Today I’m speaking with au fait Voice Over artist, Anne Hattfield, who has used her rich, vibrant voice to create an eclectic body of work.
M: How did you become interested in being a voice over artist?
A: I’ve read aloud to anyone who would listen since I was a kid (my overwrought recitations of a visit from St. Nicholas are the stuff of family lore), but I didn’t realize it was a real career option, until I was already in another career working as a communications director. Fortunately, I handled all the advertising for the company and was able to start working in VO, by casting myself as the voice talent. It was a budget saver initially, since I didn’t have to pay myself to do the work, but the studio people were pleased with what I could do and encouraged me to pursue it.
M: You lend your voice to all kinds of projects, from narration to commercials, what has been your favorite project to work on so far?
A: I enjoy every new project. Each presents the particular challenge of unpacking the message to the satisfaction of the client. Who’s the audience for this script? What’s the message? What reaction should the script prompt? I have to get into the head of both the client and the audience, to figure out who I need to become, so that I can achieve these goals. Do I need to be a mom concerned about her children’s nutritional needs? Am I am a business owner recommending a particular financial strategy? Am I your best friend confiding beauty secrets? And how would that person communicate with the intended audience in a relatable way? Once I know this, then the detail work begins. It’s always an exciting process.
One of the best compliments I ever received, was from someone not in the industry, who had listened to my commercial demo for the first time. He asked me, “But which one is you?” My voice, my tone and my pacing were tailored specifically for each project and I didn’t sound the same in any of them. That’s what I aim to do every time.
M: When listening to one of my own voice messages, I often hate the sound of my own voice. I realize that I have either spoken too rapidly, or I’m not loud enough. Have you had any voice coaching or training, to overcome difficulties, such as getting rid of a regional accent?
A: I have and continue to have voice coaching. You can never practice enough and you can always get better. I’m very fortunate that my natural speech betrays no regional accent, so that was one hurdle I avoided. My diction can sometimes be too precise, though, and my voice coach will work with me to soften my edges. We laugh about this now, but it’s a true story that one of my very first words (after, I suppose, the usual “mama” and “dada”) was “enunciate.” I was being prepped for this work from the cradle.
M: There are certain words in the English language that are very hard to say clearly and succinctly, such as anemone, ignominious, defibrillator, brewery… have you ever advised a client to change their wording, or are you able to write your own script?
A: I never change the client’s script. It’s my job to navigate those words as written. I may not get it the first time, but I will get it the second. If clients are present during a recording session, they may suggest changes on the spot if they don’t like what they hear. That can happen, but they’ve paid experienced advertising creative teams to manage their message, so there’s a reason a given script is written a certain way. I’ve written many, many commercials in my previous career and I wouldn’t want anyone changing them either. Grammatical errors, however, are tough to ignore, and I would gently mention any of those I see. I don’t want the client to be embarrassed later on.
M: Is there any type of project you haven’t worked on, that you would really like to tackle?
A: I like everything I do, but what I’d especially enjoy is working more with smaller clients, who don’t think they can afford quality voice work. They can afford it and will get much better results from it. A skilled voice artist immediately gives your message, a legitimacy and weight and professionalism, it doesn’t have otherwise. All of us are sophisticated listeners. If you hear a hesitant, awkward voice, you won’t associate confidence with the product, service, etc.
M: How many attempts does it usually take you, before you are satisfied with the results and are there any set guidelines you should always follow?
A: You might do a read in one take or in thirty takes. On my own, I usually get what I want in three or so takes. My opinion is not the one that matters though. In VO, as in all things, the customer is always right. We take direction and make changes, until they are happy with the results.
As far as guidelines go, the rule is to leave your ego at the door. One of my voice coaches told me once, that my job is to be a smart puppet. My voice has to reflect the intent of the puppeteer who is the client. I have to keep trying out new things, new variations, until I hit on the right voice and delivery. If I’m doing my job properly, it should be a smooth, comfortable process.
M: For someone who is interested in doing voice over work, where is the best place to start? Should they get an agent?
A: I can only comment on my path and I don’t have an agent, but many people do. There are scores of good internet resources out there for the beginner voice over artist, but my best advice, is to simply start by listening. Voice work is everywhere…radio, television, internet. It’s constant and not always glamorous. When you take an e-learning course at your office, for example, someone like me is presenting the material and that requires just as much diligence and artistry, as more high profile voice overs. So you listen and if you find yourself repeating the words you hear and reshaping them in your own voice in several different ways, that’s a good test for the kind of work we do.
Oddly enough, having what family and friends tell you is a, “good voice” is only a part of the equation. Are you also able to communicate sophisticated concepts with appropriate mood and intelligence? That’s the key.
M: Would you ever consider giving your voice and personality to doing an animated character?
A: Certainly, and that would be great fun. Every voice artist, has their voice niche, what they do best. For example, mine tends to skew more toward narration and commercial work. Our mutual friend, Jeff Newton (@yonewt on Twitter), however, is a terrific actor, who does fantastic accents and characters, that are among the best I’ve ever heard. This would definitely be his niche.
M: What do you like most about doing voice over work?
A: It’s a creative act; I get to make something that didn’t exist before. We’re at our best when challenged, no matter what the medium or endeavor. Voice work requires skill and targeted inspiration, or the result is inauthentic. It’s a wonderful privilege to collaborate with a client to create genuine, impactful communication. Really, it’s just plain fun.
M: How does a person or business solicit your services?
A: Through my website is best at annehatfieldvo.com. There are several voice samples there to give clients an idea of what I do. There’s also a contact form to submit scripts.
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