Voice overs with a guide track

I was recently recording a voice over when the studio engineer mentioned hardly anybody seemed to record to a guide track anymore – was it a dying art? Of course one anecdote is hardly proof of a decline, but for any one who is unfamiliar with this method, and would like to know what it involves I’ll try to explain.

  • The picture has already been edited and the guide voice over has been recorded usually by the director/producer.
  • The guide track is then played back through the voice over’s headphones, so the trick here is to set the level in your cans low enough to not overpower your own voice.  This gives an idea of the speed of the narration and where any pauses occur.  This isn’t like lip sync where you have to fit exactly.

Listen to this example of what it sounds like, working with a guide track
Guide track demo

  • As the guide starts you start to speak a word or two behind. It can sometimes be a relief to hear the guide so don’t jump in or try to catch up. This makes you suddenly sound tense or rushed. Just keep pace more or less with the track and don’t be tempted to try and beat it to the end. The editor can always slide your whole track back a second or two to make it fit.

  • Watch out for any pauses. On the script it may look like a continuous paragraph, but there may be pauses to allow the action to continue, or bring up the next stage in a process. Ideally a script will show these but pressure of time means they are very rarely marked.

  • Watch out for changes to your script from the guide. This often happens when a preview using the guide track has been watched, and somebody has rewritten the script. All you can do in these circumstances is listen out and hope you link up with the guide again. It’s not your fault. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it can always be recorded again.

  • Probably the biggest challenge to anyone not familiar with it is trying to deliver the script with inflexion, contrast, and clarity, with a voice in your ear a fraction in front of you.  As you can hear from the example, it sounds very confusing and just a jumble of sound until you get used to it.   Not conducive to giving your best performance.

  • The advantage?   It can be a time saver for the studio and director. The voice track will fit their film without needing to do too much more editing. This saves both time and studio editing costs.
  • The disadvantage is that unless the voice artist is used to this method they can sound strained or distracted trying to work with the guide track.

There are several other ways of recording a voice over. A visual cue such as a red light, or time code on the screen corresponding to time code on the script are commonly used. Or the voice over can be recorded “wild” – in other words, without any reference to the picture then slotted in to place as appropriate. If necessary the video is re-edited to fit the words.

Is it dying out – or  becoming less popular?  Let me know what your experience is.

~ by David on 03/01/2009.

3 Responses to “Voice overs with a guide track”

  1. Generous of you to share your knowledge and thoughts!
    Used one last week… only as a rough guide, as you say. It seems to me studios have them for their own use and don’t assume or expect that actors will want to use them. Which is kind of them, I think!

    • Yes, it’s certainly easier to do a vo without a guide track, so I think you’re right – it’s more convenient for everyone else. But if it saves them time and money it’s a useful skill to have in your tool box!

  2. […] https://davidriley.co.uk/2009/01/03/voice-overs-with-a-guide-track/ for an audio example of a guide […]

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