A Thought-Provoking Question
Dec 22 2022
Would you record a voice over for a Product, Service, or Candidate that you didn’t believe in?
Would you turn down a VO job?
As a professional voice actor, you sometimes encounter jobs you would rather not do for personal or ethical reasons. But if you turn them down, you will lose income and you might miss out on future work from that client. Should you accept these assignments?
As owner of Edge Studio, I found myself in this exact situation. A large advertising agency asked us about recording the campaign spots for a candidate running for President of the United States. This job could have easily put my sons through college. Yet I personally did not want to support this candidate; and thus I said, “No.” You may assume that my decision was not financially prudent, but I challenge you because had I taken on this campaign, I would have needed enough therapy that it would have wiped out any financial gains. Now years later, as I look back, I still feel good about that decision. More importantly, I volunteered my business’ voiceover recording services to the Obama campaign and that felt very, very right.
What would you have done?
That’s the question we asked new and pro voice actors.
Hypothetical case-in-point: Suppose a computer tech-help company wants you to record a phone tree system. Sounds like a great job, until they tell you to read the script extra slowly because they charge callers — by the minute.
Almost everyone has a personal boundary at some point.
Would you do it?
Given the example above, let’s assume the client tells you this when they offer you the voice over job. There’s time for you to reject it once you receive their questionable direction. Yet what if they spring it on you after you’ve accepted and stepped into the booth?
Here are your comments:
Yes, I’d do it.
“We refer to ourselves as “voice actors” so we should be able to do anything set in front of you.”
“It’s only a recording. Even if you don’t agree with the company, take their money “for a giggle.” So there, Company!”
“Every commercial is manipulative or hedges in some way. For example, “Cereal is part of a balanced healthy breakfast.” So do it.”
“I’m a democrat, yet recorded something for the republican party. I took the money I earned and gave it to the democrat party.”
“Maybe you would never eat junk/processed food. And maybe you would never feed it to a friend or a child. But if a tortilla chip brand asks you to record a commercial for their product, would you accept the job? Sure, because the advertiser will just hire someone else to voice it, and people will eat it anyway.”
“Yes, simply for the fact that being a VO is a job and I signed up to do jobs for my clients. I can set aside my differences and get the work done. Maybe someday when I have leverage I can be a bit more choosy.”
“I actually have done it many times, and I have produced political spots for candidates and/or issues with which I disagreed. Why? Because I have a fundamental belief that every legal business, product, service, candidate, issue, entity has a right to advertise truthfully. If, as a production studio owner/talent/engineer, I am hired and accept a job for my services, it’s important that I do my best for my client. This issue actually came up in my studio several years ago. The talent who was local to us in Oklahoma City was hired to voice a political ad for a Texas Congressional candidate with whom she greatly disagreed. She and I had this very same discussion. She asked my opinion, and I told her this same thing. And I added that, for myself, I view it as playing a role. We’re voice actors. It’s really no different that any other actor playing the part of someone he or she is not. By the way, she did voice the session, did a wonderful job…because she is a professional.”
“Would probably do most jobs because it’s a paying job. A few I might regret later. We all have bills! There is one Republican for whom I would rather starve than VO promote him. I‘ll let you guess. Other than that, I bleed Blue.”
“You might damage your prospects by putting controversial spots on your demo.”
“Absolutely. I consider it a professional responsibility and my personal beliefs should stay exactly that way. Personal. Professional over personal. The customer is always right.”
“YES! I do NOT NECESSARILY KNOW ALL THE FACTORS, or Nuances or Motives involved in the product. My values may be no more valuable to the potential audience, than anybody else’s. If I was really concerned, I might research further to learn if there be other aspects, potentially important ones germane to the requests for my services. The only caveat might be whether or not the Ad is illegal.”
“Yes. As a professional VO talent, my concern will only be if the client is satisfied with my work. I’d like to get paid for my voice, not my feelings about the product.”
“It would have to be pretty egregious in order for me to refuse; otherwise, I’d probably do it.”
Maybe, under some circumstances.
“I work at a radio station, they are my boss, and we are given many scripts to record every day. To keep your job, you might raise an eyebrow but ultimately you have to read what you’re given. It’s different when you work freelance because then you’re your own boss, so you have more say.”
“Take the emotion out of it. If you need to pay the rent you might need to do things you don’t agree with.”
“If you don’t drink would you do a beer ad? I would only if it included “only drink responsibly”.”
“We are people, not machines. You can think of your voice as a separate instrument, but it is a part of you, and you need to live with yourself.”
“How much research do you do before accepting a potential client? Are we only responsible for what we are conscious of? For example, if a clothing store asks me to record their “Welcome to our company” video, I wouldn’t take time to research their company. But if I did, I may learn that they employ children to manufacturer the clothes overseas.”
“You are like a NASCAR driver covered with patches of jobs you have done. If someone does not like a patch, they might not hire you.”
“Whether it’s a big job or a small one, well known client or obscure, it’s best to assume everything you voice is public. So each job is a personal choice.”
“In the example given with the slow read to increase the cost of a by the minute call, I would do it. Callers know they are being charged by the minute and smart people wouldn’t sit through a long slow recording in the first place. Buyer beware. As for political ads or doing voice overs for products I don’t agree with, I think it would most certainly depend on whether or not the job paid well and/or if it would have a negative effect on my voice over career/personal life. Most people understand that a job is a job and we all need to pay our bills. But in the long run, common sense also come into play and you have to live with yourself.”
“If you are just starting out, it’s tough to say no to a job that can provide you with recordings for future employers to review. There are degrees to what we are willing to do. Even when new to the field, there will be times to say no, and they will be based on our internal beliefs and what we would want our grandparents to hear.”
“Yes, unless that voice over could result in violence or the promotion of social discord.”
“I would record the voice over only if I know that not believing in the product or service is a simply personal choice not to believe. If I do not believe in it because I believe the product or service is bogus, a sham or harmful then I would not record the voiceover. In addition the voiceover could not denigrate another product or service.”
“It really depends on many factors. If it has to do with my religious beliefs, I would not consider doing the job. But in other topics like politics or brand names, I would just do it as a job and nothing else.”
“Not for a political candidate. Or dodgy supplements, or anti science nonsense. It would destroy my credibility. Now, a mainstream product I don’t care for, but is not harmful, perhaps. Truly depends on market and verbiage.”
“If I thought it was a damaging or a corrupt service then I wouldn’t. If I didn’t necessarily believe in it for other reasons like I wouldn’t buy or be involved in it if I were a consumer but needed the money I probably would. If I were in a position where I could be more selective because I was accomplished and didn’t need the money then I probably wouldn’t, but then again it would depend on whether it looked fun to do or not.”
“This is a difficult question to answer. The answer I can give is it really depends. If I were to record something I knew that was censored from the original because it would serve the employer’s own politics and come out of left field for the viewer then or if I would cross a picket line for reasons that didn’t include me then no full stop. However if there was a role no one would take over Twitter backlash and I’m the best person for the job or something like heaven forbid my family member or partner needed an operation and there were no other choice, I can swallow my pride and act the way I have to act even with all the slander and name calling. I have voiced things I am not proud of and will never see my name attached too to get where I am today. Does it hurt? Absolutely. Is there money as green as everyone else’s? Yes. At the end of the day, you need to realize this is a role and if you don’t play the part there are a plethora of other people who will and will take it with no hesitation or shame. That is the world we live in.”
“First of all, I would do some research on the product to see if it was legit. If it was not I would not endorse it.”
“If you can afford to make that judgment call, then that’s great, good for you. Say no. But we can’t really throw stones at those who need to make the money to survive, we can’t hold it against them.”
“The answer depends entirely on what “you don’t believe in” means. If I prefer Brand X of a product, but Brand Y of a product would like me to record a voiceover extolling its virtues, I have no problem with that. Brand X and Brand Y are both legitimate products with no ethical objections, I don’t have to fully agree with everything stated in a voiceover to record it. But if an organization that I had deep ethical objections to asked me to record a voiceover, I would absolutely refuse.”
“I believe your question is, “Should you?” It doesn’t matter what I would, or would not do. How much does it pay? Is it a national commercial, or local? That’s up to you, and whether or not you have the money to eat this week. Unless you are already famous, and asked for a personal endorsement, there is no reason for angst. It’s a job. One doesn’t have to drink Daisy Milk to be a cow in the commercial. If you are a professional, you will eventually have to make a decision about what you choose, and choose not to do. No one can answer that for you. Your conscience must be your guide. My suggestion is to, “Be true to yourself.” A word of wisdom from Shakespeare may help.”
“It really depends. Part of being an actor means playing characters who say, do, and believe all kinds of things I don’t. So generally, I don’t mind doing voice work promoting products or services I haven’t personally used and liked. I wouldn’t voice an ad for a candidate I didn’t support. My reps know I pass on gigs that involve promoting things I actively dislike or oppose—like cigarettes or Republicans. Those scenarios are very different from personally endorsing a product, service, or candidate. In that case, I would absolutely only do it for something or someone I was ready to stand behind.”
No, I’d refuse the job.
“What if the advertisement becomes popular and I become “famous” as their voice? I would not want to become identified with it, so I’d object.”
“If you are not comfortable with something, sometimes it will show in your voice.”
“Suppose it’s a plumbing company that is a total rip-off – I would not do a commercial for them, because I would not want to help them rip other people off.”
“Would you want your kids to hear this and be proud of you?”
“If you do work for the Republican Party, your voice is associated with those ads. So you will probably never get work from the Democratic Party. And vice versa. Nor from some advertisers who shy from taking a political stance.”
“At the end of the day, whatever I’m doing has to sit well in my spirit. I have to live with my conscience. No amount of money could convince me to loan my voice to far right or far left causes, anything anti LGBT+, anything anti-Black etc. I wouldn’t loan it to any political candidate either, as I have an inherent distrust of politicians on both sides of the aisle. On the flip side, what I would love to give my voice to includes: historical documentaries, sporting events, erotica (provided it’s intelligently written) etc.”
“I would not and have not recorded spots that conflict with my core values. I gladly leave those jobs for people who have core beliefs that align.”
“I absolutely would not. I wouldn’t want my voice to become associated with something I didn’t believe in, politically or otherwise. I think that would put a stain on my VO career as well as make me feel immoral.”
“I would not record a voiceover for something that clearly goes against my beliefs and morals. If it’s in a gray area, I don’t know, I might. I use my voice to make a difference in people’s lives, and I always want to use it to the best of my ability, and in a way that is clear with my conscience.”
“Jobs will often provide tough calls from time to time. So when it comes to choosing a script, making choices based on experience, intuition, personal ethics and values is often as important as the job itself. As for me? I’d have passed on the job. Why? A couple years back, I was hired for a VO job. It was for a startup crypto buying app, which exploited arbitrage opportunities in the various cryptocurrency exchanges, in hopes of making money for investing clients. I read the script, and it looked to be on the up and up. No claims of huge returns, easy wins with little effort, or the other telltale flags that would suggest a scam. Just a simple explainer, informing investors how the app worked, and walking them step-by-step how to set up an account and activate a crypto wallet. I finished the job, got paid, and thought nothing more of it. That is, until six months later, when I got a phone call from a German reporter, looking for info about the company. Turns out the app never went public, but was used instead as part of an elaborate Ponzi scheme that had bilked people out of millions of dollars. After informing the reporter that I was simply a “voice-for-hire” for an explainer video, and that I was both unaware of the scheme, nor had any financial stake in the company, we ended our call, and that was it. But it made me think. What if the call had been from a legal team or regulatory firm, looking to hold me accountable for the company’s actions? What if the scammers themselves had tried to “throw me under the bus” and peg me as a major player in their schemes? So yeah. As much as I’d love to voice every job that comes my way, some jobs just aren’t worth the risk. Especially when it comes to my business, my reputation or my pocketbook.”
“Absolutely not. I have had this come up in various ways, including books, VO for videos, as well as commercials (even television and movies as a film actor). I politely decline such opportunities. If I do my job right, perform my craft expertly, then my voice will play an integral part in promoting the product, service, or candidate (or book, TV program, or film). I am not a hired gun, nor am I simply a seller of services. I am not a shill. I am a Voice Artist. (Also an on-screen actor.)”
“I would not. I have already declined auditions for Scientology, and I would not do a VO for a political candidate with whom I STRONGLY disagree.”
“NOPE. Success for me in voiceover is about accomplishing gigs that end up leaving me feeling good about myself. If it makes me feel icky then it’s not for me.”
“I live in (and work for the market of) Greece. It is a country of 10 million people, with two main political parties taking turns in winning elections, much like the US. However, being a smaller nation, it is a lot easier to be stigmatized for one’s affiliation to a political party. And it is very easy for people to lose their jobs when the other party is in the government. I have managed to sustain a successful career of 21 years (so far) and I like to think that one of the (definitely minor) reasons has been the complete absence of my political and religious views from social media. I have also refused to work for politicians or their parties, obscure religions and weapons systems, the last one being a personal red flag. The work I “lost” has been, in my opinion, rather insignificant, compared to the peace of mind it has given me. Again, this comes from a place where it is much harder to get ‘lost in the crowd.’”
“Me personally? I’ve sold cars, mattresses, food, and lots of other retail stuff. In my own experience, as I have gotten older, I have gotten pickier. These days, when I hear some automated message calling me up to scam me (and others) I wonder the the talent really thought about the fact that they were involved with an illegal effort. Candidate: Yeah, I’d have to be on “their” side or at least neutral. I would never voice a Trump spot.”
As some people said, until you accept the assignment, you’re the boss. There are valid arguments on both sides, and it’s not surprising that most people fall somewhere in the middle. The prominence of the work, the amount you’re paid, the nature of the conflict, and other factors are all valid considerations. There are many situations with no clear answer.
Also remember that situations change, both your situation and the world around you. Doing something for a 6-month contract with limited renewal options could be different from a flat-payment buyout that you might regrettably hear for the rest of your life.
Whenever possible, before accepting any assignment, learn as much as you can about the job and the client. Even if there’s nothing controversial about it (which is true of the vast majority of your opportunities), it will enable you to give a better performance and avoid those that make you sound or feel bad.