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Six Audition Tips for Voice Over Actors

Several years back, I wrote some audition tips for my on-camera actor friends. (Here and here.) As a creative director in the advertising business, I’ve watched and listened to a LOT of commercial auditions, including thousands of VO recordings. Here are a few tips.

Everything that follows is, of course, just one man’s opinion. (BTW, I am that man.) But it can be helpful to know what’s happening on the other side of the casting process.

1. Slate in character.

Your audition can be over before you read the first word of the script. This may not be fair, but it’s just the way it is.

Your slate is the first thing we hear so if your slate voice is very different from what we’re looking for, I have to immediately overcome my first impression of you and then evaluate how you read the script “in character.” (Harsh truth: I don’t care about the “real” you, I just want to know if you’re what I want/need for the commercial.)

When casting, I may have several hundred VO auditions to listen to in a single evening. There’s usually no time to listen to every audition all the way through. You get a gut impression of somebody right away. If you like what you hear, you listen to more.

2. Study the casting spec and script.

For VO work, auditions are usually first reviewed by the copywriter that wrote the script. That writer also writes the casting spec so it is your best window into his/her brain and what he/she is looking for.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written “not announcer-y” … and got auditions that sound like they were right off the nightly newscast.

There are almost always clues in the script too.

What’s the tone of the spot? More naturalistic or over the top? Sales-y or slice-of-life? Is it a character piece or an “everyman” sort of thing? There are a million different flavors of “mom,” what is the context for this one. Is she the heroine of the spot or a supporting player?

Finally, if you want to take a “different spin” on it than the casting spec, my advice is to save that for a second or third take.

Review the spec. Study the script. Give yourself the best chance to deliver what we’re looking for.

3. Say the words right.

If you don’t know how to pronounce something, ask. Or look it up. Especially the product name. Get that wrong, and it’s unlikely your audition will ever make it in front of a client.

Names of cities and countries are often mispronounced. Street names or businesses or areas of town (especially for spots in a region where you do not live) often get mangled. Spend a few minutes looking them up if you are unsure.

Beyond pronunciation, look for performance clues in the script itself.

If words are italicized or underlined or bolded or capitalized…the writer may be trying to tell you to put a little mustard on ’em. Be smart.

And finally, read the spot as close to time as possible. If you take 31 seconds for a 30-second spot, it’s not the end of the world. But if you take 45 seconds? Then you’re not doing it at the pace it will need to be done and you’re not going to book it.

4. Lay down two takes.

Honestly, 95 percent of auditions, I don’t make it through the first take much less the second.

But if you ARE on the short-list and I like your voice, I may be looking for some performance variations to help sell you to the client. If there’s a second take that’s a slight variation (but not in a wildly different voice) I have something to play with.

If I’ve only go one take, I may not have the options I need to cut your voice together for the scratch track. (For example, you may have read something a split-second faster on the second take and that’s what I need for timing purposes.)

There are many, many cases of “demo love” where an audition track gets put on a rough cut and that actor eventually books the job. Give me some options so that if I like you, I can cut the best audition performance together.

5. Record it well.

You don’t have to record your audition in a professional studio, but it needs to be good enough so that the producer and ad creatives who are listening to the audition can’t tell the difference.

The threshold is, “can I send this recording to the clients will they be able to imagine it on their spot?”

Yes, I’ve put iPhone auditions on picture as scratch tracks before, but they were very clean, not something recorded in an airport. (Yes, I’ve gotten those too.)

If the quality is such that I can’t put it against picture and send it to a client, then don’t send it. I have plenty of other options that ARE that quality. Make sure yours is the same.

6. Do your best and let it go.

We hear a ton of people. Many are great, but only one books the job.

Once you “get past” the ad agency copywriter, then you go on a short-list that’s reviewed by a creative director who thins the field even further.

From there, a few selects are usually put against picture (in the case of TV, film, games, etc.) or perhaps cut together with some effects (in the case of radio.)

Ultimately, a few options (more than one, less than five) are shared with the client who makes the final selection. There are often multiple people on the client side that have to review and approve your audition.

In other words, there are a whole bunch of different people who have to agree that you are “the one” before you’re offered a part.

Of course, there’s absolutely NOTHING you can do about all this, so there’s really no reason to worry about it. Do your audition and let it go. If you’re the right person for the job, the creative team will fight for you and work to make sure you’re the one hired.

Break a leg, friends. Book it!


About the Author

John Kovacevich is a writer and creative director based in San Francisco. He has made some commercials and he sometimes works as an actor.

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