When You Do A Lot Of Live Sessions, What Makes One Standout?
As a full-time, professional voice over actor, I typically have multiple live sessions every week. Most of my clients prefer Source Connect, and in truth I am so used to that at this point that I do too. On Monday morning, my first session of the week, with new clients, was over Teams. That was fine, so that was the first item that stood out. The second was that I was the only one with my camera on. Next, we were all in different countries. I was in the United States, and they were scattered from Italy to the UAE to Bahrain to India. I believe there were nine of us on the call, but possibly more. This session was different because this group was very chatty and wanted to talk amongst themselves a lot. They also wanted me to hang out while they edited their video, which is not standard, but luckily I had time on the other end and I could accommodate. So, from the get go, this session was different in all kinds of ways.
Why I Was SO Excited About this One
Well, if you know me you know I love chocolate. If I had to have one food on a deserted island, it would be chocolate. This commercial was for Ferrero Rochet. Not only do I particularly enjoy their delicious candy, but I also love that it is a brand that is eaten all over the world. This spot will run in the entire GCC, in places like the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and more. I think it is pretty awesome that this little candy also serves as a cultural bridge of sorts. When I think about many of these places that will view my spot, none of which I have ever had the privilege of visiting, and I think about their culinary traditions, I confess that I never imagined this decadent chocolate as part of it. I was delighted to know that we share this.
We Have More In Common
At the start of the session, the creative director wanted to make sure that I understood both the branding and the traditions surrounding Ramadan in the region. While I had, as I always do, done brand research in advance of the session, I was very pleased to learn about the traditions surrounding Ramadan, like the way that they decorate their homes with twinkle and fairy lights, in the importance of gracious hospitality in this festive holiday season. He also spoke of the emphasis of the changing and more egalitarian roles that their footage was clearly depicting. As I watched the footage and listened, I was struck by how many common shared values our cultures shared, especially with all of the spring holidays coming in the States. I was delighted by what I learned and it certainly informed my read.
The Technical Stuff
The trend for almost all my commercial bookings of late is the conversational read. Clients always want the reads to sound authentic, like I am talking to a friend. Well, authentic and relatable were not the sought after tones in this session. And don’t forget, that when taking direction, it is about giving the client exactly what they ask for. I happen to know the brand well as I often transcribe their scripts when coaching. Yet, the direction that I got went well beyond what I anticipated. The clients wanted every word of every line to be measured. In the VO coaching world we often say that if everything is important then nothing is important. But the client wanted every word emphasized the same way, and he gave precise readings for how he wanted each line broken down. The pacing was not conversational. He did not want the rhythm and the cadence to vary. He wanted every. Single. Word. Measured.
Pronunciation was another interesting part of the direction. Even though the team specifically wanted a voice actor with an American accent, certain words were non-negotiable. One of those words was “Ramadan.” They instructed me to pronounce it like rum-a-done. Next, the word “sweeter” was very important. They wanted me to hit the “ter” hard. We never do that here, but that is how they wanted the word said. So, that is how I did it.
Don’t Sound Happy. Umm, What?
Perhaps the most confusing bit of direction was the “don’t sound happy.” If you don’t already know, my tagline used to be “The Sound of Happy.” So, my voice sounds pretty happy, just on its own, without doing anything, this is how I sound. This bit of direction was tricky. I’m sitting there reading a script about a product I love, with a care bare hanging over my head (because it makes me happy) trying to sound, basically, unlike myself. I decided to flatten out the read and just try to be void of all emotion. I had to stop smiling, which is also hard because I am a smiley kind of gal. I did, in that moment though, question their casting choice.
Not all live sessions are the same. Give yourself the grace and time to listen to what the clients want. If they want a live session, it is either because the really want to direct you, because they are legally obligated to have someone on the team present when you record, or because they cannot please the commercial script without being there. All of these things matter, a lot. So make it great for them. Don’t talk money during the session, ever. This session ran over in time which almost never happens with me. Most of my sessions are pretty short. My instinct was to say nothing and smile while they chatted about their choices and options. Afterwards I spoke with the producer and he confirmed that it never goes well when the VoiceOver actors start talking about money and time with the end users, who typically have nothing to do with our rates. In the end, smile and breathe and hope that they have the courtesy of sharing the final cut with you to promote!