The Room Where it Happens
Time after time I hear or read comments from voice actors and voice class teachers regarding “the people in the room”. It’s generally framed as a negative bunch of sushi eating, gourmet latte sipping people who are hell bent on making your life difficult as an actor. But is that true? The answer is no. Everyone in the room- and you in the booth- have the same goal: make the clients happy. So who are those people staring at you on the other side of the glass?
If your lucky, your engineer has been doing his job long enough to navigate, negotiate, translate and steer the session in cases where it goes off the rails. A good engineer in the commercial world is not just a competent mixer- they are a conduit to the rest of the people in the room, helping to make sure everyone is getting what they want while keeping the session on schedule. Over time, you’ll probably get to know your engineers pretty well. Very often my relationship with the actor in the booth is solid enough that I can send them a text to keep them posted on all the commotion in the control room while they’re waiting patiently for feedback. In other cases, you can have back channel communications to see how it’s going while you’re waiting for your time in the studio.
The best of them are buttoned-up, bullet-proof, and unflappable. While it’s not their job to be a creative force in the room, often times a good producer will bring creative solutions to project challenges and client concerns. At minimum, they will handle contracts, and help negotiate the creative team’s wants, account teams needs and client demands. Their job is to keep it all together- and keep an eye on the clock.
So many sessions begin with an apology from the writer. “I had a great concept, but the client killed it”. Or, “we had a bunch of mandatory copy points that took up all the time, with no room left for the fun”. This is all part of that balance of keeping everyone happy. The writer didn’t mean to pack 45 seconds of copy into a 30 second script. It’s more likely that the client or the legal department mandated changes at the last minute, making your job as a voice actor a little more challenging. Usually after a couple of long takes, there will be a pause in the session while everyone in the room figures out what can be cut and what has to stay. There is nothing unusual about this, and they most certainly didn’t intend to make your life as a voice actor difficult.
The Creative Director
Depending on the job, this person may or may not be at the session. If it’s a radio spot that’s been ongoing for a period of time, they may not need to attend. But they’ll make sure that the creative vision remains intact, or that any changes made are in keeping with the concept. In almost every instance, they take a good performance and offer ways to improve it. The best of the creative teams will take something that’s already good and make it a few percentage points better in ways no one else in the room considered.
The Account Team
Over the years, I’ve grown to view the account team as the client’s voice inside the ad agency. Their job is often to make sure the client is getting what they were promised. I love picking on account managers, because their focus is often much less on the creative aspects of what’s happening and more on the legal or technical. There is a wide range of talent in this group of people. Years ago, I worked with account manager that I always thought was the producer! She was on top of every aspect of the session down to the tiniest detail. That’s rare- but also amazing to see. While it may seem at times like they’re throwing a wrench in the works, they’re more likely sparing everyone from headaches after the fact. Their an important part of the process. But I’m still going to make fun of them.
Everyone listed above, including you in the booth, has one job: make these people happy. This means a lot of different things, and “the clients” come in a variety of levels of savvy. Sometimes they will politely smile along for a large portion of the session, and then offer up an opinion that changes everything at the last minute. Sometimes they’re weighing in via the phone or email. While it can be more intense having them in attendance, the benefit of immediate feedback is great. Alternatively, they might be in and out of meetings back at their office, and getting their feedback and or approval can lead to lots of wasted time sitting around.
So when you’re sitting inside the booth looking out into a room full of people, just know that while they all serve different purposes, they’re all there to make sure the perfect message is conveyed in that radio or TV spot. Sure, there will be bumps in the road along the way. Sure, there might be tension and confusion or misunderstandings. But in every case, the job gets done. Everyone gets what they need. And you get paid for doing something you enjoy.