Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about AC/BC: After COVID or Before COVID.
There’s not a segment of life that can’t be seen from that divide. The pandemic sent shock waves through our schools, jobs, homes, social interactions, and travel plans — affecting lives from smaller changes, like where, when, and how we buy our groceries, all the way to our politics and our understanding of the world.
Voiceover actors, now numbering by some estimates one million performers worldwide — and growing daily — have also been touched by the pandemic. For some of us, our boats were barely rocked, others are still trying to right their ships.
Before the pandemic, as the internet and the democratization of media provided new opportunities for voiceover actors to find work on their own without the help of agents, having a dedicated home studio for most talent was a must-have — certainly for talent outside of major media markets. After COVID? It’s now a must-have everywhere across the country.
Previously when booking a project, many voice actors based in major markets, like New York or Los Angeles, would simply report to a local recording studio to complete the job. They never had to invest the time, money, or effort into creating a broadcast-quality home studio, or learn how to edit and record themselves. As a hired talent, they were accustomed to outside studios and sound engineers handling every other part of the production.
But as the media landscape changed, many savvy voiceover actors recognized the opportunity to control some of their own destinies. They learned new skills above and beyond their acting talents: they invested in recording booths for their homes, like the Whisper Room or the modular StudioBricks, and they purchased microphones, cables, interfaces, and preamps.
Now, those talents can offer fast, on-demand voiceover services to local, national and global clients, which include political media firms, advertising agencies, digital media companies, and creative production studios — all of which need professional voiceover actors to get their clients’ messages out to the public, be it on terrestrial or streaming radio, TV, OTT, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and more.
So with COVID-19, many brick and mortar recording studios have been forced to shut their doors due to stay-at-home orders. Engineers can do a lot of their work remotely, which has resulted in some very amusing photos of pillow forts and impromptu setups as sought-after celebrity voices try to keep productions on schedule.
But the fleet of rank-and-file voiceover actors perfecting their craft from home for a decade or more are well-positioned to thrive in the current environment. With remote connectivity software like SourceConnect and communication links like Zoom and Google Talk, session engineers can still connect with and record voice actors, while end-clients can dial, Zoom and link up to the sessions to provide feedback, direction and comments live and in the moment.
As for the different parts of the voiceover industry, commercial work certainly hasn’t slowed, as every brand has tried to figure out exactly what to say and how to say it. We’ve all heard “now more than ever” and “in these uncertain times” ringing through our televisions and smart speakers.
It’s been interesting to see the adjustment in performances, too. For both men and women, the tone is hopeful, but not overdone — respectful, without being overly optimistic, and plenty of rolling piano in the music beds.
And there’s been more than one commercial shot vertically on an iPhone or with a CEO’s audio coming directly from a Zoom call — by now, we’re all able to recognize that unique timbre. Meanwhile, industrial work, like corporate narration and e-learning, has picked up for many voice actors as well, as companies figure out how to communicate with and potentially train a now fully remote workforce.
As for political advertising, while there may be fewer traditional ads at the moment — in part because we’re post-primaries and pre-conventions — timeliness is now as important as being the right voice.
As a result, political firms should look for voiceover actors with dedicated home studios, enabling media buyers and campaigns to adapt to the speed of today’s news cycle. For example, if your opponent releases a contrast ad on a Friday, you can get your response out on Saturday, in large part because your voiceover actor only has to commute from their living room to their dedicated home studio.
It’s clear that things won’t immediately snap back to normal as states reopen gradually. But between the changing media landscape and the fallout of a global pandemic, the working class of professional voiceover actors are fully ready to take your call and can be the ace up your sleeve, no matter what your messaging may be.
Debbie Irwin and Maria Pendolino are two of the co-founders of Blue Wave Voiceover, a collective of 20 diverse professional voiceover talents who look and sound like America today. BWVO supports mission-driven organizations, advocacy groups, Democrat & progressive candidates, and campaigns across the country.