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When it comes to choosing voice talent for your business, it’s not just a matter of diction. Ever heard the adage, “medium is the message”? The artist’s voice is a vessel floating through the airwaves, shaping your audience’s perception of the work you do. Choosing the right voice talent to raise awareness about your cause, organization, YouTube channel, website, product, or anything else is a crucial business decision. The voice artists’ instrument is the auditory equivalent of a billboard, conveying a wealth of information if they can capture the listener’s attention. Finding the right talent goes beyond basics like literacy and ability to pronounce words clearly and distinctly without sounding like nails on chalkboard, a variety of factors should be kept in mind when hiring voice actors.

1. Experience

Don’t be afraid to scour resumes, request references, talk to agents, and ask pointed questions. You can’t form an accurate judgment without background knowledge–connect with other professionals who have worked with the client to get a sense of what to expect. Listen carefully to demo tape submissions.

An artist with voice-over or theatrical education is a plus. Respected vocal coaches, such as those at Vocal Awareness provide valuable training. (http://www.vocalawareness.com/about-vocal-awareness/) Chances are, the more experienced the voice-over artist, the more productive the project. You shouldn’t purposely ignore individuals just starting out who genuinely haven’t had the chance to work, in case they prove to be the right fit, but a string of rejections might mean lack of talent. Trust your gut and your ear.

Many people assume voice-over work is easy and that anyone can do it. On the contrary, it can take years of training to know the ins and outs and get to the top of the game. Taking direction, catching cues, dubbing, and drinking enough water to avoid mouth noise (clicks, spit, dry mouth) are simple things that can be hard to get used to.

Not to mention the long hours of thankless work, the vocal strain, and the loneliness that can come with the job description. You need someone who understands and is comfortable with the process.

When recordings are “wild,” actors won’t have visuals to work off during a session, which is a challenge novice voice-over artists might not expect. Little things like knowing “cans” is industry jargon for headphones or realizing when to pickup from a previous recording make the job easier. A seasoned professional will catch himself over-projecting plosives (p, t, k, d, b, and g sounds) causing the mic to be saturated and pop. He’ll stop and anticipate the need for a pickup; an amateur won’t even recognize what happened. There are some tools and techniques that voice actors can employ, but they nee experience to know how to implement them.

2. Brand

You’re developing an image, or, in this case, a pitch. What does this voice represent? Everything your possible clients hear should relate to your mission statement. Are you advertising for an infant care product? Perhaps a soft and soothing feminine voice over will do the trick; a lullaby-like lilt will win the way to a mother’s heart.

Are you running an animation series or fun game? An enthusiastic, well modulated, high-pitched, and playful voice that will excite children’s interest is a great choice.

Are you a high-end haberdasher catering to businessmen? Someone with a resonant and stentorian voice will conjure up the image of an enigmatic entrepreneur or successful, sophisticated Renaissance man in the client’s mind.

Do you need to promote a new kind of milk-chocolate candy? A mellifluous voice—deep, smooth, and rich, suggesting the liquid decadence of a chocolate fountain—will entice clients to dig in.

Are you selling cologne or perfume? Sotto voce with an air of mystery and sensuality might do the trick.

Are you making online tutorials? Whether you’re teaching newbies about an academic subject, computer skill, do-it-yourself crafting, or accounting advice, finding a solemn, orotund voice, serious, mature, and professorial, will foster a sense of trust, further emphasizing your expertise.

The possibilities are endless. Even a gruff, guttural sound could work for an outdoorsy brand. Whether someone has a husky voice or a tremulous one, breathy or rasping, chances are there’s a market for it. By creating a mental association connecting the voice to the brand, your potential customers will view what you have to offer in a new light, or a new sound, rather.

Create a spokesperson who will best attract your audience. Using a focus group made up of members of the key targeted demographic for the final say is a great idea: you don’t want a 50 year old man testing which voice will best appeal to 18 year old women. (For more tips, see http://mehowdesign.com/2011/04/the-importance-of-selecting-the-right-voice-over-artist-for-your-commercial/.)

3. Range

When many voice artists tell others what they do, a common reaction is, “Oh, so you’re not a real actor.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Voice work is a challenging test of an actor’s adaptability and ability to use their voice as an emotional tool. The more ways you can say something, the higher your singing can go, and the more voices you can imitate mean more roles and more gigs.

According to Kurt Meyers, a voice industry expert, “Range of different characters is key because in general it’s costs a production less to hire 1 voice actor to voice their main role and, for example, another handful of background characters, than it would be to hire different people for every role.” (Source: http://www.voiceoverherald.com/voice-casting-agents-look/)

If you’ve booked someone who is able to pull off normal, professional narrative tones for commercials as well as zany character voices and flawless impressions, consider them for future projects. It’s clear they have what it takes to stretch themselves, to the bend the limits of your imagination, and it’s always easier to work with people you already know.

In addition, someone quick on their feet, who can improvise, quickly implement your feedback, and come up with innovative ideas on their own is a huge asset, especially in a fast-paced industry relying on snap decisions. Minutes are often all an ad campaign, for instance, has to get the point across, so every moment counts.

4. Availability

It’s always critical to makes sure there are no scheduling conflicts, but it’s of particular vitality when it comes to voice talent. Voice work involves a lot of time and requires tremendous amount of energy, so you don’t want a tired talent arriving at the studio, rushing through takes to get to their next appointment or not showing up at all.

You don’t want a person who is too busy to put their best voice forward, even if they’re recording from home. MeHow Design suggests to “think about the longevity of the voice. Studies show that commercials who use the same voice for multiple ads do better, because the viewer is already familiar with the voice being linked to the brand. For this reason, it is important to take your time selecting the voice-over artist because ideally you want the same voice in future commercials.” (Source: http://mehowdesign.com/2011/04/the-importance-of-selecting-the-right-voice-over-artist-for-your-commercial/)

Never forget to be clear about payment, as well–you want someone who will be dedicated to the work, not bicker about your pricing or become nasty in negotiating overrun fees if overtime work is required.

Finally, an in-demand voice talent can be a liability. The more places a listener recognizes your artist’s voice from, the less likely they’ll identify it solely with you, thus weakening your marketing. You’ll want to make sure you know what projects the artist has done and is currently working on to assess his/her risk.

Sometimes, increased exposure can work to your favor, on the other hand, if it builds a connection in the customer’s mind or reminds them of something else that reinforces your message. The key is to take it on a case-by-case basis and thoughtfully determine whether taking on this client is worth it.

5. Authenticity

Try to scout out a natural talent who is warm and relatable. The keepers have realism and reliability seeping out of their vocal chords. Not to say that a smoker voice or adenoidal monotone is ideal, but when someone sounds as robotic as Siri, as cheesy and canned as a typical television announcer, as shady as a mob boss, or as glib and dishonest as a used car salesperson, customers will be less likely to take you seriously and believe you can offer a real service.

Some wonderful resources (for instance, www.voice123.com), offer search databases full of well-regarded talent so you can quickly determine who sounds most genuine. It’s easy to find exactly what is desired because actors are tagged according to which accents/languages they can pull off and what type they can play, i.e. “surfer dude,” “grandfather,” “girl next door”, as well as their innate vocal characteristics, such as “authoritative,” “amusing,” “caring,” “conversational,” etc.

Even in the audition room, let the talent know they should be calm and breathe easy, not try too hard in creating a fake persona, a stressed-out version of themselves they think you want to hear. The idea is to deliver a clean, professional sound, not one that’s so overproduced and hyper-polished it no longer sounds human.

 

There are many talents out there with loads of experience, a unique voice-over style perfect for your brand, wide vocal range, plenty of availability, and a truly authentic sound, but you have to know what to look for. These five qualities are major factors I use in determining if the right voice meets my expectations. They weed out artists who will make the process miserable and shed light on the ones who will make your project a success. Choosing voice talent for your business is something to take seriously. If you follow these tips, you’ll discover a voice that is music to your ears.

 

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