That's how it has started for so many in the voiceover industry in the past 10 years or so: “You have a good voice - you should do voiceovers.” Some new talent want to do voiceovers because they were told by a friend they have a great voice. Others thought the notion of staying home and working in their pajamas was way more appealing that having a regular 9-to-5 (Disclosure: I've never worked in my pajamas, but one time I introduced the president of the United States in my underwear - true story). Some really good talent emerged in that time among a sea of not so great talent. Let's dive in for an explanation and some tips for how you can find the right talent for your job in such a crowded field.
To say that I've seen changes during my time in the voiceover industry is an understatement. I remember years ago when I first started, I was voicing projects, splicing analog tape and shipping the completed high torque reels from my home studio that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and without much competition. Those “good old days” are a thing of the past. Today, anyone can record voiceovers on a microphone from Best Buy plugged into their laptop with free software by placing an ad on Fiverr saying they will read anything for $5, considering themselves a professional voiceover person. The question is, do they have the experience and “chops” to deliver the read you are looking for?
I read the other day on one of the "pay for play" voiceover websites that they have over 4 million voiceover people to choose from. The need for content creation has never been higher, and access to voices has also been exhausting. So, how do you pick the right voice talent with so many options?
First, an analogy: I once hired a landscaper because he had a truck with a sign painted on it. It didn't turn out well. The mulch he placed in my yard was essentially "weed seed", and plants that needed something more acidic got more alkaline and died. From that point on, I learned that a truck with a sign on the side of it with a wheelbarrow and lawnmower in the bed did not necessarily constitute a competent landscaper. Had I known the right questions to ask, I would have saved a lot of money and saved my lawn, too. Hiring a voice talent is much the same. The trick to finding the right voice for your project is to ask the right questions.
I've been noticing on some websites that clients are repeatedly requesting that the voiceover talent have a "good microphone with a decent studio". Clients are saying this because so many new talents have makeshift equipment and woefully inadequate recording facilities and skillsets. Gone are the days of taking a professional studio, equipment, and skillsets for granted. I actually find it humorous in a way. Imagine needing to verify that my landscaper in the example from above has a good weed whacker and landscaping tools. Unfortunately, that is the reality facing content creators today.
So, what are these essential questions to ask a potential voice talent before hiring them?
-How long have you been doing voiceovers?
-Do you have a website I could check out?
-Can you describe the equipment you use from microphone to preamp to digital editor?
-Do you enhance the audio with processing?
-Are you in an acoustically treated space?
-Is this your full time job?
-Do you have a portfolio I could sample?
-Have you done work for any big-name clients in the past?
-Do you mind if we connect on Zoom or other platform so I can listen while you record?
If someone asked a voiceover talent with decent experience any of those questions they would not hesitate to give you an answer and share their experience. These questions should help you determine whether your potential voice is a seasoned pro or an amateur with little experience and no professional equipment. On the other hand, if somebody says their microphone is a usb Yeti, then you should have some pause in your consideration. (Again, unless it's the ghost of Don LaFontane coming back from the grave)
Here’s the thing, though: even if those questions are answered well, interpretation is in the ear of the beholder. This is why sampling some of their work is so crucial (and an experienced talent would have no problem sending over samples of prior projects they have worked on). After all, the read you are hiring them to do needs to match the message you want to convey. For example, if you were to ask an experienced voiceover talent to "make a read more sympathetic," they would know how to dial that in because they have had that requested many times before.
The bottom line is that the voice you choose need to convey your message perfectly. The human voice conveys so much. We get a warm fuzzy feeling when Morgan Freeman reads a script. We are drawn into those planet earth videos when David Attenborough speaks. Mike Rowe can give you a read like he's leaning over the fence post talking to you as a neighbor. All three of those people share one thing in common: they have vocal acting experience. Make sure that whoever you hire shares a love and passion for the art and has communicated into a microphone long enough to know the difference between an average read and a great read. If you follow this casual guide, you should be well on your way to a great read!