I’m called an old school voiceover talent, you know.
Don’t worry, it’s a good thing. I’ll explain why shortly. But first, a personal history lesson.
The voiceover industry has undergone enormous change since I began my career, performing radio commercials in the north-west of England in the mid 1980s.
Back then, an aspiring British voiceover actress like me would be taken under the wing of a radio commercial producer, to be slowly developed into a trained, polished professional.
When I first started out, there were very few FVOs (female voiceovers) compared to men. And of that group, there were barely any voice actors in general. Fast forward to today, and there are thousands upon thousands of people announcing their presence on multiple internet platforms.
The way you booked work was also vastly different. It was possible to schedule several months of jobs on the strength of a few phone bookings. When producers would call, you’d get your diary out and scribble down your slot. Once that was done, you could then call neighbouring stations and fit in other work around it.
Many UK voiceover actors were like travelling salesmen, living in hotels during the week and returning home on Fridays. There was no email on the move and no (decent) mobile phones; you would have to find a red telephone box, put coins in it, call home and check your messages.
For the contemporary voiceover actor who’s grown accustomed to a spot of light voicing in their pajamas, such a life might sound like too much hard work. Well, guess what, kiddo? Anything in life that’s worthwhile is. My formative years, travelling the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, were an integral part of my development as a professional UK voiceover talent.
I put in the miles; I put in the hours; I put in the time; I put my heart and soul into whatever I was reading aloud, whenever and wherever it was. When I arrived at a studio, I never knew what scripts I would face. Some of my male colleagues could get up to 60 scripts in a session. We all learnt how to breathe silently, to become one-take wonders, to produce perfect audio on unblemished, uncut tape.
With every single script – all of them as demanding as they were different – we perfected our timing, pitch, inflection and phrasing. We became masters of our art – and pioneers. That is why my generation of artists are all versatile and excellent sight readers. And that’s also why I still work every day.
Yesterday’s voiceover learning curve was fast, steep, intensive and industrious. Learning the perfect read and developing my vocal muscle memory took patience and time. So maybe you’d be surprised to learn that my first physical showreel actually took two years to make. It still sits on the shelf of my office to this day.
Today’s global voiceover community could not look (or sound) more different. Can you speak? Yes! Well, then you can be a voiceover! Say goodbye to real professionalism. Say hello to ”I’m a Pro VO, because I say so”.
It’s a startlingly sad picture. 21st century technology – and the narcissistic, instant gratification era – have encouraged a generation of have-a-go ”pro” VOs. Wanna make a demo? Just plug a cheap microphone into your laptop, talk under a quilt with copy you downloaded for free from the internet and well, just string the bits together yourself using some open source editing software. Hey, presto! Now you’re a pro!
It’s the kind of false logic that says that just because I can draw water from the faucet, I can be a professional plumber. In my head, sure. But in reality? Come on, that’s Super Mario, magic mushroom madness.
The hard truth is that, in my era, it would have been ‘game over’ for many of today’s self-proclaimed, professional voices.
The novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote: ”The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”
My past might be like a foreign country to today’s voices. But I’m fluent in the language, which taught me everything I know.