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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Are You Too Old To Do Voice Overs?

by Gary Terzza

Voice overs are for youngsters aren't they? All those videogames, animations and upbeat commercials requiring youthful, vigorous performances - surely the older generation are a little too, well er past it? No not at all and I would like to give you a timely response to an age old question.

First let's set the record straight: age is very important in voice overs, but not in the way you might think. Every voice over client has a set of criteria in their head: gender, style, accent and of course age. This does not mean the client is being discriminatory when choosing a voiceover, they are just trying to match the voice to the sound they have in their head. It is very much voices for courses when it comes to choosing a VO.

Beware Stereotypes

To the casual observer it might appear that if you have a product to sell aimed at the youth market then you choose a voice that customers can relate to, so in this case a young voice.  Sometimes this is true, but creative agencies are encouraged to experiment and even subvert genres. 

When Channel 4 wanted to promote its irreverent youth TV station E4 it chose a voice actor in his seventies. The late Patrick Allen became a fixture on our screens with his mature deep tones applied to a thoroughly modern broadcaster. His traditional voice is used in stark contrast to the youthful programming as demonstrated on this promo trailer.

The keen-eared amongst you will notice how Patrick's style set a template for a younger voice, Peter Dickson, known here in the UK for his over the top announcements on X-Factor.

It's Not All About Stairlifts

You might now be thinking, well o.k. but television is different. Voice overs consist of many other categories and anyway Patrick Allen was a famous actor, what chance has the ordinary woman or man of senior years got of getting voice work at their time of life?

It is a fair point, but is not born out by reality. Certain products lend themselves to senior voices and the most obvious examples are insurance, holidays for the over sixties, walk in baths and of course the ubiquitous stairlift. This, though, is by no means an exhaustive list and we have to remember that voice overs cover many different markets from audiobooks to corporates. Mature female voices make excellent witches for videogames and the older guys often find themselves playing ancient mystical characters in animation.

Have a listen to pensioners Sebastian Bartlett and Elaine Winch Furness who bring their seasoned vocal styles to the promotion of wine and cosmetic surgery respectively. Younger voices just do not carry the same weight or authority and, in the ears of the client, would have been wrong for these projects. It is worth bearing in mind that neither Elaine or Sebastian are professional actors.

Other Considerations

Having established that an older voice can be just as marketable as a younger one we should also explore what else is involved in doing voice overs and the age implications.

You may be aware that the industry has changed dramatically over the last few years; many voice over artists now record at home and this requires some rudimentary technical know-how. Not everyone slows down as they get older of course, some folks are reinvigorated and get a 'second wind', but others do and if you are finding it difficult to learn new skills then you need to give careful consideration to embarking on a path that costs both time and money.

Long form reads also require stamina and you will need this in bucketfuls if you are doing an audiobook. A novel might be 100,000 words and this could easily take you a couple of weeks of solid work to record, edit and review. Not for the faint hearted. 

That said our senior years provide a golden opportunity to strike out and do something bold, new and daring. Are you up for doing voice overs? Then give it a go, there is no time like the present and as Bette Davis said "old age is no place for sissies."

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Gary Terzza is a rapidly ageing voice over coach based in London, England.

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