How and when to work with a voice-over artist

Invisible and ubiquitous, voice-over artists stitch the content experiences of our lives together. But, just like copywriting, not everyone knows the difference a professional can make to the output. 

We caught up with New York-based Alister Austin, an experienced VO artist with a gleaming client base and near-famous track record, to hear how it’s done. 

Alister, great to catch up with you today. Tell us about how you became a VO artist. 

I was recording a TV commercial with (name drop) Lewis Hamilton and the director asked me to record a voice-over for another project he was working on. That project led to a few more projects, and after a steep learning curve (which way should the mic point?) I decided to pursue VO full-time. I haven’t looked back since.

Lewis Hamilton! Reader, it’s worth noting Alister is a professionally trained actor who’s background in performance paved the way for VO success. 

Why (and when) should someone hire a voice-over artist?

Whenever a business needs a voice-over, it needs a professional VO artist. 

And with the explosion of explainer animations and brand videos, the rise of employee training and onboarding, and even the ever-growing but humble world of telephony and voicemail messages, there’s hardly a business out there that doesn’t need voice-overs. It’s the twenty-first century and while the written word is great, sometimes the spoken word is better.

Of course, why should a company use a pro VO when there’s Cathy in HR? She has a lovely set of pipes and can even record on her son’s gaming mic. But, it turns out, she stumbles an awful lot when that recording light turns red, and the sound of traffic and the office kettle whistling in the background are a definite distraction.

The truth is, a professional voice-over artist produces professional work. They know how to bring copy to life; match their voice with the aspirations of your brand; get it right first time; and, often overlooked in my opinion, a professional VO artist offers consistency. 

If you need more recording later on or a few changes to an existing VO, we can do that and make it sound seamless. You don’t change your logo or design aesthetics every other month. If you work with a professional VO artist you don’t have to change your voice either.

What should companies know about working with a voice-over artist before engaging them? 

It’s perfectly fine to ask for an audition sample before engaging a VO artist for the first time. Send them a sample of your script, along with a note on what it is you’re hoping to hear, and they’ll send back a 20-30 second recording. 

You get to double-check the quality of their recording setup and make sure what they bring to the script aligns with your expectations. Auditions are free in the industry. They help prevent you from wasting your time and money, as well as the VO artist’s. 

And when you’re ready to go ahead, make sure your script is ready. A mistake that’s skimmed over on the page will jar tremendously when read out loud. 

In fact, I would suggest the client reads the script out loud to themselves before sending it through to me. Does it make as much sense when spoken as it does when read? We don’t speak colons, hyphens, or parentheses, and sometimes when we lift that beautiful looking sentence off the page, the listener completely loses track of the thought.

If a client is struggling to finalise a script, or start it, I offer script writing services too. It’s really rewarding to see a project through from beginning to end in that way.

How do you find the right voice for a script?

I always ask the client if there’s an existing VO they like (one of mine or someone else’s), and if so, to provide a link. A written description of the tone and style a client is looking for is definitely useful. But actually hearing what the client is after is so incredibly helpful.

Secondly, I’ll ask if my voice will be accompanying any visuals. If so, can I see them, or at least some style samples. Visuals can clarify the script and intention, as well as help inform the voice.

Thirdly, I’ll ask for the target audience. I’ll read a script very differently in a video intended for industry leaders than I would for industry newbies.

What’s the most challenging part of being a voice-over artist? 

I’m sure this is the same with most creative jobs but the challenge is making each project sound unique, nuanced, and authentic. It’s easy to fall into old speech patterns and trot out those tired, overused inflections. You need to check your ego at the door, find the message and bring it to the fore.

That, and building meaningful client-relationships. Although I do still go into commercial recording studios, it’s less and less each year. The majority of work is recorded from home studios – which has its upside but getting to meet the client or designers face-to-face isn’t one of them. I’ve only ever communicated with most of my clients through email. I have great relationships with them, but it’s definitely more challenging.

What does your dream script look like? 

Formatted and proofed. A wall of text with typos, written in three different fonts is a difficult script to parse through. 

Headings, paragraphs, hyphens, bullet points, and italics accurately guide a VO artist through the text. It’s important to remember that industry-specific words and phrases that might be old hat to the client, oftentimes aren’t to the VO artist, so give us some breadcrumbs to follow.

Aside from that, a script with short sentences and clear thoughts – easier said than done.

What does your nightmare script look like? 

A foreign language script translated into English using Google translate and then sent straight across to me. You wouldn’t believe how frequently this happens.

Who (or what) would you love to VO?

98% of the work I record is in Received Pronunciation but, originally, I’m from Yorkshire. I would love to be the no-nonsense, tough-love Yorkshire voice of a car satnav system or AI assistant. Universe, if you’re listening…

To find out more about Alister Austin visit Clients can engage Alister through Incredibble, where his skills can be combined with script writing, filmmaking and production expertise.

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