Scratch tracks, in the voice over world, are placeholders of audio content given to creative teams to plan around when animating a film or video sequence. Sometimes, creative departments and production firms use someone from within the company to narrate a scratch track because they think they are short on time or won’t have to pay them a voice actor rate, but they’re doing their work a disservice. Pro voice actors often turn around a scratch track in an hour or two and charge a micro-rate for this service, especially if they have a shot at being your finished chosen voice.
By skimping out on getting a scratch track done correctly, animators and content creation companies may incur higher costs (in recutting their video or re-writing their content) than they would have if they’d hired a professional from the beginning. Non-pro scratch tracks often are riddled with improper timing, making it more confusing for voice actors to get the script’s message across effectively. It can sometimes force them to rush or draw out the script while attempting to hit the timing or inflections set by someone who doesn’t know the subtleties of the art.
Where to Use Scratch Tracks
If you’re wondering where scratch tracks can be used, the answer is anywhere with audio content. Any time you’ve seen a cartoon or Pixar movie, whenever you watch an ad, commercial, or explainer, you can bet a scratch track was used to plan it out. Unlike live-action sequences, which are almost always recorded with audio and video simultaneously, animated content requires time, preparation, and fine attention to detail before even recording. Original animation, as in cartoon series, continuously records the audio before creating the animation. This process avoids the possible financial disaster of getting it wrong. We notice immediately if the audio doesn’t sync up, and content creators and producers can run into costly stumbling blocks if not enough animation is rendered.
The script is always the starting point, so dropping it into audio is an easy first fix. When I was a field producer for a daytime television magazine show, we were always warned to record your audio first, then use your video to cover that.
Tips + Best Practices for Recording Scratch Tracks
If you’re planning a DIY scratch track or don’t have the budget for a pro from the beginning, it’s important to follow at least these tips and best practices for recording scratch tracks.
- Use Professional Equipment
- Treat Every Recording Like it’s the Final Product
- Record Scratch Tracks with the Voice Actor in Mind
- Focus on Accuracy
Use Professional Equipment
Even if you plan to record a scratch track yourself, use professional equipment to ensure the audio is clear. Distortion or distractions are difficult to follow and not great to present if you have to get your client to sign off on it ahead of time. This is another reason to reach out to your go-to voiceover actor and see if they’ll lay down an inexpensive scratch track for you. In The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind, neuroscientist Seth Horowitz says we process sound 20-100 times faster than any other sensory input and that quick processing flavors all our other sensory input. It’s why you’ll quickly turn away from a YouTube video with rotten sound quality but put up with a static screenshot if the audio is clear.
Treat Every Recording Like It’s The Final Product
In readings and recording sessions, a scratch track can capture the energy you might want for your project. Nothing gives a client or animator a better feel for the content than if the reference material has an actual reference to the desired sound. Scratch tracks are just a placeholder for the real audio content, be careful to think about the content. Treat every recording like it’s the final product.
Record Scratch Tracks with the Voice Actor in Mind
The biggest issue that most voice actors have with DIY scratch tracks is that they’re confusing. Occasionally they even sound like an entirely different language. It’s one thing to have to sync up narrations to specific timing, but another to decipher both the script and the reference simultaneously. Scratch tracks recorded without much forethought to the voice over artist hinder them from doing their job. So make sure to record scratch tracks with the voice actor in mind and include the appropriate inflections when possible.
Focus on Accuracy
While scratch tracks are rarely recorded by professional voice actors, the attention to detail a voice artist would show the text does wonders. Approaching your DIY scratch tracks with the mindset of a professional voice over artist means focusing on accuracy. Use a script timer to practice before you record, and make sure that your words come out similar to a professional by using the appropriate pronunciation, articulation, and accurate timing. This is especially important in projects with specific vocabulary like narration for medical animations, financial explainers, or cyber security content. It doesn’t have to be an award-winning voice performance; just accurate.
How You Can Get Great Scratch Tracks at Affordable Prices
Whether you’d like to record a scratch track or replace one, Kim Handysides has been in the voice over industry for 30 years and knows exactly how to get your scratch track done right the first time. With her award-winning sound engineer and lightning-fast turnaround times, Kim Handysides offers great scratch tracks at affordable prices that will help you save in the long run. Get in touch with Kim today to request a surprisingly low scratch track quote and see how she can make your voice over project better than the competition.