The Five-Second Voice-Over Billboard: How Hard Can it Be?

My first billboard for NBC! What a pleasure to be directed and produced by the fabulous Bill Rock, who has been one of the voices of NBC for years and is one of the voice-over greats. I pinned his studio on Pinterest on my “Great Places to Record Audio” Board.

Bill and I were talking about why it can take so long – well, let’s just say more than 5 seconds – to record “short, easy” pieces like this.
What do you need? When to market yourself to this work?

  • First of all, you need to be able to deliver variety – so the client has choice and can pick the one they want.
  • Secondly, timing is of the essence, down to the hundredth of a second.
    voice over brain

    technique plus imagination...

    As in many shorter reads, to really deliver the tone the actor in you wants to perform, you’d need a little more time. You don’t have it! It helps to have a master producer/director like Bill, who can make an extra tenth of a second go away without adjusting speed.
  • Third, techniques like articulation, pitch, coloring words, phrasing, tempo changes are all vital here. Some of the variety will come from these “left-brain” techniques, some will come from your “right-brain” sense of play and imagination. And be willing and able to take direction, especially from a pro like Bill.

Fascinating, too, to hear the listening expertise of the client from NBC – one listen to all 7 takes, and she knew: “let me hear 3,4, and 7”. Then “Let me hear 4 and 7” Then, number 7 it is. Whew! And I can’t even decide which pair of jeans to put on in the morning (and, um, they all pretty much look the same).
So – it didn’t really take that long (I mean, way under an hour) to come up with seven reads to play for the client, all under 5 seconds – but, as Bill said, “People think this is easy; it’s not! It’s hard work.” Indeed. Okay, maybe not compared to, say, police officers, construction workers, and middle school teachers. (not delusional…I know voice-over is cushy compared to that!)? But, harder than the average person might expect.
Thanks again to Bill – and if you want to hear the 5-second result it’ll be part of “Fashion Star” on April 24 and it’s about Maybelline.? Yeah, I’m taping it. It’s my first one.? Guilty!

Reader Interactions


  1. It is kind of funny how much time goes into something where the final product isn’t that long. Recently I was directed in the recording of a “legal speed read” of a radio ad airing in California (i.e. the legal mumbo jumbo that nobody understands because it’s read so fast, as in, “nopurchasenecessarysweepstakesopentolegalresidentsofCaliforniavoidwhereprohibited”…that kind of thing). It was kind of funny that it was about a thirty-minute recording session considering that the recording lasts between 5-11 seconds (depending on which if my takes they intend to use).

  2. Randye,
    Big, Big, congrats on landing that one and I hope you will post it for all of us to hear! Hey if it was easy then everyone could do it. Pros like yourself make it look easy, hope you get more.

  3. Thanks, Lance! I actually have a copy of all 7 takes, was planning to share with my voice over students at Edge Studio. They love to hear outtakes!

  4. Great topic, Randye. Were you working to picture? That presents a trickiness all its own. A coach I know has a sans-VO KidsWB promo he uses to give students a sample of what it’s like. Not only does the show have a long, wacky title, but the VO has to sync up with the words as they pop up on the screen. My head a-splode!

    • Hi Billy – not working to picture this time…have done it with other projects and…ouch! brain pain. Eventually “The Zone” kicks in, but…yeah…
      Thanks for your comment!

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