The VO Announcer still exists! Should you market it?

Edge Studio

Like diners and bowling alleys, some things seem to never need updating. Like the classic VO Announcer style. Yep, it’s still used. Just very infrequently. When is the “announcer voice” or its cousin, the “DJ sound” appropriate? And should you include it on your demo? Our answer to that is, “It depends.”

By “announcer” voice, we mean the old style of read that was popular into the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Think Laugh-In’s Gary Owens (with his finger in his ear), and all the other “voice of G*d” talent, along with DJs who did voiceovers, such as Dan Ingram and Ted Brown. Also note the distinction between the prototypical “golden-throat announcer” and the stereotypical “DJ.” The latter is an artificial voice, often constrained and full of hype, whereas the announcer is simply the deep voice (usually a man, but sometimes a husky-sounding woman, like Sally Kellerman), sounding beautiful, and relatively devoid of emotion.

Where is this called for these days?

Obviously, any script that parodies those days would be a candidate. So would a scene that calls for the voice of authority – especially if things are exaggerated, as they might be in a cartoon. Think William Conrad narrating Rocky and his Friends.

Movie trailers are another genre where a rich, sonorous voice might predominate. In particular, the style of the late Don LaFontaine. On his passing, many in the industry asked, “who will replace him?” As it turned out, the answer has often been “no one.” Some movie trailers these days have no narration – just an artful combination of selected scenes, with music. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a return to the jabbermouth trailer style of the 1960s (where an announcer talked almost incessantly, explaining what the movie was about), but who knows?

Clients who advertise sales and get-it-while-you-can situations (automobile events, infomercials, etc.) often forego subtle emotion in a read, preferring a sense of urgency. Sometimes it’s even desirable to sound corny or cut-rate. Maybe it suggests to the listener that the product is almost a steal, hot off the truck. Or maybe the client just doesn’t know better than to seek more nuance in their voicing. Whatever the reason, some of this work goes to announcer types.

Narration also offers opportunities for the announcer voice. But here it’s important to distinguish between the announcer voice and the announcer style. For example, consider Morgan Freeman. His voice is the very essence of gravitas. But his style is personal. There’s no hype in the manner of Morgan Freeman. The same is true of many announcer types … the list of them over the decades has included many fine actors, such as Orson Welles, Alexander Scourby, Richard Kiley, Laurence Olivier, and the previously mentioned Sally Kellerman.

Narrations that might employ an announcer style are in the minority. But in certain spheres, they predominate, especially where the subjects themselves are especially exciting. For example, motorsports, sports generally, military equipment, and other categories of mostly male interest. (Then again, remember that Laurence Olivier narrated the World at a War series in almost hushed tones. Situation is the key, not just the subject.)

Another place for announcer types is … announcements! At the airport, ball games, transit systems, any situation where a strong voice and clarity are key. Sometimes (for example, an airport or a transit system), announcements these days take a friendly, personal tone. But at the other extreme, sometimes the announcer is intentionally over-stylized. For example, a pro basketball arena, where the typical style enters “DJ” territory. Women’s voices also find work in these scenes, sometimes as counterpoint.

Imaging is an obvious genre. (“Imaging” in voice-over and broadcasting parlance is what “branding” is to other marketers.) A rock station promo is a likely looking for the announcer style.

Yet another situation is the one where the client wants to convey authority. Take, for example, explainers. Many are voiced by average-sounding people who go through the steps of a procedure in typical non-threatening tones. (“See? Anyone can do it!”) But sometimes the voice is part of a message that says, “We are the authority – listen up, this is the better way.” Bring on the Voice of G*d.

Sometimes the decision is cultural. Although in the United States and other countries, the “natural” sound, conveying subtle changes in emotion, is in highest demand, some countries still favor a more bombastic, generally male-dominated, approach.

How much Announcer work is there?

There is still plenty of announcer work to be had. So why do we say that demand for the announcer sound is very infrequent? The voice-over industry has expanded so much, that now the announcer segment is relatively small. Other sounds are in even greater demand.

Which answers the question as to your demo:

Does an Announcer cut on your demo help you, or hurt you?

If you do it very well, include it. If you sound artificial, with a sound that anyone can imitate, maybe no. Instead, use those precious seconds to show off a more artful ability that appeals to a wider audience.

But, luckily, another trend also figures into the answer. Voice-over demos have become increasingly short and focused. You can even select and organize a custom collection of individual cuts by using website software such as VoiceZam. So if you’re proud of your announcer sound and you aim to get that kind of work, you can make a demo that focuses on that. Offer it beside your other specialized demos, such as “commercials” and “narration.”

And on your full demo, you might include one great announcer track — to contrast with that low-key emotional read that has your listener in tears.

Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to Marketing@EdgeStudio.com.