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What Voice Actors Want Their Clients to Know

Like in any relationship, “communication is key” is the best way to sum up a successful relationship between voice actors and their clients. However, that communication can prove to be difficult if the professionals hiring voice talent don’t know what needs to be communicated! 

Attracting good talent is a part of the hiring process, too! Your job form tells a voice actor everything they need to know about you and your project to determine if they’ll audition. If the job form isn’t hitting the mark, you likely won’t receive auditions from the best talent for the job.

To help improve communication, and teach you about what voice actors expect from clients, the Voices insiders put their heads together to come up with a resource detailing what clients need to know when working with voice actors. You’ll find the most common mistakes followed by a suggested remedy, all right from the source!

How to Provide Clearer Creative Direction

Before you provide creative direction, you need to know enough about your project that you have a clear vision for it and can describe its purpose. That takes some serious planning before hiring a voice for your project. 

Beyond having a solid plan in place, there are two key takeaways that voice actors want you to know about providing clear creative direction, and one solution that helps to solve them both. 

#1: Not Everything is Conversational

As our survey data and internal data have shown, Conversational and Believable reads are the most requested style of voice over. The issue: those terms have become buzzwords and often mean something different to everyone.  

“Ask 20 different people what conversational means and you’ll get 20 different answers,” voice actor Elizabeth Saydah says. This is a sentiment that’s been echoed by all the other Insiders as they, too, have been met with requests for “conversational,” only for the client to mean something entirely different after hearing a conversational read of their script.

Voice actor Melanie Scroggins recalls a recent example:

“I’ve been working with one particular client for over a year now, and when we initially connected, they described wanting a natural, conversational voice for their project. Yet, once we got into the recording session, the director kept telling me to “Make it fresh and lively” and I kept using the initial direction of natural and conversational as inspiration for my takes. When it seemed like we still weren’t getting where he wanted the piece to be, I did a take that more accurately reflected the ‘fresh and lively’ direction he requested but without the underlying context of the initial direction. Well, that was the ticket. But with the initial direction I was given, the takes that ended up working for the client sounded more salesy and upbeat to me, rather than natural and conversational.”

Voice actor Craig Williams offers: “ Obviously, it [conversational] is the biggest trend in voice over style at the moment but it should not apply to every script. And when you read a script that is obviously not written in a conversational form, then it makes things difficult. And in most cases, the read ends up sounding more announcer-y and that is actually what they were looking for.”

#2 More Isn’t Always Best: Conflicting Descriptors Create Confusion

Another all-too-common occurrence is conflicting creative direction like “serious and cheerful.”

It’s one thing to describe the vision you have for your project, the purpose it’s going to serve, who it’s speaking to, and what vocal qualities your audience is most receptive to. In fact, if you do all of those things, you’ll be on your way to becoming a voice actor’s favorite client! 

It’s something else entirely to be overly descriptive of the style and tone you are looking for without leaving any room for the voice actor to do their thing: interpret the copy.  

Voice actor Rob Jellison says: “Let the voice actor have at it with a few descriptors you’ve included.”

The Solution: Provide Examples

Since “conversational” and “believable” can mean something different to everyone, and adding more descriptors often makes things as clear as mud, the Voices Insiders recommended adding links to YouTube videos, uploading example audio files, or listing a celebrity for them to emulate in your job postings. Every. Single. Time.  

Including examples like this helps to clear things up in record time and, ultimately, it ensures you’re getting the best performance from the voice actors who choose to audition for your jobs. This best practice will help you attract the kind of quality and professionalism you’re looking for. 

Don’t Know What Style of Read You Want? Here’s Some Advice:

Sometimes, the reason behind too many descriptors or defaulting to saying “conversational” and “believable” is because you haven’t sussed out what you want from a voice actor’s performance. It happens to the best of us! Even with all the planning and understanding the objectives of a project, it can be hard to envision what that voice should sound like. What do the Voices Insiders recommend? When you don’t know what you want, say that and let voice actors interpret the copy and deliver a few different reads to choose from!

“Tell the talent that you’re unsure what you want. If you just want to see what the talent can bring to the table then just tell us that and we’ll “free form” and interpret the copy in our own way,” says voice actor Eric Wibbelsmann. He adds “If the client has several ideas they want to try, then multiple directions are useful (try one take that’s conversational and one take that’s more serious/commanding.)” 

Notice how Eric mentioned separating the styles into multiple takes. If you’re going to provide a lot of direction, perhaps that’s the best way to go about it—break it into separate reads.   

How to Set Budgets that Attract the Best Talent for Your Project

First and foremost, your budgets need to be in line with usage. Of all the Voices Insiders pieces we’ve published, there hasn’t been consensus on a topic quite like this. The importance of usage was echoed by every Insider, especially when compared to the final “finished minutes” of the file. 

Voice actor Tiffany Grant’s comments stress this importance:

“Having worked for eight years in a talent agency, the number one thing I can say is USAGE. That is the single most important factor in determining the appropriate budget. For example, a five-second tagline for a national TV ad campaign must have MUCH greater compensation than a five-minute explainer video for how to assemble shelves.”

What is Usage, Exactly?

Usage is essentially looking at the big picture of the “who, what, when, where, and how” of your project. As Tiffany’s example above illustrates, the answers to those questions greatly impact how you should be budgeting for VO in your project. 

Whether you’re creating a project that’s going to be broadcasted statewide to a large audience, a commercial to play in movie theaters across the country, or an audiobook that’s going to live in perpetuity, usage needs to be factored into what you’re willing to spend or you’re going to receive significantly less auditions on your job. 

Eric gives us another example of how usage can depend from job to job and plays a pivotal role in what he auditions for:

“If there’s a $250 job that’s 1500 words, or a $500 job for a National TV spot running for 1 year, I’ll pass it by. Those are way out of line with industry budget standards. I realize that any voice talent is welcome to audition for jobs regardless of how bad the budget is, but clients need to know that the top talent are almost always going to pass on jobs like that. They may get auditions, but not the best ones. Also, in perpetuity jobs, if they are outrageously low in terms of budget, which they often are, I’ll pass. Rates for in-perp jobs need to make sense, especially for broadcast spots. Otherwise, talent are just giving away far too much to have the client use our voice for as long as they want.”

Voice actor Lenore Hume agrees:

“The biggest mistake that some clients make is not taking into consideration the usage of the audio. A lot of times people think, “Well it’s just a 30 second clip, so the cost should be fairly low.” But if that recording will be used on a website, on social media channels, on radio or television, or at an event…that’s a lot more to consider.”

What to Know About Setting Deadlines and Turnaround Times

This comes back to planning out your project well. Having a solid workback schedule and posting a voice over job at the right time is an important part of your project planning, too. 

Two common situations the Voices Insiders talked about were:

  • Clients posting the job too soon
  • Clients posting the job too late in the game

Both of those scenarios come with unique challenges for voice actors that perhaps clients don’t realize. 

Posting Your Job too Soon

When you post your job before you’re ready to hire and work with a voice actor, what you’re inadvertently doing is:

  1. Asking them to audition for a project and be selected to complete it, but then wait on the hook for weeks or months until you’re ready to move forward. This is effectively delaying their ability to make a living from your job. If you’re from a creative agency, you know how uncomfortable it is sitting with a statement of work and no funds.
  2. Risking the chances of the voice actor not sounding like their audition, especially if you hired them based on an audition from months prior. By that point, they’ve done countless jobs in between. Some voice actors find it difficult to hone in on exactly the same headspace they held during the audition after all that time. 
  3. Risking changes happening to the project between the time of posting and the time of completing the work. It’s not uncommon for content projects to evolve into new versions of themselves as marketing teams (and everyone in between) mull over the full scope and use of a piece of content. Hiring talent too early can result in script changes, direction changes, and even budget changes, all of which need to be as close to finalized as possible to provide a fair and transparent job to the talent.

Lenore has seen this happen:

“I think the number one oops that clients make with deadlines is not finalizing their script before posting the job or determining what they want. I think it’s super important to know exactly what you wanna say and how long you have to say it and then work with the talent from there.”

Posting Your Job too Late

Posting a job too late has a “race to the finish” sense to it and creates a stressful situation for everyone involved. As we all do, voice actors are juggling many clients and projects at once. 

Being able to offer them reasonable turnaround time expectations is not only courteous, but ensures you’re getting the performance your project needs.

Other considerations to make when you’re hiring voice actors on a tight schedule:

  • Voice over may require more budget as fast turnaround times are often at an additional cost. From what the Voices Insiders said, anything under 72 hours seems to be the threshold between “rushed” and normal turnaround times.
  • If a live-directed session is needed, and you’re on a tight schedule, consider how that added service impacts the cost as well. Voice actors who agree to live-directed sessions are often compensated for their time above the budget for the project.  

Here’s what Melanie has to offer about turnaround times:

“I’d still advise clients to think of all the planning they have to do for their projects on their end, and understand that if they need talent to turn over work at a faster turnaround time than about 72 hours or so, they need to be willing to pay extra for it. We have other clients that we’re working with and want to be respectful of their time and deadlines as well. However, if the project needs to move quickly, be sure we understand this and let us know you are compensating us for prioritizing your project. Voice Actors are very accommodating.”

The Goldilocks Zone

The best time to post your voice over project will be after you know the full scope of your project, but have enough time in the workback schedule to account for live-directed sessions, pickups, or anything else that may come up (like weekends or holidays!)

Voice talent understand the nature of a production house or creative agency who has clients of their own. It makes them accommodating of turnaround times and changes to production schedules that are out of the control of the hiring client, and in the hands of the end client.

“I feel for clients who are the go-betweens between the end client and the talent,” says Elizabeth Saydah. “Unless they’ve worked with the end client before and know their typical timelines, you never know what you’re going to get, so timelines can be constantly fluid.”

Be a Client that Voice Actors Want to Work With Again

The relationship you form with the voice actors you hire will influence their desire to work with you again in the future, and therefore provide you with a consistent  audio—also called sonic—branding element

If you’re wondering what a good client review sounds like, Melanie explains it perfectly:

“I LOVE the recurring clients I’ve chosen to continue working with. They are all so talented and make me feel like an important piece in their project(s). These clients send me auditions on a regular basis, they let me know how grateful they are for my promptness and delivery of high quality work, they are willing to pay extra when additional requests are made, and they genuinely enjoy working with me and make me aware of it. They are human beings and they treat me like one, too. I’ve loved getting to know my clients over the years. They truly are one vital piece in why I continue to be a Voice Actor.”

So does Lenore:

“My favorite clients are very well prepared. They have their script in order, they have their approvals team in order, and they have a sense of what they’re looking for but they are open to what comes out of the creative process. They also pay in a timely fashion!”

Sandra Osborne comments on the streamlined process that comes as clients and voice actors become each other’s repeat business:

“I love my clients and I love having repeat clients that I get to work with again and again! When you establish that relationship, you can work on projects with very little direction and know exactly what they’re going for!”

Voice actors, what other tips do you have for the clients you work with? Tell us in the comments below! 

If you’re a content creator who hires voice actors, did any of this feedback on creative direction, usage, and deadlines help clear up any hiccups in your process? 

Lastly, if you’re in the goldilocks zone and ready to post your voice over job, sign up for a Voices account today. 

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