Does this sound familiar?

We need a voiceover. Should it be a male or female voice?


OK. Next item.

There are a couple of problems here. First of all, the voiceover is not an afterthought. It is the emotional core of your project, and it sets the tone for everything else. Quite often visuals convey information, but sounds convey emotion. We are emotional creatures. There’s certainly a lot of value to explaining something logically, but emotional communication travels much deeper. People will do things when they’re emotionally motivated that they would never dream of doing when they’re motivated logically. And of course purchase intent is 70% emotionally driven versus 30% logical. So why the voiceover would be seen as a last minute detail is beyond me.

But let’s take this a step further. This male/female binary feels a bit out of date doesn’t it? It doesn’t fit with modern values. Sure, there are situations where the narrative might call for a specifically male or female sounding voice. But in most advertising media the voiceover takes the role of narration. If we’re not casting a specific character, does sex really matter?

Here’s another scenario.

Well what do you think?

I don’t like it.

OK. What don’t you like about it?

I don’t know.

If you don’t know what you want, how do you know when you’ve got it?

Many professionals waste so much time by not setting clear goals and visions. Whether you’re building a brand voice, or just looking for a one-off voice for a project, it’s important to create guidelines. Instead of just establishing whether the voice is male or female, start making a list of qualities the voice should possess based on the values and traits of the brand. What sort of feelings and tones do you want to convey?




These are just a few examples of the many qualities your brand or project can express via voice. For more, try our Adjective Board. I sometimes use this early in the audio branding process to help get the conversation started. It’s not an exhaustive selection, but it’s more than enough to get you moving in the right direction.

The more you define what you want out of the voice, the less arbitrary the voice becomes. Suddenly it’s based on established and strategic parameters. This not only saves a lot of time and revisions, but when you establish a well thought out and emotional core, you build from the inside out rather than the outside in. And these qualities don’t just set the tone of the project. They’re one step in an ongoing journey in building a relationship with your audience.

Also worth noting that over the years, the industry has gotten away from character voices. People want authenticity. You want to cast someone whose natural presence is so close to what you want that they don’t need much direction. So next time you need a VO for a project, consider not even applying the male/female binary. Establish the qualities you want your voice to convey, and then cast the voice performer that best embodies them naturally.