You just booked your first remote live directed session, congratulations!
It’s weird, isn’t it? You’ve spent so much time recording by yourself in your closet or booth and now someone will be directing you LIVE while you’re doing it? It’s exciting! And nerve wracking.
Having done a ton of remote live directed sessions from my home studio(s) over the years, I’ve compiled a few things to help ease your mind and prepare you for your remote live direct.
Be Prepared (cue Scar singing)
Whether you’re throwing your king brother to the wildebeests or voicing a new commercial or character, be prepared!
That means warming up your voice, practicing, marking up the script and doing whatever else you need for your call time. The first read or two on a live direct is almost always a “warm up” read and is thrown out, but if you nail it the director and engineer will be especially impressed. Plus your preparedness will probably cut down the length of the session which will make EVERYONE happy.
My quickest ever session was 8 minutes. Was it a short script? Yes. Was I prepared? Also yes.
Also, think about what you can do if disaster strikes. What if you have a power outage during the session? Or your internet cuts out?
Some may consider it over-kill, but having a back up generator or ideally a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) will protect you if your power suddenly goes out during a session.
Knowing how to turn your phone into a hot spot for your laptop or desktop may save you if your internet cuts out as well.
Understanding Industry Terminology
Here are a few terms I think are especially important to know for a remote live direct.
Slate: Though often used at the beginning of an audition (slating your name, sometimes agency or character you’re auditioning for), slating in a session typically occurs when you’re recording on your end and the client wants you to identify each take before performing. So for example, “Take 2” before starting your second take.
Lead in: Can refer to something you say or do prior to a take OR (more likely) when you or the engineer plays part of a take to prepare you for your next take. “I’m going to lead you in with take 2. You’ll hear take 2 and then we’ll be in record.”
DAW: Digital Audio Workstation (AKA the software you’re using to record the session)
Adjusting your gain: Turning the knob on your interface (or via your interface’s software on your computer) to raise or lower your audio levels.
ABC/3 wild/3 in the air/3 on a stick: Doing three DIFFERENT takes of a line one after the other, outside of the context of the script.
Levels: The volume level of your audio. You may be asked “what are your levels?” if the director/engineer can’t see your DAW. Level expectations differ depending on the type of record so ask before you start recording what they would like the levels to average at and if there’s a top and bottom end ie: averaging between -10dB and -20dB with peaks at -6dB.
Processed: When effects are added to the audio to improve the sound quality. Clients who are just dropping your audio into their projects without doing much mixing/mastering will likely prefer you do some processing on your end.
Raw: No effects added at all. Clients typically prefer receiving files raw if they have their own engineer or plan on processing/mastering themselves.
Clip/Clipping: When your level is too high/hot and you “clip” the audio, so it is so loud it becomes unusable.
Pick Ups: Sometimes used interchangeably with “revisions”, a pick up is typically when you’ve made a mistake that wasn’t caught, there’s a technical glitch with the audio or any other instance that means something needs to be recorded again (excluding script changes).
Revisions: Typically refers to a script change or direction change. Something that was initiated by the client or producer and usually isn’t a result of something you’ve done.
There are a lot more industry terms to familiarize yourself with, but these ones I feel are some of the more important ones!
Understanding Your Gear
Understanding your gear seems like a no brainer, but there’s an immediacy to a remote live directed sessions.
If the client/director asks you to “raise your gain”, you need to know how to do that quickly. Having your interface/preamp in your booth or easily accessible to do so is important!
If they say “you’re popping your p’s and b’s” you need to know how to rectify that behaviour.
If they simply say “you’re coming in too quiet” you need to know how to fix that.
Get super familiar with your microphone, DAW, interface and any other accessories you use so you can smash the session!
What to Ask/Mention Before a Session
It’s always important to communicate with your clients so everyone is on the same page when a session takes place. Here are a few things you may want to communicate beforehand.
1: Are they recording the session on their end or are you recording it on your end? The worst thing is when you nail a session only to find that WHOOPS nobody recorded it.
2: What file format do they want? WAV? MP3? FLAC?
3: How do they want the audio? Stereo or Mono? Processed or Raw? What Sample Rate?
4: Are you expecting any interruptions like a delivery? Is there the possibility of unexpected interruptions like a crying baby or barking dog?
5: Do you have a hard out (a time when you need to be done the session)? For example, if the session starts at 2 PM and you have to leave to pick up your kids at 4 PM tell the client! If at 3:55 you say “Oh, I have to leave in five minutes” that is a TERRIBLE look. Knowing your hard out, the client can plan accordingly.
Remember, you are providing a service. You’re basically a sentient instrument! How would you want to be treated if you were in the client’s shoes?
Understanding How a Session Works
There’s no EXACT science to how a session works (and it depends on the genre of sessions ie: commercial, animation, ADR), but most have the same rough blueprint.
Log on AT LEAST FIVE MINUTES EARLY to the software being used for the session. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Webex, Riverside.FM, Source Connect Standard (you don’t need to spring for Pro!) or Source Connect Now seem to be the most common. With both Source Connects and Riverside.FM, you can rest easy as the software allows the engineer on the other end to monitor and record your audio for you during the call. Source Connect Standard seems to be the most popular in my experience, but it also comes with a one time licensing fee or a monthly subscription cost. Last I checked, paying monthly for 2 years will effectively pay for the full out right license so if you mean business and you’re seeing auditions and booking sessions that require Source Connect Standard, just bite the bullet and pay for the outright license.
Once you’ve connected with everyone, you’ve entered the THUNDERDOME.
No but seriously, once the session is live, you should be on your best, most customer servicey behaviour. Ask questions early and frequently if you think they will help the session flow smoothly. Take direction well. At the end of the session, confirm again what their expectations are from you after everyone hangs up. Are you sending them the audio you recorded? An invoice? Asking if they need pick ups? Make sure you know what comes next!
(Also, with anything voiceover there is usually no expectation that you appear on webcam but some clients may prefer to see you perform or need your camera on for other reasons. Know ahead of time if they want you on camera!)
Working with the Engineer
(This section was requested by my very talented VO friend Ed Selvey)
Ed brought up the point of working with the engineer (in situations where you’re connected via Source Connect or other software that let’s the Engineer on the other end edit on the fly).
In these situations, you have the great opportunity to ask the engineer to play things back for you. That means if the client likes take 3 and wants you to do “another take like that” you can ask the engineer “Hey, do you mind leading me in with Take 3 please?”
Some engineers may give you a bit of gruff because you’re asking them to do a bit of work, but this method of recording almost always leads to a better result so all engineers should be open to doing this for you!
Engineers may also slate the takes for you, so be aware of that as well. “Okay, this is take 7 aaaaaand we’re recording”. If they don’t slate the recording on their end, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’re recording or if you’re good to do your read.
Responsibilities and Recap
You’re responsible for being easy to work with, providing a great product and troubleshooting any issues that may arise in your space or on your end of the call. If you did everything I’ve mentioned, you’ll be in a great spot!
Live Directed Sessions are not a walk in the park, so don’t be afraid to be afraid. Something may happen that’s out of your control. Something may happen that you weren’t prepared for. That’s why it’s best to know the script, know your gear and be prepared for as much as you possibly can.
Please keep in mind, this is my personal opinion drawn from nearly a decade of experience in the industry. Always question people’s opinions and take them with a grain of salt because that’s only one point of view.