The camerawork was first-rate. The captions were loud and clear. The whole package was a winner.
As long as the sound remained muted.
Because the voice-over brought everything down.
“Where did you find this guy?” I asked. “He sounds like he has no idea what he is saying. There are certain words I cannot understand, and there’s a weird echo that is very distracting.”
“That’s our Dave,” said Mike with a proud smile. “Dave works in Delivery, and everybody kept on telling me that he has a nice voice. I thought I’d give him a break. Why search for outside talent when the answer is under our own roof?”
“Because this is a professional production,” I answered. “Whoever is going to see this, doesn’t care that Dave is your delivery guy. His voice is now associated with your company. If people are perceiving him as unprofessional (and they will), what will they think of your business?”
“But I saved a ton of money,” tried Mike. “I gave Dave fifty bucks, and he was happy with that.”
“No Mike,” I said. “You just lost a ton of money by working with an amateur. Think of a voice as your auditory logo. What does it tell potential customers about the kind of company you are? Dave’s delivery is undermining your message. He just doesn’t sound trustworthy, and that is damaging your corporate image.”
There was an awkward silence as I heard a few pennies drop.
“So, if Dave’s not doing it for you, how do I find the right voice?” asked Mike. “There are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff, and how long is that going to take?”
”It all starts with you, Mike,” I said. “You have to…
1. Know what you want.
Let me ask you a question: How will you find your way to a specific destination if you don’t know where it is and what it looks like? The same is true in voice-over land. Ask yourself:
“If my product or company had a voice, what would it sound like?”
Is it male or female? Would it be a young, hip voice, or the voice of wisdom and experience? Would it be a booming voice, a gravelly voice, a sultry voice, or a motivating voice? Does this voice speak with a particular accent or intonation? Does it sound like someone I know from radio, TV, or from the movies?
Also ask yourself:
What audience am I trying to reach?
Is it an educated audience? If so, what’s their level of education? Do they fall in a particular age group? Is it an international audience, or are they local?
Once you have a voice profile, put it in the audition information you want the talent to see. If you don’t do that, every Tom, Dick, or Harriet will submit an MP3, and you’ll have the hardest time sorting through hundreds of entries.
Tip: Know what you want, but keep an open mind (and ear). Sometimes you think you have the right idea until you see or hear something that is even better!
2. Does the talent sound authentic and trustworthy?
This is crucial.
People are seldom fooled by a fake. Once they perceive that a voice-over lacks sincerity and natural authority, they lose trust. People who lose trust won’t be sold on your message or your product. Take Dave the delivery guy. He does not sound like he believes in what he is saying. At times he is unintelligible.”
“Are you sure?” asked Mike, “’cause I didn’t hear it.”
“Mike, you wrote the script, so you know what Dave’s supposed to say. That’s why you didn’t pick up on it.
The number one test for any professional communicator is not tone of voice but intelligibility.
Here’s the next question you should ask yourself when you listen to a demo:
3. Is the audio of professional quality?
Imagine shooting a fifteen thousand dollar video with a third-rate camera. You would never do that, would you? So, why would you accept audio that was recorded with sub-standard equipment, recorded on the kitchen table?
Professional audio sounds clean, clear, and without flutter echoes or ambient noise. Trust me. If you can hear the neighbor’s weed whacker or pickup truck in the background, move on to the next talent.
You also have to listen for microphone technique. Amateur audio may have pops… plosives that cause a nasty burst of air that’s picked up by the mic and your ears. You’ll also hear all kinds of mouth noises such as lip smacks, and very audible, distracting breaths.
Here’s an important tip: A voice talent may sound fantastic on the demo they sent you. Remember that those demos are usually heavily doctored in a professional studio. Unless the talent records your script in that same studio with the same equipment and engineer, they’ll never be able to replicate it in their home studio.
Always ask for a custom demo, recorded with the same set-up that will be used for your project.
On to the next question:
4. Did the talent respond in a professional way?
Did s/he get back to you in a timely fashion? Did you get a standard answer, or did the talent put some thought into his/her response? Was the email grammatically correct? Were there spelling errors? Was the tone of the message respectful?
Did you get a sense that the voice-over tried to understand your specific needs? Did the voice talent come across as desperate, or as confident?
Was the voice-over clear about the cost? Remember: you pay for professionalism. Cheap rates often expose inexperienced or amateur talent.”
Mike took a deep breath, and said:
“Those tips are great, but that still doesn’t answer one of my questions.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, there are thousands of people online who all pretend to be voice-over pros. I have no time to listen to hundreds of auditions from a voice casting site. I’ve done that in the past, and a lot of what I got was crap. You’ve got to help me here!”
“You could go two ways,” I said. “I could either give you the names of a few reputable agents, or I could send you to a trusted pool of online talent. If you describe what you’re looking for to any of my agents, they’ll select a few voice actors for you that could all do the job. Guaranteed. You may pay a bit more, but you’ll save a lot of time, and you avoid having to listen to a tragic lineup of wannabes.
The website I want to direct you to is http://www.voiceover.biz. It’s a non-profit voice casting site that’s run by the World Voices Organization. On it you will only find vetted members of this professional, international voice-over association.
No amateurs. No wannabes. No delivery guys.
You will only find the cream of the crop.
It’s as simple as that.
And that’s how you hire the right voice-over!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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