Herdís Hallvarðsdóttir has one of the most famous voices in Reykjavík – maybe even in Iceland. Anybody who has ever taken one of the yellow, shiny busses in Reykjavík has heard the characteristic “BING” followed by Herdís’s legendary “Næsta stop er…” (“the next stop is…”) or the famous “Tenging við aðrar leiðir” (“connection to other routes”).
She owns the audiobook company hljodbok.is together with her husband Gísli Helgason, who has been recording spoken language for decades. I visited Herdís in their little studio to see what kind of person was behind this voice that we all know so well.
A dog, coffee and audiobooks
When I enter the studio, a little dog comes running at me. “This is Bjartur,” Herdís comes to tell me, smiling. The studio is packed with audiobooks and other related things which gives it a cosy and homey-flair.
Herdís consequently offers me some coffee which only deepens this impression. As we sit down for the interview in the vocal chamber, Bjartur is with us the whole time, listening quietly.
The call that changed everything
On an eventful day around 5 years ago, recording engineer Gísli received a call from Reykjavík’s only private bus company – Strætó. Being one of the few in his profession, they sought him out to record the bus stops on voice.
“He proposed a couple of readers and in the end, they chose me,” Herdís tells me. “It took quite some time in the beginning to record everything. There were a lot of files. Now they send us new files once or twice a year and I read the new bus stops.”
Enunciation is no child’s game
Herdís studied singing and enunciation when she was younger. She tells me that she had always been careful about pronouncing things carefully and correctly but she had also learned a lot from Gísli’s experience in working with many different voice actors.
More difficult than reading the bus stops, however, was to find the “BING” which precedes the announcements. “I remember it took us a long time to find this sound,” Herdís says. “We had a big synthesizer here and there were several hundred different sounds in the sound library. We tried many of them and ended up with the one we have now. There are great memories connected to this!”
Hearing a voice – and it’s yours
As for all of us, there was also a first time for Herdís hearing her own voice on the bus. “I was on the way to Höfði to some bus stop I didn’t know yet,” Herdís recalls.
“I checked the map and knew where I had to get out, so I just watched where we were through the window. Then, all of a sudden, there was me, telling myself where I had to go out! That was very funny.”
Even though Herdís’s voice is being heard by thousands of people every day, it is not a big deal for her. “It’s just like any other work,” Herdís states. “It is just that the outcome is a little more noticeable than many other jobs you could have.”
If that wasn’t enough, Herdís also used to be the bassist of the one of Iceland’s first girl-bands Grýlurnar. What a legend.