You may notice as you go to put out an audition for a voiceover that there are a lot of accents to choose from. There are 160 distinct English dialects globally (LingoHut). So with all of these choices, how do you choose an accent? Is there one accent better than the rest?
The number one thing to remember when deciding on accents, is always keep your audience in mind. Accents bring aesthetics to voiceovers and evoke different reactions from listeners depending on their background.
But before we really dive in, note that there is not one superior accent, and there is no “right way” to speak. There is no ultimate “correct pronunciation” that supersedes all accents.
Accents are like cooking spices – there is no one spice that is better than another, but each one serves a different purpose and adds a different flavor.
Similarly, don't just think broadly in terms of international accents. There are over 35 distinct accents in Britain (EnglishLive) and between 20-30 in the US. Subtle differences in regional accents can make make a huge difference to the community and to how the voiceover will be received.
So with these thoughts in mind, here we go!
If you have read “The Three Pillars of Spoken Communication,” you’ll notice that accents fall under the pillars of perception and physicalization.
Is it relatable? Should it be?
The pillar of perception is dependent on the listener’s context in conjunction with an accent. Always think of it from their perceptive and their cultural lens rather than your own.
What is cultural lens? A cultural lens is the way which we see, understand, and, in turn, interact with the world around us based on our own life experiences.
In the case of voiceovers, that cultural lens can change the way your listeners perceive the speaker and your brand. We can think about it like word choice. An audio directed at late teens may use lingo familiar to their age bracket. That same lingo used in an audio intended for over 60’s would seem out of place and impersonal.
Similarly, you want to appeal and connect with your audience by means of accent. For example, many American’s find a received pronunciation British accent (RP) to be upper class, intelligent, and cultured. However, this means it is more difficult for an American audience to relate to an RP accent on a personal level.
Meaning that an RP accent used on an American audience would be a good choice if the product or brand being represented isn’t trying to meet their audience on a personal level. Maybe you want to show how global a product is without explicitly saying. Or maybe you want to tie your American brand to a British ideal. This is were accents come in handy.
How does it sound?
While perception plays the larger role in choosing accents for voiceover, don’t forget about the pillar of physicalization.
Accents are alterations on the physicalization the words, or what we would normally refer to as “pronunciation.” If you want your voice over to sound lyrical and smooth, perhaps don’t choose an accent that leans in the hard “r” sounds.
Don’t waste your time.
Because accents change the pronunciation of the words, I would select an accent prior to writing the script.
Many accents transition into dialects (where words are changed or substituted) pretty quickly.
Because of this, it’s helpful and timesaving to have the accent in mind before you write so that you don’t end up needing to make script adjustments later on.
As a final note, be wary of voiceover artists who claim they can do every accent. While there are a handful of extremely talented VO artists capable of being auditory chameleons, if you are not native to the accent of choice, it will be difficult to spot small discrepancies of an overconfident VO’s performance.