Voices that you may find familiar

From ad voiceovers to telephone messages, home-grown voice talents say they need to act out their voices

Singapore voiceover artists include veteran DJ Vernon Anthonisz, former DJ Petrina Kow and events compere Charissa Seet (above). -- PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Singapore voiceover artists include veteran DJ Vernon Anthonisz, former DJ Petrina Kow and events compere Charissa Seet (above). -- PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Singapore voiceover artists include veteran DJ Vernon Anthonisz, former DJ Petrina Kow (above) and events compere Charissa Seet. -- PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Singapore voiceover artists include veteran DJ Vernon Anthonisz (above), former DJ Petrina Kow and events compere Charissa Seet. -- PHOTO: MEDIACORP
Voice artist Sharon Chen has done voiceovers for telephone messages and recently did a corporate video for Singapore Airlines. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Apple users can finally put a face to Siri - throwing the spotlight on voice talents.

The famous disembodied voice of the iPhone application-cum-personal assistant was revealed earlier this month by CNN: It belongs to American voiceover actress Susan Bennett.

Bennett, who has declined to reveal her age to the media, started voiceovers in the 1970s.

For Siri, she reportedly did gruelling, daily four-hour recording sessions in July 2005. For those sessions, she had to read numerous phrases, which were pieced together later to create the voice for the software.

She was paid an hourly rate but declined to reveal how much. While Apple declined to confirm her claims, audio forensic experts say that her voice is a match. The company recently rolled out software updates that replaced Bennett as the voice of Siri.

While less ubiquitous, Singapore has its share of voice talents too.

Industry players estimate that there are more than 100 voice artists here. They lend their vocal chords to everything from television commercials, instructional videos to pre-recorded mobile phone messages.

One of them is veteran DJ Vernon Anthonisz, 41, who is a co-host of the Muttons On The Move programme which airs at 4pm, weekdays, on Media- Corp radio station 987FM.

He says: "Speech drama is a unique skill. Just because there is no camera in front of you does not mean you do not need to have facial expressions - you can kind of 'hear' smiles and frowns. You have to be able to act."

In the past 19 years, the bassy nature of his voice has frequently landed him the role of "Voice Of God", a term referring to that invisible voice in the background. He has done this for movie trailers for the Singapore market, including for horror film Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) and action comedy 2 Guns (2013).

In 2001, 2003 and 2004, he did the voiceover for the National Day Parade, instructing the audience to rise for the arrival of the president. He has also been the booming narrator for TV beer advertisements, such as Carlsberg and Heineken's.

He says: "I still find it really weird hearing my voice in advertisements. I could be watching soccer at home and a beer commercial with my voice comes on. A voiceover is usually a dramatisation. I do not sound like how I normally would, talking to friends. "

Mr Kenn Delbridge, in his 40s, is supervising sound editor for Splice Studios, which has a stable of more than 100 regular voice talents. He says rates for voiceovers depend on the length of recording, where it will be heard and the licence terms. But voice talent fees generally start from $250 to $300 for a 30-second voiceover in a local radio spot, and $300 to $350 for a 30-second voiceover for a local television spot.

Aspiring voice artists usually go into commercial studios to record a wide range of samples - from those that sound light-hearted, to serious and dramatic tones. The studios will then link them up with clients based on what their voices are suitable for.

Talents often learn on the job, through trial and error.

Sharon Chen, 36, a voiceover artist who has done work for car-maker Citroen and hair-care product line Pantene, picked up the skill between 2006 and 2007. Then, she had been a DJ with the radio stations Lush 99.5FM and Symphony 92.4FM.

She says: "At first, I was not very natural but my colleagues gave me tips and pointers. I would practise and record myself to hear how I sounded."

In 2008, she left the station to work full-time for Australian-based company Messages On Hold, which specialises in recorded messages for corporate clients. Among other things, she does voiceovers and production for the company.

She says: "Doing voiceovers is a lot of fun because I get to play different characters. These days, telecommunications companies usually want a more conversational tone, as if you are talking to a friend."

Chen also does freelance work. About two months ago, she was commissioned to do the voiceover for an instructional video about Singapore Airlines' newly launched business-class seats.

One newcomer to the industry is Charissa Seet, 28, an events compere who started doing voiceovers two years ago.

Since then, she has done close to 100 voiceovers including for StarHub's helpline, and television commercials for Dove shower cream and Whisper women's hygiene products.

She says: "It is easy to sound polished like an announcer, but sounding authentic is tough."

Some clients also do not want a hard-sell approach for their advertisements, but prefer voice talents to play characters with emotions.

To meet this challenge, Seet went for a one-hour private lesson with a voiceover talent consultancy Paul Carr Consultancy.

She adds: "You have only 30 seconds sometimes, so everything matters. From your breathing to the emphasis, to the tone and pitch."

Working on voiceovers is no easy feat, says another old hand, former DJ Petrina Kow, 37, who has been in the business since the late 1990s.

She once spent up to four hours reading out numbers from one to 1,000 in different tones for StarHub telephone messages.

She says: "I do not love doing numbers. I have also had to read pages of alpha-numerical prompts for the Stock Exchange. This type of work is very soul-sapping, it makes my eyes start to cross."

Still, for such dull work, she was paid an hourly rate of several hundred dollars.

Another of her pet peeves about doing voiceovers is having to listen to herself afterwards.

Kow jokes: "My husband is a StarHub subscriber. It was very annoying when I first heard my own voice informing me that he is unavailable."

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