Like any niche that one find themselves in, I can’t say that I exactly mapped out a plan that placed me where I am today – voicing telephone systems. It’s a very obscure and specific line of work for which I really couldn’t orchestrate, per se. Broadcast work led to a foray into IVR – and that became my mainstay, because that’s the work that gravitated (and continues to gravitate) my way. The first telephony projects I did established a “sound” or “persona” which made me identifiable (and recognizable) with certain systems, and to this day I enjoy a lot of repeat business because the voice that becomes pre-installed with a system should probably have that same voice on the customized prompts, on-hold system – even YouTube explainer videos, unifying a company’s brand. I’m asked by a lot of voice talent how to get started in IVR voicing — rather than write a “how-to” blog, I’ve outlined the aspects of the job — what makes it unique from other voice-over projects — which will hopefully determine if your traits dovetail with that kind of work.
1. If You Are Set in Your Ways, This Job Is for You
Consistency, stability, and a certain adherence to samness are the cornerstones of voicing IVR well. Sound files which have big fluctuations — either in actual audio levels, levels of energy, variance of enthusiasm, or inconsistency in pace, are of absolutely no use to your clients — especially those who hire you for the long-term and need these files — which you are voicing in March — to match those recorded last June. If you get a special thrill out of the “Zen” of voicing perfectly modulated numbers or letters — which you know will flow seamlessly when concatenated together in the system — you will go far in this genre. If you are not easily frustrated by the “sameness” of the nature of the prompts that come your way, you’re well-suited. I always make the comparison of IVR voicing to my other great love: yoga. In the middle of class, I don’t think: “Downward Dog…again? Can’t they come up with new poses..?” These poses — or asanas — have been done for thousands of years because they are a discipline in and of themselves. I need to continually discover new aspects to doing Downward Dog — which I will be doing until I die; and for as long as I will be voicing, there will be new number sequences to voice. Naturally, with the same old numbers.
2. It’s a Good Thing If You’re Timid About Changing Your Audio Settings
Like most voice talent, I’m talent first and engineer second. The technical aspects of recording are ones which I have picked up slowly along the way, and I am anything but expert at the technical features of recording. I have amassed experience and knowledge about sound recording – but I’m anything but adventurous when it comes to audio engineering. And that’s OK — especially if your goal is to voice IVR sound files. Again, we come back to that truism of consistency being king: it’s important to pre-set your audio levels to their optimal range (for you), and — this is the hard part — keep your hands off the knobs. Once they’re preset, and creating the best-sounding and consistent sound files for your clients — leave well enough alone. Most audio interfaces come with far too many bells and whistles which most voice talent as a whole will never use in their day-to-day projects; nowhere is that more true than with IVR voicing. Nobody has ever asked for IVR prompts that sound like they were recorded in a stalactite cave. They want no-frills, zero effects, straight-up prompts which match seamlessly with ones you’ve already done. Plain and simple.
3. Be Prepared for Regular Work!
I know other voice talent who enjoy regular, steady, recurring work in radio commercials, on-hold, streaming audio — they seem to have a steady stable of clients who have an on-going need to have a consistent “sound” to carry through all of their projects. But even those genres — especially broadcast, which is very influenced by trends, change, and is notoriously fickle) — are prone to arbitrarily switching their voice talent. Nowhere is there greater “job security” than in IVR, where, not only is it important for companies to have the same voice do updates, changes, and revisions to their systems, but if you’re as fortunate as I am to have a project akin to my history with the Asterisk Open-Source PBX — the stock prompts of which are pre-installed on every Asterisk box purchased — there is an exponential need for customized prompts for almost everyone who purchases an Asterisk system. And for every port they purchase. There are still other systems which I have voiced and which have either been either re-sold, re-distributed, or open-sourced out, which have led to much on-going work (and I used to fret about my prompts being freely distributed without remuneration, until it really dawned on me how almost all of the entities which make use of those prompts will actually require customization, fine-tuning, and updating.)
4. Sexism Abounds in IVR Voicing — And it’s Good News If You’re Female
There are some men who have a strong presence in IVR…one of my favorites does a great job with the United Airlines automated system. Men working in the industry are few and far between. IVR is still an area where a calm, reassuring female voice still reigns, even for telephone prompts in “male-heavy” industries like construction and automotive.