Voice-Tracking Can Make Good Shows Great
I love voice-tracked shows. Not all of them, of course. Not even most of them. I do love a few of them. But what I really love is the concept. The benefits of voice-tracking allows broadcasters and air personalities the chance to do more than when performing live. But, like everything else, it all depends on what you do with the tools.
Pre-recorded shows get a bad reputation, mostly because they’re poorly executed. Many broadcasters view it as a way to save money by using one personality on multiple stations, and in several markets. Or they import talent from another market because they can get them for pennies on the dollar. Voice-tracked shows do offer financial benefits, but that should not be the reason to voice-track.
Regardless of the reasons managers love it, voice-tracked shows are here to stay. That could be a very good thing, or a very bad thing. It depends on how we react to it.
The Problem With Voice-Tracked Shows
Voice-tracked shows are not the problem. All it really means is creating a pre-recorded show before it airs. That’s a good thing! Technology provides the opportunity to create a better product by editing, tightening and re-performing.
Television does it every day.
Late night personality shows are all voice-tracked. They record in late afternoon for airing that evening. Taping these shows actually takes longer to record than the actual air time. That’s because they place a great deal of importance on the quality of the content. Pre-recording allows the luxury of making each show better than a live performance!
Problems start when air personalities don’t take voice-tracking seriously. For some reason, we think of recorded breaks as less important than the “real” show-you know, the ones performed live. But it’s all the same to the audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s live. It does matter if it’s good.
Part of that responsibility falls squarely on management for treating it as less important. Voice-tracked shows don’t require talent to sit in a studio during the commercials or music segments, so it takes a fraction of the time to perform a four or five hour show. This is efficient, of course. And it’s a benefit of voice-tracing.
So managers assume that in the same five-hour period, one air personality has time to handle five shows, both in and out of market. Because they can. But that doesn’t mean they should.
That’s where the beauty of voice-tracking backfires. Personalities take on more and more shows, and soon begin to rush just to complete their tasks each day. They don’t bother to show prep for the specific market or station, and the PD loses interest in providing bullet-points to help the personality stay connected.
3 Aspects of The Ugly Under-Belly Of Voice-Tracking
Soon after, three negative side effects start to appear:
They put less effort into preparing their content because they’re not getting much (if any) feedback or support. Since it’s faster and easier to produce, it feels less important. Soon, breaks become ordinary.
Or worse, they are sloppy and boring. The best breaks may sound good but don’t stand out. Quality is compromised. Technically, it may be fine, but the material is compromised. It loses the sparkle.
Each break becomes generic. Localization and personalization are sacrificed to save time.
It’s hard work to drop in local references, but these are endearing and important aspects of performance. Voice-tracked shows can sound just as local as a personality broadcasting from the market, but it takes time and effort. A great voice-tracked show can sound more local than a a”local” station that is only local by geography.
Little attention is paid to how the many voice-tracked show sound in relation to the elements surrounding performance.
Technology allows stations to sound good without human intervention. But they don’t sound great. Personalities that take the time to match the environment surrounding their breaks can make the station sparkle. It adds humanity, and that is a difference listeners feel, even if they can’t identify it.
The Future of Voice-Tracked Shows
Voice-tracked shows can sound better than most live shows.
They can be edited or re-performed. Each track can be tighter and more focused. They can be fine-tuned and perfected to fit the music and other elements surrounding the track. Knowing how breaks will end allows us to craft more effective teases and promos.
And, since it is more efficient, it’s possible to invest more time in preparation and performance.
Some clients are experimenting with more pre-produced, voice-tracked segments in their live show, and it’s working quite well. In fact, we’re not far from shows that are almost completely voice-tracked, with breaks recorded shortly before they air in real time.
Imagine how a show could improve with most segments constructed before the show even starts. You could supplement the tracks with great live breaks for phone calls and timely information like weather and traffic.
Two clients even record the entire show the afternoon before it airs the next morning. Anything significant happening overnight is fast and easy to update.
To start, try pre-recording One Thing Features the day before they air. Then start a phone topic just before the feature and allow time to attract, record and edit great calls to advance the storyline through a multi-break topic. You’ll be more prepared and the presentation will sound more confident.
Here are two more ways to improve how voice-tracked shows are managed:
- Record every setup break in advance. Most topics are evergreen. It’s pretty easy to record them even a full week before airing.
- Plan main topics 2-3 days ahead and solicit phone response on social media and through your network of show contributors to jump-start each topic.
It’s easy to see where this is going.
Voice-tracking is a tremendous asset, and can enhance every personality’s performance. It saves time in the actual recording of the breaks, allowing more attention in the preparation.
But it should not be used simply to save money by spreading the same talent across more stations. Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t perform four shows a day just because he can record his evening show in advance. Technology provides the means to improve it, not just make it more efficient.
Tracy Johnson is a US-based radio consultant and talent coach. He’s programmed great radio stations, leading two stations in San Diego from “worst to first”, earned dozens of radio industry awards and been named “Best Programmer In America” by Radio Ink magazine. In addition to his long career in programming, Tracy managed a group of stations for 10 years and has worked with hundreds of media brands to develop digital content, promotion and revenue strategies.
For more from Tracy, sign up to his weekly newsletter on radio personality, programming and promotions by visiting his website.