It takes experience, training, and talent to be a professional voice artist. So why do some people think that being a voiceover is "just talking"?
When I tell people that I’m a Voice Artist, I get various reactions. One of the most common is incredulity: “Voiceover – what, is that actually a job? It’s just talking, isn’t it?”. Which is, of course, true to a degree. We talk over stuff. That’s the nature of the job.
And because talking is something most of us do every day, it seems an easy kind of job. We read bedtime stories to our kids, we relate funny posts to our partners, we stand up in meetings and explain stuff… We talk out loud in a myriad of ways.
But it’s an interesting reaction. There are many things we do daily that seem straightforward – running for a bus, writing emails or driving cars. But we don’t imagine that we’re all professional athletes, successful novelists or Formula One drivers.
Take cooking. We all have to rustle up a meal once in a while. At one end of the scale, there’s scrambled eggs on toast (which is a small step up from a pot noodle). At the other end, there’s that tricky Ottolenghi recipe that you might try to whip up on a free weekend. But there are times when home cooking isn’t enough. So we head to a restaurant and get the experts to cook up something super-special. And where we head is different, depending on the occasion. We may want a family meal with toddlers in tow or we could be treating the teenagers. Are we planning a romantic night out – perhaps even a proposal? Is it a quick pizza, a big birthday bash with our mates or an elegant, extravagant work do? It might be something major – a wedding or birthday with a zero in the number. In which case, time to get the caterers in for the ultimate celebratory menu. So yes, we can cook but we’re not really chefs (unless you are a chef – in which case, go you!).
Well, that’s pretty much like Voiceover. When the stakes are high, you need to bring in the professionals. If you want to advertise your business, sell your ice cream or explain how your dishwasher works – you need an experienced Voice. One that talks directly to the right people. A Voice that connects and keeps people engaged will have a real impact.
Voiceover Artists are booked to sound exactly right for a particular company, product or book. Or whatever it is that needs a Voice. People don’t just hire someone who can read out loud (well, sometimes they do but that’s a different post!) – they’re looking for someone who encapsulates their brand. A Voice that sounds absolutely right for John Lewis or Moonpig.com or a particular brand of cider.
Getting it right for a specific audience is surprisingly delicate balance.
Lorem Take Innocent and Lego… on the face of it, they’ve got pretty similar brand values. They’re both upmarket, high street brands. I’m sure they think of themselves as good value (in their niche) as well as dependable, friendly, intelligent, responsible, creative and switched on. They will definitely share customers. But… they want to excite hearts and minds in different ways.
In their recent “Bolt from the Blue” campaign, the Innocent vibe is playful, gentle and eco-conscious. The voice has real melody and a round, friendly, smiley – well, an ‘innocent’ – tone and it underpins the whole spot.
The latest Lego advert – the awesome “Rebuild the World” – is equally playful, but it’s bouncy, bright and altogether rowdier. The Voice only pops up at the end. In keeping with the creative, it’s treated electronically and followed by a mnemonic of children’s voices.
Both ads are talking to similar audiences – entertaining the kids but enticing the adults to buy. But they use different Voices in different ways to create the desired energy and feel.
But the work of a Voice Artist isn’t all TV commercials and ads. There are corporate videos, telephone on-hold messages, e-learning courses, museum guides, animation, video games, in-store announcements, audiobooks, audio dramas, explainer videos, podcast jingles, film dialogue replacement and more. That’s an awful lot of “just talking”. And each genre needs very specific, distinct skills. Few Voice Artists are versatile enough to excel across the board – most of us specialise.
It takes experience, training, and talent to be a professional Voice Actor.
For instance, the perfect Voice for an e-learning module can make or break whether the course is a success. Too fast and the student will struggle to keep up, too slow, they will switch off. A Voice Artist needs to sound knowledgeable, even if they don’t understand the subject. They need to find the different moods in the script but also deliver a consistent, even rhythm throughout. And if the film has already been created – they have to be able to voice accurately to time and to picture.
And bang-on timing is simply the start. What kind of Voice will draw your audience closer? Bright and enthusiastic or elegant and rich? A regional accent might work for your brand or you might need a narrator who is so versatile that they can portray a multitude of characters.
Lifting a script off the page for an audience who can’t see you is a real art. And experienced Voice Actors can make it feel effortless. So I don’t get irritated with the “it’s just talking, isn’t it?” question. If that’s how great Voiceover work comes across, then we’ve all done our job.