Like A Virgin Toilet.

Like many voiceover artists, I tend to record from home in my own studio (and also, sometimes, my pyjamas), but I do occasionally make it out of the office and into the big wide world.

It’s a rarity for VOs to venture into big posh studios these days, with chocolates on the counter, free bottles of water, and a selection of pens to wander off with, but it’s always nice when we do – if only to lose the “studio tan” and see other actual humans.

I’ve been out and about a lot more lately, meeting clients and e-learning firms, to talk more about eLearning Voices and what we offer. This involves a lot more train travel than before, and I’m becoming increasingly friendly with the Virgin Trains staff between Manchester and London.

I’m also a lot more familiar with The Voice In The Toilet.

A few months ago, friends and colleagues in the voiceover industry appeared to be up in arms about Virgin Trains appealing for a new voice to be the recorded message in their onboard toilets. Virgin wanted an amateur voice. A virgin, if you will. It was a competition, and many of our voiceover friends felt that this was wrong – that only a professional should be employed to do such a thing – and even Equity waded into the debate.

I completely understood the argument. In fact, I agreed with it. I’ve been championing the talents of professional voiceover artists for years, and while I accept that we all have to start somewhere (have you even HEARD my first demo? No. That’s because it was thrown on the fire years ago in case it ever comes back to haunt me), for certain applications – eLearning especially – it’s essential to have a voice that knows what they’re doing and won’t make mistakes.

Over the years, we’ve invested tens of thousands of pounds on equipment, training, marketing and networking. We’ve built contacts, relationships and trust with our clients. We’ve gone from being pretty good at what we do, to absolutely understanding what our individual clients’ needs are, and making sure they’re met. We can take on a ten thousand word eLearning project and know it will be delivered to the client perfectly, correctly, glitch- and error-free. We can read a 30 second radio ad and the internal clock will make sure it’s bang on time.

However.

We can also tell a person with knickers around their ankles that they mustn’t throw their ex’s sweater or a goldfish down the toilet. But so can lots of people. Not everyone can do it well – that’s why they ran a competition, and chose a small handful from thousands of entries – but it’s a skill that a few people have, and why not give the opportunity to someone new, and get a bit of a conversation going? Seriously – on Tube platforms I’m the soundtrack to millions of people’s morning commute, but would I WANT to be the soundtrack to someone’s morning poo? Er… not really.

This morning, I visited the loo on a Virgin Train (twice – I’d had a lot of coffee), and I was spoken to by a chirpy Scottish lady the first time, and a friendly sounding fella from Manchester on the second visit. They both sounded great. Clear, engaging, and friendly. If I’m honest, I don’t really feel the need to be spoken to while I’m rummaging in my handbag for a feminine hygiene product, but if they insist on having a voice in there I don’t object to them using a competition winner. Tannoy announcements often impart serious safety information (and that’s where a pro is essential) but this lavatorial chatter is not a matter of life or death. I’d probably be prepared to put money on the fact that the chirpy Scottish lady and the lad from Manchester would struggle to read several thousand words of elearning on the first take and nail it, so they’re no threat to me or my team. Good for them for winning the competition, though. I liked them. And if, like my friend and colleague Sara (who became the voice of the Speaking Clock for many years after winning a competition on the BBC), a career in voiceover artistry awaits them, I wish them every success. Market forces will soon tell them if they’re good enough to venture out of the toilet and onto the radio, or into corporate narration.

I will bang on about this for as long as anyone will listen: where stuff really matters, use a professional. Hiring an amateur, or buying cheap, means you’ll always buy twice. But you wouldn’t bring in an electrician to change a lightbulb, and really, being The Voice of the Toilet is just the equivalent of that. (Just, potentially, a little bit more smelly.)

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