Voiceover and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Voiceover is, at its best, a business of service. It's not just a service as opposed to a product, although the product is crucial. It's a business of service to others.

One way of understanding the service we provide it to look at it through the lens of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In his much cited 1943 paper, "A Theory of Motivation," American psychologist Abraham Maslow grouped human needs into five levels, which are illustrated in the now familiar pyramid.


Let's talk about each level, and how it applies to the business of voiceover.

1. Physiological Needs

These are the most essential needs to keep the organism alive. For the body, food, water, warmth, rest. As we think about this in voiceover, the basic needs are product related, because if we can't provide a baseline product, then there's nothing. The basic product has to be script-correct, with a clean recording - no room noise, no echo or boxiness, no mouth noise, with proper levels and dynamics. The file has to be in the proper format. It has to be delivered on time, to the right place, with the right method. Even the most basic end product should reasonably and professionally convey the tone and emotion intended.

2. Safety Needs

These needs have to do with safety and security in the service that we provide. Ultimately, safety needs are about trust and how we build that with our clients. We have to make sure that clients are, and feel, safe. In some cases, we may sign a non-disclosure agreement so that the client can feel safe discussing the project without the threat of competitive compromise. Non-competitive clauses are all about keeping the client safe.

Our website, and all the interactions we have with the client, whether digital or otherwise, should be secure. This is why we have a secure certificate on this site, comply with GDPR guidelines, and use password protected, secure sites like Dropbox or Google Drive, when delivering files.

Trust is built by setting and meeting or exceeding expectations consistently over time. If our clients don't feel safe, if they don't trust us, they won't remain clients very long.

3. Belongingness and Love

This is the part of this business I love the most. It's about building relationships and friendships. When I'm on my deathbed, I'm not going to look back and remember that medical narration job in 2018, I'm going to look back at all the friends and wonderful people that I've been lucky enough to get to know, and hopefully, help, over the course of my life. 

For our clients, it's about making sure that they feel like they're in the right place, working with the right people. We often call this fit. If you get an audition for a monster truck spot, and your wheelhouse is typically conversational "guy next door" or light narrative stuff, and this is really outside your repertoire, you sometimes have to have the empathy for the client and discipline for yourself to admit it's not a good fit and move on so that the client can find belongingness and love elsewhere.

Do we value the relationship more than the project? If there's an atmosphere and philosophy of belongingness and love, the answer is yes.

4. Esteem

Esteem needs are about a feeling of accomplishment and prestige. This is a huge measuring stick. Did we help our client get their job done easier, faster, better, and with more joy? Did we take a load of work and worry off of their plate? Did we anticipate their needs before they communicated them, and did we work to fill them without being asked? Did we raise our client's prestige by making them look like a rock star to the people they serve? 

5. Self-Actualization

"What a man can be, he must be." ~Abraham Maslow

Did we, through the consistent fulfilling our client's needs, help them to realize their full potential? Is our relationship with the client helping us both to do that? Are we trained well enough to elevate the work consistently over time so that we contribute in a tangible way to our client's mission?

Maslow stipulates that self-actualization can't be achieved unless and until the other needs are met.

I hope this gives you a way of looking at the voiceover business that you hadn't considered. I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.