he told me to get some white pepper and sniff it up my nose, to help me to sneeze. I went ahead and followed the direction (we actors can be really gullible at times) but didn’t have much success. I found out later that there were other talents that got the same ‘prank’ call. Someone out, just getting their jollies I guess. Maybe you’ll get more than one of these stories.”
— Debbie Grattan
“I had a situation at a major New York studio (the client will remain nameless in print) with a 5-sentence ad. ‘Just do what’d you’d no normally, and then we’ll work on it with you.’ Work, indeed – SEVEN people from the client/agency end, each giving their own contradictory direction, and demanding that I follow it. My now-forced smile was wearing down rapidly. By about take 87, the ‘lead client’ said, again but frustratedly this time, ‘Oh, just do what you would do normally!’ So I essentially gave them the first take over again – and the client had the temerity to say, ‘Well, why didn’t you do that in the first place?!?’ And finally, after 89 takes, it was over!
Post-script: I’m walking down to the elevator and the engineer runs after me and says, ‘I hope you don’t think that was about you; the client had six toadies there and they all had to get their fingerprints on you to prove they earned their free lunch at the session! You had it by take 2 – maybe take 5 if they wanted to be nasty!’
I had another experience with a ‘screamer’ session that was supposed to be two 30s and wound up being elements for about three dozen spots (regional tags, various price points, etc.). The director didn’t direct – he just kept saying ‘again’ ‘again’ ‘again’ with no hint of whether he wanted the same thing or something different. After 3 1/2 hours of this, and having gotten through only two pages of the three pages of multiple lines they came in with, I finally said, ‘I have about 15 minutes of voice left – tell me what you need so that I still sound good when we come to the end.’ The best I could get from him was ‘A little more up’ and ‘A little more down.’ (Another post-script: I called my agent, who negotiated a hefty raise for the session – and the client still had me back three more times for additional campaigns!)
I don’t specifically remember most of the good sessions because, happily, there are so many that go so well. But I know the best thing to hear: it’s something like ‘Do what you do – it’s why we hired you!'”
— Paul Payton
What’s the Funniest, Most Bizarre or Ridiculous Direction You’ve Had?
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the stories. Can you relate to any of them?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and add your voice to the conversation.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Â©iStockphoto.com/Joan Vicent CantÃ³ Roig