There’s only one way to describe what a good narrator voice is, and it begins with the words: “Once upon a time…” When you hear these words, a Cinderella-type story instantly begins to form in your mind. Aside from delivering a message, a narrator’s voice essentially replaces the voice in your head by evoking emotions, building a mood, or creating a sense of place and time.
To really understand the power of a narrator, imagine watching a documentary without a voice-over. There would be shots of one animal after another, but no-one there to tell the story.
A narrator voice comments on what is happening on the screen, and when necessary, this voice affirms or disproves the viewer’s interpretation of the film. There are more instances of narration voice-over in business presentations, website explainer videos, audio-books, and TV commercials – and they all take different forms.
But the purpose of the narrator remains the same; to tell a story.
And we all know what makes a good story – it captivates the audience and sells the message. Even in professional narration (like in the medical and legal industries), a narrator’s voice still has to be clear and convincing.
If and when faced with the challenge of finding the perfect narrator voice for your video or audio, here is where you begin.
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This post was updated on March 2021
What Makes a Good Narrator Voice?
A good speaking voice isn’t necessarily good for narration. Reading out loud is not telling a story – narration is about delivering a message and guiding your audience to perceive this message in an intended way. A narrator’s voice needs to bring a script to life and to do this, the voice talent needs to have some serious acting skills.
This means that a narrator voice should have these qualities;
Clarity and Articulation
So the audience can fully understand the message.
This means that any changes in tone, pitch, or pace should seem effortless. The voice should be natural sounding and if the narrator has an accent, it should be authentic.
Any changes in pitch and tone should be maintained throughout the voice narration. It should seem like the story was recorded in one sitting.
However, there are different forms of narration, therefore choosing the right narrator voice ultimately depends on your industry, your target market, message, and the type of response you want to elicit from your audience.
Good Narration Starts with the Script
The narrator’s voice and words should be relevant to what is happening on the screen, but it should also leave something to the imagination.
Filmmakers are especially notorious for using voice-over narration as a crutch. A narrator’s job isn’t to repeat the story to the viewers; the voice should elevate the impact of what is happening on screen.
In as much as a good narrator’s voice carries emotion, it must not intrude on the film. The voice should guide the audience from a distance – remaining just dispassionate enough to allow the sentiments of the actors on screen to shine.
It doesn’t matter how good a narrator’s voice is if it doesn’t complement the images on the screen.
The only time a narrator’s voice does all the work is in audio production where there are no visuals to guide the audience. Otherwise, a voice narrator should always allow the images on the screen to speak on their own.
Male vs Female Narrator Voice
Masculine voices are often associated with aggression and strength. Feminine voices tend to be soothing and soft.
So when do you know when to use which?
It would be easier to flip a coin. Or you could play it safe and restrict male narrator voices to male-dominated industries and vice-versa.
But research says that most people prefer female narrators. Even when advertising male-oriented products (like shaving cream), most people still prefer female voices. There’s something about high-pitched voices that inspires trust, believability, and certainty in a message.
This is the reason why most navigation systems and digital assistants are female. When it comes to instructional content, female voices are perceived as helpful whereas male narrators come off as commanding.
But this doesn’t mean that male narrator voices are out of the game.
When advertising products like cars and electronics (traditionally considered manly), most buyers will relate to a male narrator. Using a male narrator in a traditionally female industry could also deliver a refreshing twist to your audience.
The general rule of thumb is to consider these two things when determining the perfect narrator voice for your script.
If the narration is for children, a female voice is more likely to resonate. If advertising to young females, a deep male voice will likely do the trick.
Gender doesn’t seem to matter when the product in question is gender-neutral or meant for a primarily male audience. When advertising feminine products, however, using a deep male voice just won’t do.
You can learn more about when to use male vs female narrator voices here.
But you shouldn’t think too much into the whole thing.
When presented with a narration script, the first step is to determine the personality of the narrator’s voice you want. Will it be quirky, mature, casual, passive, or lively? Will the voice be British or American?
You also need to decide the rate of speech. Usually, a slower narrator voice conveys intimacy and emotion and is advisable for narrating complex subjects. Faster speech is associated with enthusiastic and urgent messages (usually for younger audiences).
Case in point; gender plays a back-seat role when it comes to selecting a good narrator’s voice. Other factors like accent, tone, and pitch usually take precedence.
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Types of Narrator Voice
There are different types of narrator’s voice you can use depending on the point of view you want to adopt.
The process of determining the type of voice you want to use for the script seems trivial. But knowing who is telling your story helps shape the viewer’s perspective. Furthermore, the point of view influences the emotional, tonal, and vocal aspects of your narration.
Your audience needs a personality to connect with, and you can define that narrator using these terms;
The story is told from the perspective of the main character and uses first-person pronouns (I and we). The voice creates a sense of intimacy and community with the audience by reducing the emotional distance between the viewer and the narrator.
This voice uses the ‘you’ pronoun to keep the audience at the center of the message. The viewer feels like the narrator is speaking directly to their needs. Unlike the first-person narrator voice, the second-person point of view appeals to audiences that come from more individualistic cultures.
So if you want to run a commercial in the United States, you should probably go with a second-person narrator’s voice.
Third-person narration is used when objectivity and authority are paramount. This point of view creates a degree of separation from the audience, leading consumers to trust third-person (omniscient) narrators and rely on their voices for guidance.
How Much Does a Professional Narrator Voice Cost?
When it comes to pricing in voice-over narration, there is no one-size-fits-all. Some narrators charge by the hour, some charge by word count, and others by the length of the video/ audio.
But if you want great results, then you will have to pay more. If your budget allows, you should always go for a professional narrator’s voice.
You can choose to work with an untrained narrator, but it will take longer to get your desired results. A professional voice has great inflection and narrates with excitement – even if it’s a boring script.
What’s our recommendation? Of course, to go with the 100,000+ strong crew of Bunny Studio voice talent! We’re the go-to website for A-list voice performers, and we’ve got anything and everything to help you ace every one of your projects.
Wrapping Up… and Tips for Narrators
There are some jobs that are best left to professionals, and narration voice-over is one of them. This doesn’t mean that there is no room for newbies in the industry. At Bunny Studio, we’re always accepting up-and-coming talent.
You are the driver, but also an observer. Your voice should be genuine in tone and emotion, but it should also be modest (objective).
But remember you are in control.
Without your voice, the pictures on the screen don’t mean anything. As a narration actor, it is your job to tell the story, so take control of your voice. A good narrator’s voice carries the right emotion, tonality, pitch, and many other factors.
When Narrating Audio
Narrating audio is different from narrating for video content.
Imagine telling a story to a group of blind people. No visuals…just your voice taking them through the content. It is all on you to deliver the right tone, inflection, and emotion.
Besides, people listen to audio narrations while simultaneously doing something else. They might be driving, running, or doing the dishes – their attention is divided.
In the case of an audiobook, it is on the narrator’s voice to carry the emotion and tone of all the characters. Readers often depend on audiobook narrators to deliver the book’s message without leaving a single thing out. Your listeners want to visualize the story in their heads, so set the right mood with your voice and read slowly enough for them to hear every word. For longer scripts, you need to go beyond acting (playing a character temporarily) and start performing in order to captivate your audience.
But you are still in control.
Taking control could mean taking a deep breath, speaking at a normal and natural pace, and immersing yourself in the story so you sound believable. Whatever you have to do to perfect your skill.
All the best!