What To Do With Too Much Choice
Choosing a voice over for your project is like shopping a gigantic arts festival
Been to an arts festival lately? It's an explosion of color, dimension, texture, and materials - all clamoring for your attention. Kinda like voice over when you're casting a project. Where to start ... how to expedite the whole process ... what to choose, what to choose….
This past week, on a visit to my elderly parents in Ohio, my 18 year old daughter and I took a side trip to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, a three day arts festival that’s reputed to be the largest in the U.S. No boast there - it took us two days to explore everything. Block after block of gorgeous pieces.
I love art festivals. They’re my favorite places to find unique items and gifts. Glass, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, fabrics, leathers, children’s toys … and I’m sure I’m leaving some things out. So many different types of expression within each genre, all incredibly unique and beautiful. It's a real feast for the eyes. And a constant temptation to the pocketbook.
OK, there was SOME schlock, cheap products and cast-offs from local businesses who had quite obviously rummaged through their bottom-basement sales racks, hauling out their least popular wares and plunking them down onto makeshift tables in the street in front of their stores.
That section aside, though, the rest of the fair was of very good to museum-worthy quality. It reminded me of the extensive variety – and personal choice – within voice over. Many diverse options and a wide range of quality and experience.
OK, as with the art fair schlock section, some questionable talent occasionally gets mixed in from people who really aren’t quite ready to market themselves as professionals. It can be a time waster for the buyer and reflect poorly on the overall experience. Luckily, it’s more the exception than the rule.
Voice over is an art form, expressed in multiple ways, unique, and totally subject to individual tastes and preferences. The right one is the one YOU like.
So many choices, so little time
It’s easy to get lost and a bit overwhelmed at a huge, well-juried art festival like the one at Ann Arbor.
It’s not much different for the voiceover buyer who invites talent to audition for a job, provided the pay is in line with industry standards.
(A quick note here: Jobs that fall far short of this standard are a subject for an entirely different blog post. See the GVAA Rate Guide if you’re unfamiliar with non-union industry standards. Jobs posted with very low rates on casting sites are NOT going to attract the more professional, experienced talent. And most talent agents, managers, and casting directors won't take on those types of projects, either. Just sayin' ....)
To find the voice that will make your copy sing, dance, and do a little jig, you’re going to want to apply a filter or two. You don't want to be inundated with auditions that don’t fit your needs.
State your requirements up front.
These may include an age range, gender sound, ethnicity, or a specific attitude or level of maturity.
Know your budget
Ask yourself, too, if you are willing to pay a premium amount for a higher priced talent. We all have to work within our budgets, but sometimes exceptions are made for that perfect fit.
Decide on the source(s) of talent you’ll pull from:
==> Casting director
This is someone you hire to write the correct specifications for your job, to send the audition directly to known qualified talent or to trusted voiceover agents and managers, and who will present the top choices for your decision.
==> Voiceover agents and/or managers
These people will send your audition to the talent on their rosters, clarify any questions their talent may have, and facilitate the delivery of auditions to you. They may or may not screen the submitted auditions beforehand.
==> Your own roster of voiceover talent
This will most often be a smaller pool of voice actors than by any other method. Advantageous in that you may already be familiar with them and have pre-qualified their professionalism and ability to get the job done.
==> A casting site or “pay to play”
If you go this route, be sure to supply enough specifications so that you receive auditions that fit your needs. Even so, you may still receive some auditions from voice actors who clearly don’t fit the specs, whose sound quality is poor, or who are insufficiently trained and experienced. Unless you limit the number of auditions you’re willing to consider, you may be flooded with more responses than you care to listen to.
The perfect voice over to hit you over the head
Just like some art is judged to be more original or of higher quality than others, so it is with voice overs.
Most submissions you’ll receive will probably sound fairly much alike, because people tend to interpret things in the same general vein. Ho hum, you'll think, after listening to a dozen or three.
A few, though, will catch your attention and stand out as something special, perhaps a …
Unique spin on your script
Top notch performance or an
Unusual vocal quality that truly seems to capture the essence of your message
Occasionally, too, we discover something we weren’t looking for at all! This is what I consider the unexpected prize of wandering through a great art festival. It’s makes for a perfect gift – or even a perfect present just for myself. (Honestly, this is where it usually ends up!)
In voice over, this may be an interpretation or vocal quality that suggests an even better approach to your script than you had originally intended. It happens! Every so often, we hear a finished spot that sounds much different than what the original specs had requested.
Why that particular audition stands a good chance of hitting you over the head
Have you ever noticed that it’s the little things that elevates some art above the rest? I saw some perfect examples of this at the art fair.
The use of white space when a small watercolor is matted and positioned within a large frame.
Clever themes infused with sly humor that make you stop in your tracks as you walk past the artist’s booth.
3D vs. 2D photography that lets you see a mundane object quite differently from perspectives you had never thought possible.
The incorporation of (mathematical) fractals in wild color and fantastical images in digital art. Enough to make a calculus teacher giddy.
It’s the same thing in voice over. Well, maybe not the giddy part, but certainly the “stop and take notice” effect.
Pauses that create suspense.
Unexpected variations of tone or pitch that truly lift the story off the page.
A really cool voice that you just can’t get out of your head, it just seems so right for your spot.
Interpretations that prove to be insightfully different from anything any other voice actor – or your writers – imagined.
That’s what you’re really looking for, something to wake you up (after all, you ARE listening to umpteen auditions), make you sit up, and take notice.
“Not everything is going to appeal to everyone. Certainly, not every festival-goer is going to be clamoring for any given piece of art. Except, of course, in the artist’s dreams. But the art festival shows buyers what each artist can do.”
It all comes down to personal preference
When all’s said and done, the only criteria that matters to you as the buyer is what YOU like.
Artists of all types know this. Or at least we should.
Not everything is going to appeal to everyone. Certainly, not every festival-goer is going to be clamoring for any given piece of art. Except, of course, in the artist’s dreams. But the art festival shows buyers what each artist can do.
This is where our voiceover demos and custom auditions come in. Either you hear a fit for your project or you don’t. Or perhaps you make a note of those voice actors you’re impressed with for future projects and keep a few of us on file. You’re shopping a festival of talent to find what you consider the perfect voice to tell your story.
Other factors come into play, too:
Your project’s budget
Availability of the voice actor
Flexibility to work within your project’s time frame, especially if you have a longform project like an audiobook or training course or a promo that requires exceptionally quick and responsive turnarounds
Required studio equipment, like Source Connect or ipDTL
Ability to deliver broadcast-quality, edited, processed audio files; music beds; or other needs
Specific or related industry experience, such as real-world IT experience if delivering technical narration or healthcare experience if recording medical narration
With so much voice talent out there, it’s rarely an easy decision. But after applying due diligence, chances are that whichever voice actor you choose to work with, you’ll receive professional, broadcast-quality audio files tailored to your specifications. That’s what we voice actors strive to deliver. And to make you, our clients, happy.
Laura's Quick Tips
Have a good, clear idea of what you want BEFORE you begin looking for a voice actor
Decide how you’ll source talent: casting directors, agents, managers, internal roster, or casting site
Send out the audition with a specific description of the type of voice and tone you need
Verify that the selected talent can meet your project’s requirements and deadlines: availability, responsiveness, studio capabilities, customer service, etc. – and has sufficient range so that you can land that nuanced final take you’re wanting
Have fun with the process! And open yourself to being entertained, which is most likely what you want your customers or leads to be doing while they learn about your product, service, or training materials.
Here’s one more idea: ask for a referral from a voice actor you’re already using. Just like we may direct our friends and family to check out our favorite artist at a huge festival, many of us have a wide network of other voice actors who could be perfect for your job. Give it a try! Most of us, like me, would be happy to help and it could really expedite your search.