While videos without a voiceover are becoming more and more popular, videos with a voiceover will always be with us. Why? Because by presenting complementary information on the visual and aural channels, narrated videos can provide a lot more information density, and they can do so with the matchless appeal of the human voice.
If you’re going to have a voiceover, however, you will need to cast and record a voiceover artist. (Unless you choose to record it yourself, which is definitely an option!) At this point, you have two options in moving forward.
Recording Studio vs. Self-Recording VO Artist
The traditional way of recording a voice-over is going into a studio to record. This has several benefits:
- Studio comes with a trained recording engineer
- Engineer will be able to quickly and expertly edit the sound takes
- The studio is likely to have a sound-proof booth and top-quality recording equipment
- Studio might even be able to help with casting
- You will have an opportunity to direct the talent in-person
At IdeaRocket, we have often gone this route – usually because our agency partners were more comfortable with it. In New York, we have used Beat Street as a recording studio; in Los Angeles, we have used Atlantis. We’ve been more than happy with both.
However, over the last couple of decades a combination of online casting and self-recording VO artists has disrupted the recording studio model. How does it work?
Usually, you cast the VO artist through an online service: VOPlanet is our favorite. This is stunningly easy. You put up a casting notice with your requirements, what you would like to pay, and a few sample lines from the script, and within hours you will start to receive auditions. You will be able to review these auditions in an interface that looks like this, allowing you to rate the artists:
You can then choose your preferred VO artist. They will record your copy themselves and send it back to you via the inter-tubes.
What are the advantages of this method?
- While the recording studio is likely to cost you between $100-250/hour, the VO artist will record it themselves, in their (usually) well-appointed home studio.
- Turnaround is very quick – most times less than 24 hours. No need to coordinate schedules with the studio.
- You can still provide direction via phone patch, Skype, or other means. You just aren’t likely to be able to do it in-person, since these VO artists are scattered geographically.
But What If You Want To Be The Voiceover Star?
At IdeaRocket, we have frequently recommended that entrepreneurs record the voiceover themselves. This is sometimes because we sense that they have a compelling persona, or sometimes because there is situational value in presenting an authentic voice.
If you have organizational resources to record yourself or if you are recording enthusiast, perhaps it might be advisable to try to do this yourself, or in conjunction with your team. We have usually discouraged this, however. It is safer and less distracting to put yourself in the hands of a qualified recording engineer in a quality studio. Sound is just too important to make compromises with.
Should You Cast A Male Or Female Voice?
First, let’s dispose of one-sided views here: the research shows that neither gender’s voice has an advantage in terms of recall, unless it is a very gendered product or service (think auto repair or knitting) in which case the corresponding gender is viewed to have more credibility.
However, the same research shows that choice of gender is seen as possibly affecting the perception of the brand, with women having an advantage when emotional connections are sought.
At IdeaRocket, we often use the gender of the voiceover as a balancing element. If we have a male protagonist in the video, we will often employ a female voice-over, and vice versa. That way, the video can seem more inclusive in terms of gender.
Union vs. Non-Union
SAG and AFTRA are the controlling unions for voiceover work. They have negotiated a set of rates that includes a session fee, usage fees, and contributions to Pensions, Health, and Retirement. These rates are difficult for independent internet video producers to meet, so the vast majority of internet video work is non-union. Non-union jobs are usually buy-outs, meaning usage fees are not paid past the initial session fee.
Unless you are dead-set on a particular union voice, or there is a contractual obligation to hire union talent, it is advisable to go the non-union route. You won’t have to deal with the union paperwork, and the talent available to you on a non-union call is still very impressive.
Actor vs. Announcer
Different pieces require different sorts of talent. Ask yourself what your particular video needs.
If your voice-over requires a funny accent, humor, a character portrayal, or interaction between characters, try to cast someone with the training and abilities of an actor. This is a distinct kind of artist from the more announcer-y candidates, who have a beautiful tone and an ability to place emphasis for variety and meaning, but don’t really have the knack for inhabiting a fictional persona.
Of course, each of these categories can be sub-divided: there are character actors, comedy actors, child-voice actors, etc. And there are also many kinds of announcer types: hot radio, educational, storytellers, etc. The better you can define what you’re looking for, the clearer you can be in your audition call.
How Much To Offer?
On sites like VOPlanet, you will be able to set your desired rate. How much should you offer? Many sites suggest rates starting at around $100 (see here or here,) but as with anything else, the number and quality of auditions you receive will increase as you offer more money.
Be sure to define what you expect at the audition. Would you like to have a chance to get retakes? Do you want an edited version of the recording session, the raw takes, or both? Will the session be supervised? Also, specify if you expect a buy-out (meaning, you won’t have to pay any further royalties or usage fees.)
What Criteria Should You Have?
Okay, so you have set up an audition and a bevy of wonderful self-recording VO artists are eager to be part of your project. How do you choose between them?
- Make sure their recording quality is top-notch. If you hear pops, traffic noise, or the track is badly under-modulated, stop right there. No matter how good the voice is, if the recording quality is bad your voice-over will not sound professional.
- Does this voice sound good? Sheer beauty of tone can get you a long way.
- Is it easy to understand the meaning of the text? If the voice-over artist understands and interprets the meaning of the text well, they will put the emphases and pauses in their right place. Some VO artists walk the meaning right into your brain; others… less so.
- Finally, ask yourself: would you like to spend two minutes with this person? The voiceover will represent your brand. If it does not have appeal, if it is even slightly aggravating or over-bearing, that will reflect on your video and your company.
Put Your Offer In Writing
Nearly every business relationship works better with a memorialized agreement of each party’s mutual expectations, and voiceovers are no different. If for nothing else, contracts are necessary in order to gain permission to use a voice performance. If you do not have that explicit written permission, then it could be argued that you do not have unrestricted copyright. Obviously, this is a bigger liability the deeper your pockets are.
These are the minimum items the contract should cover:
- Session fees
- Permission to use artist’s voice in a defined project
- Are usage fees expected, or is this a buy-out?
- Are retakes expected for the fee? If not, how much is the additional charge for each retake?
The list of items that a contract might cover is a lot longer: definition of the usage of the video, recording specs, turn-around time, etc. Here is a copy of the standard contract we use.
Before the VO artist records, you should pass on some direction.
- Formal/Casual. Where does this voice-over lie on the formal/casual spectrum?
- Verbatim/Ad Lib. Sadly, when some VO artists are asked to provide a conversational read, they take this as permission to ad lib. If you need a word-for-word read, and most of us do, you might need to specify it. (If for some reason, you like the looseness of an ad lib approach, indicate that.)
- Energy. Are you looking for a high-energy read, or something more sedate and educational?
- Personality. Is the narrator professional? Sexy? Inspiring? Nerdy? These kinds of descriptors can help the artist know what kind of texture you’re looking for.
- Pace. Indicate if a quick, slow, or mid-tempo read is called for. If you have a time target to shoot for, specify it.
- Recording specs. You won’t have any control over most recording specs (microphone, equipment, etc.,) but you might be able to have a say on some processing choices. One of my pet peeves is when voice is recorded with noise reduction set so high that you can’t hear the breaths. (Most of the best practitioners of audio – This American Life, 60 Minutes – prefer to keep the breaths in.) Also, if you are going to have a pro mix the video, you might consider asking for unprocessed sound so that your sound designer can make the choices at the end of the video process. (You can always put reverb in, but you can’t take it out.)
- Technical delivery. Indicate what kind of files you would like the VO artist to deliver (WAV, MP3, AIFF, etc.) Also, specify the bitrate. (44.1KHz is the bitrate of CDs, so anything that high or higher should be fine for video purposes.)
Editing The Voiceover
It’s good practice to request the raw session files, even if the voice-over artist has agreed to make an edit for you.
If you do edit the voiceover yourself, you might find yourself torn between two possible approaches. One is to line up the multiple takes and pick the best take of each individual line, editing them together. The other approach is to just pick the best single take, and let it play through.
The advantage of the first option is that you are getting the performer’s best moments. The disadvantage is that sometimes the flow feels herky-jerky when you do this. We have a flow to our conversation – a certain music – and when you start cutting up the melody, sometimes it just doesn’t work as well any more.
The second option – just picking the best single take – gives you a smoother flow, but at the expense of missing some of the better, livelier moments from the other takes.
Our solution has been to split the difference. Listen to all the takes and pick the best one, and then when there is a particular area you are not happy with, try cutting in a performance from another take. This hybrid approach can usually get you a cut with good flow and minimally compromised performance.
Some Of Our Favorite Voices
Over the years, we’ve really enjoyed working with a lot of extraordinary voiceover talent. Here are just a few of our favorite voices:
- Erin Setch: A sassy, youthful vibe, but she can play a bit older too. Natural and upbeat.
- Kelly Turner: Kelly is very intuitive, and senses the best approach to the text. Combines authority with warmth.
- Andi Ackerman: Andi is great at more professional kind of voices, while still seeming human and approachable.
- Jonathan Lockwood: Mexico-based, Jonathan is a versatile professional that can perform middle-aged and older.
- Dave Pettitt: Dave has a wonderful, rich, deep voice, and is a delight to work with.
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