Hiring a voice actor? Here are 5 tips

4 min read

So you’re a businessperson with a product to sell?

Given the power of the human voice (as our primary means of communication), sooner or later you’ll probably need a voice actor to help you get the word out on any of the numerous traditional marketing and/or social media platforms available.

Let’s face it: on its own, text just doesn’t always cut the mustard!

For a first-timer, hiring a voice actor may seem daunting — especially because we’re in an era when just about everything happens online.

There are times when finding the right voice for your project can be demanding. You may need to speak to an actor directly. You may be sourcing the voice on behalf of someone else who wants to direct the actor in real time. When confronted with such a task, performing your own root canal surgery may seem less intimidating than running the gauntlet of online voice casting!

It doesn’t have to be that way — but you do need to be careful when you hit Google and start searching for what you need. Here are five important things to consider when hiring a voice actor:

  • Experience

Voice123 was the first online platform to offer clients a roster of professional voice actors. Essentially, it removed the endless chain of go-betweens who all wanted a piece of the action. An avalanche of similar sites has appeared in its wake.

The result is a huge influx of actors with little experience and skill who consider the online environment a wonderful place to try and make a living.

It’s absolutely imperative that you’re able to tell the difference between a pro and a novice.

If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.

Even if the voice demo impresses you, get the actor to record a section of your script to ensure you won’t end up disappointed. Ideally, you want an actor who will get the job done on time and to the highest standard.  Check them out. Read their résumés. Listen to them carefully. Do they seem to be able to act the way you’d like them to? Do they sound like they’d be able to deliver the read the way you hear it in your head?

A producer at an agency with a large global footprint suggests: “At least ten years experience. Then I know they know what they’re doing. You simply cannot fake long-term success and it takes ten years to get ten year’s experience.”

It’s equally important to understand that there are exceptions to every rule.

Many younger or inexperienced voice actors can be extraordinary right out of the starting gate. Talent isn’t age or experience dependent. The key is to listen carefully and choose wisely. You may find it worthwhile to search for and discover new talent. There are plenty of talented newbies on Voice123!

  • Reliability

Reputable and trustworthy websites also frequently provide client ratings and testimonials on work performed previously by their actors. Look for comments like ‘consistent’, ‘timely’, ‘great service’ and ‘reliable’. While ‘a great voice’ is fine, a ‘great voice’ delivered badly will be of no use to you.

If you get on well with the actor and decide to book him/her for repeat work, you’ll also get to know their vocal reach and versatility. Most jobs in this industry require tight turnaround times; usually 24 to 48 hours. If an actor struggles meeting deadlines, chances are good they’ll let you down when you can least afford it. Beware!

  • Availability

Availability matters when you have ongoing work. Do you have a series of commercials in mind that may require the voice actor to be ready and willing to record subsequent scripts over the course of a month, a year, or even longer? Full-time pros are likely to be your best bet here because they are their own dedicated Voice over business. They’ll be committed to servicing the needs of their clients long-term.

It’s unlikely that part-timers will be able to hit those crucial deadlines consistently. They’re also unlikely to be available at short notice because they’re earning a large chunk of their income doing something other than voice acting.

  • Quality

The digital revolution and the interwebs have made it possible for voice actors to work from the comfort of their own homes. By far the most of them do these days.

While equipment has become more affordable, the actor you choose to work with will have to prove to you that his computer-rig and recording space meet your professional needs.

Even if you don’t understand the jargon or technicalities involved, you’ll be able to hear a top-class recording. A high-quality microphone and a pristine — as well as properly soundproofed — recording environment will be instantly audible. As mentioned before, ask for a custom audition. Keep an ear out for system or other noise such as:

  1. Hiss

    Hiss is an incessant snake-like background noise that is the bain of many a voice actor’s life because it’s so difficult to get rid of. It is mostly caused by inferior recording equipment. Many actors make an attempt at treating the symptom but not the cause by using a noise-reduction plugin which often makes the problem even more audible. Experience has taught that the better the equipment, the less hiss will be audible on the final recording.

  2. Electrical hum

    Hum is a low-intensity drone-like sound associated with mains electricity powering an actor’s equipment within his recording space. It’s usually caused by bad wiring, although it can also be caused by nearby utility transformers. Properly earthing both the power source and the equipment will generally solve the issue. It’s usually less prevalent a problem than hiss.

  3. Room echo

    Referred to as reverberation in audio terminology, room echo is caused by a lack of proper room treatment. The walls, ceiling, and floor of an actor’s recording space can reflect the sound of a voice. This reflected sound gets recorded as well. Listening to yourself speak while in a tiled bathroom or cavernous parking garage provides a good, if extreme, example of reverberation. It impacts the overall sound very negatively and can render a recording totally unusable.

You’re hiring the actor to provide you with a clean and uncolored recording, so listen for clarity, articulation, and a natural, well-rounded reproduction of the voice.

If you have any doubts, regard these as red flags; you’re probably working with an amateur — no matter whether they tell you they’ve got professional-grade software and a suitable computer setup.

If it doesn’t sound pro, it ain’t.

  • Rates

Rates should never be the be-all-and-end-all, but can usually provide a hint in terms of who you’re going to be hiring. Be very careful of rates that are too low; a suspiciously low fee will in all likelihood point to a newbie who’s over-keen. Sure, a professional you really like may be way beyond your budget, but most of them should be willing to negotiate.

Someone who quotes with confidence and is knowledgeable usually has an understanding of market rates for any given project and its usage.

Determining rates can have a myriad of variables in the equation, but pro voice actors are often upfront about the costs involved. Some publish rates on their sites, but many don’t for the very reason given above.

Communication is crucial; if you can establish an open and transparent conversation about the process and what your requirements (as well as your expectations) are, you’re more than halfway to a handshake.

Ultimately, it’s about getting the job done to the satisfaction of all parties involved. The better both of you understand one another and the better you brief your chosen actor, the more plausible it is that you’ll get the result you’re looking for.