Voice actors are used to working from anywhere. They can sound like it, too
Photo: New Zealand-based voice actor and Voices.com member, Toby Ricketts
FOR THE LAST year and a half, we’ve all been beaming ourselves halfway across the world on the regular through video calls, Clubhouse chats and the like.
For remote voice-over actors ― whose pandemic demand has fuelled even further growth at London-based Voices.com, the world’s largest marketplace for voice talent with over one million members in over 160 countries ― this is nothing new. But many voice-over actors have a neat trick: not only can they work from anywhere, but many of them can sound like they’re from anywhere, too.
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When Voices.com recently surveyed its talent network and asked them to weigh in on what the big trends were, one of the answers they got was that actors were increasingly able to deliver more languages and accents ― and could hyper-localize those accents for clients.
But it goes in the other direction, too. When clients can access nearly unlimited accent options for their products, it is perhaps inevitable that what would start to develop is what Voices.com CEO, David Ciccarelli, calls a “global accent.”
Consider the demo reel of voice artist Toby Ricketts: his voice flips from American to Australian to British to mid-Atlantic and beyond in a whirlwind linguistic tour of the Commonwealth. (His Matthew McConaughey soundalike is downright eerie.)
But what clients have been increasingly asking for, he says, is not just a micro-targeting, but to deliver a dislocated, sounds-like-anywhere accent that ideally appeals to the largest possible audience of English speakers.
“Non-regionalization is quite a new phenomenon,” says Ricketts. “It has only been in the last two to three years that clients have been asking for it. International terminologies are increasingly used for trends in business. The global accent supports the quest to be able to communicate with any business partner in the world.”
“Linguists have studied the origins of what is considered to be the neutral English accent, and historically found it to be associated with the dominant social power,” writes London-based Tanya Chopp in a Voices.com blog, by which she means the idea of accent neutral tends to drift towards whoever controls more cultural production and social influence. (It is why many North Americans of a certain age and class speak with a twinge of a British accent: the early 20th century ‘mid-Atlantic accent’, a sort of blending of posh British and New England American, was fashionable as a status symbol ― it was the accent you’d recognize in the voices of ‘40s and ‘50s movie stars like Katharine Hepburn, Vincent Price and Cary Grant.)
“One major plus that comes with taking the global accent route is the ability to reach an expansive audience throughout numerous English-speaking populations (in addition to the plethora of people globally who speak English as a second language),” Chopp writes. “On the downside, the global accent may, in some instances, be too all-encompassing to make a specific impact by resonating with a narrower target market.”
On that flip side, other voice actors are riding the trend of increasing localization. “We are starting to see these regional specific jobs as clients are being more intentional and willing to go the extra mile to reach their target audience,” says voice actor, Aracely Rivera.
“For example, an ad airing in Miami would likely reach Venezuelans, Cubans or Colombians, depending on the client’s audience goals, whereas an ad airing in California might call for a Mexican accent,” she explains, “so more and more we are starting to see these regional specific jobs as clients are being more intentional and willing to go the extra mile to reach their target audience.”
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All of it, Voices.com concludes, comes back one way or another to the rise in remote voiceover work. Technology has improved significantly in recent years, and remote recording setups are now viewed as an industry standard. It’s a simple factor, but it then impacts what a voiceover sounds like. When you can draw talent from anywhere, your options when it comes to accents become virtually limitless. It also means that listeners become more sensitive to the nuances, placing new demands on both client and talent.
“Many people hiring voice actors say that they ‘know the right voice when they hear it,’” says Chopp. “But when you pause to consider all of the elements—the nuances of accents, inflections, tone, energy and language—a lot needs to be just right in order to strike the right chord.” Kieran Delamont