A day in the life of.....A voiceover artist!
Rory has a career as a voiceover artist, here he tells us about the various avenues he covers within this niche industry - chances are, you almost definitely 'met/heard' him before in some form of guise...
Voiceover artist! It’s not the most obvious job in the world, and still raises the odd eyebrow when I get asked what I do. That’s almost invariably followed by the question: “Anything I would have heard you on?”
The truth is you may interact with me in my professional guise more than you realise (OK, reading that back, it sounds slightly creepy!). We listen to voiceovers throughout our day – Alexa/Siri (AI voices – we’ll come back to that!), radio commercials, corporate videos, TV continuity announcements, E-Learning courses, Museum Audio guides, Audiobooks and of course On-hold telephone prompts. Only last week, a friend messaged me to say: "I don’t care if my call is important to you. Stop asking me to hold and just answer the phone.” That work requires the most emollient and placatory vocal tones – it’s where the big bucks are!
The other question I often get asked is how I got into this job. Before my voiceover life, I worked for the BBC for more than fifteen years. I was a presenter on Radio Oxford, and then moved to BBC London, where I worked with radio legends like Danny Baker, Vanessa Feltz and Tony Blackburn.
That was where I started talking into a microphone, but I also had a couple of friends who had set up their own recording studios (unusual at the time) and were doing voiceovers from home. So I took the plunge, bought the kit, and off I went. I started secretly doing recordings alongside my day job at the BBC. This would sometimes involve having to cycle home in the middle of the day to record a radio commercial – this could take as little as 5 minutes – before jumping on the bike again and racing back to the office before anyone noticed! After a few years, I had enough established clients and enough work to leave the BBC, and strike out on my own.
There’s a fairly regular start to each weekday. Either 6am, but sometimes 6.30 (oh, that luxury extra half hour!) It starts without fail with a cup of tea for my wife and me, accompanied by the Today programme. That’s followed by the usual morning phone scroll and Wordle (and I also do Worldle. for the geography geeks among you. I’m getting seriously good at those former Soviet Union countries!).
7.45am dog walk
I’m very lucky to live in Barnes, one of the leafiest parts of London and, since the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, one of the least congested. It’s practically required by law to own a dog around here so, rain or shine, I start every day by walking Bernard (5-year old Jack Russell). We walk along the towpath beside the Thames – effectively the University boat race in reverse – for about 3 miles. The walk usually ends with a stop off at our local coffee shop - flat white for me, biscuit for Bernard – and then home. It’s quite important to arrive before 9am, because it’s right next door to the local nursery, and after drop-off, it’s practically impossible to move for prams and Lululemon leggings!
I’m usually back home by now, and I can head out to my pride and joy: the recording studio at the end of the garden. I have an office and the voiceover booth – an acoustically treated cocoon, with lots of pointy grey foam and my prized Neumann microphone. Since we live right under the Heathrow flight-path, good soundproofing is essential! This is where I do 95% of my work. Occasionally, I will need to travel to a studio to record commercials, or to do a dubbing session, but the overwhelming majority of the time, it’s me in the booth. I therefore have to wear many hats: audio engineer, director, producer and at the end of month when I send out the invoices, accountant!
The nature of voiceover work is that it needs to be turned round fast – usually on the day. Sometimes, producers will connect to my studio, and they can record and direct our sessions. But often I will just get sent a script via email, which I record and then send them the audio. I’ve worked with some of my clients for more than 10 years – and we’ve never actually met!
12.30 – 1.30pm
This isn’t set in stone, but I’ll grab a bite to eat for lunch, and also check if we need anything else for supper. I do the majority of cooking in the family, and we try and have our weekly menu planned out ahead of us. But we’re lucky that all our local shops within short walking distance, in case anything we’ve forgotten anything.
I have clients and agents in the US, so this is when I’ll be in touch with them. Quite often I’ll be asked to audition for a job, which requires me to record a short sample of the script, but it's much better when I don't have to! I also tend to work on my marketing in the afternoons. Voiceover is an extremely competitive industry, and it isn’t always enough to rely on my current client list.
A large number of voiceovers (many from the acting profession) joined the industry during lockdown, because we were able to work from home, and all theatre productions had been cancelled.
There is also the spectre of Artificial Intelligence looming on the horizon. We all know that AI is coming, and the predictions of how it will affect our industry range from the apocalyptic to the “meh!” I keep a close eye on the companies producing synthetic voices, and they are getting better and better. However, I believe it’s our job to continue to make the case for why human voices will always be superior to artificial ones.
I was asked to speak about this on the Today programme a while back, and the segment started with them playing two short extracts from A Christmas carol, one narrated by me, and the other by an AI voice. As I said, will AI really be able to replicate the full range of human emotions – “sarcasm, bitterness, understated menace?!”
Nothing out of the ordinary during the week, except Monday night is usually band practice. For about 10 years, I’ve been the singer in a band called ‘Patchwork’ and we do 2 or 3 gigs a year. There’s a talk of a festival this summer, so that could be exciting!
Otherwise, it’s more of the usual. Suppers, TV (my daughter is still hooked on watching Friends!) and bed.
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