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Meet Hazem AlHabbal


Meet Hazem AlHabbal

With the increase in demand for more regional audio content, the voice-over industry stands to benefit immensely. Communicate spoke with Hazem AlHabbal, founder of Pandavoiceover, a company dedicated to providing professional voiceover services in both the entertainment as well as the corporate industry. Al Habbal spoke about the process behind humanizing a brand’s identity and the future of the podcast industry.

What are the different genres in voice-over?

There are many genres in voice-over but no one can do all of them. Some of them include -interactive voice response messages (IVR), corporate videos, documentary, dubbing, audiobooks, podcasts, etc. We have a personal relationship with our roster of talent. So when clients insist on experimenting with voices which are way off from their requirements, we interfere. For eg – A voice-over actor with a slow pace of speech and a deep voice won’t be able to give a fun, energetic tone of voice.

What is the difference between voice-over and dubbing?

For voice-over, you have to stay away from a rhythm while reading [the script.] It’s about communication with your voice. You have to act out the script, shift your tone while [orating] the words. However, in dubbing, it’s about creating characters and characters have rhythm. Every human being has a rhythm in them. The hardest part is to get out of your own rhythm and build a completely new one for the character. It doesn’t just involve changing your voice. Dubbing is definitely harder than doing voiceovers which is why you don’t see a lot of successful dubbing artists in the Middle East.  The misconception of people is that if they change their voice, they’ve automatically become a dubbing artist.

What kind of audio content do you work on with brands?

Surprisingly when we started the company, we thought our main revenue will come from radio adverts but the reality is most of the radio stations have their own in-house studios to record their own voice-overs, so they don’t really need us. Our highest sales point comes from IVR  because everybody needs it; construction companies, marketing companies, car companies, etc. Everybody needs a voice for the answering machine. It makes almost 50% of our sales. No matter how much we try to push the other genres of voice-over, IVR is still number one.

Then corporate videos come second, but we’re involved with in-house corporate videos for the internal team. The content is usually three to five minutes long and revolves around the branding of the company.

What is the process behind humanizing a brand’s identity on audio?

The client actually guides the process and asks us to evaluate. They ask us for the best options and we provide, based on which they either accept or reject them. Brands like to choose the voice which resonates best with them. From our end, when it comes to providing options, we ask for two key things- gender and age of the voice.  After having a look at the script and getting a feel of it, we use our imagination to find a voice that will also match the people’s imagination of the voice of so and so brand.

Once accepted, they normally run with the same voice for over two years before changing it. For example, Al Nahdi Pharmacy, the biggest pharmacy chain in Saudi Arabia requested for only one voice-over, which they repeated in all their adverts. After two years, they requested to change it because people became bored with the voice.

The brand also changes their voice based on their values and products. If we take big companies like the Savola Group, they select old men with a deep voice to showcase the brand values of being very old and [virtuous] in the market.

How can you make podcast content engaging?

Podcasts are long, between 20-45 minutes which is the optimal length [for an episode.] At any point, the voice-over actor should not end up reading the script while narrating the content. He should be acting it out. This is where the advantage comes of recording in a studio because the sound-engineer can tell them when they’re going off track.

For podcasts where a guest expert comes in to speak, we share questions with our audience for the episode beforehand. For each episode, we share about 20 questions with the audience, on the host’s socials and they select the most interesting ones out of the lot. Based on the data, we understand the kind of questions the consumer is interested in knowing the answer to and navigate the conversation around this.

Finally, we do a little bit of tweaking in the editing room; by adding [teasers] of what we believe are the most valuable pieces of information out of the entire episode. This is done through understanding the data we received from our audiences based on the questions they selected. Hence, the listener will feel motivated to sit through the entire episode to get to that interesting byte of information.

Why are brands still skeptical about investing in the podcast space?

I believe the reason is that brands are still not sure how to make money from podcasts, it’s still not clear for them. The medium has proven to be one of the best marketing tools- because of its niche listeners. Right now, our company is trying to push the podcast space into the Arab world by offering studio time and the sound designer for free, in return for mentioning our brand at the beginning of the podcast episode.

What are the gaps in the MENA voice-over industry?

  • Most clients do not prefer dealing with voice-over artists by themselves because of trust issues. 70% of clients prefer an intermediary company to deal with finding and collaborating with a voice-over artist. ‘-
  • Clients can benefit more from directly getting in contact with the voice-over artist.

We filled these two gaps by being the intermediary company between a client and a voice-over artist and created our pricing model in such a way that it’s cheaper for clients to deal with us rather than directly contacting the voice-over artist.

Where do you see the podcast industry heading in five years’ time?

Right now people are probably preparing their business models but still have yet to find the right audience. The most important factor is the launch of time of a product. In two years’ time, it will the perfect time to launch your podcast content/company. The region needs another two years for brands and advertisers to be clear about the space and find ways to profit from it. Within two years’ time, many agencies will be focusing on this sector.

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