Casting Voice Talent

It’s never been easier to source a voice for your radio commercial.

It’s also easier than ever to get stuck into old habits of using the same voice talent that you always have.

Shaun Malzard, Creative Director at ARN in Melbourne asks his creative teams, “If it was YOUR MONEY (and not the clients) that you had to spend from YOUR wallet – would you still want to cast THAT voice.  Would THAT voice make such a difference to your Creative?  If the answer is yes – CAST them!  If the answer is no, you may want to consider another option.“

So how do you currently cast a voice for your client’s radio commercial? We asked some of the best in the business for their tips and techniques when designing the individual sound of a client’s business.

John Rowland from Rowland Productions states, “The people who do it for a living, do it for a living, so it stands to reason that they're pretty good at it.  But because they are called to do the same old same old, they go from studio to studio doing the same stuff.  So challenge them!  Make it harder. Sheryl Munks has a lot more to her than just 'husky'.  Did you know Jude Beaumont is hysterically funny?  Has anybody ever cast Sigrid Thornton to be a hair lipped chicken for animation?  

Andrew Sidwell is the National Creative Solutions Ideas Director at SCA. He has always prided himself on finding and developing voice talent. He suggests, “speech impediments work, don't discount a lisp or a slight wabbit r roll.” Andrew says, “Strive to find someone who's not on a lot of other ads on the stations your campaign is airing on.

Go interstate, or international. You've done this great job differentiating your clients brand and message in the script stage, don't stuff it up where it counts, when the message meets the audience. Too many times we opt for professional sounding voices because that's what the client has paid for and is expecting. I prefer a memorable voice because the brain seeks novelty, and I know that this will give my campaign a slight edge. The more slight edges I build up the better the chance for consumer engagement.” 

      Carl Hitchmough is the audio production director at ARN in Brisbane. He gives us his top 5 tips when casting voice talent.

      1. Not saturated in the market
      2. Someone who fits within and can talk “believably” to the demographic
      3. Someone who takes direction well
      4. A natural affinity with the subject/product/brand
      5. Personable and not a drag to be around.

      What musicals are on in town at the moment?  You will find a wealth of voice talent in the chorus of any musical that no one has ever heard of. This is just as applicable in regional areas – community theatre and ‘improv’ venues might be some places to search. John Rowland agrees, “Singers and comedians spend their lives analysing words of songs and gags to figure how best to milk a piece.”

      “Whomever you cast remember you are casting them to bring something magical to your script. Make sure you let them, and that you are open to it. It’s a collaborative process, you aren't the only creative in the process, so let go of the control freak tendencies and be entranced by others creative talents” says Andrew Sidwell.

      Above all, if you're going to cast against type, if you're going to challenge them, if you're going to do something a bit different ... let the talent know beforehand.  Send them the script.  Call them up to discuss your ideas so there are no surprises on the day.  Get them to work with you, sharing their ideas, putting in what they have to offer.  These guys are good and they will share all of it if they are approached the right way.  

      Rick Wade the MD of Traffic Jams sums it up in these 5 points

      1. Availability

      2. Willingness to get out of their comfort zone

      3. Able to change through the job to reach a better outcome

      4. Be open to critique

      5. Not take themselves too seriously!

      As Andrew Sidwell states, “Pay full price ... and then some! Voice acting is a talent; it shouldn't be reduced to bulk deal sessions or haggled down. Protect and value your voice talent. Pay them for every character they do for you, pay the loadings, pay for longer than an hour call if the recording goes long.  In my younger days I set up our first bulk voice sessions, I now regret that path. It encouraged a culture of ad breaks cluttered with same voices, and selected voice artists getting the majority of work, and others missing out.”

      ~ Daryl Missen.


      CB(21:23 28 May 2012)
      Great post! Some great notes here. I don't particularly agree at all with Shaun Malzard's theory on pricing however. Great words from Hitchmough and Sidwell though!
      Anonymous(21:51 28 May 2012)
      I agree great article - but to CB, I think you may have missed Shaun's point. What he is suggesting is to generate a level of empathy for the client, by putting yourself in their shoes. He is suggesting one should assess the suitablility of a voice as if the campaign were your own campaign - and that you were the one paying for it, meaning one should consider if the voice truly is the right voice for the job from the viewpoint of the client - irrespective of price. The best voice for the task could come at any price, be it large or small.
      CB(0:00 29 May 2012)
      I appreciate that sentiment, but I'd assume any creative writer worth their salt has already selected their voice based on it's suitability for the campaign/spot.

      I don't feel like writers should be encouraged to second guess their original choice based on the cost/price alone. But you're absolutely right, the most suitable voice could come at any price!
      Darren Robertson(3:09 29 May 2012)
      All due respect to Andrew Sidwell, and this is in no way meant as a piss take (in fact I entirely agree with his sentiments); but could someone please explain to me the title of "National Creative Solutions Ideas Director". I'd also love to know how he fits that title on his business card!!
      Anonymous(4:19 29 May 2012)
      Still hearing ' sinny's Smoeeeth FM... nineny 5 poin 3' and always hearing 'Mc Donnalls' from different RMK voices. No one can direct or speak properly any more, the agents keep putting on 'real' young voices... so in-credable it's a joke. that is all.
      Anonymous(4:24 29 May 2012)
      National Creative Solutions Ideas Director at SCA, means - you shall be the new Heard, that department who were Australia’s most awarded radio specialists?
      katherinehynes(7:44 29 May 2012)
      Great post. I love reading how Australian radio casting want to make a real connection between the client/service/product and the voice talent, rather than just picking up the phone and booking the 'popular' voice. i would like to add that most voiceover artists LOVE to be challenged in the booth. Voice acting is our profession. This is what we LOVE to do. The best and most creative work comes from thoughtful clear direction.
      Anna Hruby(23:41 29 May 2012)
      THIS RMK voice always puts a d in McDonalds! Great article for a VoiceOver artist to read. We often wonder how or why we are (or are not) cast. Regarding the 'McDonnalls' issue, as a vo who has been around for quite a while, I have found it necessary to relax my vowels and consonants over the years as my clients demands for a less formal and enunciated read increase. I think I was certainly cast for my clarity in the early part of my career, but that seems to be less of a consideration these days. In fact, that first sentence should probably read "This RMK voice always puts a d in McDonalds, when permitted!"
      It was gratifying to read Andrew Sidwell's last comment re our fees. I know our fees can sometimes seem quite daunting to certain clients, especially those with little experience in advertising. But professional voiceovers are just that - professional. Most of my colleagues have spent many years and plenty of money honing their skills. Whether that means elocution lessons, dialect classes, drama training or various workshops with specialist teachers, every PROFESSIONAL vo I know has invested in their career in real terms. There has been a lot of discussion and negotiation over our worth (I've sat at the table through some tense conversations!) and still there are people for hire who undermine our status as 'professionals' by offering extremely cheap rates. Ultimately, this will create an environment where it wil be impossible for a person to have a 'career' as a VoiceOver artist. It will be a cottage industry and the standard of product provided will naturally suffer. Clients sometimes forget, too, that professional voiceovers are open to negotiation. Perhaps not for one radio track, but for more substantial campaigns it is fairly standard practice to negotiate fair deals with clients. I hope that our profession continues to create the possibility of a genuine career for young VoiceOver artists.
      Anonymous(2:55 30 May 2012)
      Not sure how wise it is to have someone with a speech impediment doing your reads Andrew. I think you want people to remember the message not the messenger. You can stand out by having interesting creative. You can sound authentic, honest and credible by having professional voice and sound design. I have used plenty of voice talent and sometimes tried to use non professional or inexperienced voice talent and it never works - it takes ten times as long in the studio to direct them and ends up sounding cheap - reflecting poorly on your brand. If you're spending thousands advertising your product on tv or radio - it makes sense to spend a small fraction of that on a decent voice over and professional sound design.
      Abe Udy(3:26 30 May 2012)
      Love some of Andrew Sidwell's comments about memorable voices - and Anna Hruby on relaxing her vowels slightly over the years to be less formal. It's a fine line to sound both real, but not 'lazy' in terms of elocution. Regards to rates - I believe it will always be a juggling act; as technology advances and the budgets and demands of clients & broadcasters change, we need to continue to find ways to do what we love and to earn a living from it. Great article Daryl.
      Anonymous(5:44 30 May 2012)
      I have 25 years on air as a jock, and that many years again doing voice overs. Now I am semi retired, with a studio in my home, and a steady stream of work, but I would like more.

      The trouble is all these production guys look to the big agencies, and the big agencies don't hire new voices. So for those wanting voices that arent saturated in the market etc, who do I send my reel to? I am male 40s, sound younger, aussie accent.

      People, we are out here, you just need to find us. Oh- and I am cheap!! Can turn around a cold voice in 1 hour to anywhere in the world.
      Dan King(6:27 30 May 2012)
      Anna Hruby, well said-one of the all time great voices! Ninety is a big one to relax on, station frequecies etc. It's up to us producer's (certainly in imaging) and creative directors (commercials), to direct with this in mind. D's and T's are switched, talent are saying ixciting and mysalf etc. Sometimes for the sake of great inflection, diction is lost and vice versa, getting all of the contributing factors to a good spot right, is as much direction as it is talent.
      Konsky(11:05 30 May 2012)
      Anonymous.. don't be Anonymous - we search! Near and far - and i'm always up for new voices and a fan of those that seek out the actual producers in markets and send directly - have to be heard to be seen and seen to be heard! Stand up and stand out!

      Smart words Rick - even our contracted voices still seek constant feedback and critique irrespective of knowing the brand. John - spot on, those who do it for a living are great at it for a reason and as Anna has pointed out some have spent alot of money tailoring their voice with training - voice acting is a talent - in the case of radio imaging - it's pivotal in the overall sound of a promo campaign.
      Luke Downs(23:27 30 May 2012)
      It's a great article and really interesting contributions from many legends of the business (on both sides of the glass). Am a tad biased, but love Anna's comments and it's fair to point out that for every 'successful porsche driving voice artist', there are 100 struggling 'catching the bus' artists. It seems most clients are on side with the sentiment of paying fair rates for professional artists, so maybe the point here for new, emerging and / or quiet artists trying to establish themselves is to not cheapen your product. Don't promote yourself as the 'cheap voice' or try to land gigs by offering the lowest per track price. Add value to your product, promote yourself as a premium service available at fair rates. Seems the message is pretty clear here that Radio guys want to work with quality voices.
      Anna Hruby(0:29 31 May 2012)
      ....just FYI this "all time great voice" (hey, thanks Dan King!)) is on a bus right you Luke will confirm, I am the worst self promoter ever...but if you feel inclined...umm...
      Bill Dowling (1:54 31 May 2012)
      "Great article guys" I agree with Anna and Luke.
      It seems to me that people don't care about 'the sound' of a track anymore.
      So often a voice is cast because they are 'the right age' or have 'the right look', not the way they sound. Once a voice is cast, a producer needs to make sure the voice delivers on the read.
      I find the growth of home studios to be adding to the problem of lazy diction. ie, there's no producer on hand to guide the voice, pick up mistakes, or help them to interpret a script. A good read is team work- the voice and producer working together.
      James Caitlin(2:01 31 May 2012)
      Very interesting read. Eye opening for an actor working at building a portfolio as a voice artist, taking his first steps in this most interesting and challenging career.

      Thank you to the author and the contributors. Very generous.

      James Caitlin
      Luke Downs(3:04 31 May 2012)
      If there was a like button, I'd be hitting it on Anna and Bill's last comments. But I think I can confidently say that Anna Hruby is THE best bus catching voice in town.
      Anonymous(7:59 31 May 2012)
      Luke- I recently moved to a new area after 15 years on the other side of the country. I am very experienced and extremely qualified, and I was sought after in my last market.On arrival here I sent out demos to all TV radio and production houses nearby. Those that actually bothered to reply told me that they use their jocks for free, or can turn around a 30 second voice with unpublished music for $30.00. How are we supposed to survive if we don't "cheapen" our product?
      Dom Evans(3:11 01 Jun 2012)
      Anonymous, I'm not sure what market you're in, but I'm tipping it's probably not cap city right? Move to a cap city. You won't get mounds of work in Dubbo.
      Luke downs(22:33 01 Jun 2012)
      @annonymous... It wasn't a career move clearly. So for $30 a track including production, what does that leave for the voice. $15-20?? How many tracks do you need to record at that price to make a living? I'm guessing a lot and I'm guessing even at that price you wouldn't be doing that many. This is the problem created by your situation. If artists keep dropping their rates to get gigs it inevitably results in professionals not being able to sustain a career in this field. It really only permits hobbyists or part timers who have other means of generating an income.
      Anonymous(1:20 03 Jun 2012)
      Interesting thread, thanks to everyone who's contributed.
      The Macquarie production guy doing voices for 2CH needs to know that while his mates might be in their 20's, the 2CH market is a lot older. Probably a nice guy but not very beieveable.

      A good example of price and product mix.

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