Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's All HAL's Fault

One winter day recently, while stuck in the house as the winds howled and the snow kept coming down, I set out to find out why it is that the casting directors today are commonly asking for a younger sound. I have been feeling a little glum over the fact that I'm aging (68 yrs this July) and feeling a bit discriminated against. I have a nice sounding voice and articulate well. I was told that my voice has a warm tone, with a natural quality.  So I chose a similar line as my brand and it is now registered as my Trademark - “Warm Tone, Natural Finish (r).”
Jerry Reed - Voice Talent   "Warm Tone, Natural Finish(r)"

I began looking up research about voice and behavior. I found all sorts of theories, academic papers and news articles.  Since this is only a blog I'm not going to go to the trouble of formal citations. I will paraphrase what I learned.

One article suggested that men that have lower-pitched voices are more dominant and attractive. These men are more successful political candidates than those with a high pitched voice.

Another study suggested that age, gender and tonal quality impacts health behavior, suggesting that a woman's voice is more effective in healthcare communications, yet if a behavior change is needed, a male voice is a bit more effective. That same study also discovered that young people (18-35)  are more sensitive to perceived vocal age &gender and react better to a peer age group voice.  Older people don't seem to be affected negatively by the perceived age of the voice.

I also set out to see if I could find any evidence that seniors and baby boomers would respond better to a voice similar to theirs. If I could come up with some evidence to support that, my intention was to use it in my marketing efforts.  I learned  that there are as many beliefs and theories as there are facts to support them.

I did find one really interesting article by Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg M.D. published July 2012 in Words Can Change Your Brain.  It was titled: “The 8 Key Elements of Highly Effective Speech ...and why your words barely matter!”.
While they don't specifically apply to voiceover or voice acting, I think there is a definite correlation.  While we don't have control of all eight (casting directors, the client and copy writers are ultimately in control), employing as many of them as possible will certainly have a positive effect on how we carry on our day to day dealings with people we meet, specifically those we want to employ our services. They are:
1. Gentle eye contact
2. Kind facial expression
3. Warm tone of voice
4, Expressive hand and body gestures
5. Relaxed disposition
6. Slow speech rate
7. Brevity
8. The words themselves.

And finally, another article I read suggested that female voices are now used almost exclusively in computer generated text by Apple, Android and GPS devices for one major reason – HAL. The male voice of the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey had such long lasting negative connotation that developers were afraid to use a male voice for those devices.

Cue the audio:  (engineer rolls The Blue Danube, establish and then fade out.)