Drawing on his vast experience with TV productions, Alex Harris-MacDuff has now turned his ears and considerable talents to the voice-over industry.
With his experience as both a production coordinator and an audio/dubbing editor, he brings a fresh yet seasoned perspective to his work. In his short time at Voquent, he’s already successfully cast hundreds of VO projects including games, commercials, narrations and much more.
He's loving every voice Demo as Voquent’s resident producer and production coordinator. When it comes to casting, Alex fully embraces Voquent’s game-changing voice selection process. He firmly believes the Demo Sample search offers the most efficient and effective way for clients to find the perfect voice – no matter the project. Alex is keen to share his casting process so voice actors can learn how to stand out from the competition and make working with Voquent smoother than ever!
Q: How long have you been working in the entertainment industry?
Alex: Before working in VO, I worked as a production coordinator in TV. I started as a runner (the entry-level role), making teas and coffees and carrying things. I worked for the BBC on the Scottish Independence Referendum results coverage in 2014 as a runner and kept in touch with the production manager. Eventually, I worked my way up to the production coordinator's role for the 2017 General Election, which was undoubtedly an exciting time! I ended up spending most of the overnight broadcast with the Director-General Tony Hall and his 'entourage'. The lead-up and the frantic logistical preparation were my main job, so I could relax and watch it all unfold on the night.
Working on TV is exhausting. The hours are incredibly long (12 hours is a short day), often six days a week, and you can occasionally be treated terribly. However, the experience I gained there made the transition to Voquent very smooth – coordinating dozens of multilingual voice-over projects simultaneously is a piece of cake compared to TV! Meeting up with Miles and Al back in November 2018 made me realize all the exciting possibilities in the voice-over industry, specifically with Voquent.
Q: What three qualities make a great voice actor?
Alex: I would say: versatility, availability, and approachability.
- Versatility – because I need a voice actor I can rely on to follow the specific client's direction during the session. Voquent's Sample-based casting process minimizes the risk of clients suddenly deciding that a voice actor's tone is not suitable during the session. It does happen occasionally, but knowing I can trust the voice actor to adapt to suit the client's needs is vital.
- Availability – because we often must go ahead with projects at ridiculously short notice–sometimes within 24 hours! Knowing that I can contact a voice actor to check availability and get their response within a few hours makes the whole process much smoother. The project is also more likely to go ahead because I've been able to give the customer the voice talent they need within their time frames. I'm not saying, “don't have another job,” instead, please try to keep an eye on your emails or phone calls.
- Approachability – because it is a very fickle, people-oriented industry we work in. Just being nice, accommodating, and friendly makes a massive difference to whether a project goes smoothly or badly. If a voice actor is rude to the clients or me to ask specific questions, we are far less likely to want to work with them again. Some voices are also highly aggressive about their rates. It's part of the business process to negotiate and ask questions, so please don't be offended if the offered rate seems lower than you would typically require. It's all about negotiation, after all, so please tell me your rates! It's also worth bearing in mind that we're often under extreme pressure on budgets from the client, particularly for multilingual projects, so sometimes the rates really can't go any higher.
Q: How did you come to work with Voquent?
Alex: Networking. The TV industry, especially in Scotland, is tiny, and it doesn’t take long before you’ve worked with everyone at least once. Several years ago, I worked as a sound recordist/boom operator on a documentary for BBC Scotland about building the new hospital in Glasgow. One of the self-shooting PDs on the shoot was the sister of Voquent’s co-founder and managing director, Miles Chicoine. I happened to see her post on Facebook, and Voquent was looking for an audio production coordinator, which is a particular job title.
I am in the unique position of having had professional experience of being an audio editor/dubbing editor AND a production coordinator. These are two entirely different roles in the industry, so it’s pretty unusual to have experience in both. I applied for the job, and the rest is history! It just goes to show that you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from, and sometimes things do appear out of nowhere!
Q: What are the Demo Samples?
Alex: The Demo Sample search is Voquent’s unique tool that makes casting incredibly easy. Samples spotlight the voice actors' versatility. A client can listen to two completely different Samples from the same voice, and decide to go with them based on one, but not the other. An obvious example could be a foreign accent, say, a regional UK one. But, it can sometimes be a simple change in tone that seals the deal. We’ve had many instances of clients thinking they've chosen one voice talent over another when selecting the same voice talent speaking in a different tone!
I use the Demo Search cards myself when casting, and I can’t imagine a more efficient way. It also ensures that I don’t cast the same handful of voice artists whose names I remember off the top of my head every time! It ensures everyone gets a fair opportunity to shine and get voice-over jobs.
TOP TIP: The more Demos voice actors add to their profile, the better chance they have of being cast for the best roles.
Q: What has been the client's response to Demo Samples?
Alex: Many clients have struggled to adapt to our new way of working, and many still request bespoke auditions anyway. But, those who have utilized the Sample search have pinpointed the exact tone of the specific voice artists they are seeking. This can be useful even if they want to get auditions since it significantly narrows down their options! It means that if a voice artist receives an email from me saying, “you’re shortlisted for a project through Voquent,” it’s quite literally a shortlist of 2-5 voices, not 50+ voices.
Q: What has been the talent response to the Demo Sample system?
Alex: We have many thousands of unique Samples on the Voquent website, so the response can’t have been that bad! Andy Langfield, the Talent Manager here at Voquent, would have a more knowledgeable response to this, but as far as I can tell it has been a success. I have heard some grumbles about having to cut showreels apart, however!
[Editor: As of April 2022 voices can now add Reels, – learn more about unlocking Reels]
Q: What does Voquent do to make casting easier on the client?
Alex: In short, we do it for them!
The casting tools are all there for the client to use themselves, but we can put together a selection of tonally consistent Demos matching the client’s brief within a matter of hours, using the Voice Actors Casting process. Many of our customers don’t have the time or experience to put into casting.
Q: What does Voquent look for when adding voice actors to your roster?
Alex: Most importantly, the quality of the Demo must be high. Only professionally recorded Demos are accepted. We recruit voices speaking any language or dialect, but you must be an authentic native speaker. For example, if you're native to North America, don't say your Demo is British unless you are 100% sure it sounds authentic. Otherwise, our moderation team will have no choice but to decline the audio.
If we accept Demos that are not authentic dialects, customers will soon lose trust in the system, and the platform's power diminishes. We do allow non-native accents for character voices, though.
Q: Are there any big no-nos for voice actors?
Alex: Don't lie on your CV. Don't say you can accommodate live direction or have a pro home studio if you don't!
Most clients expect a home studio to be of pristine quality, like a professional recording studio. You will be quickly found out if you don't have the quality of equipment required.
The other big NO is not to 'over edit' your audio! I am a professional audio engineer with experience editing material for broadcast: I would much rather receive the audio with some background hiss and some clicks than to have it over-processed to the extent it sounds like an underwater mp3 with missing plosives. For example – the “noise reduction” effect in Audacity is diabolical. It is best to avoid the effects in Audacity altogether. In fact, don't use Audacity. Try other editing apps instead.
Q: How does a voice actor stay top of mind with you?
Alex: The main way is by being friendly!
Often, I need a quick turnaround on a project, sometimes on the same day! If I know a voice artist will be available at short notice, do a good job, and respond to my emails quickly, then I am more likely to approach them for other short-notice projects that come up in the future.
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