David Rosenthal - Cut Out 99% of Retake and Pickup Sessions
In this installment of In the Booth, David Rosenthal delivers some efficiency gems and tips for success that are sure to speed up your production process, expand your talent pool, and solicit exceptional auditions.
In this conversation, David and I discuss:
How to avoid pickup sessions with voice talent. Why go back and do it again when you can get it right the first time?
Hiring voice talent that embody the spirit of your product. Including examples of great and terrible audition spec requirements!
Creating audition specs that greatly increase your chances of finding that perfect voice.
Also, in this conversation, David talks about the dangers of citing celebrity voices in specs, and shares a pretty fantastic story about a well known actor that received an audition citing their voice.
Finally, don’t sleep on the end of the episode where we discuss a bonus tip!
David Rosenthal, CEO of Global Voice Acting Academy, is also a casting director for games and game apps, and a private voice over coach with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He’s voiced thousands of commercials, video games and corporate narrations, while at the same time helping many people get their start or further their careers in the voice over business.
This episode is so rich. If you’re someone in charge of hiring or casting voice talent, writing audition specs, reviewing auditions, or presenting talent to your client, you would do yourself a great disservice to not listen to these 22 minutes of power packed tips.
Listen to his voice demos and watch some of David Rosenthal’s camera work at https://www.davidrosenthalonline.com. If you’re curious about his voiceover coaching tactics, check out https://onlinevoiceovercoach.com. Finally, if you’re interested in some of the exercises and practices we voice talent go through, definitely take a look at the terrific work at GVAA, https://globalvoiceacademy.com. Email David, email@example.com
Eric Hurst: I'm Eric Hurst. This is In The Booth, a monthly conversation for marketing and creative professionals where voiceover industry veterans share tips and tricks for getting the most out of voice talent.
EH: My guest on this episode eats, sleeps and breathes the voiceover industry. Over the course of his 25-plus years of industry experience he's voiced thousands of commercials, video games and corporate narrations. In addition to being a voice talent, he's a casting director for games and apps, has helped hundreds, myself included, as a private voiceover coach, and serves as the CEO of Global Voice Acting Academy, an absolutely fantastic organization.
EH: I'm speaking of David Rosenthal. David, thanks for joining me in the booth.
David Rosenthal: Most happy to be here, sir.
EH: You are a busy, busy dude. Thanks for making time to chat with me.
DR: Hey, for you, always, okay?
EH: Now you're just flattering.
DR: Hey! You're seriously good. What can I say.
EH: Well, you're seriously kind.
EH: Because you're so busy and time is of the essence, efficiency has to be key in your sessions. What I'd like to know and where I'd like to start is, in your experience, what is the best way for directors and producers to streamline the voiceover session?
DR: It's really, and even without a directed session, sometimes, it's really important to get on the same page with the director or producer as quickly as possible so that everybody understands the product that they're getting and the kind of read that they want. This really cuts down on the actor's time, the voice actor's time, but also for the director, because the director can go into the project knowing that they're going to get the kind of read and the kind... Their understanding, along with the actor, is the same.
DR: What I usually do is ask them to give me an idea of what they're going for, and then what I do is I give them an A, B and a C read for, maybe, the first little bit of whatever the piece is. If it's a longer-form narration, I would give them a paragraph. If it's a commercial, I would give them the first few lines of a 60-second. If it's 15, I can the do whole thing. I would give them three reads so that they can go, "Oh, I want to be going in this direction". That way, I'm not spending a lot of time doing thousands of takes of things when, if I know that they're going for B out of A, B and C, I know what to do with that. I can nuance that, that particular kind of read, and usually everybody's very happy and it gets done really quickly.
EH: Yeah. I think, flipping that around, it's perfectly acceptable for a director or an account manager, or somebody like that, to request that of the talent. I know, for myself, I would definitely welcome that. If somebody requested, "Hey, would you mind sending us this line a couple of different ways so we can kind of hear where you're thinking about going with this before we even get into the session, just so that we're all on the same page". I think that, I've got to imagine that that really cuts down on post-session pickups and things like that.
DR: Oh, you bet. As a matter of fact, it almost, unless it's something that legal has decided needs to have a slight change, it almost does away with pickups. It's pretty incredible. So, I would advise everybody to be on the same page. Have the director or client ask for that ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with doing a few lines. Especially since you've been booked, you want this to go smoothly, too, as the voice actor. But from the director client end, if the director client does not ask for that, be upfront and say, "I would like to offer this as a way to move quickly into our session when we meet".
EH: In the last episode of In The Booth, I spoke with Roberta Solomon and we got to talking about specs. She's a fan of specs that describe emotion rather than demographics. As someone that is called on to do quite a bit of character work, I'd like for you to talk to me about effective specs that you've encountered.
DR: Well, I'll let you know right now that what I tell almost all of my students in the voiceover world, "Look at the specs with a grain of salt." You've got to look at them. You have to. Obviously they're there for a reason, but I would also let everybody know that they're a professional, they've spent the time and the money to create a profession as a voiceover, and you know, when you look at a script, the way you want it to sound.
DR: Having said that, let's look at specs for a second because I think that the client can really confuse people and really take people away from the emotional intent of the spot. Any time that you have a hiring a voiceover, you're hiring them to bring your product or your information to life. You want that voice to embody the spirit of your product, the idea of your company, and in order to do that you really want to explain the emotional tenor of the piece more than anything else. So, having a certain kind of emotional tonality to your specs is so much more helpful than if you're going to say, "Please sound like this person".
DR: Let me give you an example of what is one of the most confusing specs I have ever received.
EH: Please do.
DR: All right.
EH: This is one of my favorite subjects, by the way.
DR: Okay. I will read this to you in its entirety.
EH: Yeah. Fantastic.
DR: Okay? I will let you know that this is the spec of somebody who has no idea what the hell they want, and they should be okay saying that. As long as you work the emotional tonality, the emotional tenor, into that spec, just say, "We'll know when we hear it".
EH: I love that. There's so much power in just saying, "We don't know. I don't know".
EH: Let me know that you don't know. That does so much more for me, as the talent, than-
DR: And it gives you freedom.
EH: One hundred percent! Than kind of giving me some bogus, halfhearted direction where... Just say you don't know. I love that. I hadn't even thought about that, but that's fantastic. Yeah, just say, "I don't know".
DR: Yeah. But say, "We'll know when we hear it. We're looking for wry humor and upbeat energy". Something like that is fine. Then just leave it to the talent to be able to produce what you're looking for, because that's what we do.
EH: I love that phrase "emotional tonality", too. That's such a good term for it.
DR: Thank you.
EH: Okay, I want to hear this spec.
DR: Okay. Here we go. "Specs: Male, 30-45. No distinct regional accent. Not crazy, ridiculous, or goofy. Nothing announcer-y. Nothing breathy. Parenthesis; especially deep and breathy. Nothing trying to be cool guy and not a voice you hear all the time. As for the read, I don't think it should be friendly. Most straightforward or slightly wry, or a little tough, but not too tough. We are looking for someone who has a voice that does all the talking, not someone who has to affect anything to get his point across. A voice with presence. Remarkable sound quality. Something distinctive that you don't hear every day. Someone's got to have something extra to get this job, not do something extra. So make it adult-sounding, but not really adult. Not old adult, just more experience. Maybe more grit, but not Sam Elliott grit. Something different that you do not hear every day. Something that doesn't sound like a typical announcer". That's the whole spec.
EH: Oh my god! That should be framed and put in a hall of fame somewhere. That's fantastic. That just screams, "We don't know what we want".
DR: Exactly! Why bother? Why have somebody write up a whole paragraph that is actually longer than the commercial itself.
EH: I'm curious. You, as a talent in a situation like that, how do you handle that? Do you actually go through with the audition, or do you look at that, raise an eyebrow and go, "This sounds like a nightmare"?
DR: I look at the commercial, I say, "Okay. The commercial itself sounds really fun. I'm going to give them my interpretation of this, and if it's what they want, great. If not, no skin off my back. It took me all of five minutes to do this and it was fun". If you feel like something is not going to be fun, and if you feel like the client is not going to be a fun... it's not going to be a fun situation to work with somebody like this... Although, you don't know that the person who wrote the spec is going to be the person who ends up directing or anything. It may just have been one of the ad agency people.
EH: I guess what I'm getting at is, I think it's important for agencies to know that talent are reading these specs and, also, drawing up a story in their heads of what it's going to be like working with that client.
DR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EH: So I think it's worth putting a good foot forward, just the way that we, as talent, are trying to put our best foot forward by putting out a great audition or a fantastic demo, or having a good online presence, or whatever the case is. It serves them just as well. Their communication to the talent, oftentimes, is through that spec, and I think that's worth noting.
EH: It's interesting in that one that you just read. There's a whole lot of, "Don't sound like this. Not this, not that. Not Sam Elliott". I hear a ton of, "Oh, we really wanted a Sam Elliott" and that's not me so I'm like, "Well, I'm not going to be able to do Sam Elliot".
EH: But I get dozens of auditions, and maybe it's because of how I'm profiled, for somebody that's asking to sound like John Krasinski. John Krasinski's so hot right now, everybody wants him.
DR: Oh, yeah.
EH: So, I go through with those because I think I kind of play in that lane, but I often wonder if he actually receives the same auditions, and how many he gets turned down for.
DR: There's a great story. One of my good friends, Danny Stern, who played Cyril-
EH: Home Alone!
DR: Yep. The tall, geeky guy, Cyril, that played against Joe Pesci and then, in City Slicker movies, opposite Billy Crystal.
EH: Wonder Years. He narrated Wonder Years.
DR: He did. He did the voiceover for Wonder Years. Actually, after he... He doesn't do as much on-camera work any more and he wanted to move over and do more voiceover work. We were talking one day and he said he was in his studio and his agent sent him a commercial with the spec saying, "We're looking for a Danny Stern type".
EH: Slam dunk!
DR: Dan is looking at this thing going, "All right! Finally! This is cool". He auditions for it and he doesn't get it.
EH: That's amazing.
DR: The point being, right there, slap in your face, is that they didn't want Daniel Stern.
DR: Even though they said it. "We want a Danny Stern sound" or "type voice", or whatever, they didn't want him.
EH: They wanted what he was in one specific piece, probably.
DR: Right, and it could've been something that he's not any more.
DR: If it was like Wonder Years and stuff like that, he had a slightly younger voice back then. All sorts of stuff. That's why I think it's really antithetical, actually giving famous people's names to try and live up to, because we don't know... For Dan, we didn't know what time in his history they were talking about...
EH: Yeah. That's a good point.
DR: That, I say, doesn't help as much as emotional tonality does, and if you can just give three or four descriptive words that they want to hear in terms of the emotional feel of the spot. We know how long it's going to be if it's a commercial, so we have to get a certain feel in with the words in a specific amount of time. If it's a narration, just give me four descriptive words that I can work with and I know how to take it from there. I am a professional. If you give me the words "warm", "thoughtful", "reflective", "nostalgic"...
EH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
DR: ... I know where to go with that.
EH: Yeah, definitely.
DR: I know exactly how to conjure up that read, and that's all I need.
EH: Yeah, you're spot on. It seems to me that by saying, "We want someone that sounds like John Krasinski, or Danny Stern, or Kristin Bell", that the client, or the agency, or whoever, the brand, is automatically ruling out half of the talent pool based on gender alone.
DR: Exactly. Exactly. If you give those four words, right, like we talked about before?
EH: Mm-hmm (affirmative). "Warm", "inviting", "nostalgic", "dreamy".
DR: Yeah, exactly. That could be open to male and female. I strongly believe in clients being open to auditioning both men and women in these roles because, frankly, for the longest time, let's face it, this was a man's world. Advertising and marketing.
DR: Women, as people having that wonderful gift of being able to sell and market, was downplayed. They're huge now. Thank god people are understanding that and often, now, I will see auditions that will say, "Male, female, doesn't matter", and that's great. Obviously, if there's a specific demographic that you're going after and that requires a male or a female voice, I get it. But, oh my gosh, I really feel strongly about the ability for women to do as many great auditions and as much great work as men in this industry. If not more. They have a way... I am, as a casting director, at times love casting women just because I feel like they have such an interesting take on everything. It's because they're finally in the limelight and they're finally getting used. Their sense of humor, their life experience. To me, that's very exciting and it opens up a huge new market, as well.
EH: Yeah, definitely. I had an interesting, on the same note, audition come through yesterday, actually.
DR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EH: Where they didn't even say, "Open to male or female". They were very specific around that emotional tonality. They said, "This needs to be warm and inviting. The product makes you feel... it should conjure up memories from your childhood", and then they linked to a previous commercial. The previous voiceover was a female, and she was fantastic. Just so good. But I knew immediately, just by saying, giving me that kind of emotional tonality... I really love that term, I'm going to say it a hundred different times, now... actually, with that example, I didn't come out of watching that video and go, "Oh well, they're looking for a female here". No, I knew going into it, "This is what they're looking for, here's an example of what they've had in the past, and now they want something kind of in the same vein but they're looking for a different voice".
DR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EH: I know how to do that. I can do that.
EH: It was great, and I just thought that that was a really fantastic example of describing the energy and having the example, the openness to any gender, and really giving the talent everything they needed to submit a great audition.
DR: Isn't that wonderful? I wish they could all be that way.
EH: Yeah, absolutely. I agree.
DR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EH: Let's wrap this up.
DR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EH: What have we learned here? I'm going to try and run through these and you tell me if I missed anything, okay?
EH: You streamline the session by requesting A, B and C takes, or any number of takes, prior to the actual session. Doesn't have to be the entire piece, just pick a few lines or a paragraph, if it's a longer piece, or whatever. Ask the talent to give you a few different interpretations so that you know, going into the session, where you want to go and everybody's on the same page.
DR: You got it.
EH: Describe the energy, the emotional tonality, as it were, desired for the voiceover. Not who the talent should mimic or, for that matter, who they should not mimic, as that example showed us.
EH: Lastly, don't limit your auditions based on gender. Be open when possible and, most times, I think it's actually possible. Open, because you might find something unexpected coming from the gender that you didn't have in mind for that piece.
EH: Did I get them right?
DR: Oh, you got them really right. Thank you.
EH: Anything else you want to add here?
DR: I just need you to be my editor, that's all!
EH: Well, David, where can everybody find you online?
DR: A couple of places. I am, as I said, the CEO for Global Voice Acting Academy. That's globalvoiceacademy.com. We provide coaching and demos when people are ready. Classes, rate negotiation advice, workshops, workouts. Webinar Q&As where people can bring all their questions about their business, or the business in general, to the Q&A and get them answered. We try to help people further their careers whenever possible. Kicking the tires, seeing why they might not actually be booking as much as they had or they would like. So, that's Global Voice Acting Academy.
EH: All right.
DR: Thank you for allowing me to do a little push, there, on that.
EH: Yeah, man, that's perfect. I'll make sure all of that gets put into the actual written post, and there should be links to that on the page that you're listening to this whole conversation on.
EH: David, just one thing on GVAA, Global Voice Acting Academy. Just from my personal perspective, I love it. I'm a member. You know I'm a member, but I want people to know that I'm a member. I think it's fantastic. I actually wonder what it would be like if some of my own clients just signed up for a month and went through some of the workouts, and through some of the work. How that might help further their own career and how they're working with voice actors.
DR: I think that would be just awesome. If you can know what the other, who you're employing, what we go through on our side, the level of commitment, professionalism and talent that's there, I think it would help them move through sessions and move through the audition process with such a degree of enlightenment. If anything, they'll just know more about this end of the business, since they're involved in it all the time on one side. I think that would be awesome. I'd be happy to talk to anybody. By the way, we always do 15-minute consultations for free, so if people have any questions, who are listening to this, you can always set up a time with me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd be happy to talk with you and help you with that. But the membership idea is great, for a month. I think that would be awesome.
EH: Yeah. Well, there we go. Bonus tip.
DR: Yeah. Thank you.
EH: David, thanks for making time to chat with me. I really appreciate it.
DR: It was a pleasure. I loved every minute and hope to be able to help you down the line, as well.