I was very hesitant in taking up the job.
Since the start of my voice acting career, I’ve been recording from home.
99% of the time, I remove mistakes, clean up the audio,
ensuring everything sounds decent before submitting.
To record in a studio is already out of my comfort zone.
Let alone one I’ve never worked with.
Adding that I need to use WeChat (an app I hardly use) to connect with the China agency that contacted me, the voice director (VD), and the client.
Working with them all for the first time.
Adding that my character speaks with an American accent (the accent I’m least proficient at) and has some Spanish lines.
Adding that everyone (bar the VD) speaks Mandarin and I have to switch between languages and accents
Before the session:
The script was shared the day before. It consists of 46 lines
It's an English dub for a Chinese turn-based card battle game, Reverse:1999
I went over the character background and the lines, marking emotions and certain words to focus more on to get the accent right
I drank at least 2 litres of water each day 2 days prior to avoid mouth clicks.
I was worried about...
My phone dying (borrowed a power bank with a short cord converter)
Bad internet connection on either end
Phone placement (so they can see me without interfering with my physical deliverance, e.g. swinging my arms etc)
Frequency pickup on the mic due to close positioning of the phone
My American accent
Not being able to deliver
The recording goes over time
Charging my client extra
Paying the studio extra
Needing to pee halfway.
Standing for the entire time. Do I get to sit down? Will my legs be tired?
You see, I’ve only ever been to recording studios twice. The first was a short introduction of a company. I worked with 2 very friendly guys and the client was new to voiceovers so they weren’t picky. They (5 men) were all present during the session (yeah that can also be nerve-racking but at least there are no connection issues).
The second was an audition for a video game character. I was nervous. I could hear myself SO CLEARLY through the headphones and was so self-conscious of my mouth clicks. I didn’t know if I could drink water while they were discussing? Do I have to look at the camera? Can I move around? I just… I didn’t know. I didn’t get the role and that’s okay.
Back to the present day. Here’s what happened:
The agency and I spent 30 mins trying to get me logged into their WeChat account (it worked the night before)
We failed. I logged into mine and they added me to the group call (voice, not video)
By then we’ve eaten up the 15 mins allocated pre-recording call
I was juggling logging into WeChat while saying hi to the audio engineer while setting up my phone while checking mic volume levels while running to the toilet
It was 11:05 am so as soon as I got into the group call, the VD ran through the character with me for one minute and we started
I had the earphone in my right ear, communicating with the agency, the VD and the client (2 ladies) in Mandarin; I had studio headphones over both ears, communicating with the audio engineer in English. At one point there were 4 different people talking and I had to call out their names to respond to them.
And then we began.
The first line was a very important, semi-long line. AND WE SPENT HALF AN HOUR TRYING TO GET IT RIGHT. It was a mixture of me not understanding the client’s interpretation of the video game style and the character; specific changes in each part of the few lines (eg. be excited in these 2 words, then nonchalant at this part); times when the VD thought it was good but the client didn’t.
I would have suggested skipping to the next line and coming back after but I didn’t feel like it was my place to say that. We eventually did after 33 minutes.
After a few more lines, I got the hang of it and it became smoother thereon. Some lines we spent less than a minute on, some a few minutes for different variations.
The script was categorized into 3 parts:
Interface VO (long, conversational lines)
Battle VO (short and punchy lines, battle grunt noises)
Storyline VO (short reaction lines, soft grunt noises)
After the first two categories, we went back to pick up on lines the client thought weren’t good enough. And we went through them so quickly! It was just line after line after line. Nothing gives me more satisfaction and content to hear the VD going ‘Ooh, I like that / Ah that’s a good one / That was nice’ and the client going “这感觉很好／对，这很好／可以，很好，下一个” (This feeling is on point / Yes, this is real good / Okay, can, good, next one).
We finished everything with 2 minutes to spare. Said goodbye and ended the call.
I was so into the session that I did not think about mouth clicks. I was also on my feet for 120 minutes, occasionally stretching but never sitting down.
One very important thing to note:
Everyone was very polite and amicable at explaining and discussing things. Never once I felt like anyone was getting angry or frustrated at me or in general. Yes, it was a tad frustrating as I couldn’t get the first line right for half an hour, but the client was always “哦，我们就希望演员可以更。。。／前半句的感觉很好了，那下半句如果可以再。。。一点。。。/ 麻烦导师跟演员说一下。。。／诶，云佳，做回你自己就好了，就当着跟我们说话” (Oh, we hope that the voice actor could be abit more… / The feeling of the first half of the line is really good, for the second half, if it could be more… / VD, can we trouble you to tell the actor… / Hey, Yun Jia (that’s my Chinese name), just be yourself, just like you’re having a conversation with us).
The VD was communicative and polite too. He directed most of the time, of course, talking to me in English 40% of the time (did I mention he has a deep and beautiful voice?).
After the session:
Had another video call with the agency to discuss file transfers. Then, I finally had time to talk to the audio engineer (who also owns the studio) and get to know him a bit better.
I went home after having a triple-cheese sandwich for lunch.
The audio engineer uploaded the files to a Google Drive folder and gave me the shareable link which I passed to the agency (a method suggested by them). Perhaps with them being in China (maybe with VPN), the download speed was terrible. They talked about using 百度网盘 (Baidu WangPan), similar to Google Drive in China.
Unfortunately, the audio engineer doesn’t read Mandarin and the webpage wasn’t loading on my end to create an account. So I used WeTransfer. It still took them a while to download it but it was much faster than Google Drive. The audios were well received and they transferred the remaining 50% payment via PayPal (the first half was transferred right before I started recording).
1. Why do we always think of the worst?
Why isn’t there a thought that says “Yeah Sam, you’ll do well.”
Do we run those thoughts in preparation that when it happens, we’ll be okay?
Do we think by having positive thoughts and projections of the future will jinx it?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a combination of both.
In the end, nothing actually went majorly wrong. Maybe I should start thinking positive thoughts? Maybe we all should??
2. Was I nervous?
I actually wasn’t. I think because I spent the whole time figuring WeChat out and did not have time to stay idle or allow any of the nerves to form. Good thing I warmed up my vocal instrument while driving to the studio.
3. Going back on the session itself.
I had the wrong perception of video games, or for this one, at least. I am by no means a gamer (I play Sudoku to relax) but I always thought video game characters have some sort of performance element to them, so I went in with that approach. Apart from some battle lines, this game leaned towards a grounded delivery. Reminds me of audio dramas.
And I suppose with American being my less proficient accent, my focus was split between nailing the accent and getting the delivery right. But, and here is the important part: the fact that in the end, the client was satisfied with my takes and we finished on time, means it went well. And now, I have this experience under my belt.
I initially turned the agency down. I was scared.
But I’m glad I understood that in order to progress, I have to realize that this is an opportunity. It’s a good thing. It’s a bloody good thing. We all need to get out of our comfort zone once in a while to experience, improve our craft, and to be able to handle more in the future. This is a milestone in my career. To be good enough to be cast as a character in a proper video game. (You know they're serious when they insist on recording in a studio with a voice director and client sitting in) So… there you go :)
*writing this blog to: (1) document the process and my emotions throughout this experience, and (2) shed some light for the curious readers on the unique career of a voice actor