How to do Voice Overs for Commercials
I know that I am opening myself up to a lot of criticism and “you forgot abouts” in this post so let me first start off by saying this is not an attempt to be the definitive instruction on commercial voice overs and is only based on my experience of dealing with commercial voice over artists as a major market creative services director and the national imaging director for CBS Radio's Jack FM franchise. Are there other opinions about commercial voice overs? Yes. Would I like to hear those other opinions? Absolutely, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Sharing is caring. That said, here are some of the basics and potential pitfalls when approaching a commercial copy voice over.
First, know your WPS or Words Per Second. This is literally how many words you speak per second. Now, if you are a Guinness Book world record holder this really doesn't apply to you but if you're not and speak like the rest of us, knowing these numbers will help you determine a few things like delivery, style and pacing. Here are the basic numbers:
05 seconds – 15 words
10 seconds – 30 words
15 seconds – 40 words
20 seconds – 60 words
30 seconds – 95 words (100 words for hard-sell)
60 seconds – 180 words (190 words for hard-sell)
Some people speak faster than others so these are not set in stone, but they are a pretty accurate baseline. So why is WPS important?
When performing a voice over for a commercial, it's important to keep in mind that it is not your job to simply read the copy into the microphone but to sell the product to the consumer. When presented with a 30 second script that has 80 words you know that you're going to have more time for emphasis and pausing. Unless it's noted that you need to save room for sound effects, music or a tag. Or if you get a 30 second script that is 105 words, you know that you're really going to have to hustle to get that read in on time. These factors can change dramatically depending upon from where you get the copy.
Next, note what kind of delivery the client wants. Most professionals will have it noted somewhere on the copy or instructions. Pay attention to what they are asking for and do your best to deliver. Some of the terms are:
Hard Sell: This refers to a forceful delivery that's designed to inundate the listener with as much information (copy) as possible in the time allotted. Car dealerships have traditionally been some of the most common users of this type of commercial.
Soft Sell: This type of read tends to be more casual and conversational. It's usually a presentation of the product rather than a call to action.
Testimonial: A testimonial delivery is a style that uses the “one customer speaking to another” approach. Testimonial copy is usually written to sound as natural as possible.
Dialogue: This is copy that uses multiple voices placed in situations and presents the product through conversation. This type of script tends to involve the most acting.
Tags/Disclaimers: A tag could be anything from the changing of a product to changing of the dates of the event and should accompany the original flow and sound of the copy rather than detract. A disclaimer, on the other hand, is legal verbiage that is required by law to be included on the commercial. Most advertisers do not want this to stand out and preferably not even be noticed. These are the fast and quiet reads you hear at the end of many commercials.
Once you have identified the basics of the copy, the next step is to read it...out loud. It is amazing to me how many “professional” voice over artists will actually record takes without ever reading the copy out loud first. It doesn't matter how good you are or think you are or how experienced, you need to read the copy out loud to make certain there is nothing to trip you up. It also saves on production time for both you the voice actor and the producer. Check out my other post on voicing for the producer. The rule I tell most people starting out is, say it five times before you ever approach the mic. Think of it this way, each particular combination of words needs to be calculated by your brain and communicated through your nervous system to your muscles in order to deliver a smooth and accurate motor function. In other words, practice makes perfect.
And finally, remember that you are the voice actor not the writer, director, advertiser or account executive. The script that is sent to you is the script you are asked to read. Unless there is an obvious error in the copy, read the copy as it is given to you. In fact, even if you think it is an error read the copy that is given to you and then read the alternate; just because you think it's an error doesn't necessarily mean it is. And never....and I can not stress this enough, NEVER editorialize or criticize the copy in either audio or written form. Yes there is a lot of bad copy out there, but bad copy pays just like good copy and the last thing you want to do is ruin a relationship with future money.