The Art of Voice Tracking

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on January 26th, 2022 

Let’s face it, voice tracking is no longer the future of radio, it IS radio. And as much as we all wish everything was still “live and local,” that’s no longer practical with consolidation and downsizing. This is an “opportunity” for talent to master the craft of voice tracking and turn it into a legitimate business. But we need to master the basics in order to move the needle and make a connection with the audience. It should never be obvious that talent on air is not live. That means every i must be dotted, t crossed, and attention to detail: meticulous. It’s not that hard to master, but it must be done, otherwise your brand will sound like everyone else’s, and it will feel like the lights are on, but nobody is home.

If you’re going to attempt to win with voice tracking, there are a few steps needed to ensure that your brand is still differentiating itself from all the others in the market and providing content that no one else in the market (or online) can. This requires coaching and listening over and over again to your shifts. I always tell talent, “The best thing that you can do to get better, is to aircheck yourself. You will always be your biggest critic.” You will also hear things that you could have done better, or added content to, to make a connection.

The first thing you need to do is make sure every element in the shift is previewed and/or edited from song to song, element to element and track to track. It doesn’t take that long to do it. Let’s face it, a lot of different people on staff are adding audio to your system. If the sec tones aren’t tight or in the right places, the fade doesn’t work on the song, the intros and endings are not properly identified, dry vs. produced elements aren’t properly identified, there’s a lot of room for human error. It can be a train wreck if it’s not previewed. A voice tracked shift is just as much a reflection of talent as a live shift. If you want to get the calls for the extra opportunity, make it count. There is nothing worse than a dry sweeper rolling slowly in between two songs instead of over the intro of the next song or having the wrong track air in to or out of the wrong song. “Hey that’s the latest from Justin Bieber,” and it’s a Taylor Swift song. The average listener may not know exactly what is happening, but they are going to be like, “What?” That makes their favorite station sound bad and at some point, can create a lack of trust and loyalty.

The next thing you need to do is your homework. You need to prep for a voice tracked shift as much as you prep for a live shift. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear jocks just say the call letters and back sell or front sell a song. A really old song. That’s just lazy. We can run sweepers to handle that, and they work for free. Find compelling content to relate to the audience, good artist info and bank lots of calls to utilize during the shift so it sounds like you are live. If you are tracking out of market, make sure you study your market and brand. Utilize as much local prep as you can during the shift and make sure someone in the market helps you stay on top of things there. You can miss a lot if you don’t actually live in the market, and you’ve got to find a way to connect with the audience, so you are talking with them and not at them.

And finally, back up the shift with updated blogs and social media posts. You can schedule them ahead of time if you are not actually in the building. Make sure they reflect the current shift and refer to them during the shift on a regular basis. Also keep an eye on comments and posts from listeners. If you don’t respond, it’s clear you don’t care, or you are not actually in-house. The ultimate goal is to never have it sound like the lights are on, but nobody’s home on your station. If you can master these basic tasks, you can become the go-to talent when companies are looking to voice track more stations. Like anything else, you have to strive to be the best on the job to get the next one, and all that really matters is how it sounds on the air in real time (whether it is or not).