Bouncy, bubbly or British? How To Choose Voice Over Talent

Integrating the perfect voice into an online course, video or slide show enhances the audience’s perception and enjoyment of the program. On the other hand, choosing a voice that doesn’t fit can sometimes feel like fingernails scraping across a blackboard.

It takes lots of talent and skill to be a professional narrator. Voice actors must sound knowledgeable even when they don’t understand the subject. They must emote a variety of moods to fit the script. They also need disciplined voice control and excellent enunciation.

Sifting through talented narrators to assess all these skills and selecting the right person can be an overwhelming task. Here are some things I’ve learned that might make the process easier for you.

Determine where the session will be located.

Before you can select a narrator, you need to consider where the recording will take place. You’ll need regional talent if it’s in a local studio and national talent if you’re willing to use a narrator with a home recording setup. The recording expertise found in a studio with an audio engineer will typically produce a higher-quality result. It will also be more expensive.

Look for high quality demos.

Professional narrators will have high quality demos that show off their range and styles. Listen carefully, imagine this person reading your script and pick out the top two or three people to analyze in more detail. If the narrator does not have a good demo, I would recommend looking elsewhere. He or she may not be well-trained nor serious about this as a career.

Use a voice that fits the audience.

Select a voice that will work with your audience. Consider whether a male or female would be most appropriate (though often, it doesn’t seem to matter). Consider whether a regional accent is required. Also, think about the type of voice that will draw your audience closer. A sophisticated audience might prefer an elegant voice; children might prefer a bright and enthusiastic voice.

Use a voice that fits the subject.

Some narrators are best for motivational and upbeat treatments and can’t seem to sound serious. Yet some topics require a solemn voice. Other narrators just can’t sound light and playful when it’s needed. Make sure your narrator can perform well in the mood and style your content requires. The best professionals are versatile and can adapt to a broad range of styles.

Appreciate the subtle qualities of the voice.

Tune in to the subtle qualities of the narrator’s voice. Make sure the pitch and tone are easy on the ear. Notice if the voice sounds unique, with a special quality that distinguishes it from others. Pay attention to the narrator’s rhythm. Does the reading flow or is it stilted? Also, listen for clarity in pronunciation. A professional and distinctive voice with excellent diction will carry your message effectively.

Make sure the talent is credible.

As you listen to the demos, determine whether the talent is capable of sounding believable. Can this person sound sufficiently caring to narrate a course about cancer treatments? Does this talent have what it takes to sound like a technical expert? If your narrator isn’t credible, your program will lose some of its authority.

Look for character voices.

Some narrators can portray several distinct voices. If you need multiple voices for scenarios and other treatments, finding one person to cover several characters provides a huge time and cost savings. One narrator I worked with wore his baseball cap in a different position for each unique voice!

Check  previous experience.

If your project is instructional in nature, make sure the talent you select has experience with long narration sessions. These take an excellent reading ability and lots of stamina. Some voice over artists specialize in short commercials. I once mistakenly hired a commercial talent to read four hours of technical content. We had to retake almost every paragraph and the experience was grueling for all of us.

Get recommendations.

In addition to searching for voice over talent online and through talent agencies, don’t forget to seek out recommendations from recording studios, producers and other multimedia types. This way, you can ask whether the individual is flexible and takes direction well. Although a recording session involves give and take between the director, the talent, and the audio engineer, the script owner steers the show. A flexible narrator will be happy to take direction to change intonation or emphasis. It’s just part of the job.

Get approval from stakeholders

If you work with outside clients, it’s often a good idea to get their approval of the talent you’ve selected. Clients usually appreciate this gesture and this way you know they’ll be happy with the results.

What criteria do you use for choosing talent? Have you found specific audiences prefer one type of voice over another? Comment below.

Related Articles:
Audio Recording: Preparing Your Script
Audio Recording: Going In-house

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Comments

  1. Rachel says

    Some useful advice, thank you! Another thing I would add is to specify your requests in a contract to avoid the studio or another provider from changing voices you have approved at the last minute.

    [Reply]

  2. says

    As a voice-over professional, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a good idea of the type of voice you’re hoping to hire, before you start auditioning talent. Otherwise, it’s like going into a wine shop to buy some white wine. You’ll find wines that are dry, sweet, bubbly, fruity, dirt cheap and extremely expensive. How do you know which one’s the right one for you and your target group?

    I just spoke to a frustrated voice-seeker who spent hours and hours sifting through 100+ auditions without finding the right talent. When asked how he had described the voice when he had posted the job, he said: “Looking for Male English narrator for eLearning project”. As a result, he got Aussies, Brits, Texans, Canadians, young, old, mellow, hyped-up, in-your-face, college professor… It was a nightmare.

    The clearer you describe the voice you’re looking for, the more likely it is that you will receive demos from candidates who fit the bill.

    Another thing you should be mindful of, is your budget. Expert firefighter Red Adair once said: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

    Technology has made it extremely easy for any Tom, Dick or Harry, to plug a microphone into a laptop and advertise themselves as a “voice-over talent”. Most voice-over casting sites make money from membership fees, and anyone with a credit card and a voice sample can join the club. No questions asked. So, when you decide to use these sites, you will find a mixed bag of seasoned pros and clueless amateurs.

    Don’t be surprised if you’re contacted by ‘professional voice-over artists’ from faraway lands, who are willing to record your script for a handout. And with the economy the way it is, you will even get bargain basement offers from untrained beginners from your own backyard.

    People often underestimate what it takes to do this work for a living, and they think that it’s ‘easy money’ to read a couple of words off the page.

    Thinking that having a good voice is all it takes to be a voice-over pro, is like saying that, in order to be a successful actor, all you need is great looks.

    Having a good set of vocal chords definitely helps, but it’s a small piece of a big puzzle. Knowing how to use that voice is a different matter! Just because you happen to have a nice singing voice, doesn’t mean that you could start making a living as a singer today. It takes lots of training, hard work and dedication to make it to Carnegie Hall.

    In short: when you hire a pro at a professional rate, you will not only save money in the long run; you will end up with a quality product that is a reflection of your own standards.

    Paul Strikwerda
    http://www.nethervoice.com

    [Reply]

  3. says

    Thanks for taking the time to give us your insights, Paul. I couldn’t agree with you more that it takes a lot of talent, skill and hard work to be a voice over professional. It’s particularly not easy to read some of the training scripts we have to produce! And an experienced professional can really make a product shine.
    Connie

    [Reply]

  4. Michaela says

    Thank you for this interesting article! Since I do not have any experience, I always thought that the narrator is often the one who writes the script. As I can see, it is not that easy! Actually, I was glad to find this out because one thing I was a little concerned about is my accent (I am not American). So, thanks again!

    [Reply]

  5. says

    Connie, your advice on hiring voice talent is spot on. I agree with Paul’s comments as well. I am a female voice over talent with over 20 years of professional experience, and communication is key when getting what you want from a narrator. I pride myself on being very “directable” in addition to providing high quality audio files from my studio on a daily basis. In addition, long form narration is quite different than recording a 30 or 60 second commercial. Consistency, stamina, and the ability to turn around large projects quickly are important attributes of professional e-learning narrators.

    Best of luck to you all in finding just the right person for the job!

    Melanie Haynes
    http://www.melaniehaynes.com

    [Reply]

  6. says

    As a professional voice talent with over two decades of experience, I’m encouraged to see these excellent points for the ever-expanding e-learning market.

    Another thing to remember is whether or not the voice talent has a broadcast quality studio even though e-learning is not for broadcast. No one wants to listen to unprofessional audio. Just because a person claims to be in voiceover doesn’t mean they can provide quality files that have to be recorded, edited, named properly and transferred promptly.

    The Society of Accredited Voice Over Artists (savoa.org) recognizes those who can provide vocally and technically proficient services and conduct business in a professional manner. SaVoa accreditation is the “seal of approval” every voice-seeker can and should rely on.

    Lisa Rice
    http://www.lisaricevoice.com
    SaVoa Member No. 07055

    [Reply]

  7. says

    KUDOS! As a professional VO talent who does a lot of elearning VO, I appreciate and concur with your article about working with voice recording talent. Much appreciation to your knowledge, which appears to be deep. I also took a look at your other article about writing elearning scripts – on target!

    [Reply]

  8. Sophie Kamal says

    Thank you for this article. It was very useful and informative. I am starting out in the world of voice over and have stumbled at the first hurdle! Can anyone help? I don’t know where to get hold of good scripts for my sound reel. Can i write my own? Can i simply copy ones that i like from the telly? Is that even legal?! I have had varied answers from a number of sources and now feel rather confused and a little frustrated. Anyone got a any advice? I would be so grateful. Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Connie Malamed Reply:

    Hi Sophie,
    You should learn scriptwriting and write your own or hire an experienced scriptwriter. Don’t copy other scripts as they will be copyrighted.
    Connie

    [Reply]

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