How to prepare for a voice recording session

Power of Babel started with a chance encounter. I needed a studio for a large dubbing project, and as it happened, the studio I’d been working with for years was booked up with TV shows. Someone recommended DB Audio, a smaller operation with a focus on recording the human voice and a lot of experience with foreign languages.

I showed up for one session, and liked it so much, I never left.

Power of Babel French supervisor Simon D. Scott (left) and engineer Neil McDonald.

Since then, I’ve watched Dave Boire (the DB in DB Audio, and Power of Babel’s technical director) and audio engineer Neil McDonald handle hundreds of clients, both Power of Babel’s and others. Some come well prepared and are in and out quickly; others struggle with scripts, have casting confusion, and end up wasting hundreds of dollars’ worth of studio time, having to recall performers for fixes, and missing deadlines.

So I asked Dave for a list of important things for producers to know in preparing for a voice recording session. This is what he came back with:

The Script

  • Make sure your script is proofread and approved before the studio session. Making changes “on the fly” can burn up valuable time and result in cost overruns and/or re-calls.
  • Research any possible pronunciation questions in advance – for example, unfamiliar names or technical terms.
  • Make sure your copy is “to time” and written for the human voice. Read it out aloud with a stopwatch. Make sure it’s easy to say, with no run-on sentences or unnecessary tongue-twisters.

Before the Session

  • Make sure you have the right voice talent. A pleasant-sounding voice is only the start. The ability to “sell” a script and adjust timing is essential.
  • Think about the music. Make sure it works with the script and the talent’s voice.
  • Send reference videos and other assets at least a day ahead to avoid last-minute problems with conversion or file formats.
  • Make sure you make all your requests – music, sfx, phone patch, lunch – in advance, so the studio can be ready. This will reduce downtime when you are in the studio.
  • Be a good communicator. Let the studio know how much material there is, what product it’s for, who’s coming to the session, and what your deadlines are.

A Power of Babel dubbing session at DB Audio.

The Session

  • It hardly needs saying, but be nice to the talent and the engineer – they are there to make your project sound great.
  • Be confident in the read you are looking for before you start directing the talent. Better still, hire a voice director to help capture your vision.
  • Don’t expect the engineer to take on the role of producer. For a sensitive session, always use a voice director, or run the session yourself.

Follow Dave’s advice, and you’ll have a good session. And a good audio session makes for a good video. Remember: sound is more important than picture!

And of course, when you hire Power of Babel to manage your language versioning project, most of this is taken care of as a matter of course.

Got questions? Give us a shout.

Eric Geringas
Versioning producer. Documentary filmmaker. Factual TV director. Problem solver.