why i sound different in real life

In my everyday life, I don’t sound like a voiceover. At all. My natural voice is that of a Cheshire girl, born and bred. When clients hear my flat Manc vowels, they usually panic. I can hear the unspoken horror down the ISDN line…  I know what they’re thinking:  “please, please tell me that common slapper isn’t the voice I booked. She sounds Northern.”

My normal voice isn’t acceptable (usually) for professional broadcasting because when I’m not recording I have a regional accent. It’s a huge part of who I am, it’s a big part of my identity. When I speak, I’m projecting who I am. Loads of voiceovers take great pride in erasing all traces of their background and that’s great but for me, that wouldn’t work. I’d feel really fake if I got rid of my accent – I wouldn’t feel like me any more. And I’d hate the idea of changing my voice because the industry wills it.

Sometimes I’m asked to use my normal voice for work but that’s usually for jobs that require a down-to-earth, trustworthy, earthy kind of feel: anything to do with baking, personal injury ads, fire prevention infomercials or recruitment ads for a meat packing factory, that kind of thing…  For the world of advertising, my normal accented voice represents no-nonsense honesty but generally speaking, clients don’t really want that.  They want voiceovers who convey authority, persuasiveness, a sense of middle-class privilege – voices we’d like to aspire to have ourselves, voices that embody all that we aspire to be. My normal voice doesn’t do that.  It makes people think about pies. Or whippets.

Often people I know really well don’t recognise me when they hear work I’ve done.  They’ll hear an ad on the radio and be gobsmacked when they realise it’s me. Some people don’t even think it really is me!  (I’m not sure what they think I’m up to all day in the studio, but there you go…)  But a voiceover having a natural regional accent isn’t a problem…as long as they know how to turn it off and ‘speak properly.’  Purely for the purposes of advertising, of course.


Photo by Francesco Ungaro

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Emma Clarke

Emma is an award-winning voiceover, broadcaster and writer. Want to find out more about Emma?
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