Take Your Copy to the Woodshed
by Peter Drew
You've booked your first voiceover session, a 60 second radio ad, at a local production house. You arrive in a positive frame of mind, relaxed, and ready to perform. After exchanging pleasantries with everyone involved with the session, the studio engineer hands you the copy. After reading through the script, determining your approach to the read, and consulting with the session's director(s), you're ready to nail the spot on the first take.
Sure, hitting a home run on your first at bat in front of the mic is possible, but by "woodshedding" or marking up your copy first, you establish visual cues that will help you give the director and client your best voice-over performance. Visualing indicating word inflections, words that need additional stress, pauses for pacing and effect, and attitude changes within the copy, creates a framework for a consistent performance, whether you nail the read on the first take or the tenth one.
So, what system of marks should you use to woodshed a piece of copy? Well, whatever works for you. There is, though, a general set of marks used by many voice talents
for this purpose.
For indicating up and down inflections, use an angled arrow: an upward angled arrow over an up-inflected syllable or word, and a downward angled arrow over down-inflected
syllables and words.
Underscore (underline) words that require additional stress. Put more than one underscore under a word or syllable to indicate even greater stress. By the way, putting stress on a word doesn't always mean simply saying that word louder than the other words in the script. You can stress a word by simply raising the pitch of your voice, without necessarily saying that word louder. To really stress a word, combine extra loudness with higher pitch.
Pauses can be used for both pacing and effect, as well as for giving yourself a place to breathe. Use a slash to indicate pauses. For a breathing point, use one small slash.
To indicate a pause for pacing, try one larger slash. A pregnant pause for effect can be indicated by multiple, two or more, slashes.
If you need to indicate a change of attitude, whether subtle or broad, then you can use any visual cue that works for you. A letter in a circle representing the change, e.g. an "H" for happier, or a "C" for calmer, etc. Of course, you can simply write in the word that indicates the change where it happens.
These are just some of the marks you can use to analyze the copy and create visual cues to enhance your performance. Create marks that work for you: circles, squares, highlighting, squiggles, dots, brackets--whatever you think can help you to develop a believable read.
Naturally, woodshedding a piece of copy is easy when it's double or even triple spaced. Unfortunately, you will receive single-spaced copy sometimes and you'll just have to make do. Of course, always make sure to bring a pencil with a good eraser to sessions. Besides using it to mark up copy, you'll also find yourself using that pencil for writing in copy changes from the person(s) directing the spot. The same goes for voice artists who work in their own personal studios. Always keep a few pencils on hand.
Marking up a piece of copy can take a few minutes, but making it a habit can help solidify the direction of a read in your mind as it gives you visual cues for executing the voiceover.
Make some time to practice and develop your woodshedding system. It will pay off each time you step into the booth and get behind the mic.
© Peter Drew, 2005