How to hire a voiceover


Hiring a voice artist is tricky.  Yesterday, you were an ordinary project manager whose biggest challenge was getting the C++ programmer to show up for work before 2pm.  

Today you are thrust into the role of casting director.  And unless you’re working for a company which can afford to hire movie stars to promote its products, you are casting with entirely unknown set of variables.

First of all, think outside the box.  A man voicing a diaper commercial is fresh and fun; a woman voicing a construction safety video is more likely to be listened to than the usual male authority figure.  But assuming you’ve decided what type of person you’re looking for – male/female, young/old, trendy/corporate, sexy/serious  – here are my tips on how to proceed.

Decide if you want to work through an agency

Voiceover agencies are run by smart and hard-working people, and they offer variety that I as an independent voice artist simply can’t match.  

Want a Pashtun speaker, an 8-year-old Swedish boy, a grandmother with a lisp? An agency is your go-to partner.  (Although they are not above a bit of trickery – a local agency recently asked me, a 30ish American, if I could imitate an Asian woman in her 50s for a job.  I gave it a go, with unimpressive results, I must admit).

The drawback: if you book through an agency, your relationship is with the agency, not the talent.  

That means if you have an ongoing project or campaign, you will need to go through the agency every time you want to work with the talent – and cross your fingers that the business relationship between those two parties is healthy.  

Updates 6 months later

This can become crucial if you have a project that needs additions or updates 6 or 12 or 18 months after it is finished.  If the agency is no longer working with the voice talent, you will need to do the vocal track all over again, with all the production expenses that entails. 

When you have a personal relationship with the voiceover, you never pay an agency commission – which means lower costs all the way down the line – and you can usually get updates without a fuss. 

I have one longtime client with its own studio in downtown Copenhagen, and I generally do minor updates for them for free.  I stop by the studio, spend half an hour laying laying down some quick tracks, and then check out the sales at Magasin.   They’re very happy and I really don’t mind – it’s all part of our ongoing business relationship. 

And no, you cannot use an voice agency as a dating agency, finding your perfect long-term voice talent and then dealing directly with that person going forward.  There are contracts to prevent this kind of thing.  If you fall in love with a voice you get through an agency, you will be paying commissions for a very, very long time. 

Finding an independent voiceover

How you you find an independent voiceover in your city?  It can be intimidating to deal with an individual instead of a company, so try LinkedIn.  Do a search for voiceovers in your area, and you can be sure that someone in your network is linked to him or her, and can testify to their reliability.  

Most professional voicevoers have their own website with voice samples.  And if the local voiceover you can find doesn’t fit the gender or accent you are looking for, ask him for if he knows someone who does. In Copenhagen, all the voiceovers know each other, and I happily refer clients who are looking for a British accent or a Canadian man to one of them.  (I also maintain a list of English voiceovers in Denmark. )

One last comment on agencies:  they usually promote a few selected voices who have signed exclusive or beneficial contracts with the agency.  That means that they may not always send you the person who is best for you, but the person who is best for them. 

Decide if you want to work locally or via the Internet

In a wired world, you voice talent does not necessarily have to be local.  Although there are some excellent English voice artists in Copenhagen, there are many more spread around the world.  Many have home studios and can quickly turn around your script and upload it in any format you choose.  You can pay them via PayPal.

Here the advantage is price.  I charge DK1250 for the first hour of voice work, plus DK700 or so for a studio if you don’t have your own. You can probably get the whole package for DK1000 online – maybe even less, if you find a hungry or inexperienced talent.  

But like all thrift shopping, the trade-off is your time, the amount of time you will spend sorting through and listening to the thousands of voices available online.  Trying to find the right voice on a mass-audition site like Voices123.com is like trying to find the one good raisin in a 10 liter carton of moldy raisins.  How valuable is your time?

If you work locally, you have the advantage of being able to meet your talent and coach them about the effect you’re looking for.  You can be with your voice artist in the studio as the voiceover is made, make sure you’re getting exactly the effect you’re looking for, and walk out of there with your finished voice track on a USB stick. 

Drop it off with the production folks, and then you can go back to thinking about what’s really important.  Where in the world is that C++ programmer? 

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