Where Has All the Professional Dubbing Talent Disappeared To?

Opinion Piece: Aida Martirosyan - Managing Director, Haymillian

The media localization industry is experiencing a shortage of professional dubbing talent because most dubbing studios are based in the same geographical locations. There are solutions, but for these to happen, flexibility and open-mindedness from all concerned parties will be key. Here are my 2-cents on what moves we need to make before we reach the point of saturation.

The shortage of quality dubbing talent has been a concern in the industry for some time. This is especially the case in countries such as France, Germany, and Italy. I sat around a table with several of my industry peers at a conference a few weeks ago and this seemed to be a common issue for everyone. 

Hundreds of thousands of people work in the dubbing/voice-over space but the advent of digitization along with the collapse of global borders means that demand often exceeds supply. This is a growing problem for localization vendors when in search of professional voice actors who have the right language and accent as well as the necessary experience, skills, and talent.

Voices.com estimate that on average, people hear up to 150 recorded voice-overs in a 24-hour period. The “Report on the Global Voice Over Market” commissioned by Voices.com sums it up nicely: “From public transit systems on your way to work, to phone system recordings, to e-learning platforms and online, to finishing up your day with playing mobile games, console games or even sitting back and watching TV shows, wrapped in ads. Voice is omnipresent.” Dubbing and voice-over talent is not just for TV and film anymore. Voices are required for many services designed to educate, inform, and entertain listeners. The abovementioned report highlights twelve main categories of work: animation, audiobooks, business recordings, documentaries, educational, internet video, movie trailers, podcasting, radio, telephone, television, and video games.

To match supply with demand, find and retain good professional voice actors, there are two solutions that we as an industry can easily adopt:

1. Move your dubbing studios out of central locations, or in other words, historically recognized “central dubbing hubs”

It almost seems like an obligation to set up our dubbing studios in Berlin, Milan, Munich, Paris, or Rome. Indeed, these central locations are easily accessible, boasting large populations, with theaters, universities, and other amenities, but why else? Take Italy as an example, what’s wrong with setting up a studio in Naples or Sicily? Both regions have great theaters and good groups of artists, therefore, giving us - the localization vendors a larger pool of talent for content owners to choose from.

For the German-speaking market Austria is now a great place to be. Why? First, there is more available talent in the Austrian market. Secondly, Austrian actors are a great bunch of people to work with, and finally, they can speak German with various accents “on command”. This is also the case for Belgium actors can voice French with a Parisienne accent or even that from Marseille. Of course, not all actors can do this, but there are exceptional people out there who have honed and diversified their talents over the years.

I believe that moving our studios out to regional locations is not only a logical choice but a necessary one in the long-term. In fact, it’s a step that we have already taken at Haymillian.

In early 2016, we took our Chinese dubbing to East China, far from any of the main hubs. This studio is busy round the clock since it opened, and we have never had difficulties in finding the talent we need.

2. Work with universities and performing arts schools to recruit and train fresh talent

This solution is a simple one – we need new and fresh voice talent. As such, it makes sense to reach out to where people are being trained in the performing arts; i.e. specialized schools and universities. At Haymillian, we always select and train our team members, and a logical choice would be to hire graduates straight from university and train them “on the job”.

The benefits are two-fold: First, the student progresses quickly into work life, learning and perfecting his/her skills through real-life experience and professional coaching. Second, the localization service provider can train and develop new talent to meet its specific needs, while building a wider portfolio of actors to serve its clients.

Hence, I’m asking our clients (the studios and TV channels) to trust us: please base your decisions not on where our dubbing studios are located, but on the sample recordings you are provided. Give us at least the chance to prove that these solutions work before making any judgments.

To my fellow localization vendors, do not be afraid to locate your studios out of the main metropolitan centers. Look also at the benefits of possibly changing countries: Austria rather than Germany, Belgium instead of France, for example.

To conclude, I think that now is the time for us all to act, taking the necessary steps so that our industry does not suffer the consequences of a lack of voice actors. Ultimately, if your content is to reach audiences across the globe, it needs to be adapted and localized. For that, you need professional voice talent.