Finding the right words to describe the sound of a voice is a struggle that many come up against, and for good reason. The sound of a voice can seem almost indescribable: you know it when you hear it, but it goes beyond the limits of the human vocabulary.
That being said, when you’re looking to locate the perfect voice actor to make your project come to life, you should become trained in the best ways to verbally describe vocal tone, style of delivery, and a number of additional elements that comprise a strong vocal performance.
Fortunately, Voices makes it easy to find the perfect voice, by allowing you to browse as well as invite voice actors to audition based on specific vocal attributes. These vocal attribute descriptions include options for different roles, styles, accents, dialects, and languages, and equip you with the right words you need to describe the voice you’re looking for.
Words to Describe Voice
Understanding Vocal Roles
Vocal roles refer to the particular persona your actor will embody using the sound of their voice. Roles are similar to characters and often use one word to sum up a signature sound which may be stereotypical or unique. For example, Alpha Male is a role that may conjure up a particular personality that has a strong, domineering vocal delivery.
Generally, it’s easy to discern which role a voice actor is playing based on the way they express themselves and the words they say.
Our Voice Actors Roles page features an alphabetical list of the vocal roles that can be entered as search tags for voice over jobs on Voices.
Describing Vocal Style
Vocal style refers to the way a vocal performance is delivered. Style generally reflects a manner of speaking or an attitude. Any vocal performance can be read in a variety of styles, no matter the role, language, or voice over category. The way that you go about describing style for your voice actor to read in will impact how they interpret your script and how the audience hears your message.
Designating a role to your voice actor is one thing, but how the words are delivered constitutes an extra layer of creative direction and performance. Attitude, timing, the emotions and motivation behind a delivery all affect how the copy is presented to your listeners. Adjectives really come in handy when it comes to describing style.
You can read up on commonly sought vocal styles on the Voice Actors Style page.
How Vocal Roles and Styles Work Together
Successfully pinpointing a vocal role will give your voice actor a foundation for the character that they will portray. While describing the vocal role won’t necessarily tell your voice actor exactly how you want them to sound, it will guide them to a solid starting point. For example, an actor reading as an Old Man character can be directed to sound easygoing, but he can alternately be directed to sound posh. Pairing those two different vocal styles with the Old Man vocal role will produce significantly different reads.
Determining how these attributes work together is a crucial step towards creating a character.
Alternative Ways to Describe the Sound You’re Looking For
How to Describe Accents
There are a number of ways that the use of an accent can influence the meaning of your script and the impression you leave on listeners. An accent may be required because of its ability to appeal to the audience in question (whether they are located in a certain region or belong to a certain demographic). Accents can also come in handy for differentiating one character from another in an audiobook or game where the same narrator is voicing all of the roles.
It’s important to remember that when you’re describing accents to prospective voice actors auditioning for your job, you should start with the language being spoken. You can have a Spanish-accented English speaker, or someone who speaks French with an American accent. Most of all, remember that an accented voice doesn’t necessarily indicate the language being spoken.
To describe accents, you must first develop an understanding of the terminology used to talk about them. For example, when creative teams put out a casting call in search of a British accent, they are generally disregarding the diverse range of British accents there are that vary by region. What North Americans typically conceive of as a ‘British accent’ is actually an RP accent (see more examples of the diverse accents of the UK).
Using Celebrity Voices as Reference Points to Describe Vocal Performance
Oftentimes, the most straightforward way to describe voice is to draw comparisons to easily identifiable celebrity voices that you would like your actor to emulate.
Voices asked a wide range of creative professionals for their thoughts on hiring celebrity voices, and found that the most sought after celebrity-styles could be grouped into a handful of vocal archetypes. The three most predominant ones were found to be:
1. The Deep and Authoritative Voice
2. The Approachable Expert
3. Fun, Foreign Intrigue
In fact, the celebrity report was partly launched as an initiative to steer clients away from describing voices solely using celebrity sound-alikes. Instead of simply stating “I want a Morgan Freeman-style voice,” you can convey your aims more directly by outlining “I’m looking for a deep and authoritative voice.” Taking this route makes it easier for you and auditioning actors to be on the same page.
Providing Artistic Direction to Describe Sound
By understanding how to describe vocal roles, styles, and accents, you’ll be well-equipped to incorporate a great description of the voice you’re looking for into your job posting’s artistic direction.
Providing artistic direction is an essential component of the voice actor hiring processes. Artistic direction should appear in the Job Description field of your job posting, as well as be sprinkled throughout the body of your script.
The ability to give strong and clear vocal direction can make or break a script and its ensuing vocal performance. Don’t forget to place cues in the description. Add emphasis where the voice over is supposed to land on a certain word or phrase. Describe cadence of delivery, the emotions and mood that you’re striving to produce, etc.
This excerpt from a sample script for a Patient Care Training Video in the Healthcare sector showcases how vocal direction can be effectively employed in an audio script:
Isaiah Hospital Network
We need a middle-aged female voice, who has a professional, yet informative tone to her voice. She’s someone who has probably worked in the hospital or a healthcare setting for several decades and has helped a lot of people in her career.
She speaks with a layer of experience and savviness, but not an arrogant ‘been-there-done-that’ tone.
She has a slightly raspy and seasoned quality to her voice and speaks with a direct cadence. This female voice actor will need to have buy-in from our healthcare professionals watching the training video: if they don’t believe her, they will discredit the material.
Healthcare Patient Care Training Video Voice Over Script Sample:
At the Isaiah (AHY-z-ay-ah) Hospital Network, we take our patient’s health and how they’re treated with the utmost importance.
The IHN (ahy-aych-ehn) sees our network of teams and hospitals as a light of hope for thousands of Marylanders in their darkest hour.
That’s why it’s crucial that our entire team is up to speed on the best and most current patient care standards.
Describing Voice is an Essential Part of Finding and Hiring the Perfect Voice Actor
Putting in the effort to distinguish exactly the voice your project needs can go a long way towards creating a worthwhile finished product with a voice that blows your audiences away.
If you’re ever feeling uncertain about how to cast the right voice actors or what to look for when you’re describing the sound of their voice, you can always review the demos of voice actors on Voices to get inspired by how they describe their voices.