Voice over: was it really better before?

We sometimes hear that voice over was better before. But before what, exactly? Before the opening up to non-actors? Before the internet? Before home studios? Before remote recording? Before artificial intelligence? With each new technology, panic sets in, sometimes rightly, often wrongly.

voice-over better beforeI started as a voice actor 30 years ago, in 1994, after having worked as a copywriter in advertising agencies for 10 years. And even back then, I was hearing that the golden age of voice over was over. The old guard were lamenting the arrival of fresh blood on the market, who, horror and damnation, weren't necessarily classically-trained actors. Like me, for example: as a copywriter, I had directed voice actors in sessions for TV and radio commercials that I had created. Before that, I'd been a radio DJ back in the days when radio was pirate and smoky. Others had backgrounds as diverse as they were varied.

Back then, the internet (as we know it today) hadn't yet seen the light of day. The filter for finding work was voice over agents: whether or not they agreed to represent us. No agent, no job, simple as. Our agents were in charge of promoting us and getting us jobs. No need to worry about marketing.

How did people work in the time of the dinosaurs?

The demos were on cassette (then CD), which we sent by post. We never had access to the clients, everything went through the agents and the studios. And they were extremely selective: you had to show your credentials in order to be accepted into the inner circle of voice-over actors. It was impossible for mediocre actors to sell themselves at the going rate, as is the case now.

Being professional simply meant arriving at your session on time (so at least 10 minutes early), not drunk or stoned (I've got names!), being courteous and pleasant to everyone (not just the client), knowing how to listen and follow directions, translating them into your interpretations, being efficient and not taking too long to say good bye when it was over.

No internet also meant no social media to promote yourself (or show what you had for breakfast, but that's another subject). We recorded in post-production studios, home studios didn't exist (professional equipment cost a fortune back then). When mobile phones appeared, it changed the game, and being able to be contacted quickly became a must - otherwise, we'd miss out on bookings.

There was no such thing as voice over training, you learnt on the job, so it took a lot longer to progress and master the codes of the profession. Being a classically trained actor was no guarantee. Why was that?

Aside: because acting and voice acting are two different jobs. The best way to explain why? Driver' and 'HGV driver'. Both professions use the word driver, both need to know how to drive, both are behind a steering wheel. And yet they are two completely different professions, with different requirements and skills. Replace 'driver' with 'actor' and 'HGV' with 'voice'. End of aside.

Nowadays, by following some good voice over coaching (I talk about this in my article Voice Over, Coaching, Mentoring and Scamming) you can learn how to work and understand the workings and codes of the profession more quickly. Of course, some people still think there's no need to train (everyone talks, right?) and wonder why they don't work more, playing Calimero - I develop the subject in my article Calimero Syndrome. But if you want to evolve, the tools are there. Before, nada.

The profession has evolved beyond anything we could have imagined 30 years ago

You can't approach the voiceover profession in the same way as when I started. Being excellent is still essential if you want to make a decent living from voice-over work, but it's far, far from enough. Before, you could be a 'dilettante', but now it's a full-time job. Yes, easily 8 to 10 hours a day dedicated to your job, a bit like someone... who has a job! Not only do you have to excel at the microphone, you also have to be a marketing genius, or at least have a good grasp of the subject. I develop this aspect of the job in my article Voice Over Marketing? Say What?

wait for the phone to ring

You have to communicate on a daily basis (and not just post me, me, me, but also comment on colleagues' posts, share relevant content, etc.), have a website that looks up-to-date and professional (who wants to give work to someone who has a shop window that screams 'amateur', a subject I develop in my article The Haberdashery Shop Window), with an excellent SEO- in short, you have to work hard. I talk about these crucial points in the articles Voiceover and Social Media and Pleasure of Giving, Joy of Receiving.

If you're waiting to be contacted, if you just want to talk into the microphone without being prepared to do all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, in other words if you treat your job like a hobby, you can wait a long time. Longer and longer. Until you go back to what you were doing before. In 30 years, I've seen dozens of shooting stars, who try their hand at the profession without any grounding or training, who think that reading aloud and 'setting the tone' is enough - and who disappear after a few years, without a trace. In all professions, natural selection has always operated, and ours is no exception to this rule.

So, before... what?

Before the arrival of the internet? The old guard hated it when the internet arrived, because it brought competition, forgetting that the advent of the web created an incredible number of new opportunities: e-learning, audio books, web spots, motion designs... The internet also enabled customers to find us directly through our website. For those who have one, of course.

Before the arrival of private studios? Even today, in France (and only in France), there are embittered comedians who, having access to studios in the big cities, are fiercely opposed to private studios: they are afraid of competition. Well, almost all of them have a studio at home (and often it's just a cupboard), but we mustn't say so. Access to professional equipment at reasonable prices has made it possible for a whole population to record without having to live in big cities, without being in the good books of the big studios, and without an agent - a topic I develop in my article Remote Recording and Home Studios.

roasted peanuts

Before the arrival of AI? Every new development presents new challenges. You can see yourself as a victim, trying to contain it, which historically has never worked, or you can adapt. The development of technology has always frightened those who were there before - a topic as hot as a chip shack I discuss in my article Voice Over And Artificial Intelligence. As I explain in this article, the fear of being replaced by AI replaces the veterans' fear of being replaced by newcomers who are not actors. But in the end, the cream always rises to the top.

Yes, AI is frightening, both in terms of its possibilities and the speed at which it is advancing. But some people's panic stems partly from the fact that they've never experienced a crisis in their profession, and so they lack perspective. They think that the quiet period we are currently experiencing in 2024 is due to AI. Yes, AI is doing away with mechanical work (internal didactic e-learning etc.), AI is taking over the peanut-paying jobs that no professional worthy of the name has ever taken on... but what about the rest?

Many of our colleagues are too young to have experienced previous crises in the profession, but at every moment of geo-political instability, it's the same thing.
- 11 September 2001: for over a year, there was virtually no work, and several major studios closed.
- Financial crisis at the end of 2008: same thing.

And now, in 2024, between Ukraine vs. Russia, Israel vs. Palestine - in short, what's not too far from us and what worries us - the advertisers are more than a little skittish.

Once the masters of war have decided to stop playing around, I'm convinced that the work will come back - for those who have a place in this profession.

I hope this article has given you a new perspective on the evolution of our profession. If you want to discuss it with your colleagues, be sure to share it with them on your social networks. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them!

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