A brunette man in a plaid shirt with blue headphones around his neck stares at a computer screen with a confused expression as if he's trying to decipher a voice over script.

How Voice Talent Can Approach Clients with Scripting Concerns

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How many times have you landed a voice over job only to be met with a ‘head scratcher’ of a script? Where’s the artistic direction? Where’s the punctuation? How is an acronym supposed to be pronounced? Is the number meant to be read out with “zero” or “o”? What do clients mean when they describe their ideal voice as ‘believable’?

Voice actor, Brian Kirchoff, provides tips on how he navigates the client and voice actor relationship, in order to get clear and actionable answers to questions like these…questions that clients may not think of themselves.

Brian is a 20-year veteran of the voice over industry, getting his start in radio where he gained an additional 15 years of booth experience before beginning his 20-year career of full-time voice acting. Brian’s YouTube channel – The Voiceover Page – covers topics such as script reads, marketing, interacting with clients, using websites like Voices.com, leveraging voice coaches, and much more.

Addressing Hard-to-Pronounce Vocabulary in a Voice Over Script

Brian narrates for medical and tech companies on the regular, and therefore stumbles upon industry jargon and medical terminology that, to someone outside of the industry, would be difficult to pronounce confidently.

When he’s met by scripts with words like ‘Amblyopia,’ for instance, Brian often asks clients to record themselves saying the terminology using their cell phones, and to send the recording to him (often referred to as a scratch track).

Before Brian encountered the efficiency of the ‘scratch track’, he would engage the client for a directed session. He’d record the entire session to capture clients saying the hard-to-pronounce jargon. But he found that it created even more work to sift through the full session recording to locate the precise moment where the client says the term. When Brian can get the client to record themselves only saying the tricky vocab, he can be quickly reminded of the pronunciation and continue on with his own recording.

Researching Pronunciation On Your Own

It’s important to note that not every difficult-to-pronounce word requires that you contact the client. Some are easily researched online, and by taking the reigns into your own hands on the more common tongue twisters, you may find that you actually save even more time.

For the times that he wants to research jargon for himself, Brian uses Webster’s dictionary online, but keeps in mind that different parts of the United States (let alone parts of the world) say things differently. So, another expert move that Brian has undertaken, includes digging into clients’ companies’ online content, such as videos, webinars, podcasts and more, to look for specific jargon spoken out loud.

The good news is that you don’t have to lose sleep over pronunciations in auditions. Even though pronouncing the words properly is always important, in Brian’s experience,  it’s quite uncommon for a voice actor to lose a voice over job if they mispronounce industry jargon in an audition.

“If they like your sound, the mispronunciation won’t be a show-stopper.” 

Asking for Stronger Artistic Direction in a Voice Over Script

In the best case scenario, the client has provided everything you need to hop into the studio and confidently deliver the voice over read that they’re looking for. But don’t be disappointed if that’s not the case right away. In Brian’s experience, asking for clarification on vocal direction is more commonplace. He mentioned that in an ideal scenario, where he’s received solid direction in a job description, he may only spend 5 to 10 minutes on an audition.

Read Brian’s tips on providing great vocal direction.

However, when vocal direction is lacking (either somewhat or altogether), Brian expects to take longer in the audition process, as he breaks down the cryptic artistic direction and scripting. As a tip to potential clients, he offers that “It’s not that using vague adjectives like ‘believable’ is a bad thing. Those words just need to be paired with more artistic direction around what they mean to the client.”

In one of his YouTube videos, he discusses a job that he was contemplating auditioning for, but found the artistic direction difficult to interpret.

Since Brian does a lot of long form narration, before the project begins he reassures clients to ‘not be shy’ when it comes to artistic direction. Sometimes clients need to be prompted into providing crystal clear direction, and reminded that voice actors benefit from knowing what not to do as well.

Deciphering a Poorly Written Script

It’s a common occurrence for voice actors – being given a script that was clearly not written by scriptwriter.

During his interview for this article, Brian shared a chuckle-worthy story about working with an international client who needed an instructional voice over for an event. The client had obviously written the script in their native language and used a tool like Google Translate to translate it to English. It returned a hilariously incorrect translation, which requested that guests “Please turn off their flashlights,” rather than “Please turn off their cellphones.”

In cases like this, how does a voice actor approach the client to clarify overall script intent?

Whether it’s the hard-to-pronounce vocabulary, acronyms, phone numbers, or vague artistic direction, Brian advises that a last resort measure is to record a handful of different reads to cover your bases, and hope you’ve provided what the client had intended.

This last resort tactic is most applicable for smaller projects. Long form narration requires setting the standard on these types of questions before the project begins, as mentioned earlier.

What else can a voice actor do to help decipher poorly written scripts, get stronger artistic direction, and address hard-to-pronounce industry jargon? Share your insights in the comments below.

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