Happily, most of my voiceover acting life has been supported by a steady stream of commercial work. In discussions with a student, I realized there were reasons for that beyond being able to deliver a great read. Yes, you have to know what the market wants, give your director what s/he wants and “bring it” (whatever it may be) on time and on target. But more than that it also takes a deft ability to read the room. The commercial sound studio is never the place to display any toxic or taboo blunders. Let me explain….
Toxic Voiceover Behavior in the Commercial Studio
There is some studio behavior I simply take as inappropriate and you may find this obvious (if so, bravo to you) but I have seen a lot of shady stuff over the years. Some of which will lock you out of future work. Here’s a little list:
Don’t waste time. So be on time for your call. Perform your best and try your best to do so quickly. When you’re done, and signed your contract, don’t dawdle on the way out of the studio. Studio hours are expensive and you are not paying for them. Be mindful of the people who are.
Don’t be rude. Everyone in studio (or on set) is a person, a co-worker, part of your team and deserving of your respect. From the receptionist who shows you in and beyond.
Be friendly, but not too familiar. Worlds mingle in a commercial studio. The writer, the client, the account manager, and you the actor, Miss/r Merry Sunshine. It is expected that you will be fun, friendly. Actors are generally a warm, fuzzy bunch. Your energy and verve will lighten the room. Just be sensitive to others. If they are buried in their computers, keying furiously, on the phone and sounding tense, now is not the time to break out into your Bo Jangles routine.
Don’t go on your phone. Put it on silent, and leave it in your purse/coat/manbag, outside of the booth you work in. You are getting a high price for an hour of your time. Why get distracted? You want to give your best performance. Bringing your phone into the sound booth makes you look dis respectful of your client.
Be sensitive to the other actors. The actor you’re working with may not want to catch up on the latest gossip in between takes. They may need to focus to explore their choices more fully. If you haven’t seen each other in months, plan to grab a coffee together after your session. Don’t kibbitz around during it.
Don’t try to do someone else’s job. Just like every other part of production, it’s a team effort and everyone has been brought on to do a specific job. Don’t adjust your mic. That’s the sound engineer’s job. Don’t correct someone’s accent. That’s the dialect coach’s job. If the copy needs an obvious re-write, there will be a writer on hand who will take care of that. If the team seems to be have a problem & ask your opinion, then by all means, offer it. Otherwise, don’t.
Don’t apologize all the time. Apparently, this happens to more than just Canadians and Brits. Sound engineer & director colleagues of mine in LA also report actors over-apologizing for takes that aren’t quite right. It’s ok. It’s expected. That’s why they’re called “takes” and there’s often a few of them. It’s self-deprecating, time wasting and not necessary.
Watch your swear words. I love juicy Anglo Saxon expletives as much as the next WASP, but the studio is not the place for them. I remember recommending a talented actress to replace me while I was on vacation and the client reported back yes, she did a good job, but he’d had to calm down a nervous client and wash his own ears out with bleach after their session.
Don’t moonlight on the job. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I’ve witnessed a couple of actors try to sell their vitamins or makeup products or whatever other sideline scheme they had going to the other actors, writers, (heaven forbid) their client’s client while in a commercial session. No. Just, no! It’s not appropriate. You will not make a sale of your new online book while in the sound studio and you will not get asked back for any more work with them.
Don’t come into the studio drunk or high. (I’m not even going to dignify this with an explanation)
Taboo Voiceover Performance in the Commercial Studio
Performance no-no’s are more complicated and I’ve seen them either occur because of a lack of experience, an over-abundance of nerves or a skill deficit.
Be careful not to get stuck in one note. This happens when you get locked into one way of thinking about the role. Don’t get attached to your performance before you begin. Developing your improv skills helps you stay fresh and respond well to suggestion/direction.
Poor cold reading skills. Words, specifically other people’s words, are your tools. There is no excuse for not being able to cold read without stumbling. If you can’t read a 30 or a 60 without stumbling, read out loud for 30 minutes every day until you can.
Deliver what the director wants. The best actors are directable and adaptable. Whether you’re working with a good director or a bad director, you need to sort out what they want. If the director isn’t fluent in actor-speak and insist on giving you line reads, think of his direction as a mystery, and you my friend are the Benelock Cumberholmes who’s going to solve it.
In Between Commercial Voiceover Gigs
Behavior-wise, do keep in touch with your clients. Gently. Occasionally. Connect with them on social media. Like or comment on some (not all) of their posts. If you have something to share that might be useful to them, share it. Don’t pester, hound, stalk or be annoying to them. That will blacklist you from their re-hire list. But be present and available.
Performance-wise, well that your upkeep and development of that has little to do with your client, correct? So continue to improve your performance, your craft. Paint the masters. Keep working. And if you have something you’re proud of that your client might think is cool, share it with them. Otherwise, shhhhh.
Kim is a female commercial voiceover artist whose first Union spot was for a yogurt ad the year Mike Tyson won his first ever boxing title. What has your experience been in commercial sound studios?