That Was So….Ten Years Ago……

You Can Shout All You Want -- We're Not Buying It!

There are “trends” in voiceover — whether you’re talking about the style of announcer you currently hear when listening to a TV ad campaign; a type of telephone voice  or even the kind of approach you might hear in a DJ either on FM or AM radio — the “mood” or “feel” created by a voice is an important stylistic element to consider when hiring a voice — and these “trends” are as variable and as prone to whim as hemlines.

What voices end up sounding “dated”? Why is it that we can watch a documentary and come to the conclusion that the announcer is “old school”? Or that we change the radio station, because the DJ sounds too much like the ones you remember from your childhood and you were trying to tape your songs off the radio without his booming tones overlapping onto your song? (Man, am I old….)

I firmly believe there are “trends” in voiceover which — just like fashion — can be cyclical, are never definitive (or permanent) — and that one must be sensitive to these fine changes in the market and adjust your performance accordingly — whether you, yourself are a voice talent looking to keep your demo current, or are in the position of hiring voice talent or writing ad campaigns which require a voice-over component.

Here are the major pitfalls which will give your sound away as being “dated” just as sure as bell-bottoms or leisure suits:

Shouting. I, and most other professional voice talent, dread copy which dictates that we scream. In addition to being a huge waste of energy – and an actual detriment to the voice — that trend of advertising went out long, long ago. Ad agencies have long ago figured out that nobody responds well  to being shouted at; a constant barrage of noise actually makes listeners reach a saturation point, and certainly does not compel them to take their wallets out. It could be argued that it’s the only way to fill the stands for a Monster Truck and Tractor Pull, but for almost any other product — keep in mind that *nobody* enjoys being assaulted about the ears.

“The Earbug”. There’s a topical headache remedy (applied directly to the forehead — you know the one…) and the signature aspect of their ad campaigns since its inception has been a very monotonous and irritating tag-line being repeated again and again throughout the ad, until you find it rolling around in your head for hours afterwards. Now, many advertising analysts might call that a “win”: after all, the ad is memorable, the tag line is unforgettable, and the all-important victory: you can remember the product’s name. I call it complete disaster; an ad series which doesn’t care about finesse or creatively getting the message across — it’s planting an earbug in your head and gives you no choice but to repeat it and remember it — but makes me and many others deliberately *not* buy the product, because that would be rewarding the people who drove me so crazy.

“Gary Owens” Syndrome. Everyone watched this last week — with great interest — as Ted Williams, former homeless man-turned-re-hired DJ — was discovered panhandling, noticed for some amazing velvet pipes as he thanked the donor; was later videotaped by the same benefactor, uploaded onto You Tube, featured on CNN, and who now is fielding offers from radio stations, sports affiliates, and various other media contacts, taken with his amazing story and — let’s be honest — looking to capitalize on the publicity. My first thought — when watching him demonstrate his amazing announcing skills — was one of cautious congratulations. I — like everyone else — wished him well, and hoped for the best. But I was also stricken with a certain “dated” aspect to his DJ style — he was doing the traditional velvet-throated classic-DJ; all bravado and cigarette-enhanced bass tones which, quite frankly — just aren’t done anymore. Like the stereotypical announcer Gary Owens on Laugh-In — with hand cupping the ear, and the elevated, unnatural stilted DJ style oozing out, DJ’s are now (and have been for awhile) displaying a more natural, personable “‘everyman” persona, rather than what a DJ has “traditionally” been expected to sound like. Addiction problems aside, was Mr. William’s dated delivery the source of not going further in his broadcasting career? Was it a moving part in his demise that he couldn’t get out of “DJ Head”?

Telephone “Automaton”. With the lion’s share of my work being in the area of voicing telephone  prompts, I can tell you that even that area is not immune to trends. Years ago, the preferred style was an emotionless android, who had no appreciable “ups” or “downs” in inflection — this was to accommodate even and seamless concatenation of prompts. We now know that if a voice talent were to voice series or “strings” of related prompts — such as numbers, months, days of the week — with a mind to doing them in a “up-ending” inflection, “down-ending” inflection, and yet another set delivered fairly neutrally, almost all eventualities would be covered. Prompts can then be delivered in a candid, conversational tone (much preferred in modern IVR’s), and the “robot” sound can be avoided.

It feels natural to write a companion piece blog next week which expands on this idea (but which I had planned to write in coming months) — next blog, I’ll delve into the sometimes dark science of “How To Hire The Right Voice”.

As always, thanks so much for reading. Has something you’re read sparked a comment in you? Feel free to leave a comment!

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world. Her website is



  1. Sarah Wilson Said:

    A couple cliches are brought to mind from the past week:

    “Everything old is new again” and “The pendulum swings both ways”

    Saying “it’s just not done anymore” does not mean that it can not or will never be done again. What exactly would be so bad with both styles (and their layers of variations) being acceptable?

    There was a time in fashion when you HAD to fit into a certain mold. Having worked as a plus size model, I can tell you that diversity and creatively, along with tradition & progression, make for thriving productivity!

    Let us embrace it!

    ~Sarah is being revamped!

    • voicegal Said:

      Sarah —

      Thanks for the feedback — I guess I’m just glad that certain styles are on their way out and that ad agencies and writers are trying to appeal to the public in a more natural, less contrived fashion; telephone prompts are more conversational and candid, ads sound like they’re voiced by real, accessible people instead of voices which are easily pinpointed as “announcers”.

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