Voicing for IVR

Ever since I blogged last Fall about getting started in voice-over, I heard from many voice talent wanting advice about how to specifically get into voicing IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems — my area of specialty.

Like any niche that one find themselves in, I can’t say that I mapped out a plan that placed me exactly where I am today; I worked hard voicing the first telephony projects which came my way, establishing a “voice” or “persona”  which made me identifiable (and recognizable) with certain systems, and to this day I enjoy a lot of repeat business because the voice becomes attached to the product. Rather than a “how-to” blog about getting started in voicing IVR, I’ve outlined the aspects of the job — what makes it unique from other voice-over projects — which will hopefully determine if your traits dovetail with that kind of work.

1. If  You Are Set In Your Ways, This Job Is For You

Consistency, stability, and a certain adherence to samness are the cornerstones of voicing IVR well. Sound files which have big fluctuations — either in actual audio levels, levels of energy, variance of enthusiasm, or inconsistency in pace, are of absolutely no use to your clients — especially those who hire you for the long-term and need these files — which you are voicing in March — to match those recorded last June. If you get a special thrill out of the “Zen” of voicing perfectly modulated numbers or letters — which you know will flow seamlessly when concatenated together in the system — you will go far in this genre. If you are not easily frustrated by the “sameness” of the nature of the prompts that come your way (I’ve discussed this before: there’s typically a sea of standard prompts, occasionally interrupted by oddball prompts which make your jaw drop), you are undeniably well suited to this job. I always make the comparison of IVR voicing to my other great love: yoga. I don’t think: “Downward Dog…AGAIN! Can’t they come up with new poses..?” These poses — or asanas — have been done for thousands of years because they are a discipline in and of themselves. I need to continually discover new aspects to doing Downward Dog — which I will be doing until I die; and for as long as I will be voicing, there will be new number sequences to voice. Naturally, with the same old numbers.

2. It’s a Good Thing If You’re Timid About Changing Your Audio Settings

Like most voice talent, I’m talent first and engineer second. The technical aspects of recording are ones which I have picked up slowly along the way, and I am anything but expert at the technical features of recording. In fact, between you and me: they scare the bejesus out of me. I’m not alone in this — most voice talent I know (with the exception of some, who have fully embraced the geekdom and learned everthing they can about sound recording) have enough working knowledge of their gear to record their voice; occasionally mix in the odd music track or sound effect for on-hold productions, and upload their files on FTP sites. And that’s OK — especially if your goal is to voice IVR sound files. Again, we come back to that truism of consistency being king: it’s important to pre-set your audio levels to their optimal range (for you), and — this is the hard part — keep your hands off the knobs. Once they’re preset, and creating the best-sounding and consistent sound files for your clients — leave well enough alone. Most audio interfaces come with far too many bells and whistles which most voice talent as a whole will never use in their day-to-day projects; nowhere is that more true than with IVR voicing. Nobody has ever asked for IVR prompts that sound like they were recorded in a stalactite cave. They want no-frills, straight-up prompts which match seamlessly with ones you’ve already done. Plain and simple.

3. Be Prepared For Regular Work!

I know other voice talent who enjoy regular, steady, recurring work in radio commercials, on-hold, streaming audio — they seem to have a steady stable of clients who have an on-going need to have a consistent “sound” to carry through all of their projects. But even those genres — especially broadcast, which is very influenced by trends, change, and is notoriously fickle) — are prone to arbitrarily switching their voice talent. Nowhere is there greater “job security” than in IVR, where, not only is it important for companies to have the same voice do updates, changes, and revisions to their systems, but if you’re as fortunate as I am to have a project akin to my history with Asterisk — the stock prompts of which are pre-installed on every Asterisk box purchased — there is an exponential need for customized prompts for almost everyone who purchases an Asterisk system. And for every port they purchase. There are still other systems which I have voiced and which have either been either re-sold, re-distributed, or open-sourced out, which have led to much on-going work (and I used to fret about my prompts being freely distributed without remuneration, until it really dawned on me how almost all of the entities which make use of those prompts will actually require customization, fine-tuning, and updating.)

4. Sexism Abounds in IVR Voicing — And It’s Good News If You’re Female

There are some men who have a strong presence in IVR…one of my favorites does a great job with the United Airlines automated system. Men working in the industry are few and far between. IVR is still an area where a calm, reassuring female voice still reigns, even for telephone prompts in “male-heavy” industries like construction and automotive.

Next blog, I’ll address a recent New Yorks Times article enitled: “Will Carriers Offer a Better Way to Get Voice Mail?” — sent to me by a client whom I’ve voiced IVR for years — and who is referenced in the article (and because I voice for him; I’m indirectly “implicated!”)


1 Comment »

  1. […] for IVR By vxmlavenger Just read this blog on “voicing” for IVR. The blog poster does a great job of mentioning some good practices to […]

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