Voice actors spend a lot of their time responding to briefs.
Briefs that are looking for particular voices for particular projects and yet… far too often these briefs aren’t focussed enough to get the right responses from the right actors.
In fact, voiceovers are frequently sent the same brief from multiple different agents and we ALL get them.
It’s often talked about.
“Have you got the XYZ brief? Yep, me too. We’ve all got it!”
And quite often we don’t audition because – well – (a) we’d be one in hundreds of voices and (b) we can tell that the client doesn’t really know what they want. It feels like a waste of time.
So how can you get the right voiceovers to audition for your latest project?
Well – my creative friend – whether you are looking for a voiceover through an agent, a casting site or going solo using your roster of voices of the power of Google – you need to craft a killer casting brief.
One that attracts the voices you want – not a gzillion voices you don’t want.
There’s a classic scenario in the acting world where actors audition on stage in front of a director. We’ve all seen the movie scene. The director – sitting watching – shouts NEXT! And then the next actor steps forward and the next and so on. The joke is often that the actors barely open their mouths or do the first dance step and they’re dismissed. Sometimes – they just have to walk on to the stage to be greeted with NEXT! immediately.
And that’s pretty much how it works in the audio world too.
As a director, you’re searching for “the one” and you know if they’re what you’re looking for simply by listening to the start of their audition or reel.
And the sad truth is that directors end up shortlisting a fraction of the voices they listen to. It’s not that they’re unbookable – these voices – they’re just not right for that particular project.
Which is where a good casting brief can help.
But how can you create one?
Where do you start?
Sometimes you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for — and sometimes you will have no idea what you’re looking for. Or perhaps you’re thinking “I want to be dazzled and surprised. I want range…” And that’s fine.
All these starting points and everything in between is ok. But you still need to start somewhere.
This is a real brief from a casting site right now:
“We’re looking for voiceover artists of all ages and backgrounds for a project either next week or the following week for a short voiceover recording.”
So is this:
“We are looking for light friendly and informative voice-over to match the style of the production. The full script is about 2.5 minutes.”
Slightly better – but there is no clue anywhere about their “style of production”.
And this is a classic – I see it all the time:
“Open to Male, Female, Non-Binary, American and Authentic British Talent. 30-50.”
Trouble is – these briefs are wide wide wide.
If you ask for voiceover artists of all ages and backgrounds, you will get a lot of submissions to listen to.
Lots is good, right? Well no, not really. Ideally you want quality over quantity. You want to give yourself the best chance of finding voiceover gold.
You don’t want any old voice – you want the right voice. To have real choice, you need to attract a bunch of voices who nail your idea.
So, whether you’re going to an agent, using a casting site or choosing a voice yourself from your roster of talent or online – it’s time to pull together a short casting brief.
I’ve promised you 5 easy ways.
First things first – note down what your project is all about. This will help you, the agent and the voice talent to understand the shape of what you’re looking for.
What kind of a project is it? Is it a 30” commercial, an audiobook, a game, an explainer video?
What kind of actor are you looking for?
For instance gender, vocal age, accent or background…
It’s not a great idea to say (as I mentioned before) “we’re looking for voiceover artists of all ages and backgrounds”.
That’s not helpful for anyone, especially not you. Try to resist the urge to think “I want to be surprised and wowed by lots of interesting actors – I don’t want to box myself in right now”. After listening to too many auditions, you’ll just get over-whelmed, tired and lose heart.
If you went out looking for ‘something to wear’ your shopping trip would take a long time? I’m willing to bet that you’d at least narrow it down to shoes or trousers or a dress. And then you’d probably narrow it down to party shoes, blue jeans or a summer mini – that would give you an even better steer. Sure, you’d hope to find some exciting surprises on the way and you probably would – you might even change your mind – but you’d also have a focus. You have a start.
It’s a really good idea to make a definite decision about the gender you’re looking for – it’s one of the basic elements of a casting brief: are you looking for female, non-binary or male? Be kind to yourself – make a decision.
Still undecided? Try asking yourself: Who is the audience? Who would they like to listen to – who would they connect with? Does this project/company/product want to bust the social norms or be more conventional? One good question is sometimes – does your project have any up-sound? If it does and it’s broadly female up-sound – choosing a contrasting male voice might be a good idea. Of course, in the end, it depends on your audience and what will work for them.
Try to be clear about the vocal age you’re looking for. Even if you’re using a casting site and it only gives you generic options – child, young adult, adult, senior – be clear in the description of your brief. For instance, if you’re looking for a non-binary voice actor in their 40s and the site only allows you to choose “adult” – specify “non-binary actor, vocal age late 30s/40s”. It means you hopefully won’t get a deluge of much older or much younger voices.
(Incidentally – quick aside here – on the non-binary front. This comes up quite a bit on VoiceOver chat groups. You’d be looking for a non-binary actor i.e.: someone who actually IS non-binary. There’s no such thing as a “non-binary sounding voice” per se. Just like there’s no single “male voice” or “female voice”. )
Language and accent. The language side is fairly straightforward. You’ll know if you want to record with a German, English or Spanish speaking voice. But accents are slightly trickier. Give this a bit of thought – as ever, the more specific the better.
Pro voices audition for jobs that play to their strengths. If I know the director is looking for a soft Northern Irish accent = they don’t need me. Being clear about a Lancashire accent, a 1920s Tennessee accent or an educated Parisian accent is gold – even European is better than nothing (though it’s still pretty broad). Accents can conjure the right tone within seconds. So be as specific as you can but don’t sweat it.
It might be enough to say: Light regional British accents preferred. But if your company or character is ideally from Birmingham, UK with a Pakistani heritage – then say that.
if you are looking for a particular energy or tone to your ideal voice – say that too.
It might not be relevant to this project of course – in which case, fine – bu,t for instance, my interest is always sparked if I see briefs that mention a low or deep speaking voice. I can change the pitch of my voice – but naturally I’m on the lower register. So I really double-down on those kinds of briefs. The lighter spoken, girl-next-door type briefs = they’re probably best left to other, naturally gifted people.
And remember, voices can be friendly, nurturing, conversational, reassuring, threatening, sparkling or cheeky. And more. So if you want something specific – get it down on that brief.
If you can go further and specify a role, that’s even better! Imagine how helpful it would be if your actor knew that the script needed to be read like a ‘seasoned journalist’ or a ‘harassed mum talking to her teenage son’ or a ‘reassuring consultant talking to a room full of trainee doctors’. And there are lots of types of seasoned journalists, harrassed mums and reassuring consultants – so you’ll still get loads of options. Honestly.
So far we have:
The type of project: commercial, gaming, e-learning
The kind of actor – gender, vocal age, language or accent
The energy or tone – if you need it – with a few adjectives to help.
And even the kind of role they’re playing.
This is probably enough to be getting on with in terms of delving into the kind of voice you need. And if you thought about these elements each time you were looking for a voiceover – you’d be streets ahead of the majority.
But don’t forget to include some assets.
The script – or part of the script.
And if it’s a character or animation project – the character sides. i.e.: all the info and pictures and references that will help the actor get under the skin of the person they’re auditioning for.
And element that is often forgotten but really helpful to include – is music.
If your project has music, it’s a great idea to include it. Just as music creates an atmosphere for your audience, it will also allow your voice actor to quickly understand what you need them to do and how to deliver your script. It’s a great shorthand win. Start including music with your auditions, along with the character outlines and scripts, and you will get far better auditions landing in your in-box. Guaranteed.
Be clear on the practical stuff .
Your timeline – have you got a deadline of next week? Or a specific recording date? Or are you more flexible?
Do you need a voice actor with their own studio? Or perhaps you have your own studio. In which case – where do they need to get to?
And your budget. It’s really useful for the talent (and any agent) to understand what the job pays. Asking someone to guess your budget or suggest their own quote is frustrating and unhelpful. Agents can be an ally in this regard – and contrary to what you might think – they aren’t there to suggest the highest quote in the Whole Damn Universe. They wouldn’t be in business long if they did. They’re there to help you get the right voice for the right fee.
If you’re going it alone, there are lots of resources that can help you get a handle on proper rates – and paying proper rates will get you experienced, proper voice actors who can actually deliver what you want and make your project sound great.
Try the Gravy for the Brain rate card here
Or the GVAA (Global Voice Acting Academy) rate card here
So that’s it.
5 tips for killer casting briefs. How to get the best voiceover for your project.
Pull a short focussed brief together which covers:
- The type of project: commercial, gaming, e-learning
- The kind of actor you’re looking for – gender, vocal age, language or accent
- The energy or tone with a few adjectives to help. Or even the kind of role they’re playing.
- Include the script and or the character sides. And perhaps throw in a music track (if you have one)
- Be clear about the practicalities: the timing, the studio, the fee.
The more detail you can give – the better your chances of finding the gold. Time is precious. Don’t waste it!
And – final note – even if you are simply searching for a voice actor and looking to cast from existing reels, knowing all this casting information is really useful to focus YOU in your search.
Here’s looking forward to casting YOUR next project!
And if you’re looking for someone like me for your next project, do get in touch. I’m a full-time UK voiceover artist and director with a broadcast quality studio, based in London. You can listen to my voice demos here – or send me a brief 😉
I’m also the host of Talking Creative – the Art of Voiceover Directing – a podcast for creatives, voice directors and voice artists. This blog post is available as a podcast episode here.
And if you love to chat about voiceovers, directing and all kinds of creative stuff, please do connect or follow me on LinkedIn here. I’d love to link up.