Guy-next-door voice for hire

PHOTO: Guy-next-door voice for hire

Hagen Valerio has parlayed a sweet husband's quirk into a career.

The former gas company technician used to put on local and foreign accents to amuse his wife, Yulia.

So convincing was he that Yulia, a 31-year-old English teacher, suggested three years ago that he become a professional voice actor.

Valerio, also 31, who graduated with a diploma in chemical engineering from Temasek Polytechnic, recalls: "I sat on the idea for a while. Then I came across a library book about voiceovers and how to make money with it. After reading it, I decided to do some samples."

Inspired by the 2004 book, How To Make A Million Dollars With Your Voice by Jeff Lenburg and Gary Owens, Valerio used a $6 desktop computer microphone and recorded himself reading articles off magazines and websites.

He searched the Internet for local production houses and advertising agencies, and sent his voice samples to 100 of them.

Within a month, he got a call for his first voiceover job - an engineering company needed someone to do a voiceover for a corporate video to be shown to clients.

He remembers how his voice quivered while reading the five-page script out loud. It took numerous attempts and over two hours to get it right.

He says: "The microphone was so sensitive that it picked up all my little nuances and funny speech habits. I thought that just having a good command of English was enough, but I was shocked to realise that it was not as easy as I expected."

For his first attempt, he was paid between $200 and $250, slightly less than the market rate.

Soon, however, he started to get more voiceover job offers from production companies.

He trained by listening to documentary voiceovers and audio books. He practised doing voiceovers by "recording myself and listening to the playback" during his free time.

He says: "There is a lot more to just having a nice and pleasant voice. You have to sound real and natural. It can be unpleasant to the listener if you sound fake, stiff and tense."

Nerves were inevitable at first and he recalls how it made his voice sound awkward. When that happened, he took a few deep breaths and focused on the words, to avoid being too self-conscious.

Over the next two years, while holding down a shift job - he had to work for three to four days a week on average - he took on voiceover assignments about two to three times a week.

He eventually realised that he was making almost as much from this sideline as from his salary as a technician. In mid-2011, he decided to give himself a year to try doing voiceovers full-time.

More than two years on, he has done voiceovers for nation-wide campaigns such as the National Environment Agency's Do The Mozzie Wipeout video and the TV commercial for sports drink Pocari Sweat.

On average, he does eight to 10 voiceovers a month.

He has grown more confident of his abilities over time. His mid-tone voice suits a broad range of roles, he says.

"My voice is in a good place. I have quite the guy-next-door type of vocals, not too high and not too low," he says.

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