A commonly tossed around phrase in showbiz quips that 90% of the director’s job comes down to the casting. But in reality, the same holds true for many businesses and creative projects. Finding and casting the right voice actor for your project is both an art and a science, which calls for a fine blend of intuition and careful calculation.
If you devote a sufficient amount of time to finding an actor who nails the audition, who is on the same page as you in terms of everything from characterization to deadlines, and who generally gives the impression that they ‘get’ your project, then you’ll save a great deal of time later on in the process.
Below, we’ll outline the process of casting a voice actor for your project, from listening like a pro casting director, to hiring within your budget, to crowdsourcing a team consensus. If you follow these helpful tips during the voice actor casting process, then your work should be smooth sailing from that point on.
Know Your Brand
When it comes to listening through auditions and zeroing in on the right voice, knowing precisely what you’re listening for is half the battle. You can’t know what you’re listening for until you determine how your brand is supposed to sound. You can conduct a number of exercises to pin down the type of voice you’re looking for to represent your brand sound: from doing a deep-dive to define the essence of your company (including your origin story and current core beliefs), to envisioning how your brand would behave in certain contexts were they a real live person, as well as a review of how you want to engage with your audience on macro and micro levels.
Are you listening for a calm, tranquil voice that will read your script in thorough, clear detail, or are you in search of an animated voice that will heighten the energy of your script? Gaining a handle on character voice roles and styles of delivery will help you designate the type of voice you are listening for.
Crafting a Creative Brief
A creative brief is a document that outlines all elements of your project, from its background, to target audience and other stakeholders, to the message and creative execution.
Crafting a detailed creative brief and distributing it among your team and clients will ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding your project’s vision. This will enable you to create a voice over job posting with confidence, knowing that the direction has been agreed upon by all stakeholders in advance. Also, it will help you make a more calculated decision when listening to auditions and narrowing down potential voice actors to cast for your project.
You can use this helpful and free creative brief template to guide you as you go about defining your project’s vision to your entire team.
Listening Like a Casting Director
When giving advice on how to cast voice over like a pro, Jordan Scott Price, co-founder and creative director of video marketing studio, Flying Canvas Productions, explains, “You’ll notice that some voice talent are better than others at intuiting the script and ‘owning’ it.”
You want to cast an actor who makes the script you’ve already written come to life, and when you’re listening to auditions, there are three main criteria that you can use as guideposts to elevating your listening ear to pro casting director levels.
1. The Vocal Qualities Match Your Casting Call or Job Description
The first line of listening has to do with ensuring that that voice meets your minimum requirements and expectations. So, you’ll want to pay close attention to whether their auditions clearly show that the audition fits the specifications you outlined in your job description.
These can include:
- Language or accent requirements
- Gender preference
- The perceived age of the voice
- Your project’s target demographic
- Aptitude for following creative direction
Also, if the voice is intended to represent a brand, it should be able to easily stand on its own as your sole “brand ambassador.”
2. The Voice Actor’s Interpretation Matches or Exceeds Your Expectations
Great voice over job descriptions contain an excerpt of the final script, so auditioning voice actors can create a custom audition for you that clearly shows how their voice is the right one for your specific project.
When listening to a custom audition, pay attention to whether their performance has enhanced your source material, or even instilled it with qualities that you didn’t originally expect, but are impressed with.
Interpretation can walk a fine line, because while you want to be ‘wowed’ by a performance, you also don’t want it to stray too far from the original vision that you set out in your artistic direction.
Here are some signs of strong interpretation:
- The talent’s read of the copy imbues an emotional link between the vocal delivery and the overarching message
- A sense of natural phrasing and smooth overall flow
- Clear diction and articulation
- The interpretation or read stands out, sonically or emotionally, when compared to other auditions
3. The Audio Quality is Impeccable
In a perfect world, after hiring a voice actor, signing a contract, and communicating your artistic direction, you would receive a crisp audio file of their voice over performance that sounds immaculate and is ready to go straight to broadcast.
The sound of a voice actor’s audition can serve as a strong sign of their audio recording capabilities and whether you can hire them as a reliable option.
Quality is important to consider, regardless of whether your expectation is to complete mastering or other editing. When you receive a high-quality file as your input, it’s bound to make the whole process smoother, and ultimately, faster, too.
These are some elements to listen for in the auditions:
- Does the recording sound crisp?
- Has any background noise been picked up by the microphone, and is it distracting from the actor’s read?
- Are there obtrusive mouth noises (e.g. lip smacking or sibilance)?
- Will further post-production be necessary?
- Does the voice over recording sound natural?
Listening to Voice Over Auditions as a Team
Many professionals choose to loop in team members in order to get additional opinions on the voice over selection. Plus, if you’re casting for a client’s project, you’ll likely want to invite them to weigh in on the auditions that you’ve shortlisted.
Here are a few tips to help you work collaboratively with team members and clients, as you narrow down your audition responses, determine which voices most excite you, and make that final call on who you want to work with:
Sharing Responses to Your Voice Over Job
Once you have received some auditions to review, the next step is to ensure everyone on your team has access to the audio files. By using an online marketplace such as Voices.com, you’ll be able to review responses online from within your account.
There are a few different ways you can enable team collaboration. You can add team members to your account, so that everyone gains the ability to log in and listen to the auditions you’ve received.
You can also create shortlists of your favorite auditions, and circulate those lists to your team members, or any stakeholders whose opinions need to be considered before you can make a selection. Team members and stakeholders can then leave comments and/or vote for their favorite audition.
Additionally, with a Voices Plus membership, you’ll get the ability to download auditions.
Listening as a Group
One of the best ways to review your auditions is by listening all together, in a group.
If possible, inviting your team to come together in the same room for a joint listening session is helpful because you’ll be able to play the audio files one after another and gauge, in real time, how your team reacts to what they’re hearing.
When you’re listening, be sure how to consider the three pillars of listening like a casting director:
- The vocal qualities match your casting call or job description
- The voice actor’s interpretation matches or exceeds your expectations
- The audio quality is impeccable
Keep an Eye Out for Smiles
Throughout the listening session, you may notice that you and/or your team really gravitate towards one voice sample, and it will become obvious which voice actor you ought to move forward with.
Keep an eye out for emotional reactions from anyone else in your listening party. For instance, you may notice teammates’ smiles and knowing glances as you play back the auditions, or observe some people nodding in recognition, while others may close their eyes in order to pay closer attention. It may be a good idea to keep a pad of paper beside you so that you can take notes and won’t forget your, or your team’s visceral response to a given read.
Phew! You’re all done listening.
After narrowing down the voices to include only those you would legitimately consider hiring, now it’s time to single out which ones take the cake. All key decision makers should be involved in this process, even if they weren’t formerly involved in the first round of screening the auditions.
As the producer or creative who is helping to manage the project, remember that it’s your client who needs to be happiest with the voice that you ultimately decide to work with. Although you may have a good hunch, you never know which voice your client will want to end up going with. Giving them more than one choice is important. Offer at least three voices for them to consider before making the final decision.
If you want, these samples could be in contrast to one another, making it easier to pick which style of read or voice type would be best suited for that particular project.
Final Considerations Before Voice Actor Casting
Before you make the final call on which voice actor you’d like to hire, briefly go over these considerations:
- Based on the audition, do you feel confident that the final audio you’ll receive will be broadcast-ready?
- Do you and your team trust the talent’s abilities?
- Can the talent fulfill other technical and deadline requirements that may come up?
If you’ve followed all of the aforementioned steps and have taken everything on this page into consideration while listening to auditions, then you’re sure to arrive at a decision that pleases your client.