This morning I had a voice-over session to record a pickup for a VO I had recorded a few months ago. If you’re just starting out in your voice acting career, you might be wondering what a pickup is, or you might be looking for some pointers to make your pickups better. If so, today’s blog is for you! Below, I’m going to share a few tips that will help you ace your pickups.

Recording VO PickupsWhat Is a Pickup Anyway?

The idea of a pickup isn’t complicated—it’s just a portion of a script you already recorded that the client wants to be recorded again. This happens all the time, and if you haven’t had to do one yet, you will soon.

When I’m recording on my own, I’ll usually record pickups for various reasons:

  • I skipped or added a word
  • I mispronounced a word
  • There was a mouth noise
  • The tone wasn’t quite right

When clients request them, it’s usually because of a small script change.

In my case this morning, I recorded this script with a client a few months ago. Since then, they’ve added a new product line, so the client had to make a change to their script.

How Long Is a Pickup?

Sometimes clients will opt to re-record the entire script. It depends partly on the length of the script and how big the change is. The longer the script, the more likely they’ll only have you do a small portion of it. But even if the script is short, sometimes the client gets very attached to the original recording and would prefer to record a pickup rather than start over again. Just work with them to deliver whatever they want—and get used to it because pickups are a reality of VO work, and you’ll end up doing them often!

If you connect to a studio in real time over Source-Connect, you’ll be recording pickups during new recording sessions for the same reasons I mentioned earlier. You’ll also record them hours, days, weeks, or months after recording sessions—after everyone has had a chance to listen to the whole recording. They want to tweak the recording to make it as good as it can be, so they may ask for variations in your tone in specific spots.

You’ll also record pickups on your own in your home studio, but because you’re not live with a client or another studio, the process is a little different. When you have a commercial studio on the line, you’ll have to work with them to get the pickup right because they’re the ones doing the recording.

Here are several different ways to record pickups.

Punching You In

When you’re recording via a commercial studio (in person or via SC), one of the ways to record pickups is where the studio “punches” you in. What this means is that they’ll play the old recording into your headphones up until the point where you need to record your pickup. At that point, you’ll voice the part they want to re-record.

In my session, the original script said: “Pergo offers two collections of waterproof laminated wood with WetProtect technology that locks spills on the surface, so they clean up easily and won’t leak through to damage the subfloor.” The client modified the script to say: “Pergo offers three collections of waterproof laminated wood with WetProtect technology that locks spills on the surface, so they clean up easily and won’t leak through to damage the subfloor.” So, they needed me to re-record that part.

In this case, I heard the part (that I had voiced earlier) leading up to this line, and then I just said the new line. That’s punching in.

Recording VO PickupsRecording Wild

Another way to do a pickup is to record it “wild.” In this scenario, you’ll just say the line they want, typically a few times. Always ask to hear the original recording so you can try to reproduce that style. Before you record, they might say, “Give me an A, B, and a C,” which means they want three different interpretations of that line. So, you’ll perform the line in three different ways.

Mix’n Match

You can also have a mix of these two methods. They might punch you in to record a first version of the pickup and then ask you to perform the line a couple more times right afterward with variations in your performance. This is a combination of punching in and recording wild. And if you make a mistake during one of your punches or wild takes, you can just start again and go on.

When the Pickup Isn’t Working

A combo is what we ended up doing in this morning’s pickup session. We did a punch in, then we did a bunch of wild takes. However, the wild takes didn’t quite work as intended because by the time I performed the last take, I was a bit disconnected from the original text. My tone had switched, and when the editor combined it with the original lines, that part just sounded sewn-together and unnatural.

To solve the problem, I suggested I actually say the end of the line preceding the pickup so I could ease myself into it, instead of just hearing it and then voicing the pickup. Since I knew which version of my wild takes they liked (the warmer and friendlier one), I performed that tone in my next round of wild takes. When you record a bit of preceding text, the editor will still only use the pickup line, but since you’re voicing both lines, the tone of the pickup usually meshes better and sounds more natural.

Reading the line before is one technique you can use when your pickups aren’t working, and you’re having trouble matching your tone to an existing recording. Sometimes pickups are easy, but sometimes they’re tricky!

Recording VO PickupsTips for Voice Consistency

One of the tricky aspects of recording pickups is that your voice changes from day to day, and even as the day goes on. It changes for all kinds of reasons—how much you spoke that day, how well you slept, the temperature, the humidity level, whether you’re hydrated enough, etc. For the ladies, the time of the month can also affect your voice. As you can imagine, matching an original recording isn’t always easy.

You can’t control everything, but you can try to schedule your pickup recording at the same time as the original recording. For instance, my original recording had been at 10:30 a.m. So, we scheduled the pickup session this morning at the same time to minimize the effect of the time of day.

Luckily, I hadn’t spoken for four hours before the session, so my voice was very similar based on that factor alone.

When the client doesn’t need to be on the line when I record my pickups, I often tell them that I’m going to wait until the next day to record it, so I can do it at the same time of day as the original recording.

Recording VO PickupsPracticing VO Pickups

Recording pickups is a skill, and you’ll need it in your voiceover toolbox. That means you need to practice! Practicing the process of punching in is straightforward. Just grab an older recording (even from earlier that day), play back a line in your headphones and then record the next line. Now insert it in your recording. Does it match the recording seamlessly? Try it until it does! If not, try again at a different time, or tomorrow.

If you want a bigger challenge, record something with three paragraphs, then wait a while, say three days, five days, maybe two weeks—these are all realistic time frames. Now change one of the lines in the middle of your script (or the end, or the beginning) and try to match the original recording seamlessly, so it doesn’t sound patchy when spliced together. This skill of matching your voice will help you in instances where clients are on the line. The goal is to be able to pick up the original tone from just a brief listen.

But the reality is that the more time passes, the harder it is to get a good match. In that case, you may have to record the whole thing again, or at least a larger section of the script.

I hope these tips help you get through your first pickups smoothly. Try them out and let me know how it goes!

My name is Lili Wexu. I’m an actress, a voice talent and an author. To learn about making a living as a voice actor, read my e-book about Voice Acting & Announcing.