One Show, Good-bye – Week 8

One of my goals in Voice over Work is to get one recording with maximum productivity. That is, a one-to-one ratio of work to product. I want to do a narration that is 60 minutes long in one hour. Or any fraction thereof, as long as it is 1:1. I’m not talking about a 10 second answering machine blurb or the like – something…not devoid of value.

The place to start for that obviously would be to deliver a flawless performance. One bullet, one kill. Hit record, narrate, and done. Is it possible to do that without rehearsing? Most of the time, no, it isn’t. And if you could, the product probably wouldn’t be worth the time it took to listen.

But the performance isn’t where all the time comes in. In fact, if you go along with the commonly accepted ratio out there, when considering all the parts of making a recording, instead of the 1:1 I am striving for, the reality is more like 6:1. Six to one!?! Six is good. I like six. But 6:1 hurts. Whether I am volunteering like now for LibriVox or if eventually I get paid for this, that is still going to hurt the profit margin.

Where does it all go?

First, let’s be clear that we are excluding the introductory stuff like auditioning. A fair percentage of your Voice over Work time will go into the business of the business, not the actual productivity. The great majority of all this time goes into a few basic areas:

    • Preparation – script review, research, character development
    • Performance
    • Post Production – normalizing, EQ, compressing, mixing, mastering
    • Delivery – I would have left this out, since it really is part of the overhead like auditioning on the front end, but I don’t like alliteration and needed a fourth point to break it up.

Let’s see then what we can do to get that under control. Since we started with performance before, let’s look at that again. If you are doing this stuff, you probably have a better than average ability to read something out loud and, in real time, add a little something to the presentation. Even so, every one is going to stumble, cough, mispronounce, or struggle with getting the emphasis in the correct spot while reading. The good news is, the more you do this, the better you get at it.

As you perform more and more, you find that less prep time is needed, and you increase your ability to scan ahead so you know where you are going. I have it on the finest authority that advanced musicians, for example, are busy reading beats or measures ahead in the music while they are performing – the brain buffers the information and then the hands spool it out when the time comes. As a Voice over Worker, you will do the same thing, and the more you exercise that, the better you will get at it. It’s kind of cool, actually.

As Glenn said, Take It Easy.

The greatest advance I made in my accuracy so far is to slow down. I think a lot of the audiobooks out there are too slow, and to compensate I tend to narrate too quickly. That compounds the errors in many ways – it’s easier to get tongue tied trying to talk quickly; it’s difficult to get the flow of the sentence in your head before you get to the pivotal word or phrase; typos in the script (yes, they do happen) will throw you and you won’t have time to recover. By taking the tempo down a good bit, 60% of these problems are avoided.

There are many sites out there that talk about length of narration – that is, how long it takes on average to read a certain number of words. Most settle around just under 10,000 words per hour. My own estimates put me at a lot closer to 9,000 per hour, and when you hear some of those recording, it is obvious that I was reading to fast. It has been difficult to get myself to slow down, and I don’t think I will ever get to the point of some of the very (overly) dramatic voice actors that go….so….slowly. Of course, it depends on the material as well, so keep that in mind as you check out your own count.

What have you found to be an acceptable speed, first of all as a listener, and secondly as a Voice over Worker? Or have you ever even paid attention to work count? I know I never did, but now, do I ever! Please share your experiences and help us all to grow!

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