Five Keys to a Successful Voiceover Project
How to unlock good practice in voiceover hiring
Working with a professional UK voiceover artist can make you feel a bit lost, if you’ve not done it before.
How do you find one?
How much does it cost?
How can you tell how good they are?
It’s these kinds of questions (caused by an understandable unfamiliarity with the voiceover world), which can mean that some projects don’t play out as perfectly as they could. And if you’re working with audio, let’s face it, nobody wants bum notes.
There are probably 100 ways to make a voiceover project pass off in textbook fashion. But unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a textbook (or voice it), so here are five ways to get you started with hiring a professional UK voiceover artist.
Five Keys to a Successful Voiceover Project
Key #1: Do Your Research
Have you ever budgeted for a project, without asking what a contractor might actually charge?
This is the first mistake of voiceover hiring.
I was once approached by a professional contact to do a particular kind of voiceover job. However, my contact had already agreed a budget with his client. So there naturally followed the uncomfortable question: would I do it for a set fee?
Unfortunately, the fee wasn’t appropriate, and so put simply, doing the work wouldn’t have been a fair exchange of my time, skills, or the ongoing use of my recording. Being a reasonable guy, I tried to work around the issue – and asked my contact if he wouldn’t mind going back to the client and requesting a budget increase for the voiceover.
Understanding and respecting my position, he did so. But in the end, the job wasn’t to be and we parted amicably, with the aim of finding common ground next time.
The moral of the story is that my contact hadn’t done his research. This put everyone involved in the project in a difficult position, and particularly him, because he was effectively asking his client to renege on their agreement. Had he done some research on professional voiceover rates, he could have spared everyone that ‘hashtag awkward’ feeling.
So when hiring a professional UK voiceover artist, please consult this rate guide first.
Please also note that it should be seen as general guidance and that individual artists are free to set their own fees (and do).
Key #2: Hire a Professional
Have you ever bought a cheap product or service and then regretted it?
This is the second mistake of voiceover hiring.
They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but it can certainly buy you unhappiness. Just look at these sage quotes from history:
- ”Buy cheap, buy twice” – proverb
- ”You get what you pay for” – Gabriel Bell
- ”…Paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done” – John Ruskin
- ”If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur” – Red Adair
- ”If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” – some wise guy
So as tempting as it might be to have a flutter with an unproven amateur in the hope of a brilliant outcome, there really is no way around it: a fool and his money are soon parted. If you want a professional sound for your voiceover project, you should hire a professional to do the job.
Likewise, if your proposed budget is not set at a professional level, it’s simple: your job won’t attract professionals.
You should trust your ears, too. If you work in audio, you’ll know what sounds excellent and what sounds like, well… excrement. A 5-minute demo? Background noise on the recording? Poor diction? Emotionless? No variation in tone? A basic website with Comic Sans text? Oh dear.
Also trust your rational brain. If you’ve got a shortlist of artists, how experienced are they? Read their website bios, check out their client list, or ask them about their portfolio.
Then you should trust your instincts. They might be one of the best voices on the planet, but are they the right voice for the job? Have they voiced something similar before?
If you’re still not sure of the result you might get, don’t be afraid to ask for a short, custom demo. Some professional voiceover artists might charge for this (and for good reason – their time is valuable and so are they). Others will be happy to provide a free sample, because in the same way, they believe in the value they will deliver later on.
How you then hire an artist is up to you. You may wish to use an agency, or to search online and go direct. A professional voiceover artist should have their website optimised for keywords (so that you can find them). They should also have a personal studio (or at least easy access to one) and a published list of equipment they use. And they should be able to describe their ”sound”, which means that you should be able to find what you’re looking for.
In short, a professional UK voiceover artist should be able to prove their worth by showing that they’re more than meets the ear.
Key #3: Understand ”Usage” aka Licensing
If you enjoy listening to music, you’re probably familiar with royalty payments, a legal mechanism that allows songwriters and performers to get income from the ongoing use of their work.
What you might not know is that there’s a similar principle at work in voiceover recordings. It’s called usage fees or ”usage” for short.
Broadly speaking, a voiceover recording is a hire purchase, where the recording is licensed for use for an agreed purpose and period of time.
The value of a voiceover project is split between the recording fee (the time and skills put to use in the studio) and the usage fee (how, where, and for how long the audio is used afterwards).
This means that when hiring a professional UK voiceover artist, you need to know how the recording is going to be used – and for how long. If you don’t have this information, then an artist won’t be able to quote.
So please make sure you know your ”usage” before making contact.
Key #4: Agree Everything In Writing
Have you ever verbally agreed something with someone, only for that person to dispute it later?
When you work with a professional UK voiceover artist, you should not only get someone who’s raring to read aloud, but also someone who’s information hungry.
This is a good thing. It shows that you’re dealing with a professional who wants the best for your project.
They’ll want to know your usage, where you want to record, how long you need to record for, whether the client will be there in person or on the line, in what setting the audio will be consumed, how you want the files delivered, how you want them labelled, in which formats, when you will settle the invoice – and so on.
Agreeing everything in writing (particularly your usage and your payment date) guarantees that everyone is on the same page – literally. No whoopsies. No unpleasant surprises. No uncomfortable phone calls or emails.
So whether you’re signing a contract, agreeing terms over email, or being referred to an artist’s terms of business, remember: booking a professional UK voiceover artist is as much about record-keeping as it is about recording.
Key #5: Write a Professional Script
Have you ever written something to someone and then decided: ‘nah, that doesn’t sound right’?
This is a great way to approach scripting for voiceover. Because when you write for a voiceover artist, you’re writing for the ear, not the eye. You’re also writing for the audience your artist will speak to. Think of it like a listening comprehension test. Make it concise and easy to understand – first time.
You also need to put yourself in the artist’s shoes. Think carefully about detail and style. For example, would you read this telephone number (0800 457 557) as oh eight hundred, forty-five seven, fifty-five seven, or oh eight hundred, four five seven, five five seven? Be prepared to spell out unusual or foreign pronunciations phonetically, or phone the artist and read them aloud for them to repeat back to you.
Ultimately, if you’ve written a voiceover script, you need to ensure it can be spoken aloud with no questions asked. If you don’t know how something is pronounced, then quite simply, the voiceover artist can’t start recording until you do. And if you ask them to take a punt and they get it wrong, then that’ll be your fault and you’ll have to pay for it to be re-recorded.
Similarly, if you change a finalised script after recording, you should be prepared to pay for that re-recording as well.
Personally, I’ll always politely question, or make suggestions to, scripts that don’t flow, don’t make (grammatical) sense, or aren’t authentically British English. But I’ll equally do as I’m asked. This is just another way that a professional voiceover artist adds value to a project.
So there you have it: five keys to help unlock a successful voiceover project. Now to write the next 95.
Happy hiring. And if you feel this blog was useful, happy sharing too.
Further hiring tips
© Copyright Chas Rowe 2019