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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?

30 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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thanks,its useful post

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This is a great guide for buyers looking to get a voice over. As a professional voice actor with over 10 years in the industry, I can confirm all of the points in this post, and I stand behind them.

Again, thanks for posting this. Very useful, and well-written!

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Gracias, or should I say takk? Went to Trondheim and Vanvikan years ago. Drank moonshine, threw axes, burnt things, saw whales, ate whale and reindeer. Great time except getting completely ripped off on a Danish Pastry in Denmark on the journey, and everything else I bought there, not cheap up there is it?

I’m slightly jealous of your Canaria based recording location! Lived in Las Palmas, Palma de Mallorca too but I prefer LPDGC for the urban vibe and melting pot of cultures, it’s unique and the climate is great, except for those ocean winds and calimas. Last time I was there I was 17 paces from the sand. I miss the place but do have a habit of staying longer than 90 days at a time tho, oops, as formal as having an NIE, but never gone any further than that.

I thought that post might be handy to potentially point buyers here via some FAQs on a gig just to clear up any possibly misunderstandings before they happen.

I appreciate your comment, means a lot coming from an established voice.

Best wishes for 2021

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very help full tips, I am a new seller

Great article. Is this posted on a website (not that you can link it, but it should be).

While about voice over, this applies to any work form, esp those in a Creative field.

:slight_smile:

Wahh! This is been a great article @voiceoverandy i really appreciate it. Happy New Year.

Thank you. No, it’s only posted here. Did have a website, it was bringing too many freeloaders so I killed it off to allow me to focus on new stuff.

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A quote from @melissaharlowvo in Respect yourself (as a seller)

“Just for future VO search, there are so many amazing choices. Be sure to look at their live portfolio. That will tell you where they are now and what the voice sounds like today…Not 5 years ago. Also, demos can hide a lot of issues with sound, quality and audio issues. Pay attention to the recent live Fiverr jobs because most are without music and you can really hear the voice. But just don’t ask for a free sample of the script.”

That’s a really important point about background music, it can hide all manner of sins!

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When editing Audio Program, if the speaker has worked in a noisy room, I will recommend placing light music under the speech rather than (over)use spectral noise removal as the results will be more natural. Spectral noise reduction is very damaging, especially to the feeling that the person is a real person and not an auto-tuned robot. The whole program should be about selling something (whether the idea or the widget). That takes a natural voice.

However a VO Artist only showing themselves with music, can indeed indicate poor recording facilities so indeed, do take care.

:slight_smile:

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Background music can indeed be nefariously used to mask noise and recording space imperfections, but many “professional” commercial VO demo reels include music since the vast majority of actual commercials and ads have music in them, so having a demo without music can make it seem amateurish or strange. It’s a double edged sword.

Checking the quality of a voice actor’s plain spoken word recordings is always a good idea as they have nothing to hide behind, except possibly a whole lot of editing!

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I agree. Not that I do scan VO people as my clients are doing their own things (and I avoid whose who decline to use a VO when they should), but if I did would be looking for a nicely rounded portfolio that showed them in a few settings to show their range. That would hopefully have some clean and some screaming the joys of Satan over Death Metal. Well, maybe not so much the latter but I get excitable with all this time in a dungeon in front of a DAW.

:slight_smile:

Hmmmm, thinks “how can I get a Dave Foo Fighters Grohl, or Darroh Fair to Midland Sudderth style scream into a demo”. If you don’t know Fair to Midland check out inter.funda.stifle on the tube.

Concludes I can’t, not without scaring the hell out of people, and there’s the copyright issue too. A bit of a bummer as I’d love to feature some radio production on my demos but that’d involve using real music.

An old web design client of mine setup a dungeon many years back, some of the stories I could share would shock you… Good money in renting cold dark wet rooms to perverts, no DAW in there though!

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As a voice over here on Fiverr, thank you for this. The rates definitely are something that I appreciate when they are respected. I’ve put a lot of work into soundproofing my room, getting a high quality mic and editing software as well as voice over classes so thank you for this. I also agree, please contact the voice over artist prior to hiring them and make sure the demo you hear is what you want because the quality will be just like that!

Love your username!

People underestimate soundproofing, there’s no such thing except a vacuum in deepest space and that’s the one thing which has held my launch back. Bought my first mic years ago, and some acoustic foam which I soon found out was burning money and offered no sound proofing at all.

I tried to treat a room to record, had mics, mixer and Mac but I lived in the middle of a busy town and could never get the noise floor low enough.

Moved to a village, tried to convert a walk in cupboard but by the time there was enough acoustic insulation to stop echoing there was no room, and recordings sounded boxy.

Converted an outside brick building to a studio, lined the walls with Rockwool and managed to get amazing acoustics, the roof was thin though and rain, or a pigeon pecking, would make it unusable as a space.

My only option is to drop a few grand on a booth, and if I’m doing that I’m putting a Neumann in there with a Universal Audio interface. I’m investing thousands in this and want a return, I thought many VO artists were pretentious thespian luvvies, now I know the real cost of “talking into a microphone” I understand why, and empathise!

As for training, that certainly doesn’t come with a $5 pricetag, and when it does it gets outed on YouTube by CDawgVA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWf6tt_KTqk

Coaching is roughly £150 an hour. A bloody expensive way to find your own inner voice and deepest authenticity, whilst pretending to be someone else…

Demo production, wow, that’s another cost that people don’t factor in, I’m lucky that I’ve done radio production so can make my own, but the costs of a professionally produced demo can be ridiculous, even then I think many from the top names are poorly mixed with the voice drowned by the backing music.

It’s not the “talking into a microphone” that everyone thinks it is.

Best wishes for '21

Ah, sound proofing and sound treating. Should be entirely in its own thread in the Music and Audio subcategory.

For many people with an already built and furbished home, adding sound proofing is simply not possible or not within their abilities. Sound treating, however, can and should be done in every voice over recording space. The possible options and their merits can devolve into endless arguments and personal recommendations, from acoustic foam, sound dampening panels of various designs, bass traps, moving blankets, closets full of clothing, thick fluffy towels or quilts; you name it, someone probably tried to make sound treating material out of it.

In my case, living on a sparsely populated forested mountainside has the upside of rarely having outside noise coming into my recording space. I have to contend more often with noise originating from inside my home.

These are all things home voice actors have to plan, design, and contend against, but many buyers don’t even realize or consider.

Nice.

Even household noise is a greater enemy to VO than most realise, right now I’ve a distiller cleaning tap water so it’s fit to drink, the washing machine is going, our daughter is in a remote learning class, the gf is hoovering up pine tree needles, the hot water boiler makes funny noises, and the floorboards creek but that might just be the ghost walking around.

To top it all off, there’s a nearby quarry which goes boom everyday. I crave the purity of silence!

The dog barking in a demo though, I’ll never get over that, I thought it was a parody, alas not.

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Thanks for so much great info! My favorite work is voice acting/character work, and I’ve often worked with buyers who don’t know how to direct, which is its own skill. I would say that if you are looking to buy for that kind of job, the best approach is to detail what’s going on with your character, what’s happened in the story, the character’s history if they have one, instead of dictating as ‘I want this to sound angry, this part to be a little less angry and this part sad, etc…’ If you can tell your VO about your character, they can usually infer what emotions & ideas are going on with them and express it with the voice. Anyway, thanks again, and I love your logo! Did you design it yourself?

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Totally agree, the voice needs to know why the character is angry.

Did they miss a bus? Was their town scorched by the flames of war? Are they the victim of a grand injustice? Has an alien race taken over their planet and robbed them of mineral resources? Anything is possible in a world of content creators!

As for the logo, thanks, it’s a complete rip off from the Heinz Baked Beans tin, neither my idea nor design, I’m totally disabled when it comes to designing visual stuff. I’d spend a week picking a font and colour combo, then still want to change it…

Got it for free, the designer wanted to watermark it saying “not for presentation” as he was scared of being sued for emulating a brand, thing is, I was using this concept to brand a demo for a radio presentation gig, he wouldn’t remove it so I didn’t pay, then removed it myself in paint.

That demo was sent in a fully branded tin / safe / store thing: when opened there was an mp3 player / thumb drive and headphones with my audio and CV, chocolate biscuits and a sachet of coffee as I wanted it to be a more sensory experience than just listening to an mp3.

No, I didn’t get the job, but did end up on air in the same town a couple of years later on a competing station which was fun.

I have strange ideas for sending out demos, I’d send a prosthetic arm with a demo if got attention and the right ears. But only on a gig that’s good enough to give your right arm for!

:wink:

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