Where/When VO Went Off the Rails

by | Feb 21, 2017 | VO Business | 5 comments

For the 20th time this year, I received a note yesterday from someone who is convinced he has a great voice, and wants to know how to get into voice-overs.

I usually point people to Dee Bradley’s I Want To Be A Voice Actor, but every time I get this query, it makes me think again why it is that great pipes don’t count any more.  Heck, I even wrote a book about it:  More Than Just a Voice.

Bear with  me, I’m going somewhere with this.

You see, a great voice meant you were probably going to be good at commercials, ’cause you’d be a good announcer.  But as we all know, “announcers” are lower than life insurance salesmen on the respectability list.  These days, the world of commercial VO revolves around natural, or conversational, or non-announcer.

And that’s where VO went off the rails.  Once the conversational read became de rigueur, voice-acting lost its pipes.  As we all know…ANYONE can do conversation.  But only people with great voices can do “announcer”.

Wait a minute, Dave…this isn’t OUR fault…WE didn’t make the new rules.  We’re just trying to live up to what the client says he/she wants these days, and they’ve all decided they want conversational.

We both know that’s a lot of claptrap.  The client almost never knows what they want. They just follow trends, and somebody started the “conversational” trend, so now they want that too. 

Mark my words, conversational will run it’s course, become ho-hum/everyday, and “announcer” will come back.

But until then, think about it:  VO is just one category where this has happened.

  • Web Designers used to command good coin till WIX came along
  • Photographers were needed until YouTube and SnapChat proved just about anyone would watch grainy, shaky, dark video
  • News Anchors did pretty well, until HuffPo, Medium, and Buzzfeed came along
  • Publishers were the ONLY way to get in print until Amazon edged ’em out
  • Graphics artists were in demand until Adobe Illustrator and ODesk took over
  • Come to think of it, voice-actors had exclusivity too until P2P’s and Fiverr came along

And when you get right down to it, Announcer vs. Conversational had not nearly as much to do with the change in voiceover land as did the internet.

And the internet is not nearly done disrupting.  Oil. Steel. Truck Driving. War. 

The only way to get the train back on the tracks is to adapt.  Can you keep up?  Are you agile?…adaptable?

Come to think of it, who needs rails?




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  1. Mike Elmore

    It’s certainly not my favorite thing to do (or admit to) but I make dangerously close to 3 figures a year as an announcer. Chiefly made possible by my come and go…as well as long time car dealership clients. Then throw in a decent helping of concert and event promos. The other roughly 1/3 of my income is (for me) the easy stuff ***took a long time for it to feel “easy” to me…and that is the more casual, conversational, real read. Often times…folksy.

    I read your mention of announcer coming back some day and I believe that is true. It’s still HERE but not like it used to be. All I know is ….i’m not really interested in ANY MORE OF IT lol. Even though I learned from one of the best coaches we have how not to kill myself with promises of “0% financing for up to 72 months”..it’s still exhausting.

    When people ask me the same question they ask you I ask them if they are VERSATILE. Usually they have no idea what that question really means. It’s not equal to “do you do lots of character voices”. I will evaluate them if they want me to. I want to hear them do a “Real” read and a “Toyotahon” read…(natural with a TRACE of hyped announcer). If I hear natural potential I let them know they MAY have what it takes vocally to book…but that doesn’t mean they will…book. Or I tell them they sound forced and mimicy and would need further time with them to determine whether I FEEL they have any natural ability that can be harvested.

    So…that was a little off the rails but circling back around to…..it’s a big help today to be versatile… and if you aren’t …maybe you can be. Just make sure you have someone that books A LOT (or someone that is super well known in the coaching industry) evaluate YOU before you buy that usb microphone

  2. Howard Ellison

    Trends over here in UK generally mirror USA, and indeed I think first before adding ‘BBC trained’ to my profile, precisely because clients might fear they’ll be getting Alvar Liddell (long gone National Programme bow-tied announcer).
    However… I find the ‘conversational’ read challenging: the script usually won’t be at all conversational (few playwrights have mastered realism, so what chance an ad agency?), there will be conflicting specifications ‘conversational and corporate’,or ‘aristocratic but not posh’.
    I’m sure, along with Mike Elmore, we all encounter similar!
    So I doff my pop-shield to those voicing maestros who actually can sound as though they are ‘talking with a friend’ – no matter what pratfalls lurk in the script.

  3. John Kuehne

    I’ll have to say that when I listen to national spots that air on cable networks like CNN or MSNBC the talent (for males at least) typically have a mid-30’s to early 40’s sound and have a tone and delivery that speaks “to” me not “at” me. I also find that the quality of the voices are high with plenty of range and tonal quality. There is also always a definite “smile” in the delivery.

    I don’t believe that the days of great voices in commercials are gone but rather transitioned to voices that deliver a message which is not “in your face”. This trend did not come about just because someone told advertisers that is what they needed but rather because the GenX, Y and Millennials have a much different mentality about being sold to. Bottom line, they tune out when you get in their face.

    My experience with having a deeper more resonant voice makes it easy to sound authoritative and confident but not necessarily friendly. I find that it takes much more effort to add enough smile in my reads to soften the tone.

    As in relationships…there is a voice for everyone.

  4. Charlie S.

    Oh Dave Dave DAVE!

    Love this one! I really love it. You say so much in such a smallish space. Adapting is the only way. I mean, come on…this is true in all businesses on the planet. I suppose the union is a prime example of this. Born in a time when it was really helpful, now it has, for most intents and purposes, outlasted that usefulness. Get work where you can and ride that train as long as it is moving forward!

  5. Dan Bolivar

    So long as “foreigner from middle-east or china” doesn’t become the “thing” ad agencies want, we’ll be able to adapt. Let’s just hope and pray that some Asian accent with really bad pronunciation doesn’t become popular.


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