Three Tips for Understanding Audition Directions

Successful auditions are the bread and butter of the modern voice actor. While it’s true that you can book a project solely off of your demo, you’re much more likely to have to go to bat against a number of other talented peers. In any set of audition specs there are a handful of key pieces of information that most trained actors will leverage. But you’re not “most trained actors” – you’re a shrewd voice talent interested in reading between the lines and setting yourself apart with a little something extra. In that spirit, let’s take a look at three ways you can add some shine to your next submission.

  1. Don’t look…really!

This may seem strange, but the first thing I would suggest looking for is…nothing. Before even glancing at the specs, look to the copy. Let the words speak for themselves. Record yourself delivering a cold, or relatively cold, read. Doing so can reveal several things about the script and your connection to it, that reading specs first may hide, such as natural cadence, word or phrase emphasis, and emotion – your most genuine you, without external input.

Once you complete your cold read, play it back while taking a look at the specs. How did your natural response match up with what the client was going for? Is it close? Way off? This information is valuable when handling scripts which may be going in a direction you wouldn’t expect.

While you may not include this cold read among your final takes for the audition, it can provide a good base to record a secondary “true you” read to include as one of your final takes. Even if this natural read is way off of specs, I have seen instances where it has been the take that wins the day by showing the client what the read could be.

Even if you decide not to include an off-spec take with your final submission, this recording can provide an audio reference to use as a sounding board to help you maintain a more genuine read when dealing with specs which may feel unnatural. Conversational is king in the current marketplace, and this method can help to overcome less-than-ideal spec choices. 

  1. Who exactly is the end client?

Whenever the end-client – the company whose message you’re delivering – is named in audition specs, it pays to do a little research before you read. Understanding where your client is coming from, and what their goals are, can only serve to help you better represent the heart of the copy. 

Take a few moments to look this client up and wrap your head around their mission. You don’t need to spend the time to become an expert on their product or service, but do gather at least a baseline understanding of who they are, what they do, and who they serve. This information can create a more robust context for your delivery. 

From another perspective, knowing who the end client is can enable you to do some research on any recent or current spots they’ve run. Maybe the client is looking for a fresh voice with a “familiar” delivery, in which case recent spots can provide a baseline for your read. Maybe they’re looking to re-brand, with a delivery that is new and unfamiliar, in which case recent spots can provide a point of reference for what not to do. If there is no obvious evidence in either direction, you can deliver each type of read across multiple takes, assuming there is no stated limit to the number of takes allowed. 

  1. What are the specs not telling you?

What I mean by this is – what aspects of the delivery is the client leaving up to you? Empty space in the specs can be a gold mine. It’s where you play, and where you bring your creativity to the read. 

For example, let’s say you came across a set of specs for a sports drink commercial which only specified “Conversational, Young Adult.” The script indicates that you’re delivering this message in the context of being in the middle of a football game. And that’s it. No other specifics. This is a beautiful situation to find yourself in. The sky’s the limit, and you get to dream up the context for delivery.

Maybe you deliver the script as a casual young adult in the audience, telling your friend about the sports drink the team has on the sidelines in an unaffected way. Maybe you’re working a concession stand, hurriedly sharing the information as you juggle multiple orders. Or maybe you’re on the team and just finished an exhausting play, and you’re panting in between swigs of the drink while delivering an internal monologue, or aside to the audience. 

The more detailed the specs, the narrower your choices. Seeking out gaps in the direction can give you the room you need to cook up some unique takes. 

In truth, those “typical” pieces of information that most voice actors learn to leverage in an audition document are typical for a reason, and we don’t have to totally reinvent the wheel here. They’re incredibly valuable, and set a firm foundation for a successful read. But to press on to even greater rates of success we need to think outside of the box, and read between the lines. 

These are just a few ideas, and the buck doesn’t stop here. Never stop experimenting, and drop me a line if you use another piece of information in your auditions to step up your game!




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