31 March 2021
Author: Kathryn Bishop
With a view to brands' audio content and marketing, you describe that most people’s ears have been racialised over time. What does this mean?
The Sonic Color Line, a book by Jennifer Lynn Stoever, traces the idea that we often think of race in terms of visual distinctions or perhaps language. But Jennifer is looking at a sonic framework, and the concept of the racialised ear – not just what we’re hearing, but how and why. Historically, when black voice talent came into radio, they were forced to either play racial stereotypes or to play against them, to sound like their white counterparts.
Today, there remains an issue when we think about the US and the sound of the American voice. For example, I looked at health-focused commercials during the pandemic and found that over 90% of the voices featured were white, even though a larger percentage of the black population were being affected by the virus. I don't expect voice diversity was something advertisers were even thinking about, but why are we choosing the voices that we choose?
You’ve written about sonic racism and the impact of brands' audio content failing to be inclusive or misattributing BIPOC voice talent. Are any brands addressing this yet?
Let me use Pandora as an example. We began looking at our voiceover talent and found there were a lot more white voices on the roster than black voices, so we have diversified it – we need to hear that diversity. But we also looked at how we were casting. Often, we’re tasked by clients to create and cast spots for advertising, yet in situations where we weren’t mandated by a brand, we found to our horror that over 90% of the time we were defaulting to casting white voices. So, we made a conscious decision to become more diverse, and in less than two months we had evened out the percentages with more black and Latinx voices.
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