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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Do You Sound Too Posh To Do Voice Overs?

By Gary Terzza.

Is your voice too upmarket to do voice overs? Do you speak with an upper crust accent? If so, will that preclude you from doing voice over work?

Accents change over time and are shaped by fashion and social events. The classic British accent was once as sharp as cut glass. When radio and film sound came along, the announcers and voice over artists all had a clipped way of speaking. In part this was due to the fact that recording and broadcast equipment was relatively primitive (though cutting edge at the time) and the performers needed to be heard on poor playback devices.

It was also because organisations such as the BBC wanted to project a solid image of reassurance and strong character, after all they were broadcasting from a nation that had an Empire. Received Pronunciation (RP) was considered the gold standard and early media reflected this.

This unique sound even influenced Hollywood and actors such as Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn who adapted RP into a distinctive mid-Atlantic cadence. To some extent this continues to this very day and Kelsey Grammer is a good example - just listen to his Sideshow Bob,  Bart Simpson's nemesis.

Of course this upper crust delivery was not just confined to an English accent. Ireland has its distinctive 'Dublin 4' enunciation and Scots have the handsome Edinburgh burr.

But as the twentieth century drew to a close so the classic Home Counties accent appeared to becoming obsolete. This was especially true on British TV where producers were encouraged to use regional accents. It seemed the quintessential BBC English way of speaking was doomed.

RP had become R.I.P

But were reports of its death premature?

Anything goes

The British Isles are small in size, but pack a lot of accents into a tight space.

(courtesy Google Earth)

Here is a whistle stop tour  of the huge variation in dialects by Peter Barker; it is an impressive performance too.

During the 1990s and 2000s, media outlets were encouraged to experiment with different regional and national accents. We suddenly started hearing far more Scottish, Irish, Welsh and northern English spoken on TV and radio.

In addition the wide spectrum of ethnicity in the UK meant the British Asian and Black British communities needed to be represented too. Suddenly professional voice overs were becoming incredibly diverse. 

However it would be wrong to assume that the South East English accent had disappeared for good.

RP Revival

In the last decade the voice over industry has become globalised. In addition there has been a dramatic increase in the number of platforms a voice over can appear on. 

Those traditional British tones have found new markets in countries like the US and genres such as audiobooks, corporates and e-learning are prime examples of areas where a refined, classic English voice is often the preferred choice. Take a listen to Surrey based voice actor John Andrews in this commercial for a US based luxury car dealership.  He is definitely not the sound of urban youth. 

An upmarket meter transcends racial boundaries too. Popular BBC Radio 4 continuity announcer Neil Nunes has a poised, gentlemanly delivery underpinned by his Jamaican heritage and his shipping forecasts are required listening.

 Posh is still in demand

Knowing your market

In a previous post I spoke of the importance of not pigeonholing your voice; boxing yourself into a corner can be a foolish thing to do. YOU may think you are suitable for corporate projects only, but in reality your voice may be ideal for a wide range of voice over jobs.

That said, some self awareness about your own voice and its position in the marketplace is crucial. If you do sound upscale and dignified then don't apply for voice over work requiring a gritty delivery. It sounds obvious, but sites like Voice123 often cite talents applying for jobs they are totally unsuitable for.

Learn to love your voice.

I don't mean to adore your voice in a narcissistic way, but to appreciate it for what it is - warts and all. If you are well spoken, then celebrate the fact.

You will be surprised how many clients want a sumptuous, elegant voice to sell their product or narrate an audiobook.

Be proud to be posh.

Gary Terzza

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