Sound Stories #026 – Diffusing Tension for a Successful Session

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    A recording session can quickly go off the rails, leaving the talent and director frustrated. Sunday Muse shares tips for both voice actors and directors for helping a session get back on track if frustrations arise.

    Sunday Muse – Great Big Voices: http://greatbigvoices.com/

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #026

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Hi there. And welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co-founder of voices.com. There’s nothing like the feeling of having your whole team in alignment. You’re going forward with a shared vision and feel so safe enough with one another, that you can even toss your craziest ideas into the hat, knowing full well that your creativity won’t be looked down upon. But, what happens when tensions rise, miscommunications fire back and forth, and all of a sudden, you just don’t know what to do. You need to press the reset button, but how?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Sunday Muse is a celebrity voice actor and voice coach with experience directing voice actors in studio. She has worked within the commercial and animation sectors for decades, including on cartoons like Total Drama Island and Hotel Transylvania. Sunday has a particular teaching style that helps to connect creatives to get the best reads possible. During her time in the studio, she’s gained experience with what happens when projects start to go off the rails. Now today, she’s going to share some of those tips with us and tricks for how the production team can regroup to create a space where the voiceover artists and producers involved can thrive. Welcome to the show Sunday.

    Sunday Muse:

    Thank you. Glad to be here, Stephanie.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And we go back a long way, so I’m just so grateful that you’re on the show. We connected a couple months ago and had a wonderful lunch, and this topic came up somehow along the way. And you being a voice artist and a coach have experienced this from both sides of the glass, if you will. So, in your experience Sunday, can you tell us when a voiceover project is starting to go off course? How do you know?

    Sunday Muse:

    Well, usually as the voice actor, if something’s going off the rails, you’ll start to feel a lot of tension. There may be a lot of, when the director is speaking to you, there may be a particular tone that he or she is using that is just not feeling good to the voice actor. It may be something like a kind of frustration or angry tone that’s coming out. And sometimes, you’ll even pick up a tension in the actual sound studio where the producers and director are sitting. And you just kind of feel something’s going on and something isn’t quite right. And when you yourself are getting anxious because you’re not getting a take, you’re not understanding what they want, your nerves start going, you might start to sweat. So that would be on the voice actor’s side of something’s going off the rails here.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    All right. So that’s what happens with voice talent, but when your director, and in you’re in studio and maybe the same situation is unfolding, how do you know that it is actually turning into a session that could go off the rails too?

    Sunday Muse:

    So perhaps the producer and director aren’t communicating properly. Meaning the producer is thinking, and it’s like, you know the expression we’re taught one person’s talking Russian and the others speaking Chinese. So basically, the producer’s not communicating with the director in a way that the director understands and the director is the one who’s communicating most of the time, with the voice actor. So that would be a beginning point. If there’s tension between those two people, then that would start to set things in a funny motion. Another example would be the voice director is trying to get the voice actor to communicate the way that he or she wants them to say the line, and the voice actor isn’t getting it. And so the director, instead of encouraging the voice actor, starts to get frustrated themselves. They start getting frustrated and that starts to affect their tone.

    Sunday Muse:

    And so that, right in and of itself, the director might be thinking, “Why isn’t this voice actor communicating the line and saying the way that I want them to say it?” Another example is the director might be thinking, “How come this voice actor isn’t getting what it is I’m trying to express to them? Why does it feel like they don’t understand?” Why isn’t the voice actor better than they are? So these are the kinds of thoughts that a director might be having that’s actually blocking the whole process of getting the line or the paragraph, whatever’s being recorded. In that case, things start to go a bit hairy.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    All right. So earlier in our intro, and we were just talking a little bit about how the word triggered, when you say that someone has been triggered, is this them feeling threatened? As you kind of described earlier, where a talent might freeze up and start to panic a bit. How might we frame that so we understand what it would mean to be triggered in the studio environment.

    Sunday Muse:

    Yes. A voice actor being triggered means that, first of all, they start to feel really insecure and they start wondering, what am I doing wrong? Why can’t I get this? Why is that director talking to me with that tone? Why aren’t they satisfied with the take I just gave? The director just gave me a line read and I gave them the line read exactly as they gave it. How come I’m not getting this? Wow. There’s a lot of silence going on, what’s what’s happening? I don’t know what to do. I’m going into the internal dialogue of a voice actor. Then, for instance, another form of a trigger would be you start feeling angry. You’re feeling really angry at the director for the way that you’re being directed. If you’re feeling angry, you’re triggered. Something’s off and then you don’t know what to do with it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    No. Well described there Sunday. What are some of those ways that if it is the actor that has been triggered and they are kind of having a lot of difficulty delivering what it is that they’re meant to do in the studio that day, how can everyone in that room help that actor to get back on track and to feel good about themselves?

    Sunday Muse:

    Yes. There are several ways that I can suggest. One way would be to ask a question such as, could you give me an example of an environmental setting that you would like me to say this line from? Could you give me an example of where we’re located? What the tone is? Is it intimate? Is it sexy? Is it as though we’re at a bar talking to a bunch of people? Is there a way for you to give me some insight into how you want it delivered with a little bit more visual clarity so that I can help you get what you need? So that is one example is to ask the question, ask them using the words, something like, can you help me understand a little bit more about the delivery other than just the sound of it, but rather what the location is? Is it like I’m talking to my best friend? Or is it like I’m talking to a group of kids or a baby? Just to give me some wider range, in which to play with so I can give you what you want.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Right. So what you’ve just explained there is helping someone to visualize what it is that you would like them to do. I know a lot of voice actors do this, but just in their own studio environments, they’ll have a picture of maybe where it is that they are in the voiceover script and be at a beach, or what not, to help it seem more real. So certainly. I think that helps to bring more grounding to the situation, for sure.

    Sunday Muse:

    Yes. There are several ways. Another way would be to give them some examples of tone in your voice. For instance, do you want it more in this realm, or do you want it more perky in this realm? Just keep giving them some examples of your voice. So sometimes a producer and director, they’ll hear something and go, “Yes! Like that, but with less volume, closer to the mic, more intimate.” That’s, I’d say example number two. Example number three, if things are really tense and your inquiry isn’t working, and your voice examples aren’t working, in that case, I would say perhaps request five minute break. And in that space, because you’ve been triggered, make sure you get your breath going. The best place to spend some time away from a theme, in any case, is get to a bathroom. I know it sounds funny, but it’s private.

    Sunday Muse:

    And as a voice actor, you need your voice. If your voice is challenged and you’re feeling angry, or you’re feeling upset, or extremely frustrated and pent up over not getting something, you have to start breathing. Because what happens is you stop breathing when you get triggered. As humans, all humans do that. We stop breathing. So the first thing is to get your breasts going and somehow making contact with your body. Whether that’s rubbing your hands together, or rubbing the top of your head is a great one for just reconnecting you to your belly, to your breath, because that’s the support as the actor, it has to come from there.

    Sunday Muse:

    And a fourth example or suggestion would be to use your voice somehow. So let’s say you’re in a private space, whether that’s a bathroom or wherever you are, maybe you have to go out to your car. I don’t know what the situation is, but you’ll figure it out. To let some sound out. So maybe that’s a sigh and it’s the sigh that’s not a pretty sigh. It’s a sigh of frustration. So you have to keep connecting to your voice because that’s the part that gets clenched when you get triggered. So maybe it’s “Oh, oh.” It doesn’t sound great, but it feels good to let that out because you have to keep the voice going. So those would be my four suggestions for dealing with a trigger as a voice actor.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, those are great. Because tension often resides in the place that you use most, that you’ll be affected by. So if you’re an actor and it’s your instrument, your voice, and that’s where it’s going to hide. And that’s a perfect idea for what somebody can do. Oh, I’m just thinking from the producer standpoint and a director and anyone who’s kind of there, who’s running this project, and time is money, and nobody wants to cancel a session, no one wants to rebook it and try to figure out everybody’s schedules again. The best possible outcome, is that they’re able to salvage that session and get through it. And what should we model ourselves after, if we’re actually in the director’s chair, and we feel that empathy, that compassion, we want to do something, but we also are cognizant of the fact that time is money and we need to get this show on the road?

    Sunday Muse:

    Good question. So from a director’s perspective, you want to be able to use some vocabulary that a voice actor understands. So for instance, if you’re just giving them line reads, or telling them, “No, that’s not right, try it again.” It needs to be higher. It needs to be lower. It needs to be quieter. If you’re only giving them sort of limited directions and they’re not getting it, as a director, you have to open the whole field of awareness to meet the voice actor and communicate with them in a way that they might understand if they’re not getting what you already are trying to get them to do.

    Sunday Muse:

    For instance, give them an environment. Where’s the setting that you imagine this copy to be taking place? Is it as though they’re walking their dog in the forest and they’re talking to themselves? Is it as though they’re pulling groceries off the shelf and thinking to themselves or talking out loud? What’s the environment or what’s the emotional content? What’s the delivery like? Does it sound mischievous? Does it sound kind of threatened? Give them an idea so that you, as the director and producer, you’re starting to think outside the box, other than just, “We need to hear the line the way we need to hear the line.” So another example would be give them some kind of action.

    Sunday Muse:

    I.e. they’re jogging. They’re talking to a senior citizen at a seniors home who isn’t feeling well. So again, you’re giving them an action. Something that’s creating the motion of the story moving forward in their voice. Another way would be to give them a physical gesture to use while they’re delivering this spot. Something like, cross your arms or shrug your shoulders. That’s a really popular one. Can you kind of shrug your shoulders when you say that line? So that it’s like, Yeah, I don’t know, give me the sense of shrugging the shoulders, or pointing your finger while you talk, you’re making a point, or rubbing your hand through your hair across the top. You know how a lot of people do that. That’s an action that really relaxes the way in which we say something. These are gestures that people use in everyday life.

    Sunday Muse:

    Or start talking a little more with your hands. Can you get your hands up and kind of just pretend you’re really engaging with someone, so that you’re expressing with your hands? Express a little bit with your face. Go a little bit bigger. Hands on your hip. That’s a great one for being very matter of fact. And these are very popular ways of delivering all different reads, whether it’s commercial, or it’s animation, it doesn’t matter.

    Sunday Muse:

    So those would be the first way and in terms of, opening the field of awareness, and just bringing some attention to how a voice actor might understand your direction better. And last but not least, would be that your job as a director is to encourage a voice actor. So if you’re getting frustrated, they don’t need to know, keep it to yourself. When you push that talk back button, encourage them say, “Good job, just one second” Turn the talk back button off and then talk to the producer, whoever’s in the room, or if you’re feeling like, “Oh my gosh, they’re not getting this.” It’s not your job to communicate that to the voice actor. So you need to work together. So that’s why I say, a great director says things like, “Great! We’ll get right back to you, just one second,” or , “Good job! Yes, we’re almost there.” Words of encouragement, encourage your voice actors. It’s so important.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    So Sunday, I think those are wonderful suggestions for anyone who’s listening on how they can bring a situation back. Now just thinking, if someone actually did think that there should be a break in the session, how can that director create a space where it doesn’t look like this break is happening because the actor can’t get their stuff together? How can you make this a way that no one feels like it’s a problem, but it’s giving everyone permission to just take five?

    Sunday Muse:

    So a director might say, “We’re going to take five.” The voice actor just needs to get some water for their throat. They might say, “We’re going to take a quick five minute bathroom break.” Or I think that the basic thing here is to keep it really simple and yeah, not placing the blame on anyone. So these are very neutral things in which anyone can say getting some water. I personally think that would be the best one. I think those are pretty common and popular as far as just breaking any kind of tension so that things don’t get worse. Just keep it as very simple, neutral thing. Yeah.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. That’s great. I’ve been in studio environments and have had wonderful experiences with people who are engineers, or directors, or even just watching workshops happen. And it’s great to see an environment that is working well. I know that just in business in general, it’s always good to have a scheduled bio break, right? Where you know you can look forward to it at this time. Maybe after so much recording time, you have to go have a break. I don’t know that there could be certain, we’ll particularly-

    Sunday Muse:

    Parameters

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    The union I know that there are likely breaks. And yeah, parameters, exactly. So just adopting more of that mindset perhaps, as a business person who’s in studio, would be helpful to the actor. Because then, if the actor truly is having an issue, then at least they can know that there’s a scheduled break, or that there’s a way that they can best bring up what it is that they might be having trouble with. Maybe everyone has kind of a code word or something that they say, well, I need to, if I say this or, make this gesture, or whatever it is through the glass, then that means that we need to take a quick one without having to disrupt too much.

    Sunday Muse:

    Yup, exactly. I completely agree that the whole team can have like a code word. I mean, I think that’s kind of brilliant, especially if they’ve encountered tension in sessions with a specific … If you’re a particular kind of director who tends to get agitated easily, have code words. I’m speaking sort of to the directors. If you’re that type of director who gets agitated and triggered yourself really easily, you kind of have to find ways to deal with it. It’s your responsibility. It’s not the voice actor, it’s not the producer, it’s not the engineer, it’s your responsibility. So, find ways, and code words are fantastic. Grab a glass of water. Your job is to break the tension. Especially if you, the director, have started the tension. Sometimes directors will bring that into a room. They’re having a bad day and it starts to come out on everything.

    Sunday Muse:

    And, at that point, just as a person in life, we have to just sort of take a step back and go, “What’s going on with me here?” Why am I so cranky? Or why am I getting so agitated with this voice actor? And that’s, in and of itself, that’s a reason to take a break. You’re not going to say that, but your responsibility is to break the tension. So if I were to create a heading for this, it would be take a break and break the tension. Breaks are brilliant. It’s like when you’re in real life, when you’re having a kind of confrontation or something with someone, the best thing you can do is to take a break and come back. Because you’re in a different mindset, you can cool down, or whatever it is that you need.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Absolutely. It’s the director, the onus is on them or on you, if you’re a director listening, to take control of the situation. This is something that is a project. This is a piece of copy. This is not something that needs to turn into anything beyond what it is. So I really appreciate what you’ve said about, they need to break the tension and they’re in a position to do so, because as an actor, you might not feel comfortable approaching someone, because you’re not the director, you’re not the copywriter. You’re just there and performing, right?

    Sunday Muse:

    That’s right. And a director’s job, even if you’re a beginning director, is it to learn how to communicate. That’s what a great director does. They know how to communicate to a voice actor. So take a voice act in class, find out what it’s like on the other side of the mic. Or if that doesn’t do it for you, that’s no interest to you, learn ways in which different people communicate or understand what you communicate. Some people are visual, some people are kinesthetic. Learn how to communicate. That’s why I was giving the examples of, what’s the emotion of this piece? What’s the environment? So that you’re constantly expanding your awareness because not all of us understand the same thing as the other. You may say something to me and I understand it, but the person beside me says, “What does she mean?” So it’s your job to know how to just expand your communication and practice.

    Sunday Muse:

    And you can make that a very fun thing to do. You want the best out of your voice actor. You want the best for the product onto the client. And so, create that for yourself as a director. Learn how to communicate.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Communication is really tricky for just about everybody. So I’m really glad that you’ve brought that to the forefront here because communication, especially in a creative environment where there are many different sorts of people and everyone’s got their own roles and you’re on a deadline, and tensions are high. You really do need to have somebody who can speak and to make things very clear. We’re all here together. We’re making something amazing. We’ve talked about how wonderful this will be. Now let’s just go do it.

    Sunday Muse:

    Exactly. And I mean this in the best way possible. Artists, all artists are sensitive people. When you are the voice actor and it’s your responsibility to read this particular line, to sell this product for those clients, you’re in an incredibly vulnerable and sensitive role. And directing a voice actor is a delicate balance. And it’s one that is … it’s just so vital that you honor the voice actor.

    Sunday Muse:

    You understand that really, at the end of the day, it’s going to be their voice selling this product. And so to handle them gently, be good to them, honor them. We are creating art and that is the biggest thing to remember at the end of the day, whether someone’s in a bad mood or not, you’ve got to step out of your way and just see what is it that we’re actually doing. We’re creating something together. And so get back to what the purpose of the session is all about, and let all that other stuff go. Tune in for that voice actor in the best way that you can. If you set a positive environment, everything will go smoothly. Even if the voice actor doesn’t get the line, the first three or four or five times, it will still be a smooth session if you set a positive environment.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well said. All right, so Sunday, you’ve done a great job describing what a director can do and how the onus is on them, really, to make sure that this is a great environment. People are comfortable in it. What can a voice actor do on the flip side, to prepare for that session so that they feel that they’re ready for this job?

    Sunday Muse:

    Great question. As a voice actor myself, it’s important to set intentions. So before you have a session, set your intention. Envision it. See exactly what it is that you want from the session today and how you want to be, and imagine your environment. There’s a lot of power in that. And it’s really important when we are doing our work that we love, but it takes maybe five minutes, sit down, close your eyes, and envision and imagine, what is it? What’s your intention for today’s work as a voice actor? And there are a variety of ways that connect to different people to practice some kind of physical activity. Whether that’s jogging or whether that’s yoga.

    Sunday Muse:

    I’m a huge fan of yoga. I’m a yoga teacher. So that’s a very important one for me. To dance. And I know it sounds funny, but it works. Put your best tunes on and dance to your favorite song. And what it does, is it shakes off any excess energy if you’re feeling nervous, it gets that off of you. That’s part of being ready as a voice actor. I grew up in the theater, and you have to be to go on stage. You can’t bring your bad day on stage with you. You have to sell that show. And so, it’s the same for a voice actor. So you want to find ways to connect to your voice and your body and whatever you’re doing. If it’s running, or yoga, or it’s pilates, it’s to get your breath going, dancing. Get your breath going. That’s what lets things go. The breath is what releases tension.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well said. Well Sunday, we’ve had a wonderful conversation here about all of these topics within a big topic of just how to be better coworkers, really, at the end of the day, to each other and in a studio environment. And Sunday hasn’t mentioned it here on the show, but she does train other people, a lot of children actually, which is very exciting. I remember your book launch in Toronto many years ago, but could you tell us just a little bit about that book and maybe how that would help parents with children who are voice actors and helping them be comfortable in studio?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yes, absolutely. So the book really focuses in on the process of developing a character and reading audition sides and how, you as a parent, can connect to your child and understand what voice acting is all about. What is this? How do you use your voice? What are the main things that shift your voice from just talking normally, to voice acting?

    Sunday Muse:

    The book also has a section on agents across North America, including the United States. And that’s something for parents and kids to really kind of, what is an agent all about? Do we even need an agent? Is that something we want? But there are options in the world of voiceover today. There are so many options, agent or no agent, but there is a section in the book that really expands on that as well and asks these top agents specific questions pertaining to voice acting and what it’s all about and how do you get work. But the book is really a fun way in which to connect with your child about voice acting. The book’s title is, You Can Do Cartoon Voices Too. And you can find it either on my website at greatbigvoices.com, or on Amazon.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well I say this has been a lovely chat, a heavy topic, but nonetheless, something that I think that we all need to look at as creatives. When you’re working in an environment that you know need to get the work done, we just all need to encourage each other. I think that’s what I’m taking away from what you’re saying here, is that when you have a positive environment and you’re all there focused on a common goal, then the session will go amazingly well, and the client will be so happy and it’ll all be because that unity was there. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today, Sunday, it was such a pleasure to talk to you.

    Sunday Muse:

    You too, Stephanie. Thank you so much as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for joining us for this episode of Sound Stories. If you like what you heard, you can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We hope to have you back for our next episode of Sound Stories.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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