The dreaded voice-over pick-up, and how to avoid it

One of the goals of all voice-over recording projects at JBI Studios is to avoid pick-up recordings. Why? Because pick-ups add to the cost and turn-around time of audio and video translation projects, sometimes unexpectedly.

This post will look at what localization professionals must do to anticipate and avoid pick-ups.

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What are pick-up recordings exactly?

Pick-up recordings (also known as pick-ups, or even PU’s), are recordings that take place once the main voice-over session is done, and thought to be completed. They are usually done one or two days after the initial session, and usually have very low word counts. There are several scenarios for why you may need pick-ups, like:

  1. Corrections to the recording. This is most common after the QA process is done. While our sessions always have a native-speaker director to catch mistakes, sometimes they still make it through. This is just normal human error, of course, and why it’s so crucial to have a QA review of any audio or video voice-over – or any translated content, for that matter. Most of the pick-ups we record are a standard part of our quality processes – we compile a list of fixes, re-record just those sections with the talent, and our engineers cut them back into the recordings so that the listening experience is seamless.
  2. Corrections or changes/additions to the VO script. This occurs most commonly once the audio has been delivered to clients. Sometimes the clients hear the audio and realize that they need to change a part of the script. Or, sometimes the in-country team will want to make a change, or even an addition to the text, say for local regulations. Or, sometimes the English original gets a change which affects translation, and it’ll have to be made in all foreign-language versions. Whatever the reason, sections of the script have to be re-recorded, and new sessions with the talents have to be scheduled.

There are other reasons for pick-ups – for example, sometimes we’ll get scripts with multiple talents where a line is assigned to the wrong talent, so we need to re-record it – but the two scenarios above cover 90% of pick-ups. The first scenario is included as part of JBI’s high-quality studio services, of course. The second scenario, on the other hand, usually means additional recording sessions, and additional cost.

Why do pick-ups cost money?

As we’ve discussed before in this blog, high-quality (and accurate) voice-over recording sessions employ multiple skilled voice-over professionals: talent, studio engineer, native-speaker director, and QA reviewer. The following picture features the first three of these, hard at work in our professional voice-over studio:

Voice-over talent, sound engineer and native-speaking director hard at work in the studio on a foreign-language voice-over recording session.

When pick-ups are recorded, all of these people need to be called into the studio, even for a really small amount of content – and all of them have minimum fees for their work. Likewise, pick-up recording sessions can be more difficult to set up than the initial sessions. This seems counterintuitive, but there are two reasons for it:

  1. Talents must be matched. While this means that casting is no longer an issue, it also means that the recording session is completely limited to talent availability. You can no longer replace the talent if he or she isn’t immediately available for some reason, like illness or a family emergency.
  2. Settings must be matched exactly. Again, at first glance seems simple – professional studio engineers with extensive voice-over and dubbing experience (like the ones at JBI) have the specific skills for this. Likewise, JBI has developed proprietary procedures to track settings, to ensure project continuity. But there’s a catch: a talent’s voice changes during the day in subtle ways that you don’t normally hear, unless you have audio from different times of the day played back-to-back – which can be a very real scenario for a pick-up, since talents aren’t always available at the same time of day. And it’s not just time of day – the temperature, relative humidity, and the talent’s overall health can affect his or her voice. No matter the reasons, the talents, engineer and director spend extra time in the studio getting the audio to match perfectly.

There’s no way to get around it – pick-ups can cost money.

How to avoid pick-ups

There are three main ways:

  1. Comprehensive pronunciation guidelines: In our experience, this is hands-down the single best way to avoid pick-ups. It can be a daunting process, especially for highly-technical or heavily-branded content, but is crucial for project success. JBI has a rigorous and very thorough pronunciation procedure to help clients navigate this step.
  2. Fully-tested, signed-off English source files: This scenario is common in localization. If the English source files aren’t finalized before translation begins, there’s usually a very good chance that changes will be made that will affect the foreign-language versions. For voice-over projects, this can mean pick-ups. For this reason, it’s always good to record once the English is finalized – though sometimes this isn’t possible (more on this below).
  3. Locale-specific data or content: This one is less common, but good to be aware of. Some companies (like large multinationals) will have locale-specific websites or contact numbers, or sometimes even policies – for example, an employee compliance e-Learning course going to multiple countries. Re-recording a website or phone number in a target language can be an especially frustrating reason for a pick-up, so check them before recording.

While the above tips don’t cover every scenario, they’re a good start.

What if you can’t avoid them?

For some projects, pick-ups are just a part of the development process. For example, content that is simultaneously released in multiple languages may need translation to begin before the English content is finalized. In our previous post, 3 (Crucial) Tips for Recording Foreign-language Voice-over for Museums, we explained that museums need multilingual exhibit videos and audio tours to be ready on opening day, so they’ll usually start translation before texts and scripts are finalized. Projects like this have a high probability for pick-ups, and need to address this potential when developing the budget and timeline.

The key with pick-ups is to know what conditions may necessitate them, and even whether or not your project is at risk for them. Having a conversation about a potential pick-ups round will be much easier at the quoting stage, when budgets and schedules are a little more flexible, than at the end of development, when a client is struggling to release a product. It goes back to one of our dictums for multimedia localization – the better the prep, the better the outcome.

Download "7 Myths of Audio & Video Translation," JBI Studios' indispensable guide to audio translation and dubbing.

Topics: e-Learning Voice-over & Audio Dubbing Translation & Localization Video Translation

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