The virus has upended daily life, but what does that look like for the VO community?
TL;DR: A home studio with remote connection capability, solid sound isolation and a way to efficiently transfer large files is now more of a necessity than ever before.
In speaking with voice actors, the agents who represent them, and clients who hire them, it’s clear that current conditions have brought on a shift in the way the voice over world functions. On one hand, social distancing came to the voice over business over a decade ago with the shift to home studios.
On the other hand, the pandemic’s societal reach has impacted voice actors the world over, though some more than others. As you know from reading The Voice Over Startup Guide, voice actors work in over a dozen different areas of the business. Here’s what’s currently going on in each of them, according to the folks who are witnessing the changes first hand.
Keep in mind that the situation remains very fluid and can’t adequately be completely summed up with just a few sentences. But here’s what’s happening as of March, 30th, 2020.
Commercials – The initial panic in the third week of March brought commercial production to a halt as large ad agencies and brands tried to figure out how to respond to the crisis. The loss of live sports has required many brands to throw out their ad buys altogether and develop new strategies. This initial pause from the top end of the commercial market has given way to a flood of auditions and bookings for pandemic-related spots. Read styles have moved away from snark and comedy toward heartfelt, encouraging themes centered on the idea that we’re all in this together. Female VO talent are being chosen quite often to deliver these reassuring messages. Commercial expert Robyn Moler predicts, “Any session which originated in a different state than where the talent resides will now hire the talent directly from their home studio from now on. No more paying a local studio for an ISDN session.”
Animation/Video games – Production has slowed but hasn’t stopped, as talent are recording from home. Post production continues as editors, sound designers and others are able to work remotely. Writers can still write and plan seasons. Games are still being developed, albeit through the use of Zoom meetings. Actors will have to work from home for the foreseeable future, which traditionally hasn’t been the norm for this genre, making a home studio, connection software and a robust file transfer protocol a necessity for actors.
Audiobooks – Nearly 100% of this VO genre happens in home studios. Writers are still writing and narrators are still narrating. There has been virtually no work stoppage because of the virus, other than a few cases of narrators who have been ill, or who need to take a break to take care of loved ones.
Corporate narration – Companies generally seem to be pulling back on expenses, fearful of what the future may bring. Belt tightening always impacts voice actors as projects are cut or put on hold.
IVR (interactive voice response) – Existing phone systems require updated prompts in response to the pandemic, while future rebuilds or new implementations seem to be largely delayed. VO talent who are already on systems are doing the updating, but audition opportunities for new systems have declined.
ADR (automated dialogue replacement)/Looping – Completely on hold while post production supervisors try to determine if they can record talent without bringing them into the studio. The unique technical requirements of this work makes home recording more challenging. This is one part of the VO world which could look very different on the other side of this crisis.
Promos – Talent are reporting that promo producers are working from home, so remote sessions are being directed via phone patch vs. Source Connect since many producers don’t yet have remote connection software. Reads are leaning toward distracting viewers from the news as networks acknowledge that people need a break from pandemic news.
Radio ID/Imaging – Stations are adding scripts saying some version of “We’re here for you.” Most stations are sticking with their current voice instead of looking for new ones.
Long Form/Series Narration – Production is on hold as of now. TV studios are hoping to go back into production by the summer. VO is generally one of the last components of an episode’s production, so this work my be slower to return than other genres.
Education/e-learning – Agents are reporting an increase in the number of auditions for explainer videos and other e-learning tools. Many of the new auditions are from the healthcare and pharma industries, as expected during a pandemic. But other industries such as insurance and finance are ramping up employee training in response to changes brought on by the pandemic.
Voice matching – Agents and talent are reporting a steep drop in opportunities, yet expect that to turn around. Kiff VandenHeuvel, voice match expert, notes, “I haven’t noticed many voice match auditions as of late, although I imagine things will slowly return to some kind of forward movement. It seems that the studios are figuring out how to have editors work from home before having folks start generating content. We’ll feel the production timeline buckle a little as writers and producers get their own home situation going.”
Movie Trailers – Spring is traditionally a quieter time for trailers, but this year is quieter than normal as theatrical releases are being pushed to later in the year. Some movies are going directly to streaming, leading to trailers being modified with “streaming now” language in place of, “In theaters Friday.” Movie trailer narrator Thompson Howell says, “Will viewing habits change enough during this time that we get used to films premiering online and staying there? Stay tuned. I think a lot of change will come out of this. Hopefully it can be good change and not the other kind.”
Gadget/Product VO – Sluggish as companies put projects on hold. This end of the business is wrapping up projects already in production but holding off on new ones for now. Talent in this space think work levels will return to normal when the economy beings to start up again.