How to brief a voiceover artist effectively and efficiently...
Nailing down a comprehensive brief for your voiceover artist is essential if you want first-rate results fast.
Without a decent brief, here’s what you risk:
- time-consuming back-and-forth questions and answers
- delivery styles which don’t achieve what you were hoping for
- multiple retakes
- a lengthy session if you’re directing live
- and a less than satisfying experience.
Knowing how to brief a voiceover artist effectively and efficiently can make all the difference.
Most of my voiceover clients – especially the production houses, film companies and videogame studios that work with voice artists regularly – offer a pretty good brief.
Some offer detailed summaries and scripts supplemented with very specific instructions; some leave much of the script interpretation and delivery up to me quite deliberately, because we’ve worked together previously and I know the client’s needs.
Occasionally, I’ll receive a voiceover request with next to no information about context, tone, audience or even purpose. Yikes.
If the voice actors you brief typically come back to you with a teetering stack of questions… If voice artists often miss the mark, or if it’s your first time casting a voice, this guide will give you everything you need to know to brief a voiceover artist thoroughly.
First things first. Is everyone involved in the production pretty much aligned on how the voiceover should sound? Without unanimity, you’ll struggle to compile a fool-proof brief.
With that in mind, who does the voice represent and who is the target audience?
Defining these personas helps the voice artist make the right choices from the start.
Define your target audience
Any branding, advertising or marketing exercise benefits from creating a customer persona.
Let’s say you or your client are releasing a new product onto the market. It’s a secure app for checking in on a baby monitor remotely. You don’t need to be a parent to know that new parents are likely to be nervous and that any parent having to return to work is going to miss their child desperately.
Picture your target buyer. Maybe the target market is broad enough that you can be quite generic (male or female, 20s-30s, any social demographic, tech-savvy). Perhaps, because paid paternity leave is pretty short and it’s common for men to return to work after only a couple of weeks with their first child, you might target first-time fathers specifically. So: male, mid-20s-early 30s, professionally confident but anxious about impending fatherhood.
Profiling the persona of your buyer has probably already been done – so share that with the voice artist in the brief. Let them picture exactly who they’re talking to. This information can completely change a vocal performance. Don’t forget to talk about the takeaways: how do you want your audience to feel? What do you want them itching to do before the audio stops?
When the voice artist talks, who’s speaking?
Who does the voice represent? In most non-character voiceovers, the voice represents the brand. In which case, what tone of voice does the company use in all its other communications? If you have a brand identity doc, share the salient info. If not, detail the company ethos for your voice artist.
Think about where the narrator is, too. Is this really a face-to-face chat, relaxed, over coffee? Is it a call to arms, delivered in a larger space? If it’s a character-based voiceover, where is that character? Whispering in the woods? Talking and walking? Because the setting makes a world of difference when vocalising as little as a single word.
Maybe, though, even if the script doesn’t inherently define the narrator, you and the voiceover actor can make a bold choice. Take that baby monitor app example. You could make the narrator the father…of a first-time father. He’s been through all this before.
The worrying about a pregnant partner.
The fear of being a failure.
The weeks of broken sleep.
The feeling that you’re shirking the hard work and missing the landmark moments. The buried terror of losing it all.
But your narrator has survived all that.
He’s the voice of experience and a thousand mistakes made and lessons learned. He’s the hand on the shoulder, the forehead to forehead when it all feels overwhelming. He’s the one who washed grit from your grazed knees and who, although he hid it from you at the time, welled up because you were scared. He’s tenderness, compassion, strength and reassurance all in one.
Now, that’s a detailed narrator persona brief. Given that, a decent voice actor should step right into the role and head home with a Dad of the Year mug. If only all briefs could offer such depth. But it shows how far you could go.
Here, I’m referring to pace, amplification and any shifts in tonality or vocal style, as well as any relevant emotional depth. If you’re looking for a voiceover for a video or ad, pace may be defined by the duration, but you can still define how the voice talent approaches the read.
Terms like ‘conversational’ are popular in audition notes and VO briefings, but they’re open to a range of interpretations.
Reference points – characters in a TV programme or film, a link to a vocal delivery you’d like your actor to emulate – and additional clarification (eg, friendly, light-hearted and with a touch of irreverence) can make instructions much clearer to the voiceover artist.
Take your time over it. Watch your film, click through your e-learning sequence, play the podcast you need an intro for… and really think about how you could describe the voice you want to hear.
If your spoken script is to accompany an animation or footage, is the film complete? If it’s an e-learning script, is the course or module finalised? Is there background music? These are, of course, the most obvious reference points for the artist, helping them immerse themselves in the scene they’ll be voicing. Beyond that, a scratch track (a rough recording of the voiceover) can be useful for pace in particular. Visuals of characters help. Audio/film examples that set a similar tone.
These are all anchors to which a voice artist can hook their read.
What sample and bitrate do you want the voiceover recorded in? What format do you want the final recording delivered in, by what delivery route and by when? Normalised to a certain level? Any compression? Or totally raw, so you can let your audio engineers work their superior magic?
Is the script ready? It’s ok if you’re just waiting on a few tweaks and sign-off, but unless everybody’s happy with the flow and tone of the words on the page, you might be jumping the gun. Prime your preferred voice artist, by all means, but hold back on details. You don’t want to end up paying extra for script-change pickups, or for a whole new session.
How tightly are you – or your client – tied to the script as it stands? A bit of flexibility around contractions, popping in an extra word or making a minor change can make a surprising difference to flow and the way words land.
Briefing a voice artist summary:
Audience persona profile
Narrator/voiceover persona profile
Put an honest tick against all those items and the odds are that you’ve done as much as possible to brief your voiceover artist. Probably more than most! All you’ve got left to consider is usage (how, where, for whom and for how long the finished product will be used), which will answer the burning question how much does a voiceover cost?
If you need a male voiceover artist for your next project, I’d love to hear from you. You don’t need to have the brief ready to check availability, so drop me a quick message here or give me a call on +44 333 050 9129.
In the meantime, download and share the PDF below for 7 tips to get the best out of your voiceover artist.