Female Voice Actor Debbie Grattan offers 5 Key Questions that anyone who needs to hire voiceover talent should ask themselves before moving forward with a project.
In this age of technology, it is all too easy to achieve the appearance of being a quality voiceover talent even though you’re not quite up to snuff. Seemingly, all that is needed is a good microphone, a decently sound-proofed room in which to record, some editing software, a slick website, and presto… you’re in the voiceover business!
Living now in a relatively small media market in the Midwest, I see and hear a wide range of quality in the radio and tv commercial spots. Occasionally, I say to myself (or my husband if he’s in earshot), “What were they thinking? Who approved that read?!”
But, like most things in life, just because something looks (or sounds) easy, doesn’t mean that it actually IS easy. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone called me during the past 20 years and said, “My (pick one… friend, spouse, neighbor, dog) thinks I have a really great voice and that I should get into the voiceover business as my new profession. Can you tell me how to go about doing that?”
I’m all for helping people get started on their path of living their dreams and discovering their purpose in life. Everybody has to start somewhere. But, when I explain to the prospective newbie voice over actor just what is involved in terms of training and experience, I can almost feel them starting to squirm as they try to find a way to politely end our conversation just as soon as humanly possible. People don’t like to hear the truth when the truth feels uncomfortable: What looks so easy, is in reality, a whole lot of hard work, persistence, luck, and years of experience required in order really make being a paid voiceover talent into a full time career.
And I realize these folks are out there in cyberland competing for the same jobs I’m trying to win. I can imagine what happens to producers who suddenly discover (a few minutes into the recording session, with the client sitting in the control room or on listening in on a phone patch somewhere) that this voiceover actor who had such great demos and the appearance of real talent just does not have the “chops” to deliver what is needed.
So, here’s my short list of how to separate the legit voiceover actors from the “not ready for prime time players.”
1. Does this voice-over actor have the vocal range that is needed? Can they deliver the nuance?
Do they have any specific training as an actor in how to deliver a professional read? Do they have some awesome God-given ability that supersedes actual voiceover acting training? Maybe they’ve just got an ear for it, or a combination of all three. Whatever the source or their voice talent, make sure you can hear a wide range of vocal ability in their voiceover demos. Or, before you hire voiceover talent, take your prospective actor through some paces on the phone, just to see what they can really do — Kind of like a test drive. Ask for a custom voice over audition for a few differing styles, if possible. Beware if they are unable to answer your calls or emails until after normal business hours as this could suggest they have a full time job other than being a voice over actor, and may not be the perfect choice for your project. Especially if availability is an important factor.
2. Does this voice-over actor have a high quality recording studio?
A low quality studio can really detract from the end product. This seems fairly obvious, but still is something to look into. Key elements include, a high quality microphone, sound-proofed recording environment, professional grade studio monitors, and a good computer setup (software, quality soundcard or firewire connection, ISDN, SourceConnect, etc). I think that every voiceover actor should post their home recording studio equipment and specs on their website for all to see. Look for it. And don’t just assume their voice over demos were recorded with that same studio setup. There’s a good chance they were recorded somewhere else. To be safe or if there is any doubt, you can ask for a sample recording done in their home studio so you can get an accurate idea of just what kind of recording studio quality you are dealing with.
3. Does this voice-over actor have real experience as a working voice talent?
Nothing takes the place of experience. The more experienced the voiceover talent is, the better job they will probably do for you. Depending on the job, I highly recommend working with voice-over actors who have solid acting experience, or at least some extensive voiceover acting training from a reputable teacher. There are many fine workshops in the voiceover services industry, and if you don’t see any credits listed on a bio or voice over resume of where or with whom they studied, ask them. If they don’t have a good answer, then it might be a good time to move on. Hiring an inexperienced novice to handle your job can only lead to disappointment, frustration and potentially loss of revenue for you and your client. And of course, since you are trying to please your own client, you don’t want to be the one who gets the blame when the voice over actor is less than satisfactory for the job.
4. Has this voiceover actor worked with many quality clients?
If they’ve been in the voiceover business for years, then they should have worked with many clients. I recently tallied up all of the clients I’ve worked with in just the past 5 years, and it totaled over 400 unique clients. Most of those clients used me for multiple jobs. That kind of volume speaks volumes! Ask them who their current clients are, where you could hear them on TV or radio, or if they have some links to websites where their voiceover work is featured in conjunction with a corporate client. See if the names they provide are nationally recognized names, or local businesses. Most pro voice-over actors do a combination of all of the above, but if their biggest jobs include Sam the Barber, and Papa’s Hardware store, that might be a clue that they have pretty minimal experience as a working professional voiceover actor.
5. Is this voiceover actor going to deliver what you need in a timely and professional manner?
When you have a hard deadline, or a finicky client, the last thing you need is a voiceover actor that isn’t up to the challenge. Today, there are many different formats used for audio broadcasting. Does your VO talent know what a CCITT u-Law, 8.000 kHz, 8 Bit Mono format is? This is often needed for IVR and telephony voice jobs. Do they have the knowledge, equipment and software to make this conversion for you? Do they have a phone patch, to allow you and/or your client to listen in on the session with you in real time, to direct and offer assistance with pronunciation, etc? Is your voiceover actor really a pro? Do they respond to your inquiries quickly and professionally? Do they offer a custom voice audition of your script to present to your client for approval beforehand? Do they sound knowledgeable when quoting rates, and are they in line with other professional voiceover talent rates for the same job? Are they available to speak to you during your regular business hours?
These are just a few of the probing questions you can ask before you hire voiceover talent. Do your homework and you’ll be very glad that you did.
And, the best way to avoid having to constantly go through this process (if you frequently need to hire voiceover talent) is to build your own group of “go to” voiceover talents. Get a few male and a few female voice over actors who are versatile, professional and meet all the suggested requirements mentioned above.
Then, whichever voice over talent you need for a particular job, you can relax knowing that you’ve got a top notch talent who can always deliver a high quality service.
Debbie Grattan is a professional female voice over actor who has been doing voiceover work for 20+ years. She’s been a “go to” voice talent for many production companies and recording studios across the US. Check out her voice demos, voice actress bio and studio specs for more information.