Voiceover Pick-ups and How To Avoid Them

13 July 2011
Comments: 19

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Dan Friedman, voiceover pick-upsVoiceover Pick-ups

By Dan Friedman

It happened today. I was asked which of the two voiceover talent the client had chosen would be better for a 12 minute narration. “Talent A” and “Talent B” are both seasoned veterans and have great voices and deliveries. The difference is that “Talent B” requires a great deal of time for editing pick-ups, mistakes and fumbled words. On a project this long, the additional time that will be required to work with “Talent B” will be costly to the client. Needless to say, for a job like this, I recommended “Talent A”.

People with stage and live performance experience know that there is only one chance to get it right. Film actors know that film is expensive and multiple takes could become costly. People who have been in the voice over industry for more than 15 years will probably remember working with tape. Tape was also expensive and editing with it was much more difficult and time consuming then digital editing is today. So while many of these expenses and difficulties are less of an issue today, frequent pick-ups are still a tremendous waste of time and can be costly for the client and (as you read in the introduction) for the talent as well.

There is no question that some scripts and styles of reads can be difficult. Fast disclaimers and long scientific or medical narrations can be extremely tricky. But professional voice talent should not struggle with a typical script such as one for a grocery store, car dealership, restaurant, or bank. If the script is written well, a professional voice talent should have little trouble delivering it. It is frustrating when a voice over “talent” is unable to get through more than a few sentences without multiple pick-ups… and don’t even get me started on the editing.

Editing should be a tool for choosing the perfect nuances, eliminating clicks, noises and other anomalies, removing breaths and trimming a read so that it will fit into time constraints. It should not be required to simply get a complete read. The edit desk is not supposed to look like a ransom note (thank you Amy Snively for that analogy).

This is a customer service issue. The time it takes to edit audio full of pick-ups, mistakes, and fumbles can be costly to the client. Voiceover artists who are frequent fumblers require additional time for both recording and editing. Even on straightforward editing jobs, clients as well as voice over talent are often best served using professional audio engineers and editors to edit their audio quickly. When multiple pick-ups are involved, the editors speed is even more important. But even more critical than speed is the engineer’s ability to make disconnected reads sound cohesive (deliveries lacking cohesion can occur easily when multiple pick-ups are involved). His or her editing experience often produces better results than the client or talent can achieve when trying to edit the audio themselves.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is a fact of life. However, if you as a voice over talent routinely have more pick-ups in your reads than an auto dealership in the South has pick-up trucks, then (like those trucks) you’ve got work to do.

Here are some tips:

1- Begin by getting your eyes checked regularly. This should be obvious. If you can’t see the script, how can you possibly read the script?

2- Prepare. Clients don’t always send the script in advance. But, when they do, as a professional voice talent you have a responsibility to prepare. Read the script, mark it up appropriately and ask questions (if you have any) before you start recording.

3- Mentally focus. Do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself to perform the read you are about to deliver. Deep cleansing breaths, reading silently to yourself for a couple of seconds, imagine someone with who you will communicate the message, whatever it is that works for you. Once you are focused… stay focused.

4- Don’t try to memorize. Don’t take your eyes off the page and think you’ll remember what was there. Read the words in front of you.

5- Anticipate. Especially if you didn’t get the script in advance. Anticipate what is coming next based on the words, sentence structure and your experience.

6- Break it up. Break the word or phrase up into smaller components and then pull it together as you repeat it.

7- Repetition. If a word or phrase is difficult for you to say, repeat it over and over again until you get comfortable with it.

8- Adjust your speed. Subtle changes in the speed of your delivery can make it easier to say difficult words or phrases.

9- Practice. Practice reading, out loud and fluently, all of the time.

10- Relax. This is your job. It is what you do. Relax… and make it happen.

Remember, this is a customer service issue. Voice talent who read fluidly, communicate effectively and require minimal editing provide a better experience for their clients. They also save the client valuable time and money.

If you have any additional thoughts or tips, I’d love to hear from you.

19 responses on “Voiceover Pick-ups and How To Avoid Them

  1. Bill DeWees says:

    LOL…I LOVE the title 🙂 Just goes to show that there is more that creates value for a voice talent than just having a great voice. Time is money and you’re right, this is what we do, we need to do it right, in a minimal amount of time and with few mistakes. Thanks Dan!

  2. Another great article by Dan.

    Eventually, however, he’ll realize that if he leaves the door open by beginning a great topic, that I will invariably show up with my two cents.

    In this case, some of what I’m offering is on-topic, and some is slightly off (wonder where *that* comes from?).

    Aside from pick-ups (or re-takes) required in the same session, there are those pick-ups that are required days, weeks, or even months later because of post-recording script changes (revisions). One of the best things a talent can do to move revision sessions along is develop an acute sense of critical listening. Because revisions – especially those made after considerable time has passed since the initial recording – require seamless edits; where no one (except you, the editor and director/client) can tell where the patches were made.

    This means paying very close attention to how you sound, making note in particular of your average proximity to your microphone. When the revision session begins and the engineer plays the portion of the original recording after which the revision will be made, also make note of your pacing (speed) and attitude. If you were smiling at that moment in the original recording, you need to match it in the pick-up. And pay attention to your energy/velocity (the level at which you were projecting your voice). You should be able to – as closely as possible – duplicate every nuance of your speech in the first recording.

    This is especially important if the engineer is going to attempt a punch-in edit in the middle of a sentence. It’s entirely possible, and it’s a great feeling when it can be done seamlessly. After all…

    The best edits are the ones that no one hears.

    Developing critical listening is something you can do when you’re not actually in a session. And it will also give you practice editing. Record some material and save it. Then go back to it a couple of days (or more) later. You don’t even have to change any of the script. Just find and play a portion of the original recording and then try to record the same portion exactly as you had initially, and then see if it falls into place without any noticeable differences.

    If you know what you’re listening for and can duplicate the nuances of your original performance, you’ll be able to do pick-ups and revisions efficiently. And then you’ll have both clients *and* engineers loving you. Who can turn that down?

  3. Alyson Steel says:

    Hope I am an “A”! lol

  4. Rick Lance says:

    Good points here , Dan!
    A lot of younger talent may never have had to work one-on-one live with and engineer. Working at home alone recording yourself a talent may not even realize they are doing excessive pick ups. You gain a lot of respect from the client and engineer or producer when you are prepared and skilled at a live session.

    Mike, good point you’re bringing up regarding continuity and matching sound when a script is later revised or added to.

    Btw, Dan, is that a Miktek CV4 in your picture? I bought one a few months back and I’m loving it. You and I may be among the few who own one as yet.

  5. Dan Hurst says:

    Man, I hate being “Talent B.”

  6. Damn! Every time I think I’ve gotten all my thoughts together before writing something, I always remember something later.

    One of the items I couldn’t remember in my earlier comment (the things to try to match when doing revisions) was the pitch of your voice.

    There. I think THAT finishes it.

  7. Dan Hurst says:

    One of the BIGGEST things that helps me is learning to P-A-C-E. Narrations are so different from commercials, and one of the things that makes them different is that you generally have more time to work with…more time to think…and to the let the viewer/listener think; more time to breathe and relax, etc.

    Then there is also the fact that you have more time to think about the huge word that is coming u2()#*$$EOPjk…

    Dang it.


  8. Wonderful article, Dan! It’s funny (or maybe not-so-funny), but I sometimes find that I can read cleanly and fluently when I’m sitting at my desk going over the script semi-silently, but then my brain-mouth coordination goes south when I get into the booth. With constant practice, I’m slowly getting better, but it’s more than a little frustrating. On the plus side, I’ve become quite adept at pulling off clever edits where needed to make multiple takes sound like one, though hopefully that skill will become less necessary over time.

  9. I know the feeling, Justin. If you’re anything like me, things will get better when you become sick of hearing yourself while editing! 🙂

  10. Cindy Neill says:

    Great article Dan! I know I’ve been “Talent B” on my fair share of records but there are plenty of useful tip to keep me on the “Talent A” track!

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for your comments Cindy! Keeping everyone on the “Talent A” track is what this article is all about.

  11. Tom Test says:

    Great article, Dan!

    I’ve operated my own private studio since 2003, and I’ve done a lot of my own editing on long-form narration projects. That experience on “the other side of the glass” has helped me become much more efficient as a talent. I’ve picked up little tricks (sometimes without even thinking about it) that make the editor’s job easier. As a result, I’m in demand for long-form narration projects. My efficiency does a lot to improve my client’s bottom lines. This is yet another in the long list of beneficial effects to voice talent of owning their own recording facilities.

    I also sometimes will do a form of Tai Chi called “Chi Kung.” I would describe is as “moving mediation.” Doing Chi Kung movements for as little as 5 minutes makes a big difference in settling my mind so I can focus. I find that whenever I do it, my sessions afterward seem to go more smoothly. (This is reminding me of my all-time high bowling score of 193, which I achieved after meditating right beforehand – normally, I’m happy to break 100!).

  12. […] able to read a well-written script from top to bottom, and communicate the messages of that script, without stumbling or requiring extensive editing. Prior to digital recording and editing… this was the […]

  13. Marieke says:

    Excellent points made in this article. I do find more and more though, that clients add extra sentences and change things about when the recording has already been made. They expect the talent to do this without charging extra, something I cannot get my head around. This week, I have had two requests for extra sentences, both on different jobs. People are surprised and annoyed to hear that I request to be paid for my time, after all, i either have to go back to the studio or i have to set up my home studio. Sometimes, when it is a client I have worked for before, I can do the few extra sentences at a reduced rate, but surely I am entitled to ask for the full studio rate again? Any thoughts or advice?

    • Dan says:

      Thank you for your question. Sorry it took so long for me to respond (not sure how I missed it). It is best to have a special rate, number (or length) allowable and time frame for revisions. This should be made clear to the client when you begin working with them. In my opinion, it is unfair to the client to charge a full rate on a legitimate revision (copy that is clearly part of the original session) within 30 days of doing the job. The parameters are something you need to decide for yourself.

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