By Ben Thorgeirson
One of the things I love most about producing commercials is when a client comes in to voice and I get the chance to coach. You’re probably thinking I’m on fentanyl by saying that, but it’s true! Now, I should clarify, I don’t recommend a client voicing their own spots, but let’s be serious, you’re ALWAYS going to have a couple coming in and some of them are absolutely horrendous.
I can recall when I was working in Medicine Hat. We had a furniture store owner come in to voice his own spots, and I was convinced he couldn’t read and almost recommended a refresher course on the ABCs at the local college. But after a deep breath and some patience (not to mention a half hour of voicing later), we got the single thirty second spot done. It was the toughest session I’ve ever been a part of, and I wasn’t even the one voicing! I felt completely drained and exhausted at the end and wasn’t sure how I was going to muster the mental capacity to go on with the rest of my day, and it was ONLY ten o’clock…
So I went for a much needed, much EXTENDED break. Came back with a clear mind and went through the thirty minutes of mumbles and stumbles. Cut the spot and shipped it off. The next day, our sales rep got an email from that client explaining how happy he was with the commercial. He went on to say that he would NEVER go back to the other radio stations where he was voicing because they made him sound like a complete fool. Over the next 4 months of him coming in, we cut his voicing time in half, and we had a very happy, very thankful, very returning client.
One thing I love about that experience is how happy the client was after he heard the difference from his previous spots. He had no idea that he could voice like that. The smile on his face every time I saw him was such an adrenaline rush. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this client actually WANTS to work with me!’ (This was my first full-time gig so it was still new to me, haha).
Another thing I love about that experience is that it keeps me grounded when I’m working with a client. I don’t let anything go out of my studio that sounds like crap, and if that means spending an HOUR with a client to get a read that makes our station look good and them sound good, then buckle up because we’re going to be here for a while.
And this doesn’t just apply to small markets. Working in Calgary, all I make are car dealer and home builder spots. 90% of the car dealers here want to be on their own spots. I have one that I’ve been working with for over 2 years, and he’s now become a very good acquaintance -- so much so, that I do business with him outside of work. He was the same way when I first met him. Abysmal at voicing! We used to have half hour sessions for just 2 spots, and now he’s down to FIVE MINUTES. I tell him every time he’s in, “I’d love to coach you but, you don’t need it anymore!” Now he’s only here for a half hour because we end up shootin’ the breeze. I played him a spot from 3 years ago and he laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out!
If you put in the time and effort to make your client’s voicing sound immaculate (as far as client voicing goes) then they WILL get better, and it WILL make your life easier in the long run.
Some of the coaching techniques I use are all basic. I’m rather fond of two: when I was working in Medicine Hat, I had befriended the producer I took over for. He was a theater actor. Some of the best advice I ever got was from him: “Get them to speak as if they’re speaking to a 5 year old,” and it makes perfect sense if you think about it. We’re only grabbing audio. There’s no visual, no smell, no taste to go with it. If they over act on a microphone, then it’s going to come out sounding perfectly normal. Or, if you’re really having difficulties, I also love using the ‘repeat after me’ technique. I’ll perform the line exactly the way I want it, and then get them to repeat it. I’d say 70% of the time it comes out exactly right on the first take, if not it’s only 1 or 2 more before the voiceover is complete.
If you can be a great coach for your clients, then they’re going to come back to you for production, and THEN they’re going to come back for a buy. Voila, you’re now more valuable as a commercial producer.
Ben is a Commercial Producer for Newcap Radio in Calgary, AB. He welcomes your correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org.