Voice-Over Casting Class

Voice casting couch

Casting a voice for radio is much harder than you may think. Yes, there’s lots of choice, but there’s also a lot of voices that make a living from just reading radio adverts.

Why is this such a bad thing?

Well, it isn’t, but often voices who read a lot of radio commercials fall into bad habits, habits that were probably started by radio producers telling them they need to sound more happy, lively and upbeat.

Surely that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. Radio producers tend to want voices to be a little more animated, but what I’ve seen happen is a lot of these voices start to lose their natural empathy in their voice.

Then, before long they’re sounding like everything they read is a horse race commentary.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on voice overs or even people that make a comfortable living reading the traditional THIS WEEKEND! BIG SALE adverts. But, it’s important to still keep that natural speaking voice, as it’s your speaking voice that people will relate to.

Look, I know the clock is ticking on turning around these adverts, but a little bit of time and thought into casting the voice may result in the advertiser booking more airtime and using the voice again and again.

Advice for young writers and producers

Avoid writing text that people just don’t speak in real life. And, spend more time trying out different reads with voice overs and see if it could work better with a more natural sounding read than a traditional BUY NOW read.

Personally, I just think radio is too over-populated by these types of adverts. So, trying something a bit different could help your radio station sound unique and help the brand stand out more.

Let me just also say, that I don’t always blame the producers and writers. I have been there when the client has said, the voice over sounds bored, use somebody else.
Sometimes it’s the education that clients lack, would you really shout at somebody in a happy way when you had news to tell them? Okay, maybe you would, but generally people don’t relay information in that tone of voice.

Be real and your customers will believe what you’re telling them! 

It’s a simple mantra but often people just go with the easier route. As I’ve mentioned, I understand why.

It’s easier to put your hand in the cookie jar than make your own cookies. But guess what, fresh cookies taste better.

Radio producers, either through bad habits or lack of time tend to take the easier route and use the same bank of voices. Meaning, many commercial radio stations then end up sounding similar, at least when it comes to their creative advertising space.

And why is this a bad thing? 

Because the listener starts to subconsciously zone-out of the ads when they start sounding similar.
With voices like Mr SmileyMrs DeliriousMr Buy NowMrs Hot Sales etc.

Don’t believe me? Next time you listen to a commercial radio station see if you can identify the same voice-over or style more than once in an ad break. If you can, ask yourself, do I remember what any of the adverts were trying to sell me?

I’ll hold my hands up and say, I myself as a younger writer and producer fell into these same bad habits. And why wouldn’t I, it was all around me, my colleagues were writing similar ads so surely it’s a standard.

Remember, just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it’s how it should always be done.

So, case in point was a recent commission to find a voice for a client’s advert that didn’t sound like all the rest and would stand out in a subtle colourful way.

The advert was for the prestige car maker Land Rover, so this was going to be a very interesting day of casting voices.

Casting Voices

Casting voice overs

We needed a voice that didn’t sound like any other advert. Somebody who sounded empathetic, relatable and personable.

From what we’d read in the brief the client wanted somebody who sounded like a knowledgeable friend who could advise you on your next car.

Somebody who sounded like they were knowledgeable, intelligent and entertaining company. A friendly voice who you could trust.

So,  after reading the brief in more detail I noticed that this advert was to be part of a local launch for the then new Range Rover Evoque.

But we had to make sure the advert not only stood-out with a good creative angle. But executed the brief by appealing to drivers who dreamed of owning a Range Rover and maybe felt that they couldn’t afford one, but then realised they could.

Step forward Classic FM presenter John Brunning

But why John Brunning? 

Well, although John is a well established presenter on Classic FM he’s not that known for his voice over work. But this was perfect for us, because being a presenter meant he already had that silky smooth approachable voice that puts you instantly at ease.

Plus, with broadcasters like John, they’re very experienced at the humility side of using their voice, which is perfect for radio. 

But why a broadcaster?

He wasn’t chosen because he was a broadcaster, he was primarily chosen because his voice was very appealing to this demographic. And, most importantly, it’s a voice that talks TO you, and not AT you. 

The next time you’re listening to your local commercial radio station, see if you can identify how many adverts sound like they’re talking AT you. It’s a great game to play when you’re getting bored of listening to the ads.

To listen to John in action, you can check him out on Classic FM or listen to some of his voice samples online here.  

Art and Your Interpretation
Now, after reading this you may feel that our casting was wrong. This is fine, ultimately it comes down to your personal interpretation. Just like a picture in a friend’s house wouldn’t suit your home, but does suit their home. Take the time to think about YOUR best fit.
You may go for a younger male or female. But the choice has to be one that most people can happily relate too.
Yes, there’s a space for Mr Happy and and Miss Sexy, but keep the narrative varied and interesting.
How to make radio adverts STAND OUT!
These are my top five tips for creating great radio. But they are not the golden rules of radio. They’re just things I’ve picked up as I’ve worked longer and longer within the industry.

So, here goes…

1). Avoid casting voices that sound like everybody else and everything else that’s on the radio.


2). Pick a voice that can do natural delivery really well. So, not Mr Voice Over, but Mr Bloke Next Door.

3). Create attention in the advert or suggest it. So, if all the adverts have music and sound effects, then maybe have none.
4). Create interesting nuances with either the the sound of the voice, music or sound effects. An example maybe the voice-over asking the listener to hear how a broken dishwasher sounds. If the advert needs to create drama, then maybe silence or the noise of something dramatic happening would be more suitable.
5). Don’t ever assume that a customer will understand your creative angle. Explain to them what you’ve done and why you’ve done it before you send them the final mix.

And lastly, enjoy the process. Creating radio can be a real pleasure, but it can quickly turn into a conveyor belt of the same stuff again and again.

Just check yourself, take your breaks and be honest with what you want to achieve. But don’t get too obsessed with it sounding exactly how YOU want. Be flexible and take on board other people’s opinions.

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