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 it, 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 and film companies, who 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. If your VO choices 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 on how to brief a voiceover artist should help smooth the process.

First things first. Is everyone involved in the production aligned in their view of how they want the voiceover to sound? Without unanimity, of course, you can’t compile a foolproof brief.

Who does the voice represent and who is the target audience?

Defining these personas helps the voice artist prepare mentally. 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 people who have just become 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. It might be that the target market is broad enough that you can be quite generic (male or female, 20s-30s, any social demographic, tech-savvy) or, since here in the UK 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 (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 takeaway – how you want your audience to feel and what you want them itching to do the moment the audio stops.

Now, who does the voice represent? Ultimately, in most corporate voiceovers, the voice represents the brand. In which case, what tone of voice does the company use in all its other communications? In the baby monitor app example, we could give the VO a really specific role, even if the script itself doesn’t define the narrator; we could make him the father of the 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. And he’s survived. 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 you didn’t see it at the time, welled up because you were scared. He’s tenderness, compassion, strength and reassurance all in one.

That’s a detailed narrator persona brief; given that, a decent voice actor should be able to step right into the role and head home after with a Dad of the Year mug. Would that all briefs could offer such depth. But it shows how far you could go.

Vocal delivery

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 that’s not to say you can’t 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 or click through your e-learning sequence, play back the podcast you need an intro for… and really think about how you would describe the voice you want to hear.

Reference points

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; visuals of characters; audio/film examples that set a similar tone; all anchors to which a voice artist can hook their read.

Format

What bitrate do you want the voiceover recorded in, and what format do you want the final recording delivered in, by what delivery route and by when? 

Script sign-off

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 the 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.

Briefing a voice artist summary:

  • Audience persona profile
  • Narrator/voiceover persona profile
  • Vocal delivery
  • Reference points
  • Format
  • Final script

    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, and 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 quick message here or give me a call on +44 333 050 9129. 

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    Anthony Hewson

    British male voiceover artist Anthony Hewson