How can you tell what clients want in a read? Oftentimes, producers will include tags or “buzz words” to describe what they are looking for. J. Michael Collins explores the most common tags he’s seen on Voices.com auditions and identifies buzz word categories, explains what many of them mean and guides you on how to use buzz words when auditioning for voiceover work.
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Throughout his career as a broadcast and print journalist, educator, and corporate trainer, J. Michael Collins has utilized a natural facility with the nuances of English to produce the highest quality product for clients and employers. Whether hosting a live radio talk show, teaching at a university, serving as the personal writer/editor for the C.E.O. of a major American PR firm, or writing for publication, effective English has been the cornerstone of his professional life.
J. Michael Collins has dedicated himself to providing voiceovers of superior quality to all of his clients, large and small and has recorded advertisements for major corporations such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s, movie trailers for worldwide release, television documentaries, Fortune 500 corporate narration, promos for local establishments and audio-books.
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J. Michael Collins: Hello, I’m J. Michael Collins. And today I’m going to talk about buzz words in the voice over industry. What is a buzz word you might ask? Buzz words or tags or keywords are the terms often used by voice seekers to describe what it is they want the voice for their project to sound like. When a voice seeker posts a job on voices.com, they often add these tags to their job posting in the hopes that talent will use them to guide their reads. In many cases these buzz words are all talent has to judge what tone they should use in their audition. Many voice seekers will post a script, a description of the purpose of the project and two buzz words with no further direction. This makes understanding these terms particularly essential so that you can deliver an audition that matches the voice seekers expectations.
If you have a profile on voices.com, you are able to tag your demos with these buzz words in order to appear higher in the search rankings when a voice seeker types a relevant word into the voices.com search bar. You can find a comprehensive list of industry buzz words by looking at voices.com list on your edit demo page. Today I’m going to focus on the tags that voice seekers most commonly attach to their job listings. And what each of these buzz words might mean.
The major buzz words can be grouped into three primary categories and three secondary categories. As we continue you will note that a small handful of these words are present in more than one category. I will expand on that as we encounter them. Let’s start with the most common categories first.
These days the most common category of buzz words is what I would call the regular guy category or the regular girl category of course. Buzz words in the regular guy category should act as a sign that the voice seeker is looking for someone who sounds like a normal person, not an announcer. These buzz words usually indicate a bias towards younger sounding voices, though it’s always smart to look at the age range section of the post just to confirm that.
Buzz words in the regular guy category include the following, amusing, animated, believable, confident, conversational, friendly, gen-x, gen-y, genuine, guy or girl next door, high energy, natural and upbeat. Each word has a slightly different meaning but these key words should tell you that the voice seeker is picturing something youthful, honest and natural sounding. Of the words in this category, I think believable and conversational are the most important. If you see these listed on a job posting it is a big red flag telling you not to sound commercial. Good voice coaches will tell you to picture the single person you are speaking to when you do a read, especially a natural one. If you see these buzz words picture a friend with whom you are having a relaxed conversation and let your talent do the rest.
The second most popular category of buzz words in today’s marketplace fit into what I call the power category, which is the sweet spot for a long of old voiceover dinosaurs like me. Power reads include things like move trailers and beer ads. And when you see voice seekers using tags like announcer, authoritative, booming, deep, explosive, epic, hard sell, movie trailer and high energy you know it’s time to break out your best Don Lafontaine. These words are clues that the voice seeker wants to hear something with impact, something that will rattle the walls when they play it back on their monitors and something strong enough to mix well with what will likely be a loud and energetic music bed.
The subtle differences in these words in these are worth noting. There is a wide range between an announcer and movie trailer. And you will occasionally see an odd combination like movie trailer and upbeat together, which should have you thinking romantic comedy or Disney with regard to the sound the voice seeker wants. Authoritative might recall an Allstate commercial or James Earl Jones reading for the Yellow Pages.
You will note that high energy appeared in the regular guy category as well. The difference here is that whereas in the regular guy category that term may refer to a speedy, breezy, youthful and upbeat read, in the power category you can interpret to mean something like an aggressive car commercial or a promo for a night club, big, loud and in your face.
Our third primary category is what we might call the smart category. Here you find buzz words like calming, caring, concerned, confident, educational, friendly, genuine, knowledgeable, narrator and technical. You will see these buzz words pop up most often in job posts for documentaries, e-learning, medical narration, high profile corporate narration and charity or PSA reads. You will note that confident, genuine and friendly carry over from the regular guy category. If paired with one of the other terms in the smart category, you should modify your read to be less youthful and energetic than if these words were paired with another term from the regular guy category.
A good example would be if you saw a post that asked for narrator and friendly. Depending on the voice age requested, this could be anything from a younger national Geographic style to Garrison Keillor or David Attenborough. They key when you see buzz words from the smart category is to add a touch of seriousness and gravitas to your read, a sense of confidence. Generally this is what the client wants when they use these terms.
Let’s have a quick look at some sub categories and two stand alone buzz words that many people find confusing. In addition to the three primary voice buzz word categories of regular guy, power and smart, I often see key words attached to new jobs that could best be described as calling for a luxury, rugged or storyteller sound.
Luxury keywords include attractive, classy and sophisticated. This doesn’t mean that you need to sound like Thurston Howl III, but imagine the sound you would associate with a Mercedes commercial, an ad for a high end investment bank or on a luxury travel show. These words generally indicate a desire for an older voice, one that inspires trust and evokes feelings of success and security. Picture yourself sitting in a room across from someone interested in investing a million dollars in your bank and use that voice to bring these buzz words to life.
Rugged reads encompass a few buzz words, including cowboy, country and sometimes raspy and Southern. Country and southern are terms voice seekers often use when they want someone who sounds like a wise Texas cowboy with a bit of a drawl and an itchy trigger finger. Cowboy on the other hand can often mean more of a John Wayne or Sam Elliot sound, a man’s man but without the southern accent. Raspy brings to mind Jack Palance, especially when used together with other rugged buzz words.
Storyteller is the final sub category we will explore. Featuring words like folksy, grandfather and wise. With male voices these clients are usually looking for some variation of the Garrison Keillor sound or a wizened soul reading a fairy tale to a child at night. If a regular guy word is coupled with one of these terms however, the ideal read might be something closer to a children’s T.V show with a younger, enthusiastic sound.
Again, pay close attention to the requested voice age. For female talents these buzz words tend to skew more towards a middle aged read with elements of warmth and whimsy in your voice.
Two individual buzz words that deserve a brief mention are attitude and Trans Atlantic. Attitude generally brings to mind something like a Dennis Leary Ford commercial, quick, biting and to the point. Female talents might add some toughness to their read and speak with a fast cadence that gives off a snarky vibe of somebody who’s just a little bit sharper than everyone around her. Attitude is a tag often associated with younger or hipper reads and one should consider relatability to a youthful audience important when auditioning for a job tag with this buzz word.
Finally Trans Atlantic is a term that has become more and more popular among voice seekers over the past 10 years. As the international voice over marketplace has trended away from the classic American voice, there has been a growing demand with an English dialect with no discernible, national accent. Imagine something with the sophistication and intellectual tones of British English combined with a competence and factual sound of American English. And you have a clear picture of Trans Atlantic English. If auditioning for a Trans Atlantic job, take care not to over pronounce your words and to excise regional dialects from your speech if possible. If you listen to your audition file and think hmm, that doesn’t sound British but it doesn’t really sound American either, you’re probably on the right track.
So, there you have it. A short tutorial to help guide you through the often confusing world of voice over industry buzz words and jargon. I hope that my insights have been of some help to you. And if I can be of further assistance please feel free to contact me through my website at www.jmcvoiceover.com. On behalf of myself and voices.com, thank you for listening.
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