VORG #31 april-may-june 2000

Soundscaping & The Director:
The Art of Casting Effective Radio Spots

Ever sit at a restaurant having dinner and suddenly became aware of the conversation at the table next to you? As the people argued or bantered, you found yourself listening, hating yourself for listening, wishing you could stop listening, and wondering too, if you hit your dinner mate in the head with a wheat roll, whether he’d shut-up long enough for you to hear what was being said at that next table?

Well that next table sound is what good directors should strive for when they cast and direct radio commercials.

You’ll encounter many performers who’ll say, “Okay, I do lots of voices. I do an old guy and a young guy and I do this really funny high-pitched, whiny, nervous nerdy guy. Well, on the basis of this information, they’d rarely get cast on a Radio Ranch spot. That’s because we cast people not voices. And so should you.

Tapes and agents are great guides to the potential character type and age-chronology of a voice, but they won’t give you a sense of how the actor approaches the work or their emotional depth or their range of versatility. You may have found these actors through their agents or their tapes and that’s great, but before the actor hears a final studio slate, it’s always wise to put them through the paces of an audition. You want to see how they work with other actors, and most important, how well they take direction.

While many of these actors may have what could be described as “character voices”, the voices are often too disconnected from reality with contrived and cloned sounds.

One thing that separates great dialogue spots from run-of-the-mill dialogue spots is that the characters can be taken out of the “commercial” situation, put in any other situation and they would still be able to exist. In other words, they’d have a life outside of their commercial purpose. The idea is that they must sound like living, breathing “I-burnt-the-toast and-does-this-dress-make-me-look-fat? real people” versus a Saturday morning cartoon character.

With the actors leading the way, followed by appropriate music and sound effects, you will begin to achieve good results in a successfully soundscaped commercial, one which delights, intrigues and engages the listener.

- Christine Coyle, Co-Creative Director, DICK AND CHRIS AT THE RADIO RANCH