You’ve got an interesting, even in places hilarious, audio tour script. A story of people, place, and culture that will entertain audiences of all ages and nationalities, engaging and educating them through a full sensory experience. You can already see the 5-star reviews accumulating on TripAdvisor and #BestDamAudioTourEver trending across Twitter. Now you have to bring the story to life with the right voice talent and delivery.
The delivery must be perfect, walking the line between subtle and dramatic. It’s the difference between Sir Kenneth Branagh’s contained rendition of Hamlet and Sir Lawrence Olivier’s over-the-top performance. You want to create moments of laughter for visitors, not have the audience laughing at your audio tour experience.
You want Morgan Freeman narrating because that man can read a phone book and make it captivating, but Freeman is not in the budget. And, although your sister insists your niece has the perfect voice, an amateur is not the way to go with a script this good. Hiring professional voice actors is money well spent.
So now you are in the studio, some of the best voices in the business assembled in the booth in front of you. The control room is air-conditioned, but you’ve got a light sweat slicking your forehead and the back of your neck. Recording time doesn’t come cheap, and you want to ensure that you’re getting what you need from the vocal talent on the other side of the glass.
You’ve read Debbie Gratten’s Tips for Directing Voice Over Talent, and you feel prepared. All eyes are on you. The voice talent, “Frank and Mirabella” in the studio, and “Chris,” the sound engineer beside you in the control room, are waiting on your instructions.
“Okay, let’s try it with the characters I gave you. Keep in mind, this is about the people, the local heroes,” you say into the microphone, as the trio prepare to record. “Remember, we need to keep this tight. It has to be a minute-twenty seconds.”
“Good luck,” says Chris. “You got three takes. If pros like them can’t pull it together in three takes then it’s just not going to happen. But, hey – it’s your money. I can do this all day.”
You swallow hard. Chris is looking at you, and you can practically see the dollar signs spinning like a slot machine in his eyes.
Take one feels too rushed and rigid – like a rehearsed speech at a conference delivered at Mach speed. They say the words, but it comes in under a minute with no room for breath.
“You get what you give,” says Chris.
“I’m sorry?” you ask.
“You haven’t given them enough. If you hire amateurs, you get amateur recordings. You’ve hired pros. Good on you. But you still need to give them direction. It’s up to you to tell them what you need.” Chris sounds suddenly wise to you in that moment, like a flannel-clad Yoda.
“Okay. This time, try to make it feel conversational and slow it down a bit,” you say into the mic.
“You need to be more specific,” says Chris “– like, way more specific.”
You know what you want but relaying that to the actors is far harder than you thought.
You take a swig of coffee and think.
“Warm. Friendly.” Then you add, “This read should sound like an amusing story you’re sharing with a friend. The listener should feel like they’re in on the joke. I want you to tell it like you know the joke’s punchline and can’t wait to share it. Say it with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. Make sense?”
The tone and the conversational feel are right, but something is missing.
You flip the talk button. “Much better. But, the energy’s not quite there. Bring the energy up, please.”
Chris says, “You want me to play the music for them?”
You search your memory for what you read in Todd Schick’s Professional Voiceovers blog.
“Right. Good idea,” you say. “Here’s the introductory music. You should get a sense of the welcoming, down-home feel and higher-energy I’m looking for,” you say into the microphone, nodding at Chris.
Upbeat jazz music fills the space. Mirabella smiles, bouncing her head along to the happy horns.
“All right, third time’s a charm,” you say. Once the music has run its course, you cueing the trio to record again.
You and Chris burst out laughing in the control room. You know a good take when you hear one. If this reading made you and Chris laugh out loud – then it’s likely your tour customers will laugh too.
“Terrific! That was excellent. Let’s listen back, and everyone let me know what think.”
“The lunch thing – so gross,” says Chris afterward, “but so funny.”
“Nice job, Mirabella. I could practically see and smell the washroom,” says Frank.
“Thanks, Frank,” Mirabella says in response. “But this is an easy job. I really loved the script. Bringing this story to life is a joy.”
Everyone nods agreement—the story of Alabam is going to be an unforgettable moment on your audio tour.
Chris turns to you. “So… what’s your next story?”