by Tracy Johnson
I love voice-tracked shows. Not all of them, of course. Not even most of them. But I do love a few of them. The concept is fantastic. Voice-tracking allows broadcasters and air personalities a chance to improve live performances. It’s a tremendous tool.
Voice-tracked shows (or, if you prefer, pre-recorded shows) get a bad reputation because most are poorly executed. Companies tend to view it as a way to save money by using a personality on multiple stations in several markets. Or they import talent from another market for pennies on the dollar.
Voice-tracked shows can be a financial benefit, but saving the budget should not be the reason to voice-track. That’s when problems start.
The concept is not a problem. Voice-tracking is just recording a show as if it were live before it airs. Technology provides an opportunity for better quality through editing, tightening, and re-performing.
Television does it every day.
Late-night personality shows are all voice-tracked. They record in the late afternoon and play it back a few hours later. Taping these shows actually takes longer than the actual air time because they place a high priority on the content. As a result, each show is better than a live performance!
But problems start when air personalities don’t take voice-tracking seriously. For some reason, we think of recorded breaks as less important than a “real” show. But to the audience, it doesn’t matter.
Management also tends to treat it as less important. Voice-tracked shows don’t require talent to sit in a studio during commercials or music segments, so it saves time. This is efficient, of course.
So managers assume that in the same period, one air personality has time to handle five shows, both in and out of the market.
That’s where the beauty of voice-tracking backfires. Personalities take on more and more shows and soon rush through tasks just to get through the day. They don’t bother to show prep for a specific market or station. Then the local PD loses interest in providing bullet-points to help the personality stay connected. And the product is weakened.
Three negative side effects become big issues.
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 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 most breaks recorded the day before and time-sensitive content recorded shortly before airing.
This allows the show to supplement recorded tracks with live breaks for phone calls and timely information like weather and traffic. And, they can connect with listeners via video and social media without distracting from the performance of the show.
If it bothers you to think about recording a live show, start small. Pre-record all One Thing Features in advance. Include all the teases and setups for the segment.
Then solicit calls for a phone topic just before the feature airs. Now there’s plenty of time to screen, record, and edit calls without rushing or panicking. You’ll be more prepared and the presentation will sound more confident.
If it works, start recording more breaks in advance.
Then add these show management steps:
It’s easy to see where this is going.
Voice-tracking is a tremendous asset that can enhance every show.
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.
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