Your Copy to the Woodshed
(by Peter Drew)
You've booked your first voiceover session, a 60 second radio ad, at a
local production house. You arrive
in a positive frame of mind,
relaxed, and ready to perform. After
exchanging pleasantries with
everyone involved with the session,
the studio engineer hands you the
copy. After reading through the
script, determining your approach to
the read, and consulting with the
session's director(s), you're ready
to nail the spot on the first take.
Sure, hitting a home run on your first at bat in front
of the mic is possible, but by "woodshedding"
or marking up your copy first, you
establish visual cues that will help
you give the director and client
your best voice-over performance.
Visualing indicating word
inflections, words that need
additional stress, pauses for pacing
and effect, and attitude changes
within the copy, creates a framework
for a consistent performance,
whether you nail the read on the
first take or the tenth one.
So, what system of marks should you
use to woodshed a piece of copy?
Well, whatever works for you. There
is, though, a general set of marks
used by many voice talents
for this purpose.
For indicating up and down inflections, use an angled
arrow: an upward angled arrow over
an up-inflected syllable or word,
and a downward angled arrow over
syllables and words.
Underscore (underline) words that require additional
stress. Put more than one underscore
under a word or syllable to indicate
even greater stress. By the way,
putting stress on a word doesn't
always mean simply saying that word
louder than the other words in the
script. You can stress a word by
simply raising the pitch of your
voice, without necessarily saying
that word louder. To really stress a
word, combine extra loudness with
Pauses can be used for both pacing and effect, as well
as for giving yourself a place to
breathe. Use a slash to indicate
pauses. For a breathing point, use
one small slash.
To indicate a pause for pacing, try
one larger slash. A pregnant pause
for effect can be indicated by
multiple, two or more, slashes.
If you need to indicate a change of attitude, whether
subtle or broad, then you can use
any visual cue that works for you. A
letter in a circle representing the
change, e.g. an "H" for happier, or
a "C" for calmer, etc. Of course,
you can simply write in the word
that indicates the change where it
These are just some of the marks you can use to analyze the
copy and create visual cues to
enhance your performance. Create
marks that work for you: circles,
squares, highlighting, squiggles,
dots, brackets--whatever you think
can help you to develop a believable
Naturally, woodshedding a piece of copy is easy when it's
double or even triple spaced.
Unfortunately, you will receive
single-spaced copy sometimes and
you'll just have to make do. Of
course, always make sure to bring a
pencil with a good eraser to
sessions. Besides using it to mark
up copy, you'll also find yourself
using that pencil for writing in
copy changes from the person(s)
directing the spot. The same goes
for voice artists who work in their
own personal studios. Always keep a
few pencils on hand.
Marking up a piece of copy can take a few minutes, but making
it a habit can help solidify the
direction of a read in your mind as
it gives you visual cues for
executing the voiceover.
Make some time to practice and
develop your woodshedding system. It
will pay off each time you step into
the booth and get behind the mic.
© Peter Drew, 2005
Peter Drew, a freelance
voice-over talent and
copywriter/producer with 28 years of
experience, is heard on radio and
television stations, corporate
presentations, web sites, and
messages-on-hold across America and
countries around the world. To send
an email regarding this article,
Peter Drew Voiceovers.