The Subtle Art of Voice Recording for Telephony

Not Over the Top, Not Amateur; Getting a Sound That’s ‘Just Right’

Recent current events have caused GM Voices to look inward and evaluate the craft of its offering. Two voices representing opposite ends of the spectrum have made our radar.

The Radio Announcer

One of these is Ted Williams, the “Homeless Man with Golden Voice.” Williams, a former Columbus, OH radio jockey, became a national sensation when a viral video of his voice garnered millions of views in just days. Standing off the highway, Williams “worked for his money,” giving a man with a video camera a sample of his voice for a dollar. Dozens of TV appearances later, Williams was offered an announcing gig with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and was later hired by MSNBC to provide voice overs for an ad campaign.

The Non-Professional

Through a LinkedIn post, we heard about Kiki Baessell, a Google employee recently selected as the voice of Google Voice. Said the Google Voice Blog: “Kiki has absolutely no experience doing professional voiceover, which is exactly why we picked here – we wanted a pleasant, familiar voice that we wouldn’t mind listening to each time we called to check voicemail.”

The Professional Voice Actor for Telephony

We think Google’s stance reflects a basic misinterpretation of Voice Branding for telephony. Their selection of Kiki is a conscious overcorrection of the “radio voice;” a sound that works great for that medium, but is grating over the phone. At GM Voices, we record natural-sounding voice actors that help companies provide a better customer experience.

GM Voices CEO Marcus Graham posted this response to the news of Kiki’s selection, addressing the differences between a non-professional, a radio announcer, and a voice actor for telephony applications:

“On some occasions, you’ll find an internal voice that works well in an app. I recall a few voice talent who actually got started as an internal voice and now earn a good living as a talent. But it’s like any other specialty or craft. You might get lucky using someone down the hall to do the work reasonably well, but it very rarely makes economic or operational sense. That’s why you don’t get the promotions guy who speaks Spanish to do your translation work. There are too many variables for an amateur to get it right day-in and day-out. Google’s shear size and possible volume may lend itself to an internal solution, but this effort seems a bit too amateurish.

While the old ‘radio announcer’ has enunciation that is unnatural and a little hokey, you can understand it. An amateur is on the other end of the spectrum with enunciation that is undefined enough to make it difficult for the listener to understand the message or direction. The professional voice actor provides the ideal middle ground of sincere believability, concise diction and consistent, on-going availability.

BTW, voice actors don’t sound like real people. They sound like people “think” real people sound. That may sound silly, but think about it. A great performance by a voice actor is typically more animated than a real person speaking. There is no facial or bodily expressiveness. The voice has got to carry the entire message. Using real people in productions such as radio, TV and video is great for validation and credibility, but they don’t normally carry the entire communication effort. More often, you’ll see/hear a voice actor narrator type telling the story with ‘real people’ clips supporting the narrative line with personal anecdotes. The heavy lifting is usually by a seasoned voice actor.

I like the sound that only seasoned voice actors and directors can bring to the application. But I do, of course, have a vested interest in this issue.”

Sample some of our voice actors to hear the distinction.

Also, check out this video of Marcus speaking on the subject:

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