the individual voice

What's in a voice?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of delivering a workshop for Saffron Records, Bristol's first female-only record label, for young women aged 16 – 24.

Just before its launch in July 2015, I worked closely with Saffron's Creative Director, Laura Lewis-Paul, to develop the label's tone of voice. Over a year down the line, it's great to look back at all Laura has achieved, and see how established that voice has now become.

Just the two of us

Laura and I were the only two people in the room when we first got together for a tone of voice workshop. 12 or so months on and Saffron has recruited two fantastic apprentices (A&R and digital marketing) and signed three talented young artists.

The vision, values and personality that inform, as well as its tone of voice, everything the label is and does, have really taken root and become a culture. It's an absolute joy to see.

That said, when Laura asked me to do a voice workshop with Saffron's artists I was, initially, a little stumped.

What's in a voice?

Tone of voice guidelines are there to support people communicating on an organisation's behalf. While Saffron's artists are representing their label, they're not really communicating on its behalf in quite the same way as, for example, its digital marketing apprentice.

As artists they're largely in the business of communicating self-expression. With this in mind I asked myself what, for an artist as opposed to an organisation, is voice really made of?

Voice as art (vulnerability)

As Julia Cameron, best-selling author of The Artist's Way and The Right to Write so succinctly puts it, ‘True art requires true honesty, which means that for our art's sake, as much as our own, we must learn the skill of vulnerability.’

To be human is to be vulnerable. An uncomfortable truth, which is probably why vulnerability isn't so easy to sit with.

We often want to skip past it to a place where we feel less exposed, more secure. But acknowledging and drawing from vulnerability can bring real strength, particularly for artists who trade in communicating emotion.

Voice as womanhood (courage)

It may be 2016 but the playing field still isn’t level. That's why Saffron exists.

To be a woman in a male-dominated industry can take courage which, in her excellent TED talk on the power of vulnerability, researcher Brené Brown describes as ‘telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.’

Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart, you have to be vulnerable. One hand feeds the other.

Standing on a stage sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings, you're inevitably demonstrating both. And (perhaps) for women raised in a society that accepts their right to feel and express vulnerability in a way it (sadly) does not for men, womanhood and courage have a notable dynamic.

Voice as story (connection)

Stories cut to the core of who we are. They connect us to ourselves and each other.

Singers and songwriters are, of course, storytellers, connectors. They connect with themselves to connect with their audience.

This storyteller / listener relationship is old as hills and a cornerstone of the human experience. Any consideration of the artist's voice must surely take story and connection into account.

Voice for communication

We all have values and vulnerabilities, stories and beliefs. The more we understand them the better we communicate.

I love working on tone of voice with people and their businesses, understanding and helping them share their passions with the world.

If you're interested in tone of voice and would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch.

Valuing the individual voice

One of the first things I did after jumping feet first into freelancing was sign up to receive all sorts of industry information. Regular email updates from all corners of the wide and varied copywriting world now land in my inbox each day.

Many of them are useful and I squirrel such emails away for some untold future purpose. Equally as many, however, are not. Well, I say this but of course it's not a universal truth. I'm sure plenty of people read, enjoy and learn from the content in the kind of emails I am referring to. I'm just talking of my own experience.

How to guides on SEO, top tips on writing for the web, content marketing dos and don'ts, know your buyer, sell more stuff, the list goes on. I'm not saying these things aren't important, of course they are and best practice is, after all, best practice. It's just that titles like this and the information that sits under them often leave me a little, well, cold.

Don't get me wrong. I am a professional and I know these things matter, but I sometimes feel that they fail to address one of the things I love most about being a copywriter: connecting people with words.

Many of my clients are similar to me, creative individuals who are just starting out or continuing to go it alone down their chosen paths. These people have taken a leap of faith to follow their passions and they come to me to ensure that their written voice reflects their ideals. They know what they need to say but not always how to say it. Finding the right words for them is a pleasure and a skill I am only just beginning to fully appreciate.

I consider myself lucky because writing has always come fairly naturally to me. I'm not saying it's not hard work because it most certainly can be, but finding the right words to express ideas and emotions has never troubled me all that much. And as a lover of words I think of this as a blessing. An even greater blessing, though, is affording this ability to other people, enabling them to say exactly what they want to say in a voice that rings true.

I know this is pretty basic stuff, copywriters are essentially pens for hire and honouring a client's tone of voice is a fundamental building block upon which all sorts of other technical skills must be founded. I suppose what I'm getting at is this: in the world of industry email updates that shout of buying, selling and search engine optimisation, it can be easy to lose sight of the quiet, individual voice and the value that lies in honouring it.