Mandy Voices member Hannah Melbourn is an award-winning voiceover artist who has worked for a string of clients including the BBC (Top Gear, Dr Who, The Voice), Fujitsu, Google, Audi, Coca Cola, Talk Mobile, Matalan, Renault, Channel 4, Ebay, Disney and more. Here she tells Mandy News how she got started in the industry, what an average day looks like and what it takes to succeed in the voiceover industry.
Hannah, tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you got into voiceover work?
First of all can I please say how lovely it is to be asked to give this interview – I feel very honoured! So I came to the wonderful world of voiceovers from a background in music. I started my performing career at the age of 16, singing in bands, something which I continue to do today as a lead singer, top line writer and backing vocalist. My foray into voiceovers kickstarted in 2011 – I’d just come off tour with my band and was going through some huge changes in my personal life, and I felt it was very important to make good on a promise I had made to myself.
I knew that my voice was my talent and the key to everything. I’d always loved using my voice to make people feel something, whether that was to make them laugh by doing impressions or funny voices, or make them cry from a heartbreaking vocal. It had been an ambition of mine from a young age to voice a cartoon character and I had promised myself I would do everything I could to make that happen. So it was with that ideal and goal in mind that I began.
I started dabbling in my spare time, working on a cranky old laptop, writing myself scripts, solidifying some of those ‘funny voices’ in my head into actual characters, learning how to record myself (which involved shaking off my inner technophobe – there was much work to do!) and lining my long suffering flatmate’s cupboard with duvets so I could crawl in there and record my early demos. Until one day, I managed to convince a sound engineer friend, who had been the drummer in a band that my band used to play shows with, to record my first ever demo in exchange for a bottle of wine.
How did you go about securing voiceover work initially and then getting an agent? Luck? Hard work? Poached?
Hard work! I don’t believe in luck. You make your own chances. Once I had my demo, I went to work sending it out and contacting everyone I could. Very early on I heard back from an agent who asked to meet me. He said he thought I was talented and advised me to start working on small projects through casting platforms to get some experience. Which is exactly what I did. That has turned into a lovely roster of clients some of whom have been with me since the very beginning. That agent is no longer in the business but I do think of him often and how a little bit of encouragement meant so much at that time.
What’s an average day look like for you? Not that there are often average ones!
No such thing! I also have a toddler so literally anything is possible! It’s normally a mix of auditioning, marketing, quoting, reading up on the latest industry news, watching a webinar, a bit of social media activity, invoicing, updating my website or blog – and all that is before the ‘actual’ work starts, which could be in my studio or in town. It’s full on.
Tell us your process from applying for the job, to securing it, to working on the day?
When I’m recording an audition I’ll start by reading through the script lots of times to find the shape of it, mark it up, and work out a couple of different ways I can deliver it before I get into the booth. I’ll record my demo and write a bespoke cover letter to go with it. Once I’ve heard back that I’m hired I’ll keep in close contact with the producer to make sure I have everything I need for the day.
I try to get as much creative direction as I can and ask to see any of the other materials – so any visuals, music etc – so I’m in the right head space. I love the walk from the tube to the studio when I’m in Soho. Those are moments when I know I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.
Tell us how working on something like a commercial differs from an audiobook or corporate voiceover? Presumably audiobook jobs are longer? Who do you communicate traditionally on any of these?
Oh yes, they are very different beasts. With commercials you can be in a studio with 10 ad agency people, creative directors, producers and account managers all looking at you from the other side of the glass, and you can be in and out in an hour. You are really performing in these situations, interpreting lots of direction, adapting and changing very quickly – you have to be super on-it.
Audiobooks take a great deal of focus, patience and tenacity. They can involve weeks of work, often alone. You must have the book read from cover to cover and all your characters distinctly worked out before you even think about getting in the booth. I do most of my corporate work from home but sometimes the clients want to dial in, which I prefer because you get feedback in real time. If something isn’t working, you can change tack straight away.
In all cases, I prefer working with people wherever I can. My favourite jobs are face-to-face with directors, and I really love working with other voice actors.
What has been your most exciting or challenging job? What’s the one you’re most proud of?
Wow, what a question! How can I choose!? I’m obviously most proud of the work I won an award for recently, which was a radio promo for BBC’s Gunpowder series starring Kit Harrington and Liv Tyler (you can take a listen to it here: http://hannahmelbourn-voiceover.com/Gunpowder-BBC-Radio-1). I knew there was something special about the energy of it the day I recorded it. They hadn’t told me what show it was for and when I go in there and found out I was so excited as I’m a massive Game of Thrones fan.
Unbeknown to me, a friend of mine Richard Glover (who is a hugely talented actor and comedian and all round excellent egg) was also in the show as one of the baddies, so it really was a dream come true to be a part of it.
Do you have to travel for your voiceover work often/ever?
Yes all the time and I love travelling. Most of my work is in London, as you might imagine, but I’ve recorded voiceovers in a freezing cold field in Manchester whilst playing the part of a bird, in Brighton, Reading, Surrey… all over the shop.
Do you have a home studio? Tell us what kind of kit you use and what your setup looks like!
Absolutely. It’s all about to change as we are converting part of our house into a music studio and we are designing a new and improved vocal booth for me. This is a bit of a challenge as it's all got to happen alongside my current setup, so I can carry on working. I’m actually writing a blog about it so follow me there to hear all the latest progress!
How often are you in your own studio or a production company’s studio?
I’m in my studio every single day, and in other people’s studios as often as they ask me!
Are there any voiceover networking events or conferences you’d recommend to anyone, in the UK or internationally? We see you’ve won the Best Radio Promo award this year at One Voice! Congrats!
Thanks very much! The One Voice conference is awesome (and I’m not just saying that because I won an award!) The company who run it, Gravy For The Brain, are an amazing resource for all voice actors. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The Voiceover Network also run some good courses, there are the VOX awards coming up in the UK in October and I hear VO Atlanta is brilliant but I’ve not been yet – maybe next year.
What advice can you give to aspiring voiceover artists?
It’s all the same stuff that applies to all walks of life really – be nice, go the extra mile, keep learning, network, get your branding spot-on. Make sure you understand the way pricing works so that you are a) getting paid what you are worth and b) so that you aren’t undercutting other voice actors. We have a responsibility to uphold standards in the industry.
And most importantly, of course, be yourself. There’s only one like you.
What’s coming up next for you?
I was fortunate to be cast as part of the ADR team directed by Hugh Edwards at High Score productions, on the new Terry Gilliam Film The Man who killed Don Quixote which is premiering at Cannes on May 19th and stars Adam Driver - so that's a bit amazing!
I'm very excited about a children’s short-film (with a TV series in the pipeline) that I've just recorded called Happy Go Hopscotch which will be shown as a Christmas special all over Europe. It's a really interesting project because it's all about teaching children to adopt healthy thought patterns, to help them bounce back when life gets tough. Teaching them about the importance of things like kindness and gratitude and forgiveness. As a Mum this really appeals to me, and also I get to play a very sweet character called Ingrid, the anxious piglet.
We recorded the pilot as a group and everyone involved was so talented. It ticks all my boxes really, in terms of what this job is all about.
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