The 5 Elements of a Winning Voice Over Audition
Every Voice-Over audition you do has a number of different elements that contribute to its strength, as well as its potential to land you the job. By knowing which of these elements are most important to those casting the project, you can make sure you focus your energy on the areas of your audition that matter the most. Let's take a look at the 5 main components of a Voice-Over Audition, in order of importance from most to least, as well as how to optimize each one.
1. The Read
Hands down, the most important part of any audition you submit, will be your actual performance, or read. Many clients already have some idea of the voice they are looking for in their heads, before they even cast the project. If your read comes close to this mental image they had, you already have a great shot of landing the gig and they will likely be more forgiving of any shortcomings your audition may have in the remaining 4 areas that we’ll cover later in this post.
So how can you make sure you are delivering a competitive read and performance? While your actual voice itself is a large part of this, it’s not the only part. Your vocal tone and quality make you unique and can help set you apart from other talent in the same age range/demographic/experience level/etc...But it’s also important how you use that voice to interpret the copy.
Are you picking up on tonal shifts in the script such as sarcasm, afterthoughts, humor, etc… Are you convincing in the emotions you are trying to convey? Or are you coming across as an actor “pretending” to feel that way? Do you place emphasis where it has the most impact and helps reinforce the overall message of the script?
While performance skills and script interpretation are far too broad and intricate a subject to cover in this section or post (or any single blog post for that matter), the main thing to take away is that your voice is a big piece of the puzzle in regards to the quality of your read and how well you match what the client is looking for - but the way you use that voice to interpret the copy and read it as it was intended to be read is an even bigger one. Realize that both of them work together to form the most important component of any audition you do.
2. Audio Quality
Coming in right behind your read in terms of importance, is the Audio Quality of your audition. You might hit the nail on the head with your read and be exactly what the client had in mind, but if the audio you produce sounds like it was recorded on an old cell phone, it’s simply not going to be usable by the client.
While that’s an extreme example, it illustrates the importance audio quality plays in your audition success. Higher quality audio in the voice-over contributes to higher overall audio quality in a project, and if the client has shortlisted you and a few other talent for a job and likes all of the reads, audio quality may be the next deciding factor.
So how do you get your audio quality to aide in your audition success, rather than detract from it? I think the first thing to note is that there is some sort of threshold where your audio quality becomes competitive. I’m not sure if it can be technically defined, but when you get 100 auditions for a project, there are a number of them that immediately fall below this audio-quality threshold and are immediately discarded, as they simply won’t sound good in the project, even if the read is good. Your first job is to clear this threshold and be capable of producing “Competitive Audio” and from there refine your studio and audio engineering skills to be able produce a top quality product.
If you’re curious how you stack up in this regard, do some research online and find some audio from top talent that you can compare yours to. I recommend looking for Narration, E-Learning, or Audiobook reels, as a lot of these will likely have no background music or sound effects, and will allow you to compare voice to voice. Take a listen to some of these reels back to back with your own work, at the same volume (on your interface or PC), through the same speakers (or headphones). Note any differences and write them down. (I've also included a "VO Audio Quality Reference File" in the Resource Package for this post, which you can use to compare your audio to - you can download it at the bottom of the post)
Is their audio louder than yours (without changing the volume on the device you are listening through)? Is there background noise present in yours that is not present in theirs? Does their audio seem fuller and richer and yours thin and shrill in comparison? Are there audible clicks, pops, and other mouth/performance noises in your recordings that are not present in theirs?
Take note of the main differences between your audio and that of top talent, and make the necessary changes to your recording chain or editing process to correct them.
After your read, and your audio quality, comes your quote. While you’ve probably heard the advice that you shouldn’t lowball to get jobs (and you shouldn’t) and that you should just quote what you feel is appropriate for each project, to deny that quotes play some role in the casting process and selection of talent is simply not accurate.
While everyone would love to get a great deal and spend less than they had planned when purchasing a product or service, there’s a reason this is the third most important element of your audition behind your read and audio quality. It’s because people will pay for quality. Even if your quote is 1/10th of every single other talent you are competing against, it simply won’t matter to the client if the product you provide (your read and audio quality) pails in comparison to your competitors. Look at how many people have Apple and Samsung phones compared to cheaper off-brand models from smaller manufacturers.
It’s a good idea to have some sort of personal rate card for your services. Not necessarily to post on your website or give out, but just for your own reference and to know what you would generally charge for different types of projects that you may need to provide quotes for. This way you can have a clear method of determining where to quote projects that provide a budget range. Typically, the middle of the range is a good place to start. But having your own rate card can help you determine situations when you can quote at the high end or low end as well.
For instance, if a project comes along and based on the length and usage you’d typically charge $250, but the budget range is $500-750, you can stay on the low end. And in contrast, if that same project had a budget range of $100-250, you’d likely want to quote the $250.
Don’t spend too much time worrying about your quotes, if the range presented for the project is appropriate to you, and you quote within it, you shouldn’t run into any issues. Instead focus your energy on the first two elements we covered, your read and audio quality, as they have a much more direct impact on your success rate.
4. Proposal/Service Offerings
Next in line is your actual written proposal, and the specific services you are capable of offering as a voice-talent.
Your proposal is a chance to let the client know a little bit more about you and is part of your first impression (in addition to your actual audition file). Whether this is your written proposal on a P2P site, or your body of an email response to an audition request, it’s a place where you can provide a little information and display your professionalism and communication style.
Your service offerings are another great way to stand out and make a good first impression. Being able to offer things like 24 hour turnarounds (or quicker), capabilities for live directed sessions, adding music and sfx, etc...all build your value as a talent. (I've included a VO Service Offerings guide in the free resource package for this post, detailing services commonly offered by top VO Talent, you can download it at the bottom of the post)
While these things are certainly less important than the first 3 in terms of a successful audition (no one who provides a poor read, poor audio quality, and an off-base quote are landing a job because they offer 1 hour turnarounds and write a catchy proposal message) - they are still a good way to differentiate from other talent, and if it comes down to it, could be the thing that sets you apart from other finalists.
It might be surprising to see this one come in last on the list, but this post is about what makes a successful audition, not a successful talent overall. Firstly, what I mean by credentials and training/experience, is the actual “prestige” if you will, of those items, and listing them somewhere in your proposal, profile, or website. Obviously I’m not trying to say that training isn’t important to a successful audition, because it has a direct impact on your read, which is number one on this list. But in terms of turning in a successful audition, your credit list and education/training credentials matter less than you may think.
The clearest way to illustrate this, is by relaying the fact that most clients who cast projects don’t even look at the credit lists or backgrounds of the talent they select for projects. If they are looking at an audition that contains a great read, nice professional audio quality, a quote that suits their budget, and the talent is capable of offering any services they require - then what would they care if this is the very first audition this talent has ever done with no training or experience whatsoever, or if he studied with the top coaches and has a credit list full of Fortune 500 companies. If they can provide what the client needs, that’s the most important thing.
Now that hypothetical scenario is a bit far-fetched, as a talent with absolutely zero experience in anything related to VO is very unlikely to be able to provide all of those things, but it highlights the overall point I am trying to make - which is that when auditioning for VO projects, the product you provide is much more important than the history that lead you to be able to provide that product.
To sum up, when auditioning for VO jobs, focus your energy on the first two items on this list, in order - your read, and your audio quality. They are far and away the most important elements of your auditions. If these two things get you into a pool of finalists for a job, then the next things that may decide your success are (in order) - your quote, your proposal & service offerings, and your credentials & experience. Put your focus where it matters, and audition smart - good luck!
Go back through the last 5-10 auditions you submitted and run down the list of important elements (read, audio quality, quote, proposal, experience) and assess your quality in each area. Do you see/hear areas where you could improve? Are they in the first two elements (read & audio quality)? Make notes on what you need to do better and how you plan to accomplish it.
Which of these elements do you pay the most attention to in your auditions? What are some ways you've tried to optimize them? Let me know in the comments!
You can download the free resource package for this post, by clicking the button below. It contains a PDF version of the post for saving and offline reading, as well as an Audio Quality Reference file you can use to compare your own audio quality to, and a VO Service Offerings guide, detailing specific services usually offered by top talent that you should strive to offer as well, as you grow your career.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful - if so, please share! Thanks for checking it out, talk soon!