What to Expect During a Live Directed Voiceover Recording Session

When I first started auditioning for voiceover jobs, I came across many projects that said a live directed session would be required. I wasn’t exactly sure what this entailed, but after a little bit of research, I realized it meant that I would have to connect online with someone telling me how they wanted me to read the script. At first, I was absolutely terrified of the idea. What if I messed up? What if there was some technical glitch? What if they absolutely hated the way I sounded live, with all of my mouth clicks and plosives?

After having done several live directed sessions with a wide variety of connection types, I actually look forward to them now, and wish I had more of them. Yes, the producers and possibly the client will hear what your unfiltered voice sounds like, unlike the cleaned-up version in your audition. However, you get to avoid all the back-and-forth of final audio submissions, endless retakes, and possibly all editing responsibilities. Woo hoo!

If you do decide to audition for a project that will require a live session and you get the job, here are some things you can expect when it comes time to connect.

Common Ways to Connect to Producers and Clients

When you’re reading through the job specs for an audition, make sure you pay very close attention to the fine print if a live directed section is required. Sometimes, the client will state specifically how they want to connect with you for the session. Here are some of the more common ways you can connect with producers and clients.

Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or other free online meeting apps. Every time I’ve done a live session using an online app, it’s been with Zoom or Google Meet. There are others available, so just be ready to adapt to the producer’s or client’s preference. Make sure you practice with whatever platform you’re going to use because the audio settings in the app can mess with the audio settings of your laptop, microphone, interface, or DAW. Speaking from experience, it’s no fun when your audio input levels start changing in the middle of a recording because you didn’t sync up your Zoom levels with your microphone input levels. Also, make sure the people on the other end mute themselves while you record.

Source Connect.  You will find that many higher end clients prefer to use Source Connect for directed sessions. The good news is that all you have to do is read the script. This is because Source Connect is software that links your home studio to a professional studio at the other end through a solid Internet connection. This means that once you’re done recording, you’re done. They take your raw audio that they’ve recorded at their end and do all of the editing. 

The bad news is that Source Connect is expensive. There is a free NOW (web-based) version, but producers will almost always want to use the paid Standard version (~$695 one-time, or $39/month). You also need to hardwire your computer or laptop to a high-speed modem using an Ethernet cable. Wi-Fi connections with a router generally aren’t stable enough. It’s an investment you will need to make if you want the higher paying jobs. Just know that if Source Connect is a requirement for a project, you’ll be causing the producers a huge headache if you get selected and they find out you don’t have it.

ipDTL. This type of connection replaces the much more expensive ISDN, and also helps voice actors connect with producers and clients over the Internet. Technically you can use Wi-Fi, but again, because these connections can be unstable, hardwiring to your modem via Ethernet is much better. ipDTL is subscription-based, and while the monthly rate isn’t cheap (~$30-$70/month), you can purchase a day pass for only $15 in case only the occasional project requires it. You’ll also need to use Google Chrome as your browser. 

The main difference between ipDTL and Source Connect is that there is a video option with ipDTL, and you can use it as a bridge into an ISDN line. Because of the day pass option, you can feel more comfortable auditioning for a project that requires ipDTL, as long as you give yourself enough time to familiarize yourself with it before the session.

Phone Patch. When I first saw this option, I more or less glossed over it because I don’t have a landline in my house. The traditional phone patch calls for wiring in to your telephone landline with a device that costs around $150. Lately, a common phone patch work-around simply requires your cell phone and a pair of earbuds. I have the producer call me on my cell phone, which is always on silent, and I put one earbud in my ear underneath my headphones. That way I can still hear myself monitored while listening to the producer’s direction through my phone.

Preparing for Your Directed Session

While you are preparing for your live directed session, keep in mind that your window of time with the producer and the client is very precious to them. They’re busy people, and need to squeeze every productive second out of your session. If any of that time gets wasted for technical problems or performance issues, it’s a headache for everyone. I speak from (bad) experience. Here are some of the things you want to make sure are organized and ready before your session.

Your Body. Make sure your body is relaxed and prepared for your live session, especially if it’s going to be longer than one hour. It doesn’t seem like simply talking for a couple of hours could be exhausting, but it totally is. Make sure you use the bathroom before you start, have whatever liquids or items you need to keep your throat smooth and your mouth hydrated, and just have necessary stuff handy. It will appear very unprofessional if you have to excuse yourself to leave the studio or your booth to go get or do something. (Like the time I was doing a directed session on Zoom, and I had to step out because my kids were in their room on my other laptop also trying to use Zoom and kicking me out of my session. Sigh.)

Script(s). Everyone has a different way of displaying their scripts comfortably and conveniently. If you think you’re going to be nervous, don’t have printouts in a place or they can easily get shuffled around, placed in the wrong order, or fall to the floor. If you’re using a tablet or laptop, have the word document or PDF already open in the window, and scrolling easily. Make sure you have an easy way to mark up the script and insert any notes the producer might provide. I would highly recommend going through the script a few times out loud so you can make note of any questions you have regarding pronunciation, inflection, pauses, etc.

Hardware. This goes without saying, but make sure your microphone, interface, and computer are all turned on, connected, and functioning smoothly. I always like to record and submit a few auditions before directed sessions so that I know everything is working solidly. If you don’t have a soundproof booth at home, make sure you provide advanced notice of your session to family members or anything or anyone else that can produce noise outside of your home studio. I try to avoid live sessions on Wednesdays and Thursdays because that’s when my development’s landscapers mow the grass. Typically, I’m not in charge of the session scheduling, so I just give the producers a heads up that I may have to pause for a couple of minutes until the man on the lawn mower passes my house. I also live in Florida and can’t control the weather, so I may have to pause for a lightning strike.

Software. As I mentioned earlier, do a trial run with your connection app or software to prevent any hiccups when it’s time to dial in for your session. During your test run, make sure that you sync your input and output levels between the app or software and your laptop, microphone, and interface.

If you are the one who will be doing the recording, you need to have a plan for separating and labeling multiple takes. This will largely depend on the DAW you will be using and your familiarity with it. When I was using Audacity, I would open a new audio file for each take. With Adobe Audition, I place markers between takes. It’s up to you how you want to organize your recording session, but make sure that you have a plan for a smooth workflow before you start your session.

If you can, find out before your session what specs the client wants for your audio (e.g., 44100 Hz and 16-bit, or 48000 Hz and 32-bit? wav or mp3?). If not, definitely ask the producer at the beginning of your session before you start recording.

Be Ready for Different Direction Styles

Probably my biggest source of anxiety prior to my first live directed session was not knowing what to expect from the producer. Would he or she be nice or mean? Would the direction be clear or vague? Would I understand the audio production terminology? I’ve been thrilled that every producer I’ve worked with so far has been very nice and very professional. They’ve always put me at ease, and any anxiety I have at the beginning of the session soon disappears.

As far as the clarity of direction, I tend to find that often varies depending on whether or not the client is on the line. It’s easiest when you have just one producer and that’s it. However, there are many cases when the producer and the client have different visions, and they will go back and forth on something as simple as the intonation of a single word. In one session, I had three producers on the line, and they all seemed to want something different. You may have to record the same line or same word multiple times, but just be patient and remember it’s all about making the client happy.

Speaking of which, one term I wish I had known before my first session is “ABC.” If the producer says they want you to do an ABC of a portion of the script, that means they want you to read the same thing three times in three different ways. Then, either you or they will take note of which of the three they preferred. Make sure you ask at the beginning of your session whether you or the producer will be responsible for taking notes regarding preferred takes. Also, be prepared to “Frankenstein” your audio during the session (i.e., copying parts of one take and pasting/replacing it into another take), and export specific clips to the producer in real time. This is why you need to be very familiar with your editing software.

When You Make a Mistake…

No voice actor is perfect, no matter how much experience they have. While you can certainly do many things to prevent certain physiological issues, like mouth clicks and plosives, through warm-ups, hydration, and technique, chances are good that at least once you will mispronounce a word, trip over a word, your voice will crack on a word, or some other perfectly human thing will happen during your live session. This is totally okay. Producers will expect this. You don’t have to apologize or call attention to it. If you need a sip of water, just say, Excuse me, I’m going to take a sip of water, and that’s it. If you make a mistake on words, just take a pause and re-record the line. Stay calm, stay professional, and have a sense of humor about it.

How to Handle Audio Files After the Session

This is totally going to depend on the arrangement you have with the producer and the client. If you are doing a session through Source Connect, you are done. Woo hoo! They will have recorded the entire session on their end, and will do all of the editing. Even if they need a pickup later, they will likely just ask you to email them the raw audio. This may also be the case with ipDTL. 

If you’re recording on your own DAW, they may just want you to send them the raw audio (make sure you use the right format!), or have you do all of the editing. Again, it just depends on the client. Make sure you include your fees for the directed session in your project bid, as well as any editing fees. Also make sure you’re very clear on what edits you’re required to make (e.g., totally clean, only breath removal between takes, etc.). The producer will let you know if they want just one large file with all of the audio, or a separate file for each take. Sending separate files can be time-consuming, so make sure you include any fees for your extra time in your project bid.

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