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.