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How to Brief a Voice-Over Artist

December 14, 2020

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How to Brief a Voice-Over Artist

The voice-over brief is one of the most important parts of any recording project.

I know we say that about basically everything, but it’s clearly the case with the brief. After all, voice-overs themselves can be the defining aspect of the whole project. The brief, therefore, becomes absolutely vital to getting this bit right.

To ensure that the talent you’re hiring delivers the perfect performance, your brief needs to communicate succinctly what you want to achieve. Obvious right? You’d think so but it can very difficult when you’re so close to a project to see outside in.

Even if you hire the best talent available, if they don’t fully understand what you want to achieve, they may not deliver what you expected. Giving the voice actor clear and pertinent information about the project helps them nail the performance the first time. Ultimately saving you more time and effort on revisions and re-records.

Creating a brief doesn’t have to be complicated. To help you, we’ve come up with this handy guide on how to brief a voice-over artist. Think of it as a checklist. Tick off each element to ensure you have a comprehensive brief for any voice-over artist.

Short on time? Click here to go straight to the voice-over brief.

The elements of a good brief

Jigsaw piece with the word Elements on it

Voice acting can be used in a wide range of industries (well all industries actually!) and some vocal qualities may be more of a priority in certain types of projects.

Always consider whether there is something unique to your project. This could be strict syncing to time constrants or lip movements; or a script that is meant to be read really quickly such as terms and conditions. In general, though, there are things you need to clarify for every type of project, here’s a list:

·         The ‘Big Picture’

I know starting off with the vaguest criteria isn’t the most useful, but hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere. The ‘Big Picture’ I refer to here can apply to two things: the project and the company.

So, for example, if you’re making an advert for a brand like Lush, then you need to explain a little bit about the general image of the company. In this case, it’s a sustainable, eco-friendly, vaguely ‘hippy’ organisation.

You also need to set out the overall message of the project, especially if it differs in any way from the broader company image. Continuing with the Lush example, if this piece of creative is more serious than might be expected. It’s important to highlight this.

Treading the fine line between this juxtaposition is what a professional voice actor will be best at, but they need to know what you need in the first place to be able to do it!

·         Audience Composition

As well as the size of the audience, the voice actor will need to know the constitution of the audience. And no, I don’t mean how well they get on in cold weather. I mean that you need to articulate who makes up your intended audience. The demographic.

  • What do they like?
  • How old are they?
  • What country are they in, or even more specifically, what region?
  • What cultural values do they share?
  • What lifestyle do they have, and (more importantly for commercials) what lifestyle do they want?

These are just some of the questions you need to ask at this stage. Similar to the other elements of the brief we’ve mentioned, this can be a fairly brief description of a few words or a full paragraph.

An explainer voice-over about how to use a new banking app is probably going to have a different audience to an Instagram promo for a perfume. So this is really a key point!

The voice-over artist needs to know who they are speaking to. It helps to set the tone (more on that later).

·         Usage Terms

Usage terms should, ideally, have been formalised before you even get to the stage of creating the voice-over brief. The usage terms are vital for establishing the fees payable to the artist. If it’s an advert, then additional usage fees will almost always be applicable, but if it’s internal training for a mid-size company, there most likely won’t be any.

Learn more about buy-outs and usage fees.

How the voice-over will be used is one of the most important parts to a brief and it should be related to the budget. Finalising the budget and the scope of the finished product can have a surprising impact on the performance too.

Imagine you are in a band and are due to play a gig, but you don’t know whether it’s at a Wetherspoons or Wembley Arena until you walk on stage! As you’d expect, having foreknowledge of the size of the audience (which is, basically, what the usage terms dictate) can impact your performance! A voice actor can similarly deliver VO differently; they can play it big, or small, or anywhere in between.

The key takeaway here is:

  • What is the voice-over for? e.g. a toy product, a videogame, TV advertisement etc.
  • What duration is the usage term? e.g. in perpetuity, 1 month, 1 year etc.
  • Are there any potential uplifts in the usage in the future?

·         The Budget

It’s amazing how many customers contact us without any idea of their budget. There are lots of online resources available which provide some education about fair rates for voice-over, including our own voice-over rates guide here.

Remember, if you’re contacting an agency like Voquent, don’t expect to pay freelancer rates. Agencies provide a service, they aren’t just middle-men offering no value. Here at Voquent, for example, we invest a significant amount of time in vetting the talent available for casting. Our team of producers are also expert in casting the best voices for the role and ensuring the audio quality is top-notch. In fact, there are 19 powerful reasons to work with us.

However, if you don’t need this extra level of service and have the time top vet talent yourself, it is probably best to go to freelancers directly rather than expecting an agency to match your low budget.

Break your budget down as follows:

  • basic session fees (to include the talent, recording and post-production)
  • usage fees (paid to the talent if the voice-over is used in a commercial application or advertisement)

·         Tone

Tone: the shortest word, with basically infinite descriptions. We like to focus on tone here at Voquent because we think it can often be the single most important thing to determine how the voice-over is delivered, and even when picking the voice in the first place.

We have 12 tonal categories for voice actors on our website search which can be a useful place to start.

These include terms like:

  • Authoritative
  • Nurturing
  • Conversational

and many more.

Other words to describe the characteristic traits of a voice can also be helpful. For example: ‘booming’, ’emotive’, ‘friendly’, ‘cheerful’ and so on and so forth. As I say: there are infinite descriptions for tone!

The adjectives and adverbs used to describe vocal tone are useful for similar reasons to the ‘Big Picture’ outlined above. The voice actor needs to know what sort of thing you’re going for and create that from scratch (to a certain extent, as we’ll get onto shortly).  Of course, if you had an exact audio reference for what you wanted the voice-over to sound like, you wouldn’t need to hire the actor in the first place, since you’d already had it!

Voice actors are creatives at the end of the day, as many of you reading this will be too, so just think about the sort of information that you would like to get to create video or animation, and try and translate that into the voice brief.

Learn more about vocal characteristics.

·         References Materials

The voice-over for your project is being created from scratch by a professional voice actor, as I mentioned in the previous section. While you won’t have the exact voice over you need from other sources, you will almost certainly have some sort of reference material. This can be as simple as the sample or section of showreel you selected the voice actor from, or as complex as a scratch read from someone else (or even yourself!) trying to emulate the tone and delivery pace and style you need as best you can.

Other reference materials can be other videos from other sources that have a similar style to what you’re going for or other videos in the same series that have different voice actors. The more examples for them to emulate, the better.

Even a slideshow of what will eventually become the finished video can help. Seeing the visual style of the project, even before it’s finished, can be really helpful for filling out the ‘big picture’

A good brief instructs a great performance

A fully detailed voice-over brief can be the difference between a good performance and an AMAZING performance.

The more you are able to articulate precisely what you want, the more the voice-over artist will be able to match the voice you have in your head.

Always be as clear and detailed as possible. While you don’t want to make it too long, there’s no need to keep the brief too, er, brief!

Live direction and real-time feedback can also be useful, but it’s you still need to have a solid brief for both yourself and the voice actor before the session even starts, and even before you select the voice actor.

To learn more about the best practices for live directed voice-over sessions, you can check out this article.

If you have questions and other concerns, you can reach us on Twitter or contact us here.

Voice-Over Brief

Additional Reading:

 


Writer: Alex Harris-MacDuff

Editor: Al Black