About Kay Xander Mellish

Kay Xander Mellish is the CEO of KXMGroup.dk, which helps Danish companies look good in English. She lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, and works as a communications consultant, freelance copywriter, and U.S. English voice over. Kay is also the host of How To Live in Denmark, a humor site for foreigners in Denmark and their Danish friends. Contact kay at welcome @ kxmgroup.dk .

Male vs. female voiceovers: ‘Sorry, we’ve decided to go with a man’

old fashioned guy 2

Listen to vintage voiceovers – radio commercials from the 1930s, film trailers from the 1940s, those Driver’s Ed flicks they used to play at schools in the 1970s and 1980s – and you’ll hear a pretty standard approach.

It’s called the Voice of God, and it’s always a male voice.  Usually a baritone.  Powerful, authoritative.  Fearless and strong. Commands attention.

Before 1975 or so, the Voice of God – often shortened to ‘VOG’ – was generally identifiable as a Caucasian man. These days, in English-speaking markets, African-Americans like Morgan Freeman seem to be favoured for the role.

(As a matter of fact, when I Googled ‘Voice of God’, I got this guy –

Image

– whom I’ve never heard of before.  Fantastic SEO, there, buddy.)

At any rate, VOG is serious and trustworthy.  It’s comforting.  It’s the easy, default voiceover.

And even in 2014, it’s still done by a man.

A female VOG?

There is no female equivalent to a VOG.  Occasionally you get the kindly Mother-Nature type, but in the advertising world, she only sells menstrual remedies and spaghetti sauce.

The default for voiceovers – corporate as well as advertising – is still a male voiceover. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bid on a job, done an audition, and gotten the sad news back…‘Sorry, but we’re going to go with a man.

Too bad, because an unexpected voiceover is a good way to freshen up a production, make it sound fresh and new.

Celebrity female voiceovers

A few companies have figured that out – and they’re often companies that sell traditionally ‘masculine’ products like cars, insurance and airline flights.

The voices of celebrated actresses like the Oscar winner Helen Hunt, West Wing’s Allison Janney, and Glenn Close are being used to sell these big-ticket products.

That makes sense: women are increasingly the ones buying them. And if your customer is a woman, shouldn’t your voiceover be too?

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My life with a home voiceover studio

cat_microphone2It never occurred to me that I might someday have a home studio.  I live in an apartment, for one thing, a small one-bedroom that I share with an eight-year-old and a cat.  I’m also not anybody’s idea of a sound technician.  I can do edit out flubs and sneezes with GarageBand, and I know the difference between mono and stereo, but as soon as we get into visual EQ and master echo, I’m a lost cause.

But I have one now, to my surprise.  It all started when I got involved with Librivox, a nonprofit that is working on producing audio versions of all books within the public domain.  I noticed that one of the classic books still looking for readers was one of my favorites, Stendhal’s The Red and The Black.  I signed up to read a couple of chapters – and was rejected.

Apparently the small button microphone I used with my iPhone wasn’t up to Librivox’s exacting standards. (I say that with light sarcasm, as Librivox’s website looks like it was designed as a junior high class project in 1997, and many of its unpaid readers are worth every penny.)  Anyway, Librivox monitor complained about white noise, my bit rate, and other technical aspects.  These were unlikely to be resolved with my little clip-on mike.

I went online looking for slightly better equipment, and was surprised to find I could get an entire “podcasting kit” – professional-quality condenser Microphone, stand and popguard – for around US$100.  I was shocked that good equipment could be so cheap.

Of course, the lack of sound insulation is still a problem:  I’ve set all the fine electronic stuff in the highly-professional corner between my sofa and the wall.  But it seems to work OK, particularly for recording in the very early morning or very late evening.

Is it as good as my local sound studio?  Absolutely not, and now that I’ve begun to use it, I miss having a sound technician to kick ideas back and forth with.  Now that I’ve begun sending mp3s to clients, sometimes we find that the tone or pace I provided was not what they had in mind, and then the job has to be entirely re-done, at my expense.  Had we all been in a sound studio together, the results would have been quicker and happier.

But there’s a lot of upside to having the equipment right there at home.  You can bid on more jobs, for example – some clients won’t even talk to a voiceover who doesn’t have a home studio – and you can do private projects, as well.  I’ve started my own Podcast series, which I’m happy to announce is already available on iTunes.

The downside is, of course, the cat, who finds the sound equipment exciting.  And the motorcycles driving by, and the S-train shaking the building at 10-minute intervals, and my eight-year-old calling with a request to leave school early.  A home is not a sound studio.  But it can come pretty close.

What happened when I tried hiring a voiceover online

Ordering a voiceover online Knowing your competition is important in any business. As an in-studio voiceover, online voiceovers are my main competition.  (There are, of course, other English voiceovers in Copenhagen, but we’re a relatively small group, and most of the others have British accents.)  But it’s no secret that it’s quick and easy to hire a voiceover online.

And it can be inexpensive.  I’ve seen online voiceovers on sale for $5, or DK30.  At that price, anyone can afford them – even me.  I thought it would be interesting to experience what it was like to order an online voiceover, and that maybe it would give me some insight as to how I could provide higher-quality service to my in-studio, in-person customers.

Burtman

Burtman

My first hire was Burtman, a friendly-looking guy who spoke English with an Afro-Carribbean accent. In his online profile, he said he had worked as a news reporter, photographer, TV presenter, radio news presenter/anchor, programme director, news editor, a magazine editor and in advertising and public relations.  I wrote a brief script for Burtman advertising my own business, as my own clients hire me to do.

This was the script:

Hello. I’m a voiceover Kay booked on the Internet. Booking voices online can be inexpensive, but you don’t get the face-to-face sparring partner that can come to your studio in Copenhagen. Kay will work with you to improve your English text and get the tone and pace that you want. Og Kay taler flydende dansk. Book Kay at 26 83 64 88, or at k-a-y-x at americanvoice-dot-dee-koh .

Burtman sent back a voiceover in about three days.  It had a kind of buzzing sound in the background that made me suspect he’d recorded it on an iPhone. He did have a very nice voice.  He didn’t read my script at the pace I would have chosen, or emphasize what I would have emphasized, but I couldn’t argue that he hadn’t read the script I had given him.

It was kind of like putting a coin into a vending machine: there was no interaction, no feedback, until the finished product was dispensed. I certainly got what I had paid for, but it was slightly dry and tasteless.

I thought it might be more fair for me to experience hiring another American female voiceover similar to myself. There were plenty available online, and I scrolled through their profiles.  One had purple hair.  Another promised “near-perfect, non-dialectical pronunciation”.  I wondered if she could pronounce “non-dialectical.”

I took some time to listen to a variety of my online competitors’ sound samples.  A few were very nice, if a little unpracticed.  One lady was audibly drunk.  One spoke in a squeaky tone that could scrape the paint off of metal, making her choice of a voiceover career questionable.

Anyway, It ended up taking me the better part of an hour, another downside to online voiceovers: amid the many serious professionals lie plenty of amateurs, so a fair amount of sorting is required, a bit like a garage sale.

I was tiring of my project, so I did what male casting agents have done for decades: I just chose the prettiest girl.  That was Jennifer.

Monique

Jennifer

Jennifer read my ad in a crisp, clear voice, with a pleasant Southern accent. With one difference: Southern U.S. accents are usually slow, relaxed and lilting, but Jennifer spoke at an incredibly quick pace, as if she were rushing to get a bus. Or, given the amount I was paying her, perhaps she was just rushing to get to the next voiceover so she could make a decent living.

At any rate, the voiceover was not useable, and Jennifer did not really seem like a pro.  For my final choice, I went with a voiceover who could at least offer a professional education in performance: Jeremy has a Master in Fine Arts in musical theater, making it clear he knew how to stand on a stage and belt out lines in “Phantom of the Opera” or “Grease” or other great classics. I figured I could count on him to read my script with a lot of enthusiasm.

Jeremy

Jeremy advertised himself as having an “energetic, confident radio voice” and he was very flexible as to content. “I am happy to provide a 60 second recorded voiceover of whatever you would like me to say,” he said in his profile, “the only exception being that I will not speak any curse words or take God’s name in vain.”

Jeremy was indeed a pro: he delivered 6 takes of my little ad. I had slipped a small amount of Danish into my script to show potential Copenhagen voiceover customers that I could chat in the local lingo while external providers could not.  But Jeremy went the extra step and found an online pronunciation service to guide him, and although he seems to have confused Danish with Swedish, I was impressed by his initiative.  Jeremy is a top-of-the-line online voiceover, and it only took me 2 or 3 hours and a couple of missteps to find him.

And yet…there was not a lot of feeling to Jeremy’s reading of my text.  He hadn’t met me, he knew nothing about my product, and even though he was putting his all into his performance, there wasn’t much depth to it.  I suppose that if your product or project is not particularly special, a good inexpensive online voiceover like Jeremy is good enough.  But if you’ve put a lot of passion into your project and want the voiceover for it to be the best it can be, let me help you. Jeremy will tell you how to contact me, or you can just do it directly, at http://www.americanvoice.dk.

Hvad der skete, da jeg hyrede en voiceover online

Ordering a voiceover online

At kende dine konkurrenter er vigtigt for enhver virksomhed. Som en in-studio voiceover, er online voiceovers min største konkurrence. (Der er selvfølgelig andre engelske voiceovers i København, men vi er en relativ lille gruppe, og de fleste af dem har en britisk accent.) Men det er ingen hemmelighed, at man hurtigt og let kan hyre en voiceover over nettet.

Og det kan være billigt. Jeg har set online voiceovers til salg for $5 eller DKK 30. Alle har råd til denne pris – selv mig. Jeg tænkte, at det ville være interessant at opleve, hvordan det var at bestille en online voiceover, og at det måske ville give mig indsigt i, hvordan jeg kan tilbyde en højere kvalitet og service til mine fysiske kunder.

Burtman

Burtman

Min første online voiceover var Burtman, en fin fyr som talte engelsk med en Afro-Caribien accent. I sin online profile skrev han, at han havde arbejdet som en journalist, fotograf, tv- og radio-nyhedsvært, programdirektør, nyhedsredaktør, magasinredaktør, og havde arbejdet med reklamer og public relations. Jeg skrev et kort manuskript til Burtman, som bestod af en reklame for min egen virksomhed, ligesom mine egne klienter hyrer mig til.

Her er manuskriptet:  Hello. I’m a voiceover Kay booked on the Internet. Booking voices online can be inexpensive, but you don’t get the face-to-face sparring partner that can come to your studio in Copenhagen. Kay will work with you to improve your English text and get the tone and pace that you want. Og Kay taler flydende dansk. Book Kay at 26 83 64 88, or at k-a-y-x at americanvoice-dot-dee-koh .

Burtman sendte en voiceover tilbage efter ca. tre dage. Der var en form for summende lyd i baggrunden, hvilket fik mig til at mistænke ham for at have optaget det på en iPhone. Han havde dog en god stemme. Han læste ikke mit manuskript i det tempo, som jeg havde valgt, eller fremhævede det, som jeg havde understreget, men han havde i hvert fald læst det manuskript, som jeg havde givet ham.

Det var lidt ligesom at proppe en mønt i en automat: Der var ingen interaktion, ingen feedback før det færdige produkt var dispenseret. Jeg fik så sandelig hvad jeg havde betalt for, men det var et lidt tørt og usmageligt produkt.

Jeg tænkte, at det nok ville være mere fair for mig at hyre en anden amerikansk kvindelig voiceover, ligesom mig selv. Der var masser af dem på nettet, og jeg bladrede gennem deres profiler. En have lilla hår. En anden lovede “næsten perfekt, ikke-dialektisk udtalelse”. jeg spekulerede på, om hun overhovedet kunne udtale “ikke-dialektisk.”

Jeg brugte noget tid til at lytte til en række af mine online konkurrenters lydprøver. Nogle få var meget gode, måske lidt uerfaren. En dame lød meget beruset i sin udtalelse. En anden talte med en knirkende tone, der kunne skrabe malingen ud af metal, hvilket gjorde hendes valg af karriere som voiceover meget tvivlsom.

Men det endte med at tage mig mere end en time, endnu en ulempe ved online voiceovers: Mellem mange seriøse professionelle er der masser af amatører, så man skal bruge en del tid på at sortere fra, lidt ligesom et garagesalg.

Jeg var træt af mit projekt, så jeg gjorde hvad mandlige casting agenter har gjort i årtier. Jeg valgte den kønneste pige. Hvilket var Jennifer.

Jennifer

Jennifer

Jennifer læste min annonce med en sprød, klar stemme, og med en behagelig sydlandsk accent. Men med én forskel: Sydlandske amerikanske accenter er normalt langsomme, afslappet og syngende, men Jennifer talte i et utroligt hurtigt tempo, som om hun skulle nå bussen. Eller måske på grund af det beløb, som jeg betalte hende, ønskede hun bare at skynde sig, så hun kunne komme i gang med den næste voiceover, så hun kunne betale til huslejen.

I hvert fald var voiceoveren ikke brugbar, og Jennifer virkede ikke rigtig som en professionel. For mit sidste valg, besluttede jeg mig for at bruge en voiceover, som i det mindste kunne tilbyde en professionel uddannelse i performance: Jeremy har en Master i Fine Arts i musikalsk teater, hvilket gjorde det klart, at han vidste hvordan det var, at stå på en scene og skråle fraser fra “Phantom of the Opera”, “Grease” eller andre store klassikere. Jeg regnede med, at han var til at stole på, og at han ville læse mit manuskript med masser af entusiasme.

Jeremy

Jeremy annoncerede sig selv som havende en “energisk, selvsikker radiostemme”, og at han var meget fleksibel med hensyn til indhold. “Jeg kan med glæde tilbyde a 60 sekunders optaget voiceover af hvad som helst du vil have mig til at sige,” stod der i hans profil, “den eneste undtagelse er, at jeg ikke vil sige nogen bandeord, eller tale dårligt om gud.”

Jeremy var helt klart en professionel: han leverede 6 eksemplarer af min annonce. Jeg havde lagt en lille del af dansk ind i mit manuskript for at vise potentielle københavnske voiceover kunder, at jeg kunne chatte i det lokale lingo, mens eksterne leverandører ikke kunne. Men Jeremy gik det ekstra skridt og fandt en online udtalelses-service som vejledning, og selvom at det så ud som om, at han havde forvekslet dansk med svensk, var jeg imponeret over hans initiativ. Jeremy var en super god online voiceover, og det tog mig kun 2 eller 3 timer, og et par fejltrin, at finde ham.

Og dog… der var ikke meget følelse i Jeremys oplæsning af min tekst. Han havde ikke mødt mig, han vidste intet om mit produkt, og selvom han lagde en masse arbejde i arbejdet, så var der ikke meget dybde i det. Jeg går ud fra, at hvis dit produkt eller projekt ikke er noget særligt, så er en god og billig online voiceover som Jeremy god nok. Men hvis du har lagt masser af passion i dit projekt, og ønsker du, at din voiceover er den bedste, man kan få, så kan jeg hjælpe dig. Jeremy kan fortælle dig, hvordan man kommer i kontakt med mig, eller du kan bare gøre det direkte på http://www.americanvoice.dk.

American voiceover or British voiceover?


You’ve storyboarded, shot, and edited a corporate video, ad, or e-learning project for international distribution, and now it’s time to finish it off with an English voiceover. You could always, of course, do it yourself, but as a Dane you run the risk of sounding like Villy Søvndal on a bad day.

Better to hire a native speaker. Now the question is, should you hire a speaker with a British or American accent?

As an American voiceover in Copenhagen I may not be entirely impartial, and fortunately there are several excellent and experienced British voiceovers in town.

But I’ve found that Danes don’t always know what type of effect accents have on their finished product. So I’ve put together a few easy rules.

If you’ve got a luxury product, get a Brit.
There’s no doubt about it: a British accent adds a touch of class. It makes your project a little bit more suave, a little bit more mysterious, a little bit more distant. And the sparkle of dry humor that only a Brit can deliver will rub off on whatever you’re trying to communicate. It’s sexy, in an aspirational, fantastical, James Bond kind of way.

If you’re looking for enthusiasm, get an American.
Americans have a tendency to live life with an exclamation point, to be enthusiastic about absolutely everything. This works to your advantage if your project is designed to get people excited about something. The ability to be entirely thrilled about whatever we are involved with – which in my voice career, has included things like online banking, computer equipment and medical devices – makes American voices ideal for projects that need energy and enthusiasm.

On the other hand, that wonderful dry British humor also means that Brits don’t do excitement well, and when they try it often comes off with a cynical or insincere undertone, as if they are secretly making fun of whatever it is they are supposedly promoting.

For don’t-question-me-authority, get a Brit.
The clipped tones of a British accent make it clear that this statement is not a suggestion, it’s an order. British accents work best when the text is one-way communication from an authoritative source. “Failure to do so may compromise safety on board your flight.” Need I say more?

If it involves technology, get an American
The hegemony of Apple, Facebook and Google means that cutting-edge technology today speaks with an American accent, even if it’s hard to find a computer that’s not produced in China. An American accent gives your tech project a laid back, unpretentious, multi-cultural kind of cool.

Brits and high technology are not a common association: having a Brit voice a high tech spot reminds the listener that the last time the British lead the world in technology was when Winston Churchill was pushing tiny wooden planes across a map of Europe.

Of course, Brits and Americans are not the world’s only native English speakers. Australian accents are great for sports videos, anything with an action-adventure angle. Singapore/Malaysian and Indian accents are not yet widely used in international voiceovers, although given the growing economic power of those countries, they probably will be. And while Canadians will hate me for saying so, their accents are largely interchangeable with American ones, except for their well-known pronunciation of ‘about’ as ‘a-boot.’ (Many famous ‘American’ actors – Pamela Anderson, Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey – are actually Canadian)

So your choice will probably boil down to British vs. American.

The bottom line is: for many international listeners, a British accent is about distance. It puts the listener in his place, which is usually below the speaker.

An American accent brings the listener into the speaker’s world as an equal, and often warmly, as a buddy.

If the dream voiceover for your project would be Sean Connery or Helen Mirren, get a Brit.

If your project would work better with a voiceover by Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Portman or Ashton Kutcher, hire an American.

Britisk V.O. eller amerikansk V.O. – hvilket passer dig bedst?


Som amerikansk voice over artist i København er jeg måske ikke helt objektiv, og heldigvis er der flere udmærkede og erfarne britiske voice over artister i byen. Men jeg har oplevet, at danske kunder ikke altid ved, hvilken effekt de forskellige accenter har på det færdige produkt, så jeg har sat nogle få, enkle regler sammen.

Hvis du har et luksusprodukt – brug en britisk stemme

Der er ingen tvivl: En britisk accent sætter et præg af klasse på tingene. Den gør dit projekt lidt mere sofistikeret, lidt mere mystisk, og lidt mere overlegent. Og det lille drys af tør humor, som kun en brite kan levere, vil lægge sig over, hvad det end er, du prøver at formidle. Det er sexet på den fantastiske James Bond-måde.

Hvis du søger entusiasme – brug en amerikaner

Amerikanere har en tendens til at leve livet med et udråbstegn og til at være entusiastiske over (næsten) hvad som helst. Det kan du bruge til din fordel, hvis dit projekt skal få folk til at blive begejstrede over noget. Evnen til at være fuldstændig ellevilde over, hvad vi end involverer os i – som tilfældet med min voice over karriere, der inkluderer produkter som netbank, computerudstyr og medicinsk udstyr – gør amerikanske stemmer ideelle til projekter, som kræver begejstring og entusiasme.

Den pragtfulde, tørre britiske humor betyder desværre, at briterne ikke er så gode til at komme op i det begejstrede felt, og når de prøver, får resultatet ofte en kynisk eller uoprigtig undertone, som om de i virkeligheden gør lidt grin med, hvad det nu end er, de skal forestille at promovere.

Den autoritære der-er-ikke-noget-at-komme-efter – brug en britisk speaker

Den britiske accents skarpe, let abrupte facon gør det fuldstændig klart, at dette udsagn ikke er et forslag – det er en ordre. En britisk accent er det bedste valg, når teksten er vi-tager-ikke-spørgsmål-i-dag-kommunikation fra en autoritær kilde. Når jeg venter på at boarde et fly i Københavns Lufthavn, hører jeg igen og igen en sikkerhedsmelding over højttaleren, der siger, at jeg skal holde øje med min bagage, og hvis jeg ikke gør det, risikerer jeg min egen og alle andres sikkerhed ombord. Dette siges med en ulastelig BBC-britisk stemme.

Er der teknologi involveret – brug en amerikansk speaker

Apples, Facebooks og Googles førerstilling betyder, at cutting-edge teknologi i dag taler med en amerikansk accent, selv om det kan være noget af en opgave at finde en computer, der ikke er produceret i Kina. En amerikansk stemme giver dit teknologiske projekt et cool lag af noget afslappet, usnobbet og multikulturelt.

Briterne og højteknologi er ikke en naturlig cocktail: Hvis du har en britisk stemme på et high tech reklameindslag, risikerer du at minde lytterne om, at sidste gang briterne var verdensførende inden for teknologi, var, da Winston Churchill skubbede små træmodelfly rundt på et kort over Europa.

Nu er hverken briter eller amerikanere de eneste, der er indfødte engelsktalende. En australsk accent er storartet til sportsvideoer, eller hvad som helst med en actionpræget eventyrvinkel. Singapore/malaisiske og indiske accenter er ikke så udbredte i internationale voice over-sammenhænge endnu, men når man tænker på disse landes voksende økonomiske magt, varer det sikkert ikke længe, før det sker. Canadiere vil hade mig for dette, men deres accent kunne lige så godt være amerikansk, når man altså ser bort fra deres velkendte måde at udtale ’about’ på, som i deres munde kommer ud som ’a-boot’. Mange berømte ’amerikanske’ skuespillere – Pamela Anderson, Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey – er faktisk fra Canada.

Så valget står stort set mellem en U.K. og en U.S. stemme.

Når det kommer til stykket, er en britisk stemme noget distanceret og overlegen i det. Den sætter lytterne på plads – en plads, som for det meste er et stykke under speakeren.

En amerikansk stemme inviterer lytterne inden for i speakerens verden som en ligemand – og oftest med en varm, kammeratlig tone.

Hvis ønskestemmen til dit projekt ville være Sean Connery eller Helen Mirren – brug en engelsk stemme.

Hvis dit projekt ville fungere bedre med en voice over stemme som fx Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Portman eller Ryan Gosling – brug en amerikansk stemme.