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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Are Your Prejudices Hurting Your Voice Overs?

A former student of mine had a bee in his bonnet - "the majority of voice over jobs are done by female Scottish voices" he opined.

His reasoning was that he was not getting any VO work, because a certain type of voice (in this case female Scottish ones) was hoovering up all the jobs. Middle aged males from England had no chance.

Of course this is absurd.

I am sure many Scottish female voice over artists would counter this by asserting that most of the voice acting jobs in the UK go to Sassenach blokes.

So why did my student have this distorted view of the voice over landscape?

When I studied sociology at University, our lecturers always cautioned that true objectivity was impossible to achieve. We brought to our studies of society our own biases and opinions and this often compromised impartiality in academic research.

The only way around this was to look at statistics in a scientific way and take an unbiased approach.

But this is easier said than done. Just look at the newspapers we read or the Facebook friends we have; they tend to reflect and even reinforce the views we already have. 

So it was with my student - he had a preconceived idea that female voice actors with Scottish accents were in fashion and he could prove it too. "Just turn on the TV or radio and listen" he said "you hear them all the time".

It was true, there were Caledonian burrs and brogues all over the airwaves. 

But I also heard (amongst others) Welsh, Irish, Geordie, Manchester and Yorkshire accents too. In fact if I focused on one particular style of speaking, every time someone with that tone of voice appeared, my ears would prick up.  We only hear what we want to hear.

This phenomenon is known in psychology as confirmation bias and it can can have a negative impact on your voice overs. 

Here's why.

Have you ever thought your voice might be suitable for a specific type of voice over job, for example narrating children's books? It is an understandable thought to have - you enjoy reading to your children/grandchildren and they have giggled approvingly at your funny voices.  Also they tend to be good fun and, let's face it, easier to read than their grown up equivalents. 

You are wrong.

Apart from the big famous sellers which do very well, narrators often find children's books sell poorly on Audible and that means fewer royalties for the narrator. One of my other students has said that from her experience, romantic fiction by certain authors far outsells the youngsters' audiobooks she has recorded. 

Other genres that do well are sci-fi, crime and fantasy. 

Not thought about these areas? You should.  And if you are thinking 'my voice isn't suitable' I would say - how do you know? We tend to be chosen for projects because clients like our voices and the way we deliver the words and that could cover a multitude of categories that have not even crossed your mind. 

It is not just in audiobooks that this is the case, but other areas of the industry too. Far too many beginners pigeonhole their voices too early on and in so doing cut out swathes of work opportunities.

You may be thinking to yourself your voice is suitable for documentaries, but not commercials. Who told you that? Many commercials are like mini pieces of narration, slow and measured, whilst some documentaries are upbeat and pacey and delivered in a commercial way.

Likewise when you see an audition don't assume you know how it should be done, but look at the brief carefully. I once made the mistake of recording a corporate piece for computer software in a serious, business-like tone. 

How wrong I was.

The producer came back to me and said the delivery needed  to be upbeat and cheery "internet security software is a fun business!" he insisted. Who was I to argue? I was just the voice over artist. 

In voice overs, your mind should be as open as your mouth.

Gary Terzza  runs VOmasterclass coaching and mentoring beginners in the voice over business.

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