Radio Commercial Recordings – Studio Rules for First-timers

So you’re the client. The brand custodian. You’ve booked the airtime for your radio campaign. You’ve approved the 23rd proposed script. You know what you want and exactly what the commercial should deliver in terms of measurable results and revenue. Now it’s time to record the commercial. Just one small problem – you’ve never been in a recording studio before.

For most people, the first time inside a recording studio is a daunting experience. But if you know the basic rules and etiquette, it’s an experience that’s exciting and fun. Not to mention beneficial to your brand.

When a recording happens a special chemistry develops between the people in the studio. A magical thread is spun that links them to each other and to the delicate thing they are creating. That’s when the recording goes well.

When a recording goes wrong…the threads become chains that drag everyone down. You often hear it on the radio: The voices sound strained, the music is just a little bit too unobtrusive and the mixing overcompensates just a little too much. The overall effect sounds like a chain being dragged through a hollow hallway.

Remembering a few simple things can help your first recording be a lot less painful. Most of them are common sense. But the funny thing about common sense is that it only becomes common after you get it wrong.

1. The Little Red Light

Most studio’s have a red light outside the studio door. If the red light is on, it means that sound is being recorded in, or broadcast from, the studio. Either way, it means a microphone is on somewhere and that any sound you make while entering the studio could be recorded.

The microphones might be on inside the soundproof booth. Or the microphones might be active inside the studio. Which means you could ruin a perfect take with a nervous giggle.

So when entering a studio (whether it has a red light or not) the basic rule is to keep quiet until you’ve seen what’s up.

2. Eat, Drink and Be Merry

But not in the studio.

The equipment in a studio is worth loads of money. It also stores huge amounts of data, plug in’s, programs and tracks. So generally, it is a good idea to not drop or spill anything on the equipment.

Take your queue from the sound engineer. He or she will probably invite you to bring your drink in with you; even order some catering.

Just keep all liquids away from the desk. And speakers are not coffee tables.

3. Don’t Phone Home

In general, cell phones should not be used inside a studio. (Neither should they be used inside a movie theater – and we all know how that goes).

As a rule, cell phones should be switched off, even the silent ones that vibrate madly on top of glass coffee tables.

The obvious reason is noise bleed. If the studio you are recording in doesn’t have top of the range soundproofing and super directional microphones, your cell phone noise could end up embedded in the recording.

Apart from that, it’s very distracting for a voice artist to try and deliver lines in character with a one-sided conversation carrying on. Ditto for the engineer trying to concentrate on the mixing.

4. Talk the Talk

If you are the client and it is your first recording, you might initially find the whole process simply marvelous. After a while, it could become a bit boring. Especially the engineering and mixing part.

Which is fair – if you loved listening to the same bar of music a hundred times over, you’d be behind the desk mixing it.

You might not think much is happening when things get boring, but actually, magic is being made.

So if you feel like some company, step outside for a chat. Or at least ask the engineer if he minds you going about your business. If he doesn’t mind, jabber away. But in general, only be inside the studio if you are interested in the process or can make a meaningful contribution.

Stick to business. After all, you’re paying by the hour.

5. The Dance – Who leads

This is a funny one. A real killer sometimes. When a piece of commercial audio (i.e. a voice over for television, corporate video, radio commercial or an online ad) is being recorded, a few parties are usually involved. These are the voice over artist, the sound engineer, the copywriter and the client / agency person / eventual approver.

One person needs to tell the voice over artist what to say and how to say it.

Only one.

If two people give direction, disaster looms. In my experience, the person with the best radio ears usually gives the best direction.

Voice over artists hear certain terms quite often in a studio – terms such as “say it with a smile” and “more emphasis on…”. They know exactly what to do when they hear these terms, because they are trained professionals.

If a person with non-radio ears tell them to “say it like the colour yellow…”, it doesn’t tell them what to do. It leaves a whole lot of room for uncertainty and throat-restricting frustration.

This does not mean everyone else’s opinions are less important than the director’s. In fact, everyone’s input is crucial. But only one opinion at a time, and only once the director (in my opinion the writer or engineer) has given the best damn direction he or she can possibly give.

The director will then ask everyone else present for feedback and thoughts. At this point, the whole process will start again and progress in another direction if the client is not happy with the delivery. If everyone is happy, it’s a wrap and the voice over artist can leave.

So in general, wait for the director to ask for feedback before you intervene and save the recording. But jump in before the voice over artist leaves the studio!

6. Recording Children

It’s difficult to record children authentically. Often the best way to start is to get rid of the parents. Get the parents out of the studio (unless the child is a novice and terrified of all the buttons and strangers).

Not only do parents distract children, but they love directing even more than clients do. Which usually only encourages everyone else in the room to start acting like children and to shout even more directions at the terrified child.

Instead, a good director (wearing the headphones) could sit inside the booth with the child (no headphones). They will talk about everything apart from the script until the child sounds at ease. Eventually, the sneaky director will try to get the line naturally from the child as an answer to an unrelated question. Or coax the child towards the most natural sounding delivery.

Older kids respond well when the ad idea is explained to them and they are able to imagine themselves in the situation. Most of the time they can then deliver the line naturally.

All this delightful deceit is to try and get a natural sounding delivery from the child, because kids sound terribly automated when reading.

None of the above applies when the whole commercial (including the unpronounceable client name and 15 digit phone number) should be read by a child. I have no idea how to do that well. Maybe hire an adult and alter the pitch of their voice? Not recommended but do-able.

7. Sounds and Music

It’s fun to pick sound effects and music tracks. This is where everyone can jump in and give their opinions freely.

If you hear a piece of music you like, and you think it will be great for your commercial, feel free to ask the sound engineer to drop it under the voice you’ve just recorded. You’ll instantly hear if the voice matches the music in tone and feel.

If you have a specific piece of music in mind, take it along to the recording. You probably won’t be able to use it because of copyright constraints, but it will give the sound engineer a good idea of what you have in mind.

Identify what you like about the track: Is it the beat? A specific instrument? The general emotional it evokes? Once you know what you like – that becomes your brief to your engineer: Match THAT specific sound THERE. But like any piece of music, play it together with the recorded voice first to see if it works.

Similarly, sound effects are a blast. Here an engineer will often show you what a great manipulator he is. He can make the slam of a tiny 1960’s Mini’s door sound like the constrained sweep of a Bentley. Just by fiddling with the levels.

Trust your creative team. And trust your gut. Respect the people and the process inside a radio recording studio and you will be amazed with the results.


(C) Lizelle Smit – All Right Reserved Worldwide

Published at—Studio-Rules-for-First-Timers&id=5165699




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