Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

Posts Tagged ‘production’

Excuse me… do you speak British?

Posted by MikeCooper on November 10, 2010

Voice casting websites are a something of a double-edged sword in the modern voiceover business. (Some might even say a “necessary evil”, or worse…) But among their better features, one of the really good things these sites enable a producer to do is to select the accent they want for their project.

The problem, of course, is that not all accents are the genuine article. Many of my American and Australian counterparts in the voiceover industry will list a “British accent” among their repertoire on such websites – just as a good number of my fellow Brits will list an American or Australian accent among theirs. But, as a producer, one of the things which will always show your production values as being lower than you would like in the media business is a bad accent –  i.e., one which is poorly performed – and the problem is that while a non-native speaker might not be able to tell the difference, anyone who grew up with that accent will immediately spot it as a ringer. Once that happens, your message is dead in the water. No one’s listening to the words in your spot anymore: they’re just marvelling at how it ever got on air in the first place.

Bad accents are nothing new, of course, and they vary in their degrees of cringeworthiness. Dick Van Dyke struck a blow for the cause with his famously bad Mockney in the film version of “Mary Poppins”, and it could be argued that we got our own back, to some degree, with Michael Crawford’s effort in “Helly Dolly” a few years later. (This would have probably been much more noticeable if the audience weren’t agasp at a young Barbra Streisand playing a role clearly thirty years her senior, but I digress). The accents performed by non-native speakers aren’t all that bad, admittedly, but I’m always intrigued when I see a British accent listed on a non-native’s demo list. And, truth be told, I’m almost always disappointed by the results, chucklesome though they often are.

In the interests of transparency, I do list an Australian accent as one of the things I can perform, but then I lived with an Aussie at very close quarters for six years and I feel I can capture the nuance without going over the top and turning into Crocodile Dundee or Rolf Harris. The Australian Tourism Board apparently agreed when they booked me for a series of Canadian TV spots last year, so “fair dos”…

All this notwithstanding, I always try to be honest about my abilities (or lack thereof) and as such I have turned down the invitation to “wow” the audience with my (frankly laughable) “English – North American” on more than one occasion. That said, in the interests of doing my bit for the “Special Relationship”, I’ve just married one, so it’s not out of the question as we go forward.

Anyway, back to the point…

Steven Lowell is the Community Development Manager at Voice123.com, one of the largest voice casting websites in the industry today, and he’s just written about exactly this in his blog. He cites American voice talent who claim “British English” as a native language, when in fact they can only perform a British accent, as one of the reasons that producers often feel insulted at the quality of the auditions they get back.

In his piece, entitled “‘Faking It’ Just Isn’t ‘Making It'”, Lowell says: “As a voice seeker posting a job, remember that details are key to the success of what you receive. Specifically choosing a native speaking language of a country will get you mostly what you want, but it helps to specify, ‘Native speakers only’ in the project description.”

…and he makes a very valid point. So, next time you’re looking for looking for an authentic accent, make sure you check out the credentials of the talent. Always get a sample read by way of a demo (this should always be free of charge), and make sure someone who knows that accent backwards thinks it’s on the money. Otherwise, truth be told, you’re probably wasting yours.

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Finding a Voice

Posted by MikeCooper on August 7, 2009

The following is a short piece I wrote for the current issue of the IVCA’s “Update” magazine, on the subject of how to find a Voiceover Artist for your production. I hope you enjoy it! To read the article in its original form click here.

What do you normally do when your client comes to you and asks you to find them a Voiceover Artist? Do you point them to an agency and let them deal with it? Perhaps you suggest hiring the voice you hired last time, to save the trouble? Or maybe you panic about the best way forward, perhaps even by trying to convince them that they don’t need one for their project, and that it’s strong enough to “speak for itself”?

If any of the above seems familiar then you’re not alone, but it doesn’t have to be quite like that. In the same way that technology has revolutionised the business of making video in the last decade, that same technology has seen a quiet revolution in the world of the Voiceover Artist. The equipment to produce professional audio doesn’t cost what it once did, and this has meant that more “voices” than ever are working from home studios and marketing themselves either outside – or in addition to – traditional artiste/agency relationships. I know because I’m one of them. Voiceover Artists all over the world now use the internet to find, or attract, work – whether through their own websites, or via one of the “online casting directories” like Voice123 or Voices.com, which have seen explosive growth over the last few years.

If your client is on a budget, then cutting out both the agency fees, and the time and cost of taking your talent into a production facility with an engineer, could make an attractive difference to the balance sheet. Not only that, but the quality of the finished audio might well surprise you…

Of course you need to do your homework. The lower the bar of entry, the more any profession becomes attractive to those who don’t necessarily possess the skills to do it justice. But the beauty of the internet is that you and your client can check out what you’re likely to get back before you engage a talent. You can even ask for a sample to be provided by way of an audition. Most voices will be happy to record a portion of your script and deliver it in a format of your choice. Get them to do that, and you’ll know exactly the quality of what you’re likely to get back for the end product – including the artiste’s delivery, technical quality and editing skills.

What should you expect to pay? Well, the price range varies hugely. On some casting sites you might be lucky and pay well under the £200 or so that’s still perceived to be the ballpark hourly rate you’d pay for taking your talent into a studio. But make sure you do that homework: if you don’t, then that £45 voiceover track that seemed like such a bargain at the time might not turn out to be all it promised. It’s still true that in voiceovers – as in life – you generally get what you pay for. And if you’re paying £200 to your voice, but not paying the traditional associated costs on top, the chances are that’s still quite a saving.

Check that your agreed rate includes things such as prep time, session fees, studio costs, editing and supply. Check the talent’s policy on “recuts” in case there’s anything you or your client aren’t happy with. Don’t be afraid to ask for a written quote. Ask if the talent has a Service Agreement you can check out. And make sure you have agreed any usage fees, if appropriate.

It’s true that not every project needs a voiceover (sometimes, as Ronan Keating pointed out, you say it best when you say nothing at all). But next time one does, take heart: With a bit of care, and with the help of the internet, Google and casting directories as your new best friends, Voiceover Artists from all corners of the world are now well within your reach.

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