Confessions of a voice talent
Mr Hagen Valerio earns a living by reading scripts aloud.
The voice-over talent once made $2,500 for lending his voice for a one-minute TV commercial. It paid handsomely because it was aired in fivecountries.
Usually, he earns a few hundred dollars for the work, which includes voice-overs for everything from radio commercials to documentaries.
The loquacious 32-year-old entered the profession about six years ago, completely by accident.
Then working as a technician in a gas plant, he got the idea of being a voice-over talent from a book and was drawn to the idea of making extra cash.
Armed with a $6 microphone from a local tech store, he recorded a series of voice samples at home before sending them out to between 80 and 100 production companies.
He got his first job within one to two months.
The youthful-looking man, who says his strength is in sounding like the "guy-next-door", has played males as young as 16 or 17 years old in voice-overs, as well as men up to a decade older than his actual age.
The biggest misconception about the job, he says, is that you have to have a nice voice.
"It's important not to sound like you are simply reading off a script, but like you really mean it or to convey what the client would like out of the chunk of text," he explains.
It is very rare for voice-over talents to get the lines right in just one try. Typically, Mr Valerio takes three to five takes before nailing them.
He confesses that once, it took 30 to 40 tries to get a commercial right.
"It was a men's facial product. I was fumbling, and couldn't read everything within 30 seconds.
"I felt like I was being grilled. Everyone was kind of frustrated but too nice to really say anything," he remembers.
Things can get funny or awkward in the recording booth, he reveals.
"I was once paired with a female voice-over talent for a script relating to erectile dysfunction.
"It was supposed to sound official and formal, but we ended up bursting into laughter after talking about certain male organs and related phrases," he says.
Another time, he was involved in a dubbing session, where there was the line: "I just love watching these elephants bathe... It gets me so excited."
"Because of the way I read it, it sounded a little cheeky. After making fun of those lines for a while, we ended up re-phrasing it," he says.
In his line, imitating foreign accents - from German to China Chinese is par for the course.
But when this reporters asks him to demonstrate using the menu at a cafe, he shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
With a shy shake of his head, he says: "Don't want, lah".
His pet peeve is badly written scripts.
"There is a shortage of good writers," he laments.
Some scripts, especially those for corporate videos or clips used for e-learning, have poor grammar and sentence structure.
Others are lifted directly off a company's website.
"Then they want you to sound real and friendly. It's difficult. Sometimes I have to resort to re-writing or re-working the script, with the approval of the client," he says.
His job is most enjoyable when he feels the synergy produced while working with an effective production team.
But there are also downsides, such as an erratic income flow.
"It could be a Friday where I see absolutely no jobs lined up for the coming week.
"And when Monday hits, the inbox may be filled with enquiries.
"Over time, I've learnt to take these things in my stride and not to fret too much," Mr Valerio remarks.
You could also say that he never takes a work-free holiday.
"I bring my recording equipment with me for every vacation that's longer than a few days.
"So I could be on the beach one moment and recording in the hotel room shortly after. In fact, hotel rooms have great acoustics for recording," he says with a laugh.
Secrets of the trade
- Take off any jewellery before recording and refrain from wearing clothing that rustles. Mics in the studio are usually very sensitive.
- To get your voice warmed up for recording in the mornings, sing a song while on the way there. Chit chatting with the team really works too.
- First impressions count. Don’t record samples on your laptop at home. Spend the money to book a proper studio and it will serve you well in the long run.