What should do you with advertising copy? Is it inviolable or can you make little changes here and there if they better suit your read? Voice-over teacher, performer and producer Marc Cashman shares 4 tips and considerations for what you can and cannot do with ad copy to help make your auditions stand out and demonstrate that you as talent are not only capable but creatively attuned to the copy you’re reading.
Your Instructor this week:
MARC CASHMAN creates, casts and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television. Winner of over 150 advertising awards, and AudioFile Magazine’s “Best Voice of the Year” for 2008, he also instructs voice acting of all levels through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, CA, and across the country via tele-coaching. He can be contacted at [email protected] or his website, www.cashmancommercials.com.
In addition to his production schedule, he’s been an instructor at USC Graduate School and does pro bono work for numerous charitable and public service organizations. He instructs voice-acting of all levels through his online and tele-coaching programs, his V-O classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in state-of-the-art studios in Los Angeles, CA, and produces voice demos. He also contributes articles and podcasts through Voices.com, VoiceOverXtra.com and NowCasting.com.
What do we do with ad copy? To change or not to change? That is the question. Here are some things to consider:
1) Not all copy is engraved in stone. Copywriters make mistakes. They’re sometimes terrible spellers and even worse grammarians. If you see an obvious mistake, change it. Don’t be a voiceover lemming. 99 people out of a hundred will read the copy as-is. Think about what you’re reading, and if it doesn’t make sense, change it! I’m not talking about changing copy you don’t like, though. You shouldn’t be re-writing the copy. Just alter it to correct for mistakes or omissions or redundancies.
2) Never, ever change legal copy. It’s there because lawyers got paid to put it there; and don’t change corporate copy, e-Learning copy or any instructional text unless there’s an egregious grammatical error. Particularly for audiobooks. Then point it out to the client.
3) For first person copy, make it conversational. Use contractions consistently. Cannot=can’t, will not=won’t, would not=wouldn’t, etc. Copywriters are inconsistent with contractions, and don’t proofread their own copy. And judiciously and appropriately, insert the simple words and phrases we use in everyday conversation: “Y’know, y’see, well, like, hey, so, um, uh, I mean, yo!, I’m just sayin’,” etc. Also, if you have the opportunity, modernize words and phrases so they sound more conversational: “kind of” can sometimes be read “kinda.” “Give me” would work as “gimme.” “What do you” can turn into “Whaddaya,” all to get you speaking like a regular person.
4) If the copy’s really casual, consider dropping the “ings” off of words, particularly if the person talking is urban or rural. It’s just more of an American form of speech. You’ll find many examples of scripts that have “in’s” built into the copy, but inconsistently written. If you see an “in'” in a couple of places, apply them to all the “ing” words.
Why do I suggest doing this? Because most other voice actors won’t. They think the copy is inviolate. But it’s your job, when you submit an audition, to stand out from the rest. And not just stand out because your read is different, but because it’s better. If you take the time to enhance the copy a bit and make it make sense, and really sing, most copywriters will think, “This person gets it.” And by showing that you get it, you end up getting the job.
Now, there are a lot of voice instructors and casting directors who are diametrically opposed to altering one iota of copy in any script. I think it may be because they don’t want to ruffle the copywriter’s (or the client’s) feathers or make waves or whatever metaphor you want to use. If that’s the case, respect that. Do what they direct you to do. Or you might suggest doing two takes for your audition: one as written and the second as you think it should sound. Just remember: don’t change copy out of whole cloth. Just make it fit you. If you were to buy a pair of pants off the rack and they were too long, you’d hem them. If they were too big in the waist, you’d take them in (we should all have that problem!). The slight additions you make should enhance the copy, not distract from it. Be judicious in your alterations. Use them like condiments: tastefully and appropriately.