How to Work With Voice Talent

As a budding writer thrown into the tornado that is the advertising industry, I’ve had to learn the ropes fast on what it means to be a copywriter. If you’re in a small agency like me, you’ll probably be doing more (WAY MORE) than just writing—and no, unfortunately you won’t get to play foosball with your friends during lunch (damn you, big fancy agencies with your fancy cafeterias and fancy creative workspaces!)

One of these duties that I (and perhaps you) have had to learn quickly was the art of voice casting.

The relationship between a copywriter and voice actor is a delicate one, and over the past few months I’ve learned what to do and what not to do when you’re about to send a flood of casting emails to talent. 

First things first: these tips are geared more towards freelance writers and budding copywriters whose agencies are on a budget. Because heck naw, my agency would never be able to afford Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul for our automotive clients (but Mazda sure can). Which leads me to my first point…

Don’t have your head in the clouds. Be realistic with your voice AND your budget. You won’t be able to afford George Clooney (ew) or Zooey Deschanel (YAAAAS) as your voice. But finding someone who mimics or talks in the spirit of a celebrity? Perhaps. Even then, though, inexpensive voice mimicry is still hard to come by. When you’re working on a budget, don’t get yourself too hyped. On really low budgets, part-time VO artists might work best for you—but sometimes professional voice talent will surprise you and be willing to work with your rates! It never hurts to send an email.

Define your needs before you scout for talent. This is an absolute must! Figure out the attitude your copy gives off and write down the tone(s) that would embody this attitude best. These descriptors will eventually be the generic terms you search by when scouting your voice (i.e. rough, quirky, raspy, urban, etc.) 

Voice talent agencies are not your friend. This is particularly the case when your agency is small and on a budget. Remember that the agent has take a cut in the pay for connecting you with talent, and they can also be super territorial when it comes to asking for their talent’s identities. But business is business. Just be forewarned that while the agent can scout for you, this comes at an inflated price. I recommend trying to scout yourself on sources like Voice123, which is essentially a free library of voiceover talent. Or you can just use good ol’ Google. Lots of voiceovers have their own websites where you can listen to their demos and get their personal contact info straight away. Always maximize what you can do before resorting to more expensive methods. 

Know the difference between Union and Non-Union! During your scouting, you may come across VO talent that are part of the “SAG-AFTRA,” or Screen Actor’s Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. This is a union, meaning that the union governs the rates for vocal recordings. Most small agencies prefer non-union jobs, and that is because you get to set your own personal rates with talent. Also, talent who are part of unions cannot take up non-union work. So save yourself the embarrassing audition email and always check a talent’s affiliations (trust me, it’s happened to me!) In this situation, Voice123 will be your friend because they have a specific filter that lets you find talent that takes up non-union jobs.

And last but not least…you are completely allowed to ask the talent for retakes! Maybe they mispronounced a word or said something entirely different on a line. Or maybe the sound quality was just plain bad. Should this happen, politely note the problems you had with the takes and ask if you can have another round. Sometimes more professional talent will charge you for retakes, but usually that happens when it’s the copywriter’s fault (i.e. if your client changes the wording last minute, etc.) If sound quality and re-takes start to become a common problem, I would suggest looking for new talent.

There are definitely a lot more things I have learned while voice scouting, but these are the main ones! Again, my experience with voice talent scouting is fairly laid back. And I’m happy to have some sway in how my copy is communicated to the viewer! Plus, I LOVE working with voiceover talent. We all come from different walks of life, and I am proud to say that I have developed some really awesome relationships with some VO talent out there. And I hope to continue working with them in the future!

Bet those bigwig copywriters wish they could scout for VO talent now, huh!? Wink wonk.

Have you ever worked with voice talent before? Or are you a VO actor/actress yourself? Leave your words of wisdom and experiences below! (Heck, I’ll take a peek at your demos for my agency’s roster!)


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