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Thinking of hiring a voice over? Here's some things you need to know

I’ve hired a few voice talents over the years so I thought I’d share some information in the hope it helps both buyers and sellers understand each other more.

I’ve done production for the BBC and my voice has been heard on radio stations around the UK, I’ve got real-life experience on both sides of the microphone that I thought I’d share.

Before you hire your first voice over, voice actor or voice talent, there are a few things you need to know which will help you both have a better experience, and get better results.


Before you order:


Listen to every demo on that VO’s gigs and do it with headphones; this will give you a much better idea of how they sound.

I say listen with headphones, proper ones too if you have them, as that will highlight flaws your PC / laptop speakers may hide.

  1. Can you hear their room?
  2. Can you hear a background hiss or ambience?
  3. Are there echos, was it recorded in a cave?
  4. Is the audio volume loud, quiet or just right?
  5. How do they sound when they say words with P and B in them? Do they make the microphone go ‘pop’ on certain letters?
  6. How do they sound when they say words with S, and sh noises? Is it sweet sounding, or does it hiss like a gas pipe with a leak?
  7. Does their mouth make any unwanted clicking or squelching noises?
  8. Do the recordings sound clean, or can you hear things going bump in the background?

It’s okay for your voice talent to have a studio in their bedroom, as long as it sounds like a studio, and not a bedroom.

Read EVERY WORD of the gig, and read the seller’s Frequently Asked Questions TWICE: because it’s better to know, than to not know. Ignorance is no excuse and whilst we’re on it; read the terms and conditions too as there are bits about usage rights you need to understand.

Make sure you understand the difference between commercial and broadcast rights

Different sellers potentially have different understandings of both commercial and broadcast rights, make sure you’re on the same page as your seller when it comes to understanding these terms; this will avoid the “oh, you want to charge me more for using it as an ad?” or other potential confusions which are easily avoided.

Contact the seller: open up communications, it’s a good foundation stone to build your mutual success on.

Please don’t ask for free samples as that’s why people have demos! If you really want to sample their delights before you make a big booking, hire them for a small $5 gig without extras first, explain it’s for a demo and I’m sure they’ll be delighted to help. Ask for a free sample with your custom script in your first message and you’re going to get their back up.


After you order:


Say you just booked a cab, before you set off you’re going to tell the driver where you want to go, yeah? Think of the voice over you just hired as your cab driver, they are unable to get you to your destination without directions!

The voice needs to know a few things to get you to your destination:

  • Who is the audience? It helps to know who you’re talking to.

  • What kind of pace and tone do you want? Is it a hard sell, or softly spoken; whilst a good artist will read and interpret a script well, you still need to highlight the style of delivery you want for the sake of clarity.

  • Explain how the listener should feel: should they be scared, excited, calm, reassured or threatened? Let them know the emotions you want them to convey.

  • Cite the bits in their demo which you want them to emulate, or point them in the right direction, I’d like it in the style of this YouTube / Soundcloud link etc. Don’t go pointing them to another VO artist and tell them “I want you to sound like this person”, tell them you want them to sound like the third clip on the second demo on the page, or that McFlurry read they did, be specific.

  • Adjectives are your friend! The more descriptive your brief, and the better you convey this to your newly booked voice talent, they better they’ll be able to convey the message to your audience.

  • Make sure you understand revisions; what they are,and how many are included: like commercial and broadcast rights, different sellers have different understandings and executions of revisions; make sure you’re both on the same page and be aware the better you direct the voice up front, the less likely you are to need a revision.

  • Tell them how to pronounce things! does your phone number end “two two two two”, “double two, double two”, or “twenty two, twenty two”? Let them know how you want them to say numbers, place names and any insider trade terms they might not be familiar with. Example: is Loughborough pronounced “Loo-ga-ba-ruff”, “Luff, bar-rough”, “Luff-bur-rah”?

  • Check your script before you submit it and also make sure you understand proof reading options if they’re offered a a Gig Extra: if you submit a less than perfect script please don’t be surprised when your voice over reads it word for word. Please consider any proof reading extra if it is offered, the voice will have read potentially many thousands of scripts, this could be the first you’ve written, their expertise for a few extra bucks is worth adding on, especially so when re-recording a bad script is likely to cost you both time and money.

  • Google “how to direct a voice over” as this will give you a much better understanding of how you need to communicate with your actor, in order to get the very best possible performance.


Please remember:

It’s not just talking into a microphone, no more than painting is just putting a brush to canvas; there’s an art, skills and even some science involved in recording even just a few words.

Professional coaching is not cheap, a professional microphone is not cheap, building or equipping a place that’s quiet enough to record in, and acoustically treated for professional grade audio isn’t cheap either, demo / showreel production isn’t cheap.

Just because you can talk for free doesn’t mean a professional should.

Please respect rates; and I address this to both buyer and seller!

Buyers: Fiverr is cheap and there are some amazing bargains to be had here, please don’t haggle, VO industry rates commonly start with a Base Studio Fee of around $240 an hour, plus usage. They won’t say a single word unless you book them for an hour; whereas here you can get a single word if you want for $5.

Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, know when you’re getting a good deal and compared to industry rates, Fiverr is one hell of a good deal. Don’t try to haggle it down further, it just makes you look tight and nobody wants to work for tightwads.

Sellers: don’t be selling radio and television rights like they’re five buck add-ons, know your worth in the industry and try to be more ratecard than bargain basement. We’re working on increasing the value of our art, not reducing it.

Also, please remember mishaps (and out-takes) happen, even with great communications!

I once booked JAM in Dallas for a session, someone I think of as the world’s leading radio jingle company, I’d got them to sing a phone number for an IVR project I setup, they goofed it and sang a digit wrong.

They apologised, and re-recorded the right number for me, for free. I’m overjoyed, I have a very rare JAM Jingles blooper / out-take.

Had I wanted to change the number after the jingle had been sung, I’d have needed to pay again.

One final thing buyers need to know: the difference between changing HOW something is said, is very different to changing WHAT is being said.

Changing HOW a voice actor says something, like “that last sentence was a bit quiet”, or “that first line said the place name wrong” should be treated as revisions and included for free, in line with the gig stipulations and terms, changing WHAT is being said should be classed as a new gig as the script has changed, not the direction.


Communication is key!

To Voice Talent and Buyers alike; please share your experiences here so each side of the coin has a better understanding of the other.

As a buyer, do you have any tips for getting the best out of voice talent?

As voice talent, do you have any tips to help clients get your best performance?

As a buyer, what frustrates you about voice talent?

As a voice talent, what frustrates you about clients?

15 Likes

Thank you for an outstanding and thorough article that both the artist AND buyer will most definitely benefit from! There’s great info that I will be referencing to ensure I am offering the best I can as a VO while still meeting the expectations of the buyer. Thanks again- terrific post!

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