Everyone has a voice - right?
Have you ever found yourself wondering why you should pay for a professional to provide the voice over for your project? Everyone has a voice – right? All you need is the words read so that the listener can hear them. Using a professional voice is not going to bring me any real substantial return on investment so why bother? John from accounting can do it, he’s got a nice voice!
I come from an engineering background where data is used for everything. Things are measured, tweaked, measured again and then you find out if the change made a difference. We call it feedback. It’s actually, really, really interesting to me. Playing with data is the only sure-fire way to prove if something you are doing is producing the result you want or sometimes not what you want (when you let the magic smoke out of electrical things!). This applies to almost everything in your life and definitely applies to the business of voice over or any creative industry.
So, how does feedback work? Well, it’s quite simple. Let’s say you bought two identical houseplants. You place them in identical pots in the identical place on a window sill. The only thing we are going to do different is we will water one plant and not the other. Obviously, one plant will live and one will die. That’s feedback. The live plant is telling us water is good, the dead plant is giving us feedback on what happens when you don’t water a plant.
How does this apply to voice over? Well, studies have been completed using feedback on many parts of the creative industry. Results from a study at the University of Chicago, revealed the average human ear can distinguish 1,378 noticeable differences in tone. By comparison, we can distinguish only 150 hues of color. Based on this scale, hearing is almost 10x more sensitive than our eyesight. Their research also showed that how you say something is five times more important than what you say. Thus, the importance of voice inflection is demonstrated. Or, how about this study by Michael Kraus of the Yale University School of Management. It found that our sense of hearing may be even stronger than our sight when it comes to accurately detecting emotion. And emotion is an important part of getting any message across. More research, led by the Greater Good Science Center’s Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner found that we can detect many nuances in vocal tone. From the ahhh! of fright to the ahhh of pleasure—they are recognizable across cultures and languages. A brain imaging study that really peaked my interest stated that when two people talk and really make a connection, when they really understand each other - then their brains can be seen to synchronize. The listener’s brain actively mimics the speaker’s brain with a short delay. Isn’t that amazing? And truly shows that power of real communication.
All the research and feedback points to one important fact: The way a story is told can have a huge impact on how it is received. This isn’t limited to one format or another. Commercials, E-Learning, corporate videos, audiobooks, animation or video games. Do you need more feedback? OK, here are some reviews on Audible: “The audio is very low grade. I literally think he recorded it with a webcam mic in his bathroom. You can hear him turning pages and you can hear other people in the background, also you hear when he over lays edits to the recording. The audio is so bad that it becomes comical. Had to turn it OFF”
“There are a few times, and by a few I mean +15 times where it sounds like the start of the sentence was said from within a box and mid way through it he removed the box. There are also beeps or buzzes that you can hear throughout the recording. The most common sound to hear was paper being turned. I am assuming that this was the script that was being flipped. I have no idea why none of this was caught in editing and rerecorded. I couldn’t listen after a while”
“I actually tried to return the book and when I couldn’t figure out how to do so on my phone I sped up the audio to 2x because the chipmunk rendition was preferable to his actual narration.”
“He had moments that weren’t terrible but anytime the female Australian character appeared, I wanted to poke my ears out.”
“Very monotone to the point where I had to stop listening to the narration in my car for fear of falling asleep at the wheel.”
Do you really want your project to receive reviews like this? Do you want to be part of the Google search that brought up this result: “The 25 Worst Voice Acting Moments In Video Games”? Or be the creator of an E-learning project that just put everyone who watches it into a coma? (we’ve all been there!)
So, why pay for a professional voice over for your next project? Because it really can make the difference when you are trying to make a connection with your audience. Yes, we are more expensive than using John from accounting, I’ll give you that, but the quality of the recording and the story telling can bring a huge ROI to your business. And at the end of the day, whenever you produce something that is supposed to convey a message both visually and through a voice you should be striving for the best in both. You literally get – what you pay for!
Craig Williams is a British Voice Over Actor based in Houston, Texas.