~ Or: The unlikely combination of weirdly niche skill-sets combine to form VO(ltron) DEMO!
Sorry, I simply could not possibly resist figuring out a way to tie the title of voiceover demo making into Voltron. It was either that or Constructicons. Funny story; both of those programs from the 1980s feature the voice of legendary voice actor Peter Cullen. He was Optimus Prime and Ironhide in the original Transformers series as well as the opening narrator for Voltron.
There wasn’t actually a point to that story, I just like trivia.
About a week ago from the publishing of this blog post, the eLearning demo of Roshelle Simpson was posted all over the social media ecosphere. For voice actors, new demos are a very exciting æffair! They are demonstrations of capabilities in a concise and varying format, they are intense projects all around, and often inspiring for everyone who gets a chance to hear them. No, other voice actors are not the target client base – if I can be so cold as to describe it that way – but the level of community support and cheering-on is otherworldly. Everyone being so encouraging is a testament to the unity of a very niche demographic of artistic endeavorers.
(I’m pretty sure “endeavorers” is not a word. Spell check doesn’t like it. Spell check -also- doesn’t like “bachelorette” which is straight-up sexist. You know what else it doesn’t like? voiceover. So WHAT DOES THAT SPELL CHECK KNOW ANYWAY??)
Of course Roshelle posted the thing everywhere she could. This is great exposure for her in an effort to let prospective clients know about her well-trained skills behind the mic and her willingness to take on new business. Pretty standard practice.
So why am I posting her new eLearning demo up here on my blog and web page?
Because I made it.
Allow me to explain.
The components of a voiceover demo
Voiceover demos come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They cover many different genres as well. Commercial. Promo. eLearning. Corporate narration. Medical narration. Automotive. Animation. Character. IVR/Phone. Political. Radio Imaging. To name just a few.
Each of those genres has their own specific subset of characteristics and rules that they abide to. Commercial reads are designed to capture and retain the ear of a listener for anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds. Animation involves the entire body and is as animated as the name would lead you to think. Political is what you would expect; selected candidate promotion and opposing candidate attack ads. May we all never be on the receiving end of the latter of those things.
Each voiceover demo is a demonstration of the capabilities of an actor in order to provide an example to casting directors and production houses of what they can expect. Sometimes demos consist of live work that is out in the field and captured for replay. Other times, voiceover demos are comprised of hypothetical scenarios – or mockups – that serve to demonstrate situational prowess.
More often than not – and depending on the genre – these demos are presented in a “finished” form. By finished, I mean that they have had the voice recording processed in a way that is complementary to the actor in question. Very frequently there is music accompaniment. Both of these things are then balanced to enhance the actors performance and then processed further in a way that matches the mixing style of the genre. Commercials are going to be moderately compressed. Radio imaging will have its signal squashed like a pancake. Medical narration might not be quite as hype as the previous two.
In summary: the components – as I define them – are the selected genre, the voice, the music bed (that the voice rests ever so gently upon), and a good balanced mix. Almost like a balanced breakfast except not at all.
eLearning as a category explained
eLearning specifically has its own subset of rules and goals. The shortest version of the explanation is that eLearning can be considered as “instructive content.”
Instructive content and be further divided in to a whole GAGGLE of different things. Kids teaching. Medical technique training. Human Resources topics. Employee orientation. Technical equipment usage. Each and every one of those topics has their own nuance – except in the case of kids because yes there’s nuance but dude the level of animated you have to be is off the Richter scale – in order to capture and retain the attention of completely different audiences. Some of these narrations can lean more into the long-form side of things, in which case the voice must be trained to remain engaging for a time-span longer than the average Twitter post. Maybe even two Twitter posts.
If you ever had to suffer through a fast food employee training video, you know what I’m talking about regarding the length of viewing and how difficult it was to stay focused. To be fair, none of us who had to suffer through those were in an age demographic where paying attention was second nature. Or third. Possibly not even fourth. The struggle was real and all we wanted to do was get customers out the door as fast as possible and hope that the shift supervisor on duty was into the idea of free food. You know, instead of the one who was militant about the application of an employee discount if they were feeling generous. Consistency was not the forte of fast food.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, staying engaged as a listener. The narrator must do everything they can to narrate in a way that doesn’t allow for a captive viewing audience to drift off in their attention to other places. In the “olden days” it was easy enough to drift during an orientation video once the aged VHS magnetic strip started to lose its lustre and the low screen warble got really interesting. Things to look at on the wall, check your pager, try to stealth change the radio station on your Walkman, play Tetris on your GameBoy.
Not color. The original GameBoy.
Nowadays? Our attention is so readily and easily diverSQUIRREL!
With the advent of Smartphones and Android and iOS and Blackberry and Windows Phones and Palm OS (ok, some of those things are ancient legends now) our ability to shift gears to ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE TRAINING VIDEO is well practiced and legendary. There is a combination of two things that need to take place in order to do the best possible job of keeping viewers engaged:
- Write a REALLY COMPELLING SCRIPT, and
- Get a voice that will bring life to that script in a way that makes folks pause when reaching for their portable distraction device.
Seems simple enough, right? Right.
Pretty sure that explanation of the explainer is sᵫfficiently and explaintatively explanatory.
(destroying the last vestiges of the English language since 2021)
The start and the finish to the voiceover demo and the everything in between
The short version is there are steps that are taken to get from Point A (no demo) to Point B (demo) and those steps are as follows:
- Category/Brand selection
- Script writing
- Recording Session
- Voice processing / audio engineering
- Music selection
- Final Mix
- Merge final order of all segments into one big happy file
- Deliver for final approval
- Video concoction
I used the word ‘final’ more than I believe I should be allowed up there. Hmm. Time to re-write the notes. But later.
Let’s get into some of those a bit deeper!
I’m wearing all my favorite brands brands brands brands
(i’m a dork)
There are many processes for concocting up demos of various types. This one is mine. There are probably better ones, but this one is mine.
With so many companies representing so many industries with so many departments, it could get real overwhelming real quick trying to figure out what to choose from the available categories. The easiest way I find to whittle things down is to get a sense of the types of products, brands, and hobbies an individual has and catering selection based on that. In the case of Roshelle, we made our brand selections based on several things learned about her in discovery:
- She’s from California. In n Out Burger being an institution of that state made that selection fun.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a very important subject to her so including a segment there made sense.
- In addition to being an actor for both voice and on-camera mediums, she is a fully trained professional chef. That made selection of a kitchen appliance as a possible subject easy.
- We wanted to include something medical related as well as something related to children (but not an actual kids learning segment) so we split the difference by going with a very specific women’s health concern regarding ovarian cancer research, and then childhood ADHD identification since that is a very prominent subject in our world.
- She is absolutely a style chameleon. Being able to shift gears from warm and informational to full on snark irony to hopeful and optimistic meant that the demo should find a way to feature that capability.
It’s worth noting that while Roshelle excels in the descriptives listed above, every voice is different. There are styles and tonalities that are not part of her natural tool kit, as there are other actors who do not have access to all of the things that she offers. My job is to hone in on those skills and demonstrate them in the best possible light.
That’s the abridged version. Having that information makes it much easier to bring about engaged reads. Now before you say “But George, EVERY read should be fully engaged no matter what the subject is about,” I will first of all agree with you. But let’s explore that a bit. An actor’s headshot is a representation of how they look on their best day. It’s not how they look after a mud fight scene. A voice actor’s demo – their audio head shot – is a representation of how they SOUND at their best. Choosing meaningful topics allows for that to come more naturally.
From that information gathering, we were able to settle on this selection and order:
- An amusing employee orientation video for In n Out Burgers
- A concerned yet compassionate HR training segment related to DEI
- A technical usage segment for Cuisinart home kitchen appliances with just enough snark for flavor
- An optimistic educational segment on Ovarian Cancer research
- A very technical categorization document related to the different types of childhood ADHD as presently identified
Easy enough! Now for the nitty gritty!
As evidenced by the weekly ramblings on this here blogue page, I like to write. A lot. Verbosity isn’t a detriment, it’s a feature. However, that level of verbosity isn’t useful when writing segments that are going to average 15-25 seconds each. So the name of the game in writing scripts for eLearning demos is selecting a delivery mood, getting the point across, and doing so within the allotted time.
Rationalization of selections
In the case of the selected brands above, I spend a significant amount of time scouring the internet of things looking for information on the topics. In the case of In n Out, looking at their branding strategy, advertising, overall company demeanor. That and it’s fast food training in this case. There’s some fun to be had.
DEI, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. There is a tone and tenor that goes along with the way a script like that should be read. Slower cadence. Softer tone. The word count changes but the impact still needs to be there. Prior to the writing of this script, my knowledge of DEI was limited. A couple hours of reading changed that and the script formulated from that.
A snarky technical piece for a countertop appliance is just plain fun. Still within the time constraints, but fun! As weird as it sounds, the Cuisinart spot almost wrote itself. I can’t exactly explain that one.
Ovarian cancer research is an ongoing subject. This segment might not age well over time as developments take shape but in the present it is very relevant. Bonus points for including medical terminology. Side note: Roshelle nailed those terms on the first try. I suspect she practiced.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a prominent subject for children. It’s a children’s topic but we also wanted to lean a bit clinical at the same time. Writing a script that covers some of the basic categories worked out splendidly.
On the mic and in effect
If the pandemic has done anything, it’s definitely not given people the opportunity to know what it’s like for many voice actors outside of the major market areas in that working from him rules. It’s like they discovered something brand new that nobody had ever heard of before. While voice actors all over the world are sitting there saying “mmm, yes, please, tell me more about this wonderment you’ve discovered.”
One of the side effects of most of the work that is done by voice actors in their own homes is that they are given specifications for their reads, asked to submit a few versions of the read, and then await any corrections that need to be done. Self-direction is usually the name of the game. So that process continues. Scripts are given, actors record them and return the audio, it goes back and forth over the course of hours or days. Sometimes even weeks.
You know what works much faster?
There are a number of entities out there who still live-direct their voice talent. Which is great. It means that the feedback is immediate, corrections can be made right away, the vision can be molded on the spot, and everybody is all done and ready to go home. Or at least go back into other parts of the home.
Source Connect, ipDTL, once ISDN but no longer, Skype, Zoom, telephone patch, plus a whole plethora of different means by which an actor can be live directed.
So in the course of demo making – at least in MY case and several others I know of – I prefer to live direct talent to make sure that several varying takes are available to be sorted through later.
It’s a great resource to have. Sometimes the reads are straight up fire on the first take and that’s the print. (always get a safety take anyway)
Sometimes you do three or four different takes and they’re all REALLY GOOD but a segment of take 1 flows better into another segment of take 3, which is then finalized perfectly by take 2. That is all a good part of the next section, conveniently coming right up!
And now we pause for a commercial break
Except this post is all about eLearning, not commercial reads. That’s another post for another time.
And as it turns out, this post got REALLY LONG.
Going to stop at this breaking point for now and pick up where we’re leaving off next week. Next week is going to involve talking more about the audio engineering side of things, matching sonic profiles, what’s next when a client signs off on the segments, and then move on to the video making portion of the description.
Thanks for hanging in with me so far! We’ll see you next week for the second and final part of this bonkers telling of tale!
Until next week.