Friday, January 14, 2011

A Rant on Bad Habits - Reading Comprehension

Microphone Macro - KM184
I haven't gotten cranky on this blog for a little while, but I did a casting job today that got me all riled up, so you get cranky-pants Juan now.

I've noticed another bad habit developing in the world of voice over auditioning. See, what I do is kind of old school. The company I work with still does in-house auditions where the talent drive to us to be recorded and directed. The biggest advantage to this approach is we give our clients a really hands on and carefully considered and selected group of talent to cast their projects from. For talent, it reduces the amount of competition you might face. A web casting can generate hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions, we typically narrow our field down to about 30 depending on what the client asks for. It's a win-win for clients and talent.

We work really hard at trying to keep open lines of communication with agents and managers. It's vital to our business that we know the local scene, and are very familiar with what talent can do. When new talent are breaking in, we need to know about them.

Now actors, this is where I'm getting a little concerned. Over the last several years, I've noticed a decline in reading comprehension and the ability to "pick up" from the newer talent I've auditioned. I've been encountering more and more talent walking into my booth with some pretty bad reading habits, talent leaving out or inserting words, talent walking in cold trying to "wing it", and talent picking up and retaking every other line of their copy.

When people like me give advice to new talent, often one of the main pointers we'll give is "Read out loud EVERY day". It's funny how often I meet resistance to this idea. I'm not trying to give you homework, or make your life more difficult, I've genuinely found that the better you can read, the better you are at auditioning. One of the reasons this advice might be challenged is invariabley a new talent will ask an established talent if they read out loud every day, to which the established talent will probably say "no".

"See! THEY book jobs and don't read out loud everyday!"

Except for the fact that they do. The established working/booking talent is always in shape, tackling auditions and jobs EVERY day. If you're only exercising your VO muscles once or twice a week, then the established talent will eat you for lunch nine times out of ten.

A practical example of reading comprehension you ask? Certainly!
While working for a TV client producing nature narration, the producer originally worked with a seasoned voice talent. This gentleman was a machine. His pick up/retake ratio was literally in the ballpark of one pick up every 30 minutes with maybe two re-directs from the client PER HOUR LONG EPISODE of TV. A natural, engaging story teller, and he was an absolute DREAM to work with. We finished an entire season of TV a day early due to his efficiency, taking a five day job down to four, a TWENTY percent reduction in studio costs.

For the second season of this show, one of the producers wanted to go with a younger sound on the narration. We held a casting, they picked a voice they liked and we jumped into the project. The new talent required MANY more retakes and re-directs. There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with the sessions, but there was a constantly feeling of "flow interrupted", and it's never a good feeling knowing you'll have more editing to do at the end of a session. Plus, not only was the new talent not able to get the job done as quickly, but needed an additional day to get some elements cleaned up.

The producers are gearing up for season three. Which talent do you think will be narrating it?

So voice actors, I'm REALLY not trying to be a jerk, or give you homework, or make you work harder than you think you should be, but if you want to be competitive in this (REALLY competitive) PLEASE read out loud every day. PLEASE practice your reading. I PROMISE it will make you a better auditioner, and a better auditioner is usually a better booker...


  1. Thank you. Well said. And about time somebody addressed this issue.

  2. Cranky-pants or not, this is vital information for new VO talent. I wonder if the advent of home recording makes it tempting for new talent to rely heavily on re-takes?

    -Pamela Vanderway,

  3. Excellent point!! As a talent just starting out, I completely agree with your post. i make an effort everyday to read out loud for at least 2-3 hours and the improvement is astounding!!