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Creativity

How to Brief a Voice-Over Artist


By Al Black | 14th December 2020

The voice-over brief is an essential part of any successful recording project.

After all, voice-overs themselves can be the defining aspect of the whole project. The brief, therefore, becomes vital to get right. It ensures that the talent you're hiring delivers the perfect performance.

So, your brief needs to be succinct. Obvious right? You'd think so, but it can be tough to make the time under pressure—yet it remains vital.

Even if you hire the best talent available, they may not deliver what you expected if they don't fully understand what you want to achieve. 

Giving the voice actor pertinent information about the project helps them nail the performance the first time. Ultimately saving you headaches later on revisions and re-records.

Creating a brief doesn't have to be complicated. To help you, we've created 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 casting

 

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

 

The elements of a good brief

You can use voice acting in a wide range of industries (well, all industries, actually!), and certain vocal qualities may be more of a priority in specific genres or mediums.

Always consider whether there is something unique to your project. 

You could be strict syncing to time constraints or lip movements or a script that needs quickly narrated (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 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, you need to explain a bit of the company's public image. In this case, it's a sustainable, eco-friendly, vaguely 'hippy' organisation.

You also need to set out the project's overall message, mainly if it differs in any way from the broader company image. For example, if Lush wanted a more instructional, authoritative tone than their brand implies, it is essential to highlight this briefly.

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

The voice actor will need to know the likely size and constitution of the audience. And no, I don't mean how well they get on in cold weather! It would help if you articulated 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 we've mentioned, this can be a relatively short description. 

An explainer voice-over about using a new banking app will probably have a different audience to an Instagram promo for a perfume. And this is a crucial point! The voice-over artist needs to know with whom they are speaking because it helps set the tone or vibe (more on that later).

 

Usage Terms

Ideally, formal usage terms should always be concrete 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, 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. 

Related: Buy-outs and usage fees for voice-over explained

How you will use the voice-over is one of the most critical parts of 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. 

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 what the usage terms dictate) can impact the talent's performance! 

A voice actor can play it big, 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, one month, one year etc.
  • Are there any potential uplifts in the usage in the future?

 

The Budget

It's incredible the number of customers who contact us without any idea of their budget. Many online resources provide some education about fair rates for voice-over, including our 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 middlemen offering no value. At Voquent, for example, we invest a significant amount of time in vetting the talent available for casting. Our team of producers is also expert in sourcing the best voices for the role and ensuring top-notch audio quality. 

Related: 19 powerful reasons to work with us

However, if you don't need this extra level of service and have the time to 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 using the voice-over 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 crucial thing to determine how the vibe of voice-over.

We have 12 tonal categories for voice actors on our website search, which can be a valuable place to start. These include terms like authoritative, nurturing, conversational and many more. 

Other words to describe the character traits of a voice can also be helpful. For example: 'booming', 'emotive', 'friendly', 'cheerful' and so on and so forth. 

Related: Explore Voices Tones & Characteristics

As I say: there are infinite descriptions for tone! The adjectives and adverbs used to describe vocal tone are helpful 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 you may be too. So think about the sort of information you would like to create a video or animation and try and translate that into the voice brief. Learn more about vocal characteristics.

 

References Materials

If you create a new voice-over from scratch, you won't have the exact reference via another source, but you will almost certainly have some reference material. This can be as simple as the demo sample you shortlisted or the talent showreel.

It could even be a scratch read from someone else (or yourself) where you try to emulate the tone and delivery pace and style you need. 

Other reference materials include other videos from outside sources with a similar style to what you're trying to achieve. Or other videos in the same series that have different voice actors. 

The more examples for the talent 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 helpful for the 'big picture'

Explore voice actors demos now >

 

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 can articulate 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 short. 

Live direction and real-time feedback can also be helpful, but it's you still need to have a solid brief for both yourself and the voice actor before voice actor casting begins. 

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 Talents Search

 

Voice-Over Brief

 


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Al Black

Al Black

Al has over twenty years of experience in audiovisual translations. A Voquent co-founder, he has produced tens of thousands of voice-overs and translations for education, advertising and entertainment projects.

About Author

Al Black

Al Black

Al has over twenty years of experience in audiovisual translations. A Voquent co-founder, he has produced tens of thousands of voice-overs and translations for education, advertising and entertainment projects.