• Rob Marley

Understanding the "Big Picture" in your Copy

I came across this video recently.. published by the New York times last year, on the details behind the bombing of Hiroshima. I was immediately struck by the un-credited narrator’s voice that, to me, stuck out like a sore thumb. And immediately I saw this as an opportunity to share not just that it's bad, but WHY it's bad.

I’m not exactly sure how the Times went about acquiring the VO for this project, but it sure sounds like they got the talent from some bottom-of-the-barrel freelance site, where talent will work for slave wages to show how inexperienced they really are. In the beginning after the newsreel sound bytes, the narrator begins detailing the events of the bombing. The voice is flat, with a dark and serious feel to the delivery. These opening lines set the overall tone for the piece. Or at least they should. For some reason, when the narrator starts describing how the atomic bomb works, her voice changes to something noticeably more cheerful: bright. Generic. As if she’s reading assembly instructions on a car maintenance video. I can only guess that the narrator either read the second part of the copy at a different time, or (more likely) they just didn't understand the context of what they were reading from a “big picture” perspective. Think of the copy as a story. Each paragraph needs to connect to the previous one. Each line builds on the last to continue to tell the story: painting a mental picture in the listener’s brain. Your voice sets the mood. Changing your emotional delivery abruptly can - at the very least, draw attention away from the subject and focus instead on the speaker, - and at the very worst, alter the message entirely.

Not to mention that sounding bright and cheerful while describing how an atomic bomb works is kinda weird and creepy.

Also noticable is the sing/songy way she rattles off the facts, done in a way kids recite the pledge of allegiance: "I pledge THE flag..."

As a voiceover artist, you need to not only read the copy, but absorb it and understand it on a level that’s more than just knowing how to say the words. Once you've absorbed it, then you need to sound as if you're speaking DIRECTLY to someone and the words were uttered the moment you thought them up.

This is what it means to be “connected” to the copy: It’s the difference between SPEAKING and RECITING.

And to someone evaluating voices, it's(usually) means the difference between your audition getting the job or getting deleted.


About Rob Marley -

A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.