Choosing a voice-over artist can be tricky. At the best of times, it’s easy to end up trawling through dozens of demos and convincing yourself that they all sound the same. And if you’ve never done it before, you might not feel confident about what you’re supposed to be listening out for. Here are some of the key aspects to think about:
Of course the tone you're after can vary depending on the project. For an animated explainer video, I usually look for someone who sounds:
When I say knowledgeable, I mean someone that sounds like they know what they’re talking about. The best VO artists can get their tongues around fairly technical language without it sounding laboured, and put natural pauses in your script where the writer may have failed.
A voice that sounds friendly is a minimum requirement for me, but you’d be amazed at the amount of voice-overs that sound cold or robotic. If the VO artist can inflect a bit of joy or enthusiasm into what they’re saying, that’s a good sign.
Authenticity is a little trickier. Really I’m talking about someone who sounds relaxed, and isn’t straining for an inflection or an accent. If you speak to your VO artist on the phone, they will sound different, but the best use inflection and emphasis to make themselves sound more engaging, whilst still sounding natural.
Most projects will need these three qualities from a voice-over. Beyond this, it depends on your brand identity, for example how professional or informal you’d like to sound.
I can’t stress this enough – all the words in your voice-over need to be clear. If anything sounds mumbled or clipped, you should request pickups from the VO artist.
Whilst a clear and deliberate voice-over is good, the delivery can’t be so slow that you feel like you’re waiting for it. It’s good to always request a custom demo (with your script) when casting a VO artist. You should be able to listen happily to the voice on its own. If it keeps your interest without any visuals, then it’ll be great once your animation is in place.
The best voice-overs keep up a steady momentum. Neither should they be dragged down by bad writing or a lack of punctuation – experienced professionals should add in their own pauses where required, or suggest edits to the script if a line is proving too difficult to deliver.
Never proceed with a VO artist whose demo sounds shoddy, whether that’s down to unwanted distortion, sibilance, echo, or anything else which worries you.
I appreciate that VO artists may be away from their studio or need to rush something off to meet a deadline, but if you accept a sub-par demo then you run the risk that they can’t make the final recording sound better.
If you have time, ask the VO artist about their recording set up. In my experience, the best ones normally have a home studio, and know their way around audio editing software.
Just a final point on this – very occasionally, the problem can be with the effects or compression the VO artist is applying to the audio before they send it. If you think you can do a better job, request the raw, unedited recordings, which you can then edit using the right software, like Adobe Audition or Audacity.
There’s some ropey research around on this, but academics have suggested that female voices are more likely to be broadly accepted compared to their male counterparts. This is supposedly why Alexa and Siri are women.
In short, I’m not sure it matters what gender your voice-over is, but certainly some brands lend themselves to one gender more than another (think gendered health and beauty products). It’s this congruence with your brand, product and audience that I would focus on here. Don’t just go with your own personal preference!
It’s said that certain accents are more trustworthy (Scottish topped a 2019 poll by Gala Bingo, no less), but I’m not sure how true that is.
You’d be better off reflecting either where your company is based, or the audience you’re aiming for. For most it will be enough to have a neutral English or North American accent, but if it really is part of your brand’s identity, why not go for a Yorkshire accent:
Or a Tennessee drawl:
With accents you’re really playing on the audience’s biases, but these can be positive or negative. I think brands go for a particular accent when it’s a safe bet that it’ll make them appear more authentic.
So, there’s a few things to consider with voice-overs – I hope these notes have provided some clarity for anyone struggling to make a decision. The main thing is to know your audience and your brand identity, and to use that to inform your choice. Oh, and if possible always get custom demos which use a portion of your script.
Remember, you’re spared a lot of the tough decisions when you work with a video production agency. We’re in contact with a range of voice-over artists which we can recommend. When we work with you on a project, our standard process is to whittle it down to 3 choices for you, but we can be flexible to suit your needs.