Like many of the performing arts, voiceover can often seem almost mystical to those of us who aren’t directly involved. Voice acting is a special kind of talent that necessitates being quick on the uptake, taking direction graciously, and adapting quickly to client needs. We’ve talked about this for years, but it’s important to remember, though, that voice actors are professionals like you. In fact, you probably practice the same skills, in a different context.
So, as a non-actor, how can you select the perfect professional voice talent for your message and video?
What to Consider in Selecting Professional Voice Talent
Juli Durante lists some helpful considerations when making your selection. First, ask yourself: what kind of information will this voiceover artist need to convey? Is it technical? Medical? Humorous?
“Different voice talents have different skills,” Durante acknowledges, noting that some are better at certain deliveries than others, who might have a broader range overall but less specialized focus. Does your script require the actor to change tones and deliveries? Or does it require a consistent, measured delivery of information?
Consider Your Audience
Similarly, Durante urges those considering voice talent to think of what their audience wants to hear. Does “trustworthy” come to mind? What voice qualities imply trustworthiness to you? Many talent agencies will allow their talents to describe their voices. Use these and the samples provided to find the voice your audience will find appropriate.
If you’re confident your audience expects an upbeat delivery, select an actor who can provide that; don’t try to experiment with ‘alternative’ voices. It can be a very expensive mistake.
Consider Your Brand
The last crucial point of Durante’s relates to the sound of your brand. In other words, since the voice actor will be the de factor voice of your brand, keep fully in mind that their delivery will define your brand for your listeners.
Make sure the voice actor fits your brand’s culture and image. A scratchy, low, soft-spoken, serious voice for, say, a toy car company will send a very strange message. Are toys “serious” to this company? What would that even mean? Are these toys for play, or solemn contemplation? These weird, unhelpful questions won’t arise with a voice actor who can match your brand’s sound: upbeat, energetic, happy.
Listen to Other Work from a Voice Actor
Jonathan Savage stresses the importance of listening to a voice actor’s previous work. This is crucial for several reasons, not least of which are listed above—you can’t match the actor to the sound of your brand, for example, without familiarizing yourself with their work.
Beyond making the above considerations possible, an actor’s previous work will you tell you about their range, common types of work (if they have this specification), and their take on various genres (commercial, narration, political, etc.).
Ask about an Actor’s Range
If an artist only has three samples of their work, and all of them are commercials, you’ve likely found a specialized/focused talent. If you’re making a commercial, they might be the voice for you. But if not, it may be best to find an actor with a broader range.
Range, of course, does not mean that simply have worked in other genres—it means they can fit different genres of reading successfully. It’s not a good sign if the actor sounds identical in tone and delivery across nine different types of script. For real range, find an actor who modulate their performance to embody any script’s tone and convey its message.
Listen for Pitch and Voice Quality
Savage also expands on pitch, a quality of voice that is often considered straightforward and receives insufficient attention. Beyond brand matching and tone, pitch has a biological component that can make a major difference in your choice.
Avoid higher-pitched voices if your message is for an older audience. Presbycusis, a condition that limits hearing of higher pitches, is common in older audiences, so try to find a deeper pitch for these audiences.
Consider the Qualities You Want to Convey
Finally, a few more insights on what kind of voice acting tends to work for audiences (in broader contexts than presbycusis patients). When it comes to choosing a male or female actor, there’s more that should factor into your decision than the perceived ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ nature of your message.
Research has shown that people perceive male voices as forceful or authoritative, while female voices tend to be considered soothing and/or nurturing. This reveals something about choosing a male or female voice: think beyond whether your script would be better read by a male-identifying or female-identifying voice.
Instead, with peoples’ perceptions in mind, ask yourself if your script would benefit more from an authoritative or soothing read. You’re trying to match your brand sound and give customers what they expect and want to hear—so worry less about the sex of your voice talent and more about what people associate with men and women’s voices.
Similarly, choosing an accented voice actor can be less complicated when we consider the research. Yes, it’s a reliably good idea to choose an actor whose voice suits the region they’re addressing.
Accents Can be Effective
It’s also a good idea to think past this default. People will gravitate towards a foreign accent if it’s effective; don’t shy away from an accented voice that excels in favor of a locally accented one that’s only adequate.
Even within your own country, accents can have different effects on audiences than might be immediately obvious. Americans, for example, frequently favor Southern accents, as they’re perceived as being friendlier than other regional accents. In the UK, the Scottish accent is perceived as especially trustworthy.
The takeaway on gender and accent?
Use the research, and think deeper, than you might expect. Your options are broader than you think—your Michigan-based company is not limited to Michigan-born, male voice actors simply because your company sells “macho” motorcycles.
Perhaps the single most relevant piece of advice in choosing a voice actor is to listen to as many samples of the actor, and similarly billed actors, as possible. This will allow you to do what really matters most: choose what sounds right to you.
There are few hard and fast rules with voice acting. Most of the insights come from the direction of extended possibility—more than the “what to avoid” direction, at any rate. Inform your choice with some of the above research and goals, and you’ll find the actor who is just right for your script.