Pick the Perfect Voice Actor for Your Project in 4 Steps

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Photo Source: Mehmet Bahadir Senemoglu/Shutterstock

Finding the right voiceover actors is the difference between your project hitting all the right notes and falling completely flat. Would Mickey Mouse have defined Disney for generations without Walt giving him the right falsetto? Could the award-winning “Batman: The Animated Series” have found new dimensions to the Dark Knight if Kevin Conroy didn’t switch seamlessly between Bruce Wayne and his alter ego? What is the world of “Spongebob Squarepants” without the nasally notes of Tom Kenny? 

Give your art a chance to reach new heights by following these steps to casting the correct VO team. 

Break it all down  

Before selecting voice actors for your project, read your script thoroughly and work with your writers to understand what you need. “You start with the characters,” said casting director Mary Hidalgo (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Disenchantment”). “I get the character descriptions, and then I have to make lists according to their archetypes.”

Create a breakdown for each role, digging into details like age, geographical background, profession, and anything else that will help you imagine exactly what this character sounds like. Cross-reference these bios during your search for a voice actor to ensure each candidate is a fit. (If you’re looking for talent on Backstage, you can use filters to narrow down voice actors by their physical attributes, location, and skills.)

You don’t have to be too strict when it comes to the performer themself. For example, two of animation’s most iconic teen boys, Bart Simpson from “The Simpsons” and Bobby Hill from “King of the Hill,” are voiced by adult women: Nancy Cartwright and Pamela Adlon, respectively. So keep an open mind—if the voice ticks all the character’s boxes, don’t second-guess it. 

This process also extends to projects like narration and announcing. In these cases, you’ll need to establish the exact tone you’re looking for. A true crime documentary will require a much different mood than a grade-school math tutorial. Note the specific qualifications that will create the desired atmosphere.

Weigh versatility vs. uniqueness

If you have a sizable cast to fill, think about actors who can handle more than one character. “We’re always looking for versatility, because a lot of times you’re going to need to do more than one role, especially on voiceover-only projects,” said video game CD Julia Bianco Schoeffling (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom”). 

In an ideal world, you’ll discover the next Mel “The Man of a Thousand Voices” Blanc, who played the majority of the “Looney Tunes” bunch at the height of his storied career. 

But there’s great value in a voice that stands out on its own. Patrick Warburton uses his distinctive, dolt-ish tones for each of his characters, whether it’s Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove” or Joe Swanson on “Family Guy.” But his voice is instantly recognizable, bringing an instant characterization and personality that no amount of exposition could.

Work with your budget limitations

On every project, you’ll have to balance your budget constraints with bringing your vision to life. You want to hire talent that will elevate your project—but there are additional costs beyond the casting process. That’s why it’s essential to know standard industry rates

Remember: Voice actors with lower rates don’t automatically translate to lower production costs. Early career performers have less experience with the non-performance aspects of creating art, like preparation, set-up, and tech fixes. They may also require more takes to land their lines. Seasoned talent will cost more up front, but you’re partially paying for their experience. 

This is where you must carefully consider your priorities. Is there a role you think is particularly challenging that needs to be performed on a tight timeline? That probably deserves more funds than a one-line part. 

Narrow down your options 

With the amount of voice actors out there, the sheer amount of candidates can be overwhelming. To make life easier as you start to wade through submissions, decide on a few tangibles that separate a “pass” from a “consider.” Does this actor have a professional demo reel? Do they have voiceover training on their résumé? Do they have their own equipment and/or studio, or will they need to record at a separate location? The more specific you can get, the easier it’ll be to pin down the perfect candidate. 

When you get to the very end of the process and the decision comes down to a tiny pool of actors, the choice is often a personal one. Maybe one actor’s voice hits you emotionally in a way you can’t quite put into words. Perhaps there’s something to their tone or pacing that just makes you imagine the character. It can even be as simple as having a conversation with the actor and realizing their enthusiasm matches your own. No matter what, this is your project. Find the voice that fits your vision. 

Once you’ve checked all these boxes and feel confident with your selection, you’ll be well on your way to making magic happen with your choice of voice actors.

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