As a voice actor, voice over talent, voice over artist, voice talent, voice artist or any other variation, it always was something I couldn’t put my finger on.
Yes, we are storytellers, yes we convey information to an audience, yes we train people, delight people, and entertain people. We even greet people when you call.
We “do” a lot of things for our clients and their projects.
We narrate scripts into a microphone, which gets converted to ones and zeros into a digital file and transmitted electronically.
That is what we “do,” but not what problem we solve.
Ultimately, every project starts with someone passionate about something that they want to convey to an audience, so they start writing down words.
Those words come together as a script.
It can be vetted, proofed, approved, critiqued, edited, adjusted, and ultimately agreed upon before we ever see it.
Their intention is to get those words into their target audience’s head (information), heart (motivation) or soul (inspiration).
Sure, anyone can read words on a page.
But only voice talent have trained, studied, coached and practiced how to “say” those words in a believable way so the intended audience “believes” what they are being told.
Connecting the dots – from the script to the audience’s head, heart, or soul – IS the problem we solve.
Yes, all the obligatory phrases you hear are still relevant (telling your story, storytelling, spreading your message, or anything else similar), but in essence, if you can’t make that connection, everything else is irrelevant.
Voiceover acting started with Reginald Fessenden in 1906. He was the first person on radio to transmit voice messages out to ships at sea during Christmas.
Following shortly, Walt Disney voiced the Mickey Mouse character in the short animation Steamboat Willie. This marked the advent of Mickey Mouse’s long-standing success on screen and boosted the cartoon toward becoming one of the most famous animation characters in the world today.
The Warner Brothers company was not far behind. Together with Leon Schlesinger Productions and Mel Blanc as the starring voice actor, Looney Tunes was born. “The Man of a Thousand Voices”, as Mel was rightfully nicknamed, began a successful career in voiceover acting, breathing life into famous characters like Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird, among others.
Mel Blanc set the standard for voiceover acting pretty high, also managing to secure on-screen credit for his voice roles. Other voice actors had not received the same benefit until Blanc demanded his rights and set the stage for those following in his footsteps.
So, what is voiceover and how can this service help modern businesses flourish?
What Is Voiceover?
Voiceover is the art of lending one’s voice to various visual-based projects. A voice actor is a professional that generally has some form of training in the field or someone that has raw talent in changing his voice to imitate or invent voices for film characters, radio, or television.
Voiceover is used in animated feature films, animated short films, TV commercials, TV shows radio spots, foreign film dubbing, video games, audiobooks, puppet shows, radio dramas, and so on. This skill is used in many industries all over the world and in almost every language imaginable.
Waiting rooms, public transport, elevator, and other public announcement systems also employ voiceover artists for their needs. Voice actors perform various types of voices and are sometimes even asked to sing.
More recently, voiceover is also heavily used in e-Learning and other types of online learning modules. Newer still, voiceover apps have started popping up. Although they’re pretty basic and raw, demand will often push development further and we’ll start seeing these types of apps increase in quality over time.
Here are the main types of voiceover acting performed today:
Commercial: this type of voiceover is used for TV, radio, online advertising, and film.
Character: character voiceover is used for animated feature films and cartoons.
Narration: a narrator is a voice that relays information to the audience, somewhat detached from the life of the characters, unless the narrator is also a character in the film, documentary, cartoon, or other voice-powered production.
AI-generated: these voices are generated by computer software and can be used for film, radio, gaming, etc.
AI-modified: similar to AI-generated voiceover.
Automated dialogue replacement: this type of voice acting is used post-filming to improve voice quality in a film or animated feature. It can also be used to record over voices with thicker accents.
Automated announcements: used in subway announcements, phone answering automated services, and other public announcements.
Translation: This voiceover technique is used for dub localization, which basically means recording over a foreign language.
How to Choose a Voiceover Actor?
As previously mentioned, many industries employ the help of voice actors for various types of productions. The biggest niches to use this type of service are film and television, gaming, and translation or dubbing production houses.
Choosing the right type of voice for your voiceover project depends on a few important factors. Of course, it makes sense to first have a script that the voice actor could use to practice making up a new voice for your character.
Still, details like what age is the character, what are their likes and dislikes, do they speak with their mouth full, do they get angry and scream, do they sing, do they tell jokes, do they have a squawky voice or a thick accent? There are tons of questions you can brainstorm through before figuring out what you want your character to sound like.
More importantly, perhaps, is choosing a voice talent that is flexible and can try out different types of voices before settling on one particular one. This beginning experimental part can prove to be quite funny and enjoyable, and the actor should indeed feel free to play around with how they hear the character sounding in their own head.
It can be challenging to agree on a certain type of voice. But, make sure you don’t get stuck on particularities and be open to receiving input and considering the suggestions of your actor too. Being too strict can mean a lot of time wasted on auditions that never reach the level of voice finesse you envision for your character.
If you are serious about matching the best possible voice to the right character, some grunt work is certainly required beforehand. You’ll want to define the voice of your brand/script, make sure you create a backstory for your character, and of course have a storyboard for visual aid during auditions. The more information you provide for the actor, the most likely it is that you’ll get good delivery.
Be aware that too much information can give the exact opposite result. You don’t want to overwhelm your actor unless you want to hear them speaking in tongues.
What Are the Costs of Voiceover Service?
After you’ve done your homework and flexibly defined what you’re looking for in a voice actor, it is time to start searching for talent. You’ll find that there are thousands of voice acting professionals and this might make your job of choosing one, or a few, harder.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, try to go for a voiceover actor with intermediate experience. Going too low could mean extra training and work to get the actor to where they need to be, and too high could cost you a pretty penny. Your budget, of course, needs to be taken into consideration when choosing your voice talent.
Most voice actors will charge by the minute or by word count. Starting at 2 minutes and going all the way up to 30 minutes of recording, the fee can begin at around $250 and settle at around $1000+. This price range depends on the individual actor’s fees and can fall lower or higher of this estimate.
Voice auditions can be fun but tiring. Short-listing a few good voices can be a challenge but well worth it in the long run. Choose a voice actor after you’ve figured out what works for your production. Voiceover might sound like a simple thing to pin down but it could be more challenging than you think. Thus, ensuring that the actor has all the details necessary for them to create the right voice is imperative.
As someone who needs a voice over talent or voice actor for the first time for a project, or who hires regularly, finding the right voice over talent for your project can be a daunting task. For first-timers, this can be especially challenging as like anything you’ve never done before, you lack the experience to know what to look for. If you’re a seasoned pro, hopefully, you’ll take away some nuggets you never thought about before.
Let’s take a look at the process.
First – Understand Who You’re Looking For
This first step will save you a lot of time and potential aggravation (not that you need any more at this point in your project). You need someone who will make your life easier, not harder; this is where a professional voice over talent will be your best bet. But how can you tell if they are actually a “professional” and not someone with a USB microphone recording in their bedroom?
Key indicators your voice talent is a professional:
Records in a sound treated booth
Has a professional mindset with a customer service focus
Focussed on making your life easier
Can record whenever it is most necessary for you
Believes in collaboration
Key indicators your voice talent is an amateur:
Doesn’t have the proper equipment, training, or recording space
Thinks of you as only a “paycheck” and not as a partner
Limited business experience
Unwilling or unable to be responsive and helpful for your needs
It also helps to have as much information nailed down as to the specs of the project you are working on including all the “w’s” so it will be easier for the voice talent to provide an accurate quote.
Second: Time to Start Searching for Your Voice Actor
The absolute worst thing you can do is to type in “voice over” into Google if you want to search for a voice over talent. You’ll get all kinds of wasted results – including anything and everything to do with VOIP (voice over internet protocol)! Ughhhhh!
If you are comfortable searching directly, trying terms like “male voice over talent,” “male voiceover,” “male voice talent,” “professional male voice over,” “professional male voice over talent” (or the female/gender varieties) may be a good place to start. You’re more likely to find search results showing websites of voice over talent than other unrelated search results. Other qualifiers you may wish to add to your search query are:
The genre: ie commercials (TV, Radio, Web), explainer/whiteboard videos, eLearning video narration, corporate narration, animation, telephony – eg. “male voice over talent for eLearning”
A specific industry: ie retail, banking/finance, automotive, learning & development, etc. – eg. “male voice over talent for retail commercials”
A specific style/tone: ie authoritative, conversational, friendly, baritone, resonant, warm, sincere, energetic, etc. – eg. “male voice over talent conversational commercial”
Or any other specific terms relevant to your needs, like a language, accent, dialect, etc. – eg. “male voice over German accent”
There’s really an unlimited number of search options but at the end of the day, you’ll only need to focus on those that matter most to your project. The more you can narrow down your search, the better!
One place to start for quality talent is World Voices Organization (WoVO). WoVO is the only member-driven organization for voice over professionals BY voice over professionals. You can search their member directory of vetted professionals at https://www.voiceover.biz/.
Third: It’s Demo Time!
Now that you’ve found a voice over talent or voice actor, how do you know they’re the right fit for your project? One of the first steps is to listen to their demo(s). Typically, a well-thought-out voice over talent’s website will have their demos easily found and playable on the front page of their website. If it’s not, run!
Having said this, these can be glitzy, well-produced demonstrations of the actor’s abilities and it may sometimes be a challenge to gage their fit for your project based on the demo alone.
One way to get around this is to request a custom audition where the professional voice over talent will submit a sample read (up to a minute) of your script.
This helps in two big ways:
It lets you gage more accurately if their vocal qualities are a fit for your project, and
Let’s you hear the quality of the audio they can produce. If there are any distracting sounds, clicks, hiss or anything else, that’s a signal to look elsewhere.
When sending in a request to a talent for a custom audition, it’s always best to include as much information on the project as possible (as it would also be needed for any quotation – the next step). At the custom audition request, information such as tone/style of read is what you’re after – but this can be tweaked prior to moving into production.
Fourth: How much will all of this cost?
To answer that question – among many others – it’s important to nail down all the other details that will come into play. Questions you may have for the voice over talent and questions they will have for you.
Some, but not all, of the areas that would need to be clarified include:
The nature of the script/project
is it a one-off video or a series of videos?
one commercial or part of a campaign
how long is the script/video/training program?
where and how will it be used
internal company broadcast
global campaign or just in your small-town radio station
company social media pages with limited followers
how long will the project be used, eg one week, 3-month campaign, 1 year, or buyout (which means forever and a day)
what is your budget – this is key for the voice over talent to know as most credible talent will do everything they can to work within your budget
will you want to or need to either listen in or fully direct with the talent during the recording session (and if so, by which means – phone patch, Source Connect, Skype, etc.)
delivery deadline – this is key to have upfront so both parties are on the same page – is the audio file due the same day, up to 24-hours, 48-hours, 1 week, etc.
and file specs required (ie mp3, AIFF, wav) – though only relevant once the project is agreed upon
As we are all independent contractors, every voice actor will have their own internal rate card with their own factors in determining their final price per project. As you can see, there are quite a number of factors that can influence the price you pay, but like most things in life, you get what you pay for. There are a couple of industry accepted rate guides out there that are a good starting point for rates (including the GVAA Rate Guide and the Gravy for The Brain Voiceover Rate Guide are the most respected non-union rate guides). But these are just starting points.
And ultimately, the final rate becomes a negotiation between you and the voice actor. I know for myself, my whole philosophy is wrapped up around building long-term relationships so it doesn’t make any sense to lowball a quote just to come back later and raise prices or ask for an above-market rate simply because I want to make more money.
Collaboration is the goal. When you and your professional voice actor are on the same page, working well together, at a price that is agreeable to all, it should be a smooth and stress-free relationship. Because the last thing you want to do is to keep going through this process every time you need a voice for your projects.
And it’s not just the “voice” you need, but a solid partnership. Someone who will actually go beyond what is asked. Providing constructive feedback on script revisions if needed. Voluntarily offering to make referrals to other professional voice actors if there is a need for a different sound, gender, language, accent, etc. and making the referrals if necessary.
So finding the right talent for you, your project, your brand, and your company is paramount to your success.
Please contact me anytime if there is any project you are working on where you need a voice – the right voice over talent – and we’ll talk!
What’s the difference between a Voice Actor and a Voice Over Talent?
Seems like an odd question but depending on who you ask in the industry, it could mean a lot.
According to the dictionary I grew up with, Merriam-Webster, a “voice actor” is defined as “an actor who provides voice-overs or who voices characters in animated films, video games, etc.” So, if you don’t provide characters in animated films, video games or the like, are you then still considered a voice actor or a voice over artist?
Ironically, “voice over talent,” “voice talent,” “voice over artist,” “voice artist” or their variations aren’t listed in the dictionary.
Consider the Genre
If you provide narration voice over for corporate videos, e-Learning voiceover or training video narration, would you be considered a voice actor (voice over actor) or voice over talent? Again, depends on one’s perspective. Since the voice talent/actor is not playing themselves in these genres – including commercials – there is still a need for acting ability to make those narrations believable to the listener.
However, the demands for an actor (which again, according to Merriam-Webster defines as “one who behaves as if acting a part”) would appear greater in dialogue-based performances than narrative ones. (Though I can hear my audiobook brethren shrieking in outrage by that statement as they would in all likelihood say there is a tremendous amount of acting required for audiobooks – which I have no doubt given the complexities of fiction audiobooks).
An e-Learning voiceover can be from the perspective of a company leader, department head, or even a colleague imparting either helpful tips or urgent compliance information. A narration voice over for a corporate video would generally be regarding something the company is proud of (an achievement), historical journey, or to inform, educate or inspire about a new product, service or new corporate direction.
Either way, the voice over talent needs to assume the correct role (who) of the person speaking, fully understand what they are saying, who they are saying it to, why they are saying it, and even when and where they are saying during the voice over narration.
Video Game Voice Over
Considering genres like video games, animated series or movies where the “content” of the narration is primarily dialogue, most would argue you need to be a good actor first before becoming a voice actor.
Without good acting skills and abilities, you wouldn’t be able to bring those characters to life in a believable way. How should a toy spaceman with build-in wings who thinks he’s more powerful than he really is sound? What would a space alien battling army dude sound like when he’s talking to his commander? Definitely more than just reading words off a page.
Commercial Voice Acting
A commercial voice actor, on the other hand, may or may not be playing as richly developed a character as you’d find in a video game for, say, a commercial voice over about financial services. And yet, a commercial voice actor many times will have to believably portray a multitude of fictional characters in 15, 30 or even 60-second mini-movies, clearly and believably imparting an emotional point of view relating to the product, service or organization telling their story.
Also, if the commercial voice over is not presented in a believable way, the intent of the commercial will lose its impact and not be as effective for the advertiser. Have you ever listened to a radio or TV commercial and not “believed” what they are saying?
And audiences have grown weary of the old-style “announcer,” preferring to hear words spoken in a very conversational way. Believe me, narrating someone else’s words – especially very “salesy” scripts – in a conversational way is not an easy task!
Looking around at other genres from training video narration, explainer videos, whiteboard videos, telephone system messaging/IVR (interactive voice response) systems, museum tours, transit system announcements, voiceovers for toys, apps and even film and TV dubbing, it’s clear there is a wide spectrum of “acting” abilities required by the voice over talent (or voice over artist).
Ultimately, a voice over talent shares many of the same skillsets with a voice actor, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to this; does the audience “buy” what the voice over talent or actor is selling. If they are believable in the role they are paid to play, then that’s all that really matters.
David Gilbert immersed himself in the wonderful world of voiceover after a 20+ year career in sales and marketing. He brings business acumen, marketing experience, and solid work ethic to every audition, project and client interaction. Call David to discuss your next voice over or narration project.