In our recent blog, 10 Steps for ANR Success, we talked a bit about the importance of choosing the appropriate voiceover talent for your Audio News Release. This week, our Production Director Sean Waldron elaborates on this step with insights from his 20 years of experience in the studio with clients and talent.
Choosing Your Voiceover Talent
Once your client has approved the script, there are a number of things to consider as you move onto the voiceover phase of the project. Keep in mind that you want to choose a voiceover artist whose persona will be relatable to your target audience, and who will be able to immediately connect to listeners in a few seconds. Think about the people who you are trying to reach – are they midwestern soccer moms? Tech-savvy retirees? Spanish speaking millennials? What about the style or tone of the piece? For example, are you looking for a “newsy” read or a more “conversational” read?
First things first: Male or Female
The first big decision to make is usually gender. Sometimes it’s easy to decide if the piece is better suited for a male or female voice. An example would be if the piece is about an issue that primarily affects women, such as breast cancer awareness, then you’ll want to hire a female artist.
However, sometimes the choice is informed by the market research that your team has conducted. If for example, you’ve discovered that one gender is more often the primary decision maker when it comes to buying your product, then make sure you share that information with your vendor so they can line up the appropriate talent.
Another deciding factor is balance. If your script calls for a sound bite with a female spokesperson, then your team might want to use a male voiceover artist for a more rounded out sound.
Once you have decided on a male or female voice talent, you should discuss what type of tone you want your piece to express.
Hard News, News Announcer, or “Newsy”: If you want your piece to sound like a hard hitting news story, think Walter Cronkite, then request a newsy or announcer-type voice talent to read your script. The advantages of this style of read is that it sounds authoritative and official.
Conversational: A conversational read is more intimate than a hard news read and will sound like the spokesperson is speaking to a friend.
With either of these styles it is important to remember that your script must match the tone you want to achieve. A hard news read of a script that was written in a conversational manner might sound forced, and a conversational read of a newsy script may come off flat.
Communicate your preferences and ideas to your vendor, and remember that you can request a few demos of different artists for you to run by your client. The more detailed information you can provide your vendor before the voiceover session, the smoother it will go when the talent is in the booth.
Sometimes, a member of your team along with a client representative will listen in during the session. If the client is unavailable or chooses not to listen in, ask them in advance for details about how they want the voiceover to sound, and make sure to communicate that to your vendor.
Understandably, some people feel awkward or nervous giving direction to voiceover artists. That’s one of the reasons to work with seasoned professionals who are used to the pace and style of typical ANRs. We’ve found that it’s most effective for the client to tell us what they’re looking for, and then for our producer to direct the talent in the booth, beginning with detailed instructions at the very top of the session, followed by brief feedback after each take.
As you listen, ask yourself, are you hearing the tone you want? If not why? Are there certain words you want emphasized? Is it too slow or too fast? Be sure to listen to at least three takes of the recording and don’t be afraid to ask for the voice talent to vary their reads. If you’ve given clear and detailed direction to your vendor, the voiceover session shouldn’t take more than about 15-20 minutes.
Tell your vendor which versions of the takes you like the best, and ask to play them back for you one more times to confirm your choices. If you cannot decide between two takes, or if your client is not on the line and you want them to hear both versions, just ask the producer to send you both takes. (We don’t recommend trying to choose between more than two recordings — any more than that and it starts to muddy the waters.) Once the voiceover is recorded, your vendor will edit in the soundbite from your spokesperson, if you’ve used one, and send you an mp3 of the final product for approval.
Just remember that everyone is on the same team, from the producer to the writer to the talent — you are working together to deliver the best product to the client, just the way they want it. The key is to begin with a clear idea of who your target audience is and how you want the message to come across, and then to stay in communication about the style and tone of the piece throughout the process.
Sean Waldron has produced over 1,000 audio news releases, directed more than 50 voiceover artists and coached countless spokespeople.