Finding Professional Voice Over Talent

Featured image copyright The Word Factory on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0.

Lately I’ve been doing a number of projects that require professional voice over talent. In the process of recruiting and auditioning various artists, there are a many lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to share. In no particular oder, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Audio quality: how good do the audio samples from the artist sound? Is the fidelity rich? Are there popping plosives? (that breathy poppy sound you hear when people say words that start with the letter “P”.)
  • Nuances: do the samples on the artist’s site demonstrate the ability to perform nuanced recordings and performances?
  • Turn around time: how fast can they get you a recording? (Just about all the pros I’ve used turn around in less than 24 hours).
  • Direction: can they take direction?
  • Auditions: just about all VO pros will give you an audition reading, but are they willing to re-record a second audition reading if you provide direction and feedback?
  • Patching in: do they have the ability to record in their studio while you’re on the phone, so you can give them direction as they record?
  • Instinct: Often times you just have to go with your gut.
pop-filter-mic
Pop filters prevent the poppy plosive sound from pronouncing “P”s. (say that 10 times fast). Every pro VO artist should be using one. Image © Tim Sheerman-Case. Creative Commons 2.0.

Preparation

There are a few things you need to know and provide prior to contacting potential candidates:

  • Demographic: What demographic are you targeting for the voice? Do you need a sophisticated, older male British accent? A young, urban hip teen boy? An Hispanic little girl?
  • Script: Have the portion of the script you want them to read. Try to select a section that will best highlight VO artist’s range.
  • Examples: It’s helpful if you have examples of work you’ve heard that matches the sound you want.
  • Brand: You should know your client’s brand and use that in picking an artist.

Costs

As you might expect, costs will run the gamut. But from the numerous searches I’ve done, the level of professional artists I’ve worked with have rates that range from $250 to $500 for a 2-3 minute video (with the average being closer to the $350 mark). Naturally, the longer the piece (i.e. the more words) the higher the rate.

In some cases you may pay more depending on the distribution of the video (e.g. internet only, local cable, broadcast TV, feature film, etc.) The rates I quoted above were for internet only. You can probably expect to pay 2 to 3 times that for broadcast TV spots.

Where to Find Talent

I seem to get a lot of VO artists finding me. I assume it’s because of my blog. There was one stretch earlier this year where I seemed to get an unsolicited email from a VO artist every day.

For the last few project’s I’ve done, I’ve used Voices.com. They have a huge database of artists from all over the world and their website has a lot of tools to make finding and filtering artists relatively easy. The hardest part really is just sifting through all the search results. It’s analogous to picking music. You could easily spend a couple of hours listening to various candidates. A couple of other services worth checking out are Voiver.com and ACM Talent.

I also feel compelled to give a shout out to Alex Verde (I always think of him as “the voice of the Disneyland Monorail announcer.”). Alex has been sending me emails and keeping in touch with me since 2004. (Usually about twice a year I’ll hear from him). He has a great tone to his voice, works lickety split, and has very reasonable rates. If you need an all-around great sounding male voice, definitely check him out.

I encourage you to bookmark VO artists you come across whose sound you like. Think of it as a DIY “favorites” list. You never know when you’ll need a pro VO artist. If you already have some artists saved, that may significantly reduce the amount of time you’ll spend when you need to make a selection.

Celebrity Voice Overs

It goes without saying that if you want Morgan Freeman or Kevin Spacey to be the voice of your client’s project, unless you are working for a world-class global agency, chances are you won’t even get past their agent (heck, you may not even get past their agent’s secretary).

So you may be better off finding someone who sounds like the celebrity you want. I wouldn’t be surprised if you Googled “Morgan Freeman sound alike” you wouldn’t find a number of professional VO artists who fit the bill.

Don’t take hiring a VO artist for granted. It’s not just something you can get your next-door neighbor to do. A trained and professional VO artist can make a huge difference in the quality of your client’s video.