Straight Talkers

Having their voices heard

Hugh Oram

Bill Golding has been ‘Old Mr Brennan' for over 30 years. Jonathan Ryan has impersonated everyone from Martin Luther King (King Crisps) to a Nazi interrogator (DID Electrical) since he started doing voiceovers (vos) in 1980. But in more recent days the spend on vos is way down. Advertisers are demanding the ‘safe' voice, as advertisers and agencies opt for straight readings and a no-frills approach.

The days when Peter Owens would run a humorous campaign for SDS, sending kettles to Boyle, are long gone. Now, advertisers have a blunt, hard sell message to plug and there's a host of younger voiceover artistes out there scrambling for work.

Deborah Pearce set up Voicebank 13 years ago. The demand now is for voices targeting 18 to 25-year-olds and regional voices. Noel Storey of Beacon Studios said vo veterans like Golding, Ryan and Larry Gogan are used less these days. In the 1990s, 90 per cent of vos was done by ten per cent of the available talent – not so any more.

Voiceovers have long been a standby for the poorly paid acting profession. Now training academies are offering courses to applicants with no experience, but who are prepared to stump up the cash. Pearce said she would never use anyone from an academy.

She says that with vos, you either have it or you don't, just like a model. Voicebank has about 40 male artistes on its books and slightly more female; teenage and kids' voices are in demand too. Its books are currently closed and no new voices are being taken on.

Reputable agencies representing vo artistes and recording studios point to a decline in work of between 35 and 40 per cent reflects the general slide in adland. Supermarket chains have given up on lengthy commercials, concentrating on shorter ads for specific offers. The long-suffering car market has changed gear with more new campaigns.

Pearce says that vo rates have not changed in nearly a decade, since the IAPI/Irish Actors Equity agreement was put in place in 2002. In fact, people are often asked to cut their fees. Richard Brennan set up Endline Voiceover Management in 2004.

Endline has about 80 actors on its books. Brennan adds that 80 per cent of vo work for ads are straight reads, with less demand for funny voices and impersonations. If a vo artiste becomes too identified with a commercial, it can make other work hard to get. Established artistes like Andrew Bennett, Conor Mullen and Liz Byrne continue to get gigs. Newcomers include Ruth Negga and Allan Keating. Keating has done work for Ford, Negga for Barry's Tea, Bennett for AIB, Byrne for Avonmore, Aidan Kelly for Dennys and O2 and Enda Kilroy for Airtricity. Kieran Breathnach of Avondale Studios particularly liked the radio ads for in which the vos were done by Don Wycherley of Batchelors Walk fame. The scripts were clever and well delivered.

“After hearing just a few seconds,” Breathnach said, “people knew who it was for, before they had even heard the brand name”. Noel Storey of Beacon is especially proud about the Bord Gais radio ad for DDFH&B and his own house ad voiced by Eamon Morrissey.

sound characters


The voice of Jonathan Ryan is well established in adland circles. More recent newcomers to our airwaves include Fiona Browne, Kevin Gildea and Allan Keating. Gildea, a writer and stand-up comedian, recently voiced a spot for the Irish Independent.

Tommy Ellis runs Velvet Voice, which he says is the only dedicated voice training facility in Ireland. He is the son of the late Tommy Ellis, a legend in the recording business. Velvet Voice records and mixes audio for radio, TV spots, TV shows and ads for the cinema. About 70 per cent of Ellis's work relates to vos.

Onejob he recently finished was recording dialogue replacement and narrative for the new Peter Jackson thriller, The Lovely Bones, starring Saoirse Ronan. Ellis said that the fashionable demand is for conversational reads. Vo artistes don't have to be actors – for instance Today FM presenters Ian Dempsey and Tom Dunne andsinger Steve Wall.

What do ad agencies want from voiceover artistes and recording studios? They want the vo to be early or on time. They want the artiste to be able to jump into the booth and make the script leap off the page, bringing something special to the party and they want the demo that they heard to be an exact replica of what the vo artiste can do.

Vo artistes have to be immediately available, half an hour at most from the studio. They need to be quick at picking up the vibe of the copywriter and be able to do the job they say they can do in about seven takes. After that, the room starts to get worried.

Storey says that one hour of studio time should cover most TV vos and that if it goes to more than 15 or 20 takes, there's something wrong with either the casting or the script.

Breathnach says that recording studio engineers are less involved in voice casting, which is not necessarily a good thing as a voice demo doesn't automatically guarantee a good studio performance. Experience counts for a lot and engineers will often guide artistes.

Sound effects and music bring life to a commercial, once they are handled correctly. Library music has been a less costly way of providing a vo backing track. But even library costs have become an issue at a time when advertisers are tightening budgets.

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