Monday, 26 May 2014

Finding Your Voice [Over]

Choosing the right voice over artist for your radio ad, television spot, or corporate video can be an overwhelming task. Where do you start? What should you expect to pay? How do I know I'm making the right choice?

At Swagger, we use voice over artists for many of our projects and there are a lot of things we keep in mind when choosing an artist.

1. What kind of voice do you want?

Male or female? Old or young? Accent or no accent? The style of your piece may dictate this to a certain degree, but if you're VO isn't playing a specific character, many "voice of God"-type VOs are open for interpretation.

Contrary to popular belief, Morgan Freeman isn't right for EVERY project.
When choosing the right voice over style, start by thinking about who your audience is. (This should be your first step in practically every production/post-production decision-making process.) Sometimes, it may be appropriate to pick a voice that matches the demographic of the audience. Other times, it may make more sense to choose a voice that matches a demographic that tends to influence your audience, as in choosing a soothing, maternal voice for a message aimed at young children.

Is your copy more authoritative or informational? Choose an influencing demographic. Does it have more of a confiding feel? Choose one that matches your target audience.

2. What's your budget?

Obviously the longer the VO, the more it will cost. Broadcast outlets will also affect this cost- a television ad costing more than a web video of the same length, for example. The thing to remember about VO costs is that while they range greatly, the amount you pay typically is going to have a big impact on recording quality and professionalism from the artist. In other words, you get what you pay for. To give you some ballpark figures, a :15 radio ad can cost you $50-75 while a 5-minute video can cost you $500 and up.
That voiceover cost WHAT?
You might be thinking right now, "$500 to read for 5 minutes???? That's insane!" I hope you're not thinking that, but just in case you are, consider the following: a high quality recording suitable for broadcast requires expensive equipment and software, specialized audio expertise, availability at the drop of the hat, extreme consistency in output... and a pleasing voice that's constantly well-cared for. And they often don't get residuals the way on-screen talent might. Now pick up a book and read out loud for 5 minutes straight and count how many flubs you make. Not so easy now, is it?

Some sites like or make it easy for you and have fairly set rates dependent on script length, whereas some outlets will let you post a job with a vague budget range and artists submit an audition with their bid for the project, such as Again, you get what you pay for in these situations, and although you can set criteria for what you're looking for, you often have to sift through a lot of folks who aren't right for the part but submitted themselves for the gig anyway. It's definitely a more time consuming method.

If you don't have time for that hassle, you can find your VO through an agency, however keep in mind that these tend to be pricier from the outset and include an agency fee, although the professionalism and quality is guaranteed.

3. Do you want to hear them record?

"Can we get that once more a little more... Freeman-y?"
You may be able to bring someone local into your studio to record, and that's great. However, because we don't have a recording studio in our office, and because we like to be able to widen our search for talent beyond Houston, this is typically not possible for us at Swagger.

Thankfully, some artists offer the ability to conference call or video chat during their recording session so that you can provide them with direction in real time and get it right the first time. While most artists will often do re-takes for free if you (or your client) wants something read a little differently, doing it live is always easier than trying to communicate those changes later over the phone or worse- through email. Which leads us to...

4. What's your direction?

Be as detailed as you possibly can when providing instruction to the voice over artist. What's the pace? What's the style? Provide pronunciation for ALL proper nouns, even ones you think are completely obvious. Is your video an advertisement for the Computeritron H2100? Find out from the client if they want it said "Computeritron H twenty-one hundred" or "Computeritron two one zero zero". (Pro-tip: Just because you've heard them say it one way, doesn't mean that's the official way! Oftentimes we use slang names for the things we work with on a daily basis that would make our marketing managers cringe.)

The point is, spell everything out, let them know what you want emphasized, if there's accompanying artwork or animation then provide it to them, and give as much information as you possibly can.

5. Is your script finalized?

A word to the wise: While most voice over artists will re-record for free until the cows come home to alter inflection, speed, pronunciation, and correct mistakes, the second you change any words in your script you should assume they will be charging you. It's typically a reasonable fee (a small percentage of the original cost) that prevents their time and services from being abused (a freelancer failsafe), and you should expect to pay it every time they go back into the studio due to a script change.

For that reason, if you know your client has given you a "final" script that probably isn't really the "final" script, you have a couple of options to keep costs down.

Script changes? At least buy me a cotton candy!
  • Record a temporary "scratch track". Grab someone from the office with the most similar voice and record a lower quality temporary placeholder VO to use during the post-production process until you know the script is as finalized as it's going to be.

  • Find a voice over artists that's willing to negotiate some revision time into the upfront cost. (For many, this will simply be non-negotiable.)
  • Build more VO cost into your budget than you think you'll need. This way the client doesn't feel like they're being dinged for changes, and hey, if you don't need them, the client will be even more pleased to have completed the project under budget!

The very least you should do is always be aware of what your artist's revision policy is before they begin the work so that there are no surprises down the road.

6. Did you have a good experience with your last voice over artist?

USE THEM AGAIN. Keep their information and be loyal. It will pay off, as a good working relationship with a voice over artist tends to mean quicker turnaround times and more flexibility on pricing and revisions.

And hey, if you've worked with a great voice over artist in the past we'd love to hear about it, as we're always looking for vetted recommendations!

But ultimately, all of the previous information can be ignored if you can take my last bit of advice here-

7. Just use Morgan Freeman.

I mean, if you've got the budget...

Let's be honest.
If any voice over artists out there are reading this, chime in! What do you think makes a good/bad working relationship and what should clients be looking for?


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