A CW Audio Producer on What VO Actors Need to Know About TV Promos

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Photo Source: Art Streiber/The CW

Bryan Marye’s career grew from starting as a DJ with barebones production at home to becoming an Emmy-winning audio mixer and promo audio producer. Growing up, Bryan had a passion for music, playing pretend DJ as a kid and then joining a band at age 11. In college, he worked on-air at the school’s radio station and started spending time in professional studios, honing his mixing skills through hands-on experience.

After moving to L.A. and opening his own studio, Bryan was recommended by a friend for a job as a mixer on TV programs. He’s mixed hundreds of hours for theatrical projects as well as cable and major networks garnering multiple Emmy nominations and two Emmy awards. Currently, he’s an audio producer and director for the CW where he works on promos for the network.  

I spoke with Bryan to find out more about his work and what voiceover actors need to know about TV promos.

What are the different types of television promos?
What don’t we do is becoming a better question. While we work strictly in promo, we do various on-air length spots (:60, :45, :30, :20, :15 :10, etc.) As well as pretty much any length and style spot you can think of for digital (social media) promotion and of course presentation and trailers for upfronts and launch packages. 

Where do you find your promo talent?
We primarily work through agencies and have good relationships with quite a few. However, if we hear voices we like in other places, we’ll do our best to track them down. 

How have promos changed in the past 10 years?
There’s always an evolution, but in my experience TV promos have become more stylized and feel more like trailers. There tends to be less wall-to-wall copy and the narratives are being told with shots and dialogue. We’ve seen the number of trailers cut with no VO go way up (Sorry!). But, I think all trends reverse at some point so I personally wouldn’t see this specifically as a long term concern for the VO industry. 

How are a TV promo and a social media promo different, even for the same show?
Well, on-air we’re constrained by more rules of course. Online we can have odd lengths, odd concepts, and multiple creative treatments of a similar promo. Online promos can also be just a few seconds long or very conceptual. People watch differently on social media, so the point is to try and grab their attention however we can. 

How do promos differ from network to network?
I see a lot of similarities, honestly. But, I’d say overall it’s just like any other art form. Certain larger networks tend to churn out more promos and hence they feel more straight forward to me whereas you may see cable networks getting very creative with a 30-second spot, for example. 

Can you provide a few words to describe the promo VO tone you use for the following program styles?
Ha! I’ll do my best. Of course, even within a category like “drama” we can have quite a bit of variation. But I’ll give it a shot.

Drama
Again, depends on the cut, but something with warmth, weight, importance, and a nice urgency without over-selling or overpowering the listener. 

Talk Show
I don’t do a lot of these, but first thought would be a relatable tone bordering on commercial. An inviting voice that feels like someone speaking directly to you. 

Comedy
Can be anywhere from over the top like our talent Zac Fine does for us on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” to just a wink or nod implied with a smile in the midst of a cooler read. It’s very content dependent. 

Romance
Warm, of course, but intimate and depending on the cut, possibly even a hint of a smile in the read as well as a softer projection than your action or drama type read, naturally. 

Mystery
Heavy, weighty, and I like an almost apathetic tone that we land with a guy like Phil Terrence, one of our talents. Off the top my head this would be a “horror-light” read. 

Children
Haven’t done many of these, but they all sound like people yelling.

News
Take the talk show tone above and pull it back toward a more neutral, pragmatic place. It should sound important but not selling it too hard. 

Gossip
Content dependent (have I said that yet?), but just selling the story and punching up the juicy parts of the script with good energy, a wink, [and] innuendo. It’s a good opportunity to have fun with a read. 

Reality Show
First thought would be something upbeat, again hitting the twists, turns, drama, and humor. It’s another chance to be more expressive based on the cut. 

READ: Voiceover 101

Please walk us through your promo casting process including if you listen to promo demos, send out auditions, or both.
I wish I had an exciting answer for this. Often, we use people we know and like already, but we do audition for new shows and one-offs and listen to demos. 

In those situations, we’ll put a note out to some of our agencies and contacts, and gather a few from each. When they all come in, we’ll have a listen and try to narrow it down. Once narrowed down by me (an audio producer) or one of the writers, we’ll run it up the flagpole to the creative directors and possibly higher depending on the priority of the project. So, it can be very elaborate at times and other times it can just be saying, “Hey, XYZ would sound great on this. How about them?” 

What are you listening for when casting a promo voice?
A good fit of course, but I like voices with a little imperfection. That said, it’s very popular right now to use outside-the-box VO tones and “not announcery” is this era’s VO direction war cry. Personally, I don’t mind if a voice talent sounds like a voice talent. There’s a reason it has worked for the last 75 or so years. But for me, a little quirk, edge, or imperfection in a voice is great, so I always advise new talent to accentuate whatever makes their voice unique instead of trying to come toward where the industry is at any given time. 

Any big VO no-nos for voice actors looking to book promo work?
Being nice and available goes a long way. Use a good mic. Don’t over compress or over-EQ your reads. Conversely, record at the highest resolution you can and listen back. Try to consider fidelity. 

What sets a promo voice actor apart?
Being set apart sometimes just means sounding like yourself, and we all have a sound. What can you do with your sound is the question. 

Please walk us through how a promo recording session works.
There are many types, and we now have a few mediums we can use to read. In-person is the least common nowadays, sadly. But, we do still work with people in person and it’s always fun. Beyond that, it’s ISDN and internet protocols like Source Connect. We’ll connect with the talent, catch up, and say hellos. Then I’ll walk through the spot with them, and if a writer or producer is in with us, I’ll introduce them and get conversation going about the tone we’re looking for and background of the spot. 

Generally, it’s a smooth process and leads us into playing the spot down with a scratch VO for the talent to hear. From there, we’ll get rolling and, depending on the length, just run our first attempts top to bottom. If it’s a lengthy spot, we’ll take it in chunks. If we’re just collecting tags or subbing lines, we may just read wild (without any music or spot underneath) or we’ll read over a temporary music bed and gather what we need that way. 

From there, I’ll try to note and encourage the talent toward what we need and fine-tune our tone until we’re all happy. I always make a point to elicit opinions and involvement from our talent first off, because I respect them, but also because I’d like them to buy into this project as their own and feel ownership of it as well. It’s more fun that way and yields much better results than just barking orders at people. 

Any tips for voice actors looking to get into promo?
I know the industry is changing a lot, so I’d just say to remain fluid and you really have to be tireless in your efforts to get your voice out there. Practice often, hone your craft, build your own spots at home, and listen back to your reads in the car. Make a demo for yourself of various spots, lengths, and tones, then listen and ask yourself what about it would catch someone’s attention. 

I don’t need to tell anyone how competitive the industry is, so hustle and thick skin is imperative. But, a personal thought about it all from me would be that you want to enjoy this. If you just want to make money, there are plenty of ways to do that. Find a balance so you can always love doing this work. To me, it’s better to always have a passion for the art form than to burn ourselves out.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Kelley Buttrick
Kelley Buttrick is an award-winning voiceover talent with a reputation for professionalism, easy directability, and exceeding expectations. Her voice is heard on national advertisements, documentaries, and corporate productions for clients like Disney, Michelin Tires, Country Crock, ESPN, McDonald’s, Target, IBM, Marriott, Pampers, Tennis Channel, Clinique, and many others.
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