What to Do: Your first time in studio! Jan 4, 2017 23:59:49 GMT -8 MachVox, Kamran, and 4 more like this
Post by Lady Stardust ★ on Jan 4, 2017 23:59:49 GMT -8
(*updated/reworked as of 2023*)
So you've made it---you've been booked on a project, and asked to go to a professional recording studio to work on it. First off, congratulate yourself as this is an exciting milestone! However, it's natural to feel nervous or intimidated, especially if you're not fully sure what to expect. But just remember, "Be Prepared and Be Professional", and studio sessions will become second nature to you in no time.
Quick Note/Disclaimer: The information contained in this article relates to cultural and industry norms for studios based in the United States. Other countries and cultures may have different expectations for studio etiquette and procedure. When in doubt, research online or ask a more experienced peer if you are not sure!
- Double check the date, time and location of your booking. This seems obvious, but you want to make sure that you're showing up at the right place at the right time! On more than a few occasions people, even seasoned pros, have shown up to a session a week early on accident ("oh you meant NEXT Friday, not THIS Friday!" Whoops.) Additionally, certain studios have multiple locations in different parts of the city, and you don't want to accidentally show up to the wrong one. Finally, if you're working with a partner studio in another state or country, be sure the time zone is correct as well (for example, if you're going to a studio in California for a booking with a studio in Texas, 3 pm for them is 1 pm for you.)
- Plan out your route. If you live in an area known for nasty traffic, like Los Angeles, it will be especially imperative to plan accordingly. Look up directions to the studio, as well as an estimate of how long it will take to get there (always allow more time than the GPS estimates.) If you take public transport, make sure you know which stops and routes you'll need to take. If you drive, know beforehand what the parking situation is so you can be prepared and spend minimal time looking for a spot. Some studios will include route/parking information in your booking e-mail, or even have spaces reserved for talent, but this doesn't always happen. If you need to park at a meter or use time-limited street parking, be aware of when you'll need to move your car or refill the meter.
- Set multiple alarms, and leave a little earlier than you think you need to. Especially if you have an early session, do whatever you need to to make sure you don't oversleep. Give yourself extra time to deal with traffic or transit.
- Be fed and hydrated. You may be tempted to fast before your session if you're worried about mouth noises, but doing a lengthy session while ravenous can not only distract you from your work, but cause disruptive stomach growling during the recording. Have some type of breakfast or lunch, even a small one (you can avoid foods with dairy the day of your session if you're worried about it affecting your voice) and make sure to drink lots of water even before going in the booth to record so that you can make sure you are properly hydrated.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that don't make noise. Unless you are recording something like an audiobook where it's more customary to record seated, chances are you will be on your feet for two to four hours at a time. Wear comfortable and supportive footwear---those heels may look great, but they'll start hurting before long, and taking off heeled shoes partway through a session can cause an issue as the microphone height will need to be changed accordingly. As for clothing, wear whatever you feel comfortable and confident in, but avoid clothing or accessories that will make noise on the mic, such as swishy workout pants or bangle bracelets. If your jewelry makes a noise whenever you move your body, take it off before you enter the booth.
- If you need any specific accommodations, let the studio know. Most modern studios are designed with accessibility in mind, but if you have any specific needs or concerns---for example, needing a reserved parking spot or asking about wheelchair access---don't be afraid to bring them up ahead of time. You can also ask for accommodations in the booth---for example, if you need to sit down while recording or would prefer to bring your own script for readability, those are valid and reasonable things to ask!
- Plan to show up 10-15 minutes before your session start time when working with a new studio in case they have any paperwork or procedures you need to complete. However, at least in American work culture there is such a thing as showing up too early, and you don't want to be awkwardly sitting around the lobby for half an hour or even interrupting another talent's session. So, if you do happen to show up more than 15-20 minutes early, find something to do to occupy time for a bit before entering the studio (for example, you could sit in the car and check your e-mail, or check out that cafe across the street.)
- Turn off or completely silence your cell phone (don't put it on vibrate---that can still easily be heard in the booth and will interrupt a take.) Your phone should only be used on breaks or if you are asked to sit back for a few minutes while they are dealing with technical issues or waiting for client approval. If you are expecting an urgent call such as for a family emergency, let the director know ahead of time that you'll need to keep an eye on your phone. Otherwise, you are there to work, so it's best to put away anything that might distract you from focusing on your job.
- If you have an emergency and can't make it, call the studio as soon as possible (or you can relay this info via your agent if working through them) and let them know the situation. If it's something like a car breaking down, first see if you can get a ride from a friend or housemate, or take a Lyft/Uber. But for illness, it is better to err on the safe side as you do not want to get other people sick (if you feel well enough to work, but suspect you have a contagious illness, you can ask about switching your session to remote if you have a good home studio.) While last-minute cancellations do cause lost time and money for production, life happens, and most of the time, the session can be rescheduled.
- Sign in at the front desk and let the person working there know your name and what you're there for. They may have you sign some paperwork (either physically or digitally) such as a contract, NDA, and/or timesheet. This should go without saying, but always make a point to be polite to everyone at the studio---this includes greeting the front desk or door person.
- You may be offered water, hot tea, etc. It's better to get anything you need from the studio kitchen before your session than have to leave the booth to do so once you've already begun working (though you will almost always be given a break for sessions longer than two hours.) Don't feel bad about saying "yes" if offered these things; that's what they're there for!
- When they're ready for you, someone (usually the studio engineer, but sometimes the front-desk person or project coordinator) will come out to take you back to the booth. The engineer will come in and adjust the height of the microphone and stand for the script (these days, many studios display the scripts digitally on a monitor as opposed to using paper scripts.) Make sure to stand still while they are positioning everything and don't stray too far from that spot as you record. There should be a pair of headphones nearby---go ahead and put those on. If you find they are too loud for comfort or too quiet to hear properly, it's okay to ask them to change the levels!
- Don't touch or change things on the equipment without asking---yes, "don't touch the mic" is probably one of the very first things you learned in VO class, but if you're used to working from home on your own equipment, it never hurts to have a little reminder that when you're in someone else's studio, the last thing you want is to be responsible for damaging their $3,000+ microphone! If the temperature or lighting is a serious issue for you, you can ask if there's any way it can be changed, but don't attempt to mess with the lights or thermostat yourself. Some studios will have a headphone amp where you can adjust your own playback levels directly, but if you're not sure, ask if it's okay to change the volume yourself.
- Don't be alarmed if client(s) are sitting in. While it was customary in pre-pandemic times to have the director in the room and clients physically in the studio to oversee the recording, these days it is possible that they may be listening in remotely. Sometimes it will just be you, the director, and the engineer, but other times, representatives from the clientside team you're working with may be there to supervise the session. Be on your best behavior, but try not to feel too intimidated by this. Remember, everyone's goal is to make a great project, and they want to see you succeed too!
- Be willing to adapt to direction and feedback. It's not uncommon that they may have you take the character in a different direction than what you originally did in your audition, or the director's style or studio workflow might be different from others you are used to working with. If you have questions, it's okay to ask for clarification, but one sign of a professional actor is being willing to adapt on the fly.
- Redirects/multiple takes are normal, so don't stress. It may take some tries to get the read the director and/or client is looking for, OR they may even just want to experiment with a few different options. Sometimes you have a great read but they need a retake because of a noise or other technical issue (happens to everybody), in which case they'll ask for a "safety". Do your best to work efficiently, but don't beat yourself up for "not getting everything on the first take"; even the most seasoned actors will be asked to retake a line. There are times you may work with a director who is difficult to please or who makes you feel like you are a bad actor, but do your best to keep calm and not take it personally. Do not argue with them or try to justify/explain why you chose the read you did, just do it again and try to incorporate the note they are asking for.
- If you mess up in the middle of a take or trip over your words---and you WILL---pause briefly and then restart from the beginning of the sentence/paragraph/line (whatever is a natural place for the engineer to edit out your flubbed line). Don't waste a bunch of time apologizing; it happens to literally everyone, so just take a deep breath and start over.
- It's okay to ask for a break if you need it. Normally, you will be given a 5-10 minute break every 1-2 hours. For example, if you have a four-hour session, you might be given a 5-minute break after the first hour, a 10-minute break halfway through, and then another 5-minute break before the final hour. However, sometimes directors may get caught up in the workflow and forget to give a break, so if an hour passes and you really need to use the restroom, or if you just did a bunch of vocally stressful battle efforts and need a moment to rest your voice, it's totally acceptable to ask to "take a five". Breaks should be factored in to the session time when making the schedules, so don't feel bad about needing one.
- Try not to waste a bunch of time in the booth by overdoing jokes/commentary/banter. A little is okay; you don't need to be a machine, but remember that "time is money". If you spend a whole bunch of time chatting in between takes, you risk not finishing your session in time, which can be a problem when everyone is getting paid hourly. When in doubt, follow the director's lead---if they go off on a tangent, it's okay to respond and converse with them a bit, but you don't need to launch into a story in between every line.
- Respect confidentiality. Chances are, you are under a non-disclosure agreement (whether formally or informally) for the job. Unless you have received explicit permission, don't post on social media about what you're working on or who you're working with. Additionally, be very careful about taking selfies in the booth---while it's understandable to want to commemorate your experience, make absolutely sure that no sensitive information (such as scripts, screens or project titles) is visible in the photo, and consider waiting until after the project is announced/released to post it or even just keeping it for your own use. Some studios prohibit photography altogether, so if you're not sure, ask the director or project coordinator if it's okay to take a photo of you in the booth.
- Even if you're a fan, remember that you're first and foremost there to work. You may run into a well-known actor in the lobby, or perhaps the director has worked on a bunch of your favorite titles. It's okay to show enthusiasm for a project or let someone know that you appreciate their work, but acting like too much of a fanboy/fangirl can make the situation awkward or worse, make them start to doubt whether or not you can be professional in the booth. Don't complain if you are asked to pronounce characters' names differently from how you are used to, or argue with the director about the script adaptation. Don't act insecure or needy, such as by asking them "how did I do?", constantly talking about how nervous you are, or over-apologizing for a simple mistake. Even if you don't feel confident, fake it until you make it (without having an ego, of course!)
- If you make a serious mistake, don't beat yourself up. Learn from it and figure out what you need to do to keep it from happening next time. For example, let's say you accidentally misread your session time, and you get a call from the studio asking you where you are. While it's obviously not an ideal situation, make the best of it---apologize for the incident, offer to get over there immediately, and be willing to stay over to make up for the lost time if schedules permit. Then, make a plan to keep it from becoming a pattern---for instance, by double-checking your booking e-mails before putting the date and time in your calendar and checking again the day before your session just in case the time was shifted and you forgot to update the calendar entry. It is rare for a talent to be "blacklisted" over an honest mistake. For example, a normally reliable actor who shows up 15 minutes late to a session one time due to a huge detour on the freeway is likely to be given a pass, but if they were to show up 15 minutes late to every session, they may not be hired anymore because it comes across as not respecting the studio personnel's time. Again, do your best, but remember that we are all human and everyone has messed up at some point.
- And finally, don't forget to have fun! Recording in-studio is overall a great experience. You don't have to worry about changing your gain levels, outside noise, or recording your own files. You get the benefit of collaborating with others in-person and recording in a professionally built, controlled environment with high-end equipment that will make you sound great when everything goes to mix. So trust the team, and trust yourself!
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