Monday, March 20, 2006

Voice Actors, Context, and Contrast

Random thoughts on contrast and context and, of course, voice actors.

Out of a kind of morbid curiosity, I spent half an hour poking around the internet listening to voice actor demo snippets. I assume these things are what is supposed to get them hired, so I'm a little confused:

99% of them sound exactly the same. Oh, sure, there's small differences in the quality of the voice, and the diction varies from overmanaged to sloppy, but they are all trying for the exact same tone of voice.

They all want to be the same warm, strong voice. Some of the women go for undertones (or overtones, on rare occasions) of "sexy", but it's largely irrelevant. Any decent voice actor can inject "sexy" or remove "sexy" as they need to. Similarly, some of them do "warm, strong, and solemn" whereas others do "warm, strong, and painfully perky". Again, as a decent voice actor, "solemn" and "painfully perky" should both be pretty easy. Sexy, painfully perky, and solemn are the three easiest emotions to master. Even I can do them, although the sight of me being painfully perky would probably send my friends into convulsions.

The thing is, these voice actors are largely capable of doing a wide variety of voices. The guy who sounds like a Ford commercial can also do Bullwinkle, if you go to his portfolio page and look into his other reels. They don't all have to be the "commercial voice", either. They can do the more complex, difficult voices like "quietly amused", "subtly seething", and so forth. The overacting required for commercials makes all the voices the same. The individual qualities of the voice are lost. The breathy undertone, the razor edge, the delightful giggle. Washed out by the flourescent light of your plastic commercial voice.

They make this commercial voice their "front snippet", the one people browsing for voice actors listen to.

Now, you can just smile, shrug, and say, "most people looking for voice actors are looking for that commercial voice." But what you're doing, when you do that commercial voice, is turning your voice from a unique product into a commodity. All your voices sound the same. Listening to you, they won't be able to tell whether they would prefer you or the guy next to you, because you sound exactly the same. So they choose whoever's price is lowest.

Moreover, those people won't go trawling for voices. They'll post a job offer and let the VAs compete for it, allowing you to submit the perfect voice snippet for their job.

Even then, sounding like all the other applicants isn't going to get you the job.

Every voice has unique qualities to it. These qualities only come out in more subtle voice acting. Shouldn't you be highlighting your capabilities in comparison to others, rather than striving to be identical? Anyone who's made a commercial will be aware that almost anybody can do the "commercial voice". Shouldn't you make them realize that you are going to be good to work with, that you can inject their plastic commercial voice with the innate warmth/sultriness/power of your voice? You can't, but you could make them think you could by posting - get this! Posting a unique snippet instead of another clone.

This, of course, doesn't just apply to voice actors. Contrast and context are the two most important things in the world. Controlling them means you control the whole of the situation. By standing out, you catch the attention of others. If you can change what they think they're looking for, you convince them to choose you. The way to do this varies from application to application, but it all starts with contrast. If they don't notice you, they certainly can't choose you.



InteractiveVoices said...

Hi Craig,

Interesting article and observations about the demos which are primarily featured to clients looking for voice talent.

Out of curiosity, have you ever hired a voice talent based upon their stand out creativity?

I'm sure that I'm asking a question many professional talent yearn to know the answer to.

From a recruiters perspective, what are the qualities that would land a talent your voice-over job?

Looking forward to your reply.

Best regards,

Stephanie Ciccarelli

Craig Perko said...

Unfortunately, I don't think I have stereotypical needs. As I understand it, most voice actors' bread-and-butter assignments are things like commercials.

My needs run to character parts.

So, to me, showing you can do a character is very important. The talent pool is so large that any employer should be able to be extremely choosy, and so I was disappointed by the parade of identical sound bytes.

Someone who is interested in hiring for a standard commercial is probably looking for people who sound just like the sound bytes. But, there are thousands of them, all identical. With nothing to distinguish between person A and person B, why would you hire one and not the other?

That's my thinking - but it's just thinking. I'm not a voice actor, and I'm not a common employer.

What the truth is, I can't say.

If you are from, I would think you could run a study without too much trouble: you have dozens of contacts that have hired in the past and/or are looking to hire now. I wouldn't think it would be hard to get them to tell you which soundbytes impress them the most.

Ha! Then you could write a book and hold seminars: "The Truth behind Soundbytes! $100 per seat! June 9th!"