Voiceover artists often get asked if they can take part in a "directed session", also known as a "live session", to record a script for a project. Directed sessions are a great way to maximize time, streamline efficiency, and minimize revisions, not to mention form a connection with the client, add a human element to a script, and make sure all the details are just right. However, the idea of performing live in front of a client can be daunting! Here are some tips for new voiceover artists on how to prepare for and make the most out of a directed session.
What is a Directed Session?
In a directed session, the client (or clients) is virtually present in the recording booth with you and will give you real-time direction on how they want certain lines to be delivered. They might ask for multiple takes or have specific notes on inflection and tone.
How Does a Directed Session Work?
Directed sessions take place via a virtual calling or meeting platform like ISDN, SourceConnect, Zoom, or Skype, where the producers and/or client can hear you as you read the lines. Typically, everyone hops on the call at the same time and says their hellos, and then the producer or creative team explains a little more information about the project and direction. From there, the client will usually decide to read through the script in full or line-by-line. After everyone is happy with the takes and reads, the meeting is over.
After the session ends, the raw takes are edited into their finished product. Typically, the producer does the editing, and at that point, the voice actor's job is finished (though it's best practice to record and save a raw backup file of the session in case of an issue or emergency). However, in some cases, particularly with smaller clients who don't have a full creative team, they may ask the voice actor to edit the final piece of content. In this case, the voiceover artist would edit the final piece and send it off to the client.
What's Needed for a Directed Session
In order to participate in a directed session, you will need:
A high-quality microphone and interface (a USB mic is not recommended, since directed sessions are usually for companies and businesses that require very high-quality audio. An exception to this may be smaller projects or ESL content. If in doubt, check with the client),
A very quiet, acoustic-treated and soundproofed space with a noise floor of -60dB or lower,
Studio-quality, over-the-ear headphones (but earbuds will work if necessary),
A way to connect with the client, such as SourceConnect,
An editing program to record a backup version of your directed session.
How to Prepare for a Directed Session
Preparation is key. Here are some best practices for preparing for your directed session:
Get copies of the scripts ahead of time. Read the scripts over before you get into the booth and mark up the content with notes you need to ensure a seamless delivery. Try changing up the tone and underlying emotion to practice taking direction from the client. If you notice any points where you repeatedly get hung up or flub, practice those lines until they are smooth.
Ask for direction on tone and delivery. Many clients will have some idea of how they want their project to sound, but if they don't give you any direction, ask for it.
Prepare your equipment and settings. A directed session usually has lots of different moving parts, and you don't want technical issues (such as a faulty connection or poor sound quality) to get in the way of your performance.
Test out your setup. Ask a friend to hop on a meeting with you and run through a mock-directed session. Ensure that they can hear you through your studio mic, that your noise floor is -60 or lower, and that you can hear them through your headphones.
Explain how the session will work. If your client is not familiar with directed sessions, it's important to let them know the flow of the meeting and how to prepare. However, this is not usually necessary, as most clients who request directed sessions are familiar with them.
Best Practices During a Directed Session
Now that you know how to prepare for a directed session, here are some tips for during the session itself:
Show up early. Hop on the meeting a few minutes early and make sure all of your equipment is working properly and your settings are correct.
Turn your video on or off. Many clients don't require you to have your video turned on in a session, though many voice actors enjoy the physical interaction and choose to keep video on. I have never had a client require video.
Introduce yourself and be kind and friendly. Remember, you are more than a voice and you are representing your brand. Your clients want to work with someone who is easygoing.
Get an idea of the flow of the session. Ask the client if they'd prefer you read the script in full or line-by-line.
Once you get started, say the take number before each read (unless the producer does it for you). This helps with organization and editing later on. ("Take one. [2 second pause] "(line you're reading.)" Take two. [2 second pause] "(line you're reading.)" etc.)
Make each take sound noticeably different. No two takes should sound the same. Play with underlying tones and emotions, pacing, emphasis, and inflection. This will give the client more options for their project, ensuring that they are happy with the final product. Important vocab note: If the client asks for an "A-B-C" read, they want you to read the same line, back-to-back, in three distinctly different ways. "Wild card" reads are generally fun, off-the-cuff reads of a line and allow for a little more play and creativity. Have fun with these! Don't be afraid to be bold or silly.
Take direction. Being coachable is the key to a successful directed session. If the client gives you direction, always take it. They want to ensure that their project aligns with their brand and their vision. Be open to adjustments. Clients may ask you to make small changes, such as adjusting the inflection or pace, or they may ask for larger changes, such as re-recording a whole line.
Don't ask for too much direction. You are an actor and should have a good idea of how to deliver the lines. Asking for too much direction tells the client that you are not confident or prepared.
Get comfortable. There may be quirks or habits you do during standard recording sessions that help you get your head in the script. Don't be afraid to do them during directed sessions, as long as they're not distracting or time-consuming. For example, if I'm recording a tag for a spot, before the first take, I like to read the previous line in the script to ensure cohesion and flow going into the tag. I will do these in directed sessions as well (and typically give the client a heads-up beforehand.)
Take notes. Have a pen and paper nearby and write down which take number you are on so you don't forget. Additionally, if you are editing the final piece together, jot down which reads the client likes so you know exactly which ones to use in the final piece.
Make suggestions. Directed sessions are a collaboration between both parties, and it's okay to offer suggestions to improve the project. Just make sure to phrase them in a supportive and constructive way.
Have fun with the script. While the client has a particular "vision" in mind for the project, it's also important to be creative (to an extent). Sometimes, my "wild card" reads, where I really have fun with lines and push myself outside of my comfort zone, are the ones that end up in the finished piece.
Thank the client for the opportunity to work with them. A simple thank you goes a long way, and can potentially secure future work with the client.
Tips and Tricks to Avoid Issues
After dozens of direct sessions, making lots of "rookie mistakes", and plenty of feedback from clients, I've picked up a few tricks to ensure successful and smooth directed sessions.
SourceConnect is a popular application used during live sessions to give producers access to the talent's audio without degrading the quality. There are paid versions of the program (SourceConnect Standard and Pro), as well as a free version (SourceConnect Now.) The paid versions give the producers a lot more control than the free version, so the paid version is preferred by most clients, and sometimes it's even required. If you have not used SC before, I recommend downloading the free trial, getting it set up, and then purchasing the paid version down the road when it's required for a project. Set up for SourceConnect is not easy, and may take a few hours. I personally had to hire an audio engineer to set it up and we ultimately found that the platform did not work with my home internet router provider. As a result, I stick to SourceConnect Now as often as I can.
Always record a backup file of the session. As soon as you hop on the meeting, start recording in your own audio editing system. This way, if there are any issues with the client's recording or a technical issue, you have your own copy to send over. After the session is over, send the raw file to the client using WeTransfer and let them know it's available to them.
If you don't like to hear yourself talking through your headphones, keep one side of your headphones over your ear, and slide the other side onto your head. This way, you can hear the client in one ear, and you can hear your performance in the other.
Lower your client's audio. If their volume is too loud coming through your headphones, it can get picked up on the audio recording.
Don't panic. If there is a technical issue, or if you make a mistake, stay calm and professional and communicate with the client. Chances are, they understand that mistakes happen and will work with you to find a solution.
Directed sessions can be intimidating at first, but with a little preparation and practice, they can be a fun and successful collaboration between you and your client. Remember to trust your instincts as an actor, listen to direction, and communicate openly with the client. And most importantly, have fun! Happy recording!