Some people like to dive head-first into the action but although that’s exciting, it can often lead to problems further down the line for everyone involved. That goes for a lot of things in life but here I’m going to look at why it’s important to do some research before you go about casting voice talent for your project.
Prior to trying to work out what might be the right voice for you, it’s a good idea to ask yourself some questions about your script, brand, company and customers. “How to choose a voiceover: 4 things to think about” is worth a quick read (and I don’t want to duplicate the content in this post because Google will hate me).
Hopefully you’ll have an idea of what you want to achieve and what type of voice is suitable for the upcoming project. Which means it’s time to find a voiceover artist - go digging in Google, LinkedIn (and the other socials) or voiceover agencies. Some people like to work direct with the talent and some prefer the agency approach, I’ll leave that down to you.
Of course, I’m going to discuss the direct route.
It’s probably a good idea to listen to an appropriate demo first. If you’re casting for a commercial, a corporate demo reel might not be the best starting point. If you’re lucky, there may be something that you like straight away. If you’re even luckier, there might be a clip that’s for a similar product or service, so you could get an idea if it would transfer to your script.
Listen to the other demos too though. As an example, a promo reel might have something suitable for a commercial.
As well as listening to tones and styles of voice, open your ears to popping and clicking sounds. As gross as it is to read about, saliva noise can be picked up during recording sessions. You absolutely don’t want that in the final edit - it’s very off putting to listen to. You can hear what I mean by looking at point 1 in my “How to do voiceovers” post.
You’re not just listening to the voice here though. Equally as important is the quality of the voice recording. If you can hear room noise (ambience), reverb or if the voice sounds like it was recorded in a cardboard box, that would suggest a less than optimal recording space, which we'll come onto later. You could be one of the best voice over artists in the world, but when your recording quality is lacking, the end product suffers.
If you need the voice audio mixed with music or effects, listen to how well that’s executed on the reel too.
If you landed here expecting a talent show, you’re in the wrong place. Although I do have a cool spinning chair.
Ok, you’ve listened to the demos, so you should already have a better idea if this particular VO might fit. If they do, don’t stop just yet. All the different tones and styles of voice on demo reels are there to show you the range and depth of what the artist can do. The wider the range of voice, the more chance of the talent being able to find a tone that works for you.
However, a voice isn’t just about a tone or a style. Did the voice deliver the message of each clip appropriately? Did the voice pull you in to the clip? Did it make you believe what was being said with it’s authenticity?
If you can answer yes to questions like those, the voiceover knows how to interpret a script and find its message. They know how to react appropriately to it with the correct emotions which in turn will connect with the audience - and that's really the ultimate goal.
If you want to feel really confident that you’re going to hire a voice over with real world experience, have a look at what past jobs they’ve done. You might find these in the form of logos of companies they’ve voiced for, testimonials about work completed or videos of finished projects.
I think it’s wise to remember that if there are no known brand names on their website, it doesn’t mean they don't have the ability to work for sizeable companies. A voiceover artist worth their salt will work to the best of their ability no matter the size of the client. I like to display past clients of all size for exactly that reason – any company, big or small, known or unknown, is just as important as the next.
By now you should be well on your way to making your mind up. But there’s something else that you may like to know about and that’s whether the voice artist has taken any training in their chosen profession or if they’re a natural. Investing in voice over training or mentoring can mean that somebody really does care about their career and want to be the absolute best they can be, always striving to improve.
If they haven't been trained, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good – we all know somebody who can do literally anything they want to within 5 minutes of trying like my cousin Dave who nobody invites to weddings anymore.
Recording studio and equipment
As touched on in the demo section, recording quality will be a huge factor in making your decision. A home recording studio for a voice artist is pretty much a must have in this day and age. It can save both time (travelling to studios) and money (hiring studios) and we all know how Covid has affected working in enclosed spaces. Voice over artists have never been more available!
Have a browse around the VO website and chances are you’ll see a list of the equipment they use. It’s not because we’re all gear nerds, it’s to give you the confidence that the quality of recording we can provide will reflect the quality of the demo.
Although not essential, a dedicated voice over booth provides an extremely quiet environment to record in, free from ambience, computer noise or the deep rumble of a plane flying overhead.
In my booth totally not posing and definitely wearing trousers.
What IS essential though, is a condenser microphone. They are far superior to USB mics in terms of quality and their ability to pick up the nuances of a voice over. What you hear in real life is what a condenser will record and sometimes, more.
I don’t expect someone to delve into what headphones or speakers are best for editing. You just need to know that a decent set that represent the true sound will help the finished audio sound better on more types of device.
As an example, mixing in bass heavy headphones (as well as hurting your ears) may result in over processing the audio to get it sounding “right”. Which then won’t sound right elsewhere.
Think you’re ready to get in touch?
WAIT! Even after all the research you’ve done to this point, there’s still more to consider. Some of it will probably be common sense and instinct but it’s still worth going over.
If the website has a bio page, have a read. Try and work out if you think this is somebody you’d get on with and more importantly somebody you’d work well with. Are there any places of common ground that you can relate to? Do they come across as professional and amiable?
Now I know you might not be able to work that out from words on a screen, we’ve all seen that text message from a grandparent seemingly laughing about their grandson’s broken leg (LOL (lots of love)), but it might give you an idea of their personality.
If the bio doesn’t put you off, get in touch. Test the waters in secret…. how quickly do they respond to emails? Are they friendly in their replies? Do they sound like they know what they’re talking about? Do they answer the phone with a grunt?
Put it into context
I’ve probably made it sound all very complex and more involved than it needs to be, but as I mentioned right at the start of the post, plan first and you’ll eradicate potential hiccups and reasons to backtrack.
So…the final thing to do that will cement your decision either way is to get a custom audition of your script.
Most voice-over artists will do a free sample for you, usually between 30 and 60 seconds long, so you can hear exactly how they sound in the correct context. This is also an opportunity to see if they can follow instructions and directions well.
Give them a brief to work with and if they nail it, happy days. But if you get a downbeat, flat read for your new toy launch video, it’s pretty obvious what your decision will be.
At every stage of research you should be confident that you’re on the way to making the right decision.
If you ask if they can export in a certain format and they’ve never heard of it, that might not suggest good technical knowledge in the editing process. If you ask for their availability and they say “let’s do it next weekend”, maybe they’re really popular and booked up or maybe they aren’t a full time voice over artist.
I hope that there’s some helpful information here to inform and guide your decision making when your to do list includes hiring voice over talent. If you’re more confused than ever, don’t be afraid to send your questions my way.
As with many things, it will come down to gut feeling as much as rational decision making - you'll know what feels right whether that's at the beginning of the research or at the end.