Let’s round things out by talking about where gender bias can be a stumbling block to getting the right sound for your explainer video.
I’ve seen some pretty interesting stereotyping come across in specs. For example:
“We see two ways to interpret this – as sarcastic, and as slightly dismissive.
So we want sarcastic male reads, and dismissive female reads.”
Thinking that only one gender goes with one kind of read is a pretty classic mistake. And having two styles of read and two genders auditioning is like trying to solve for two variables with one equation. (Hint for folks who aren’t into math: that’s hard.)
On top of that, you’ll often find that voice actors who’ve been in the business for a while tend to shun auditions where the gender is “either.” It gives the impression of a project that hasn’t been thought out or contains too many conflicting opinions.
Here’s a fun one:
“We’re open to men or women on this, but the women have to sound like they know what they’re doing.”
But the men don’t? Or is the assumption that men naturally sound like they know what they’re doing? Um…Bob Newhart? Steve Carell?
In general, settling on a gender first is the right way to go. (I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that client who wrote the above specs wanted a man.)
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that by specifying gender, you’ll get the kind of read that’s in your head. On the flip side, don’t worry that asking for one gender or the other will make it impossible to get the right tone of read. Because of the training that goes into being a professional voice actor, you can rest assured that professional voice over artists from either gender will be able to deliver.
Try lopping the specs off the script and having people who weren’t part of writing it take a look. Which gender did they assume would do the read? Be sure to ask both men and women, and aim for the demographic of your client base. I’ve found that gender expectations tend to vary in 10-year increments or so. The 30-year-old of today hears men and women far differently than a 20-year-old would, or a 60-year-old, for that matter.
Once you’ve seen the results skew one way or the other, maybe have someone of the gender that the results were leaning toward record a scratch track. It’s not going to be as good as a professional voice over artist doing the read, but it may confirm whether or not your informal office vote was on the right track to selecting the gender of your voice over.
I’ll leave you with the words of a few of the great voice over artists who contributed to this series:
“I am not sure the stereotypes of sound based on gender are on target. Most of the voice actors I know have had years of training and coaching, and can adjust the type of sound based on the copy, the target audience, and what delivery is needed for the purpose of the message.” — Mike Laponis
“I find, more and more often, clients are not so much concerned with a “male voice” or a “female voice” but rather the RIGHT voice.” — Todd Ellis
“I feel like the tide is turning in long-form, and clients are realizing that a warm, friendly female voice can be pleasant to listen to for long periods of time…Male-dominated genres continue to be automotive, trailer and promo, but who knows what the future holds…” — Kristin Lennox