A Glimpse inside the Voice Over Scene in Malaysia

I have an interesting, personal story with this 30-second Aiken commercial that recently aired. Well, more so with the skincare brand than the commercial itself.


I had one line in it,

“Yes, I love it! Now Aiken has launched a new serum.”

dubbing over the lady in blue.


 

In late 2020, after a couple months of full-time voice acting, I came across the Voice Guild Malaysia (VGM for short). It is the union that unites voice-over talents in Malaysia and to uphold professional standards while ensuring fair payments to our industry.


I was hesitant to join but after an old work acquaintance from BFM (an independent local business radio station) told me they always look for talents through the Guild’s website, I applied. I sent 5 voice samples of paid jobs I did in the past one year (a prerequisite to enter), got accepted, paid the registration and annual membership fee (RM100 + RM240), and voila! I’m in :)

VGM Homepage

So… what’s next?


Up to that point, I’ve only ever worked with international clients, a lot of which are audio drama and eLearning projects. I had absolutely no idea what the local scene was like.


A fellow member advised me to create voice samples in the local commercial style by referring to existing members’ samples and aired commercials. After some research, I stumbled upon Aiken and their commercials. I pulled out the scripts and created a few samples. Along with others, I uploaded them to the VGM website that currently compiles over 170+ talents’ profiles. You can check out my VGM profile here.


Since then, every time someone learns that I’m a voice over talent and ask me to ‘Say something’, or when I willingly (hah) give an example, I always go back to this 6-second Aiken commercial script:


Aiken naturally antibacterial shower.

Trusted by mothers.

Aiken Shower, protects naturally.


Chris Pratt surprise meme

The look on people’s faces when I say it, is invaluable. Their eyes widen, eyebrows reaching for their hairline, and their mouth slightly agape. They always look so happily surprised by it. Well, obviously, since me talking to them as a normal human being is a stark contrast to the hyper, high pitch voice. It’s an instantaneous way to burn your image, or rather, your voice into someone’s memory. I ‘advertise’ this script so often that I’ve memorized it. I’ve also booked a few jobs thanks to this particular audio.


Fast-forward to mid February 2022, I received a text from Moxim House, a local production house, asking if I was available for a recording session the next morning, and guess which brand was it for? Aiken!


i

was

ecstatic


I couldn’t believe it. I just felt so… so excited to turn up and record. During the session, I asked if they’ve heard my Aiken sample. The lady in charge said, “Yeah, you did for Aiken previously, didn’t you? We gave that sample to the client.” Of course I told them it was only a demo, and how thrilled I was when they contacted me for the commercial, even if it was only for a single line.


 

So that was a short personal attachment I have for the brand. To know more about the voice over industry in Malaysia, check out this list of 11 points created by Vulcan Post after interviewing members of VGM, including our President, Song Fan. It includes how to land a job (no audition required) and how much does VO in Malaysia cost, aka how much you can earn as a talent.


A few points to expand on that aren’t covered in the list above:


How important is it to join the VGM as a local talent?

It’s almost compulsory to be in the union for anyone who wants to make it as a voice actor in Malaysia, at least during the first few years of their career. This is because the website acts as a trusted source where studios and production houses go to find talents, download their voice samples and present to the clients. Some clients would also find talents here directly.

Secondly, the Guild sets the minimum rate for the industry so we don’t need to do much negotiating. The Guild also helps in payment collection, e.g. studios closing down without settling VO fees for months if not years. I have heard horror stories of talents not receiving their pay until after 2 years. 2 YEARS! Can you imagine? Being a freelancer can at times leave one quite vulnerable and the Guild helps to ensure we have at least some sort of protection.


Thirdly, with the members of the Guild standing united with the rates, we all ensure that the quality and value of our voices are fairly compensated. It will always be “May the most suitable voice win” rather than “May the cheapest offer win”. We communicate and inform each other as a group and seniors are always there to answer questions we newbies have.


I personally found the Guild to be quite essential, especially the President, Song Fan, who is attentive and always takes the time to answer all our questions, from calculating rates to revision policies to explaining the value of our voices to clients. I have had hour long phone calls with him where he shares his 20+ year experience in the industry; how it was before, how things have changed etc. He is a strong leader that keeps the Guild members united.


I’ve come to believe that a united Guild is extremely important. For instance, we don’t provide free demos, we charge for them. So if one member starts giving free demos, clients would start expecting that from other members, and when they don’t comply, they lose out. Our actions affect fellow members and the Guild as a whole.



How are the audio samples different compared to the West?

In Malaysia, studios typically request for individual clean audio samples, i.e. only your voice and no backing music or SFX. Compilations are highly discouraged. On the VGM profile, you can feature past jobs where the extracted audio (from video or radio commercials) have backing SFX. The more past clients jobs you list, the better.

Screenshot of the list of audio samples I have
I provide relevant samples based on client's request.

This means you’ll have a ton of clean Commercial samples at your disposal: Say, if you speak 3 languages: Mandarin, Malay and English (with different accents like Asian, American, British), and the different Commercial variations like hyper and bubbly (my Aiken sample), caring and motherly, sensual and seductive etc., you’ll have… 15 samples? (did you know I almost pursued a degree in Mathematics? and now my maths is down the drain) Plus, if you sing, you’ll have singing samples, rapping samples, and maybe a single character reel.

In the West, you often need a demo reel, i.e. a compilation of different voices/delivery that you are able to perform to showcase your range. The demo reel is accompanied with SFX and its duration depends on the category, e.g. 60 seconds for a Commercial demo or up to 2 minutes for Narration. It’s ideal to have a demo reel for each category or niche that you wish to pursue: Commercial, Promo, Narration, Animation, Video Game, and Audiobook.



Terminology: Voice Actor vs Voice Over Talent / Artist

Sam Yeow VGM Profile

I always introduce myself as a

voice actor. But in Malaysia, we are often identified as “Voice Over Talents” instead.


Here is how I perceive the differences: “Acting” means you embody a character. I don’t react as how I, Sam Yeow, would react. Rather, I act as how the character would react. If the character is a cold and quietly vengeful Queen, then her laugh could be a low growling, stifled laugh. She would shed a tear when she is mourning but never cry out loud. It’s different to how I, Sam Yeow, would be when I laugh or mourn.


While animations and video games are popular and in demand in the West and thus require the Voice Actor to embody the character, the majority of our work here is Commercials. So we don’t do as much ‘acting’ as we do ‘broadcast’. Corporate videos are professional, documentaries are mysterious, and eLearnings are conversational and friendly. Pretty straightforward.



How is the industry changing with Covid?

Disclaimer: I was NOT a voice talent in Malaysia prior to Covid. But having spoken to guild members, audio engineers, studio owners, and being in the active VGM chat group, here is what I concluded:


Before Covid,

  • Plenty of locals jobs to go around so talents don’t seek out international jobs

  • There was no need to own a microphone or have any post-production knowledge as recording sessions are done in studios that are equipped with high quality recording tools and operated by experienced audio engineers


Then the pandemic hit,

  • A handful of local talents sought out home studio solutions, including buying or building their own recording booth, purchasing microphones and audio interfaces and mic stands

  • Talents learned how to use DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation - the recording software) with basic cleaning and editing skills

  • Talents learned how to conduct live directed sessions over Zoom or Google or Skype

  • Talents sought out international jobs and castings since those recording work are mostly done remotely

Sam Yeow Home Studio Booth Recording Setup
My current recording setup

To be honest, I was baffled when members asked what microphones to buy and how to do basic editing. I only say this because I was born out of home recording. I hit the record button myself and I do my own editing. Though of course, that leaves me very vulnerable and inexperienced when I show up at a studio.


Now, here comes an important question: Once we as talents have our own recording setup and editing knowledge, why wouldn’t the clients come to us directly then? They could save the cost of renting a studio and audio engineers.


This is another reason why I think positively of the Guild: In our rate card, if we were commissioned to record and edit on our own, we as talents charge an extra ‘recording and editing’ fee, fees that are supposed to go to the studios. We do so to discourage clients from hiring us directly and to do our part in maintaining the vital role of studios. The quality of the studio infrastructure and the knowledge of the audio engineers are still very much relevant in the industry.



which brings me to… the Audio Post Guild (APG for short)


APG logo

There are many studios, production houses, and broadcasting stations in Malaysia. With payment collection being a crucial aspect, we often request for upfront payment from new and unfamiliar studios to prevent situations where we are left chasing payments or not receiving it altogether.


On the other hand, the Audio Post Guild Malaysia features a list of studios that work with agencies, does commercial work and follows the Guild’s rate, whose world revolves within the audio and music universe. Payment terms are different with them.


Oftentimes, clients hire studios to bring their vision to life. Clients may have different payment terms with studios, and delay from their end could mean a delay on talents’ payments. Hence, meetings between the APG and VGM committee are important to create and maintain a conducive working relationship amongst studios and talents.



and lastly, a Discord channel for aspiring voice over talents from Malaysia and Singapore


MY SG Voice Actors Logo

In late 2020, Lylia and Su Ling (2 Malaysian voice actors who lent their voices in No Straight Roads, a rhythm-based action-adventure video game) created a Discord server that welcomes everyone of all voice acting experience levels to make friends, learn, and exchange thoughts and ideas with one another. The requirements are: (1) you're aged 18 and above, (2) a voice talent located in Malaysia / Singapore, or that you identify as Malaysian/Singaporean but based overseas.


The channel has grown to over 200+ members, labeled under categories like Casting Directors / Studios, Professionals, and Voice Actors. The server is helpful for local talents who don’t know where to start. Members also hold weekly workshops where you can tune in to participate and have some fun voice acting. If you meet the requirement and would like to join the server, head over to their Twitter profile where the Discord link is there :)


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