Fatima’s next job could be as a voiceover artist (she just doesn’t know it yet)

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any weirder *gestures broadly*, came the suggestion last week that people in the arts should drop whatever it is they’re doing and retrain for new careers. This was followed swiftly by the enormously crass (and quickly binned) ‘Rethink. Reboot. Reskill’ advertising campaign, starring hapless ballerina Fatima, who (unbeknownst to her) is about to hang up her tutu in favour of a career in ‘cyber’.


Offensive on several levels, the worst thing about this campaign is the suggestion that a career in the arts and media is so simple that it can be thrown away on a whim to go and get a ‘proper’ job, conveniently forgetting the years of training, both in school and in the workplace, that it takes for someone to get to the top of their game. 

We’ve all experienced it in some way, haven’t we, the devaluation of our skills. The assumption that because you’re making it look so easy, then it must be easy to do in the first place, not realising that the very reason you make it look so simple is years of training and practice. 

Which leads me to my next point. We know how unbelievably fortunate we are here at Babble that the voiceover industry has kept ticking over throughout the horrorshow that is 2020. But long before Fatima twirled in on her pointe shoes, we witnessed a sea of people suddenly deciding that tonight, Matthew, they’re going to be a voiceover artist. 

We get it. Voiceovers are everywhere. Telly, radio, on the phone, in the shops. The pandemic can’t stop people doing recordings. And voiceover’s easy, it’s just talking, isn’t it? 

The red mist descends. 

If there’s one thing that truly makes me burn, it’s the assumption that voiceover is ‘just’ talking. It’s so much more than that – it’s bringing a script to life, it’s talking fast enough to fit the script into 15 seconds but not so fast you sound like you’re rushing it. It’s a producer asking you to make something “‘40% sexier, please” and you knowing exactly how to deliver. I can’t do it. Put me in front of a mic and the best you’ll get is a strangulated whimper. 

But it’s not just artists (or potential artists) who think it’s easy work. On more than one occasion we’ve heard how a client has decided that ‘Dave in Accounts has got a nice voice, let’s just get him to do it for free’. This is perhaps more damaging to the industry than the assumption that anyone can do it. 

Whenever I’m talking to people about voiceover, after they’ve declared how easy it must be, and after they’ve demonstrated which impressions they can do (there’s always a Billy Connolly, and it never sounds like him), the thing I hear most often is ‘But voiceover artists are raking it in, aren’t they?’. 

Massive eye roll. 

This is one we hear all the time. So there was a time when this may have been true (read all about it in this article from the late 90s) but the reality of it in 2020 is very different.  Even before Coronavirus popped up to make all our lives that little bit more precarious, marketing budgets were already being cut (I’m tempted to mention Brexit here but one soapbox per blog is more than enough). 

Which is where we have a problem. Because as belts were being tightened across the industry, along comes a new wave of artists trying to get their feet in the door, doing jobs for little/no pay. Think about it. If you’ve made it clear that you’re prepared to work for peanuts, then why should a company pay you the going industry rate in the future? If you’re a new artist, working without an agent, think twice about doing that cheapie job. The last time I checked, you couldn’t pay your rent in ‘exposure’.  

And let’s not forget that doing a job on the cheap can often be a false economy on the production side – I’m tempted to continue the peanuts analogy with a monkey cliche here. I’ve heard aggrieved producers tell stories of how a client wanted Dave from Accounts/Sally from Marketing/Newbie looking for experience to do the VO on the cheap, then at the last minute they’ve had to shell out on a ‘proper’ artist and more studio time to fix their commercial and make it sound decent. 

I’ll get off my soapbox now. We’re passionate about voiceover and know that our artists are all fantastic at what they do, and that’s a hill we’re prepared to… maybe not die on… but we’d definitely give you a wedgie for trying to persuade us otherwise. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I took the Government ‘What job should you do next’ questionnaire and I was heartened to discover that if it all goes horribly wrong here, then at the very least I can look forward to my new career as a cake decorator. 

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Maggie Kruger