The Voice Over Timeline
The FAQs About Being A Voice Actor
If you read the FAQs above, you will know how important this is. Don’t jump right in, for now make Voice Over your hobby. Learn about each genre. For each one learn what skills are valued, what are the industry standards, what kinds of jobs are available. If you are interested in audiobooks, do research specific to that (the skills and standards are very different from other VO). Watch YouTube videos (with a wary eye), listen to (professionally produced) VO podcasts and audiobooks, read VO blogs and books (with a doubting heart), look up VO coaches and consultants, and Then Research Those People! What do they do in and for the industry? Look at their websites and listen to their demos. Do they voice clients that you’re interested in? Does the other talent they work with have successful careers? Join Facebook groups and (respectfully) ask about them there. You will definitely “learn” what to do and what not to do because everyone gives their opinion (sarcasm). But seriously join facebook groups, lurk for a long time, read the posts, use their search function - don’t ask lazy questions. VO is a very supportive industry and there is no shortage of valuable information and trustworthy mentors, but not everyone who has a platform has your best interest at heart. Be a part of the Voice Over community you’re trying to enter. Learn to filter out the diamonds in the rough.
You can literally learn how to do anything from YouTube. Keep in mind, though, that there are many VO channels on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean they are qualified to be giving advice. So, let me give you some advice (Have you done your research? Can you trust me?): YouTube is an excellent tool for Voice Actors. You can learn about the companies you want to work with on their channels. They may have their current and/or past commercials as well as their corporate videos on their channels. You can also find VO demos (good and bad) all over YouTube. Watch clips from cartoons and movies to inspire new characters for you to develop. One cool resource is VO Buzz Weekly, an excellent VO talk show/podcast featuring celebs in the industry. Another great website is ispot.tv where you can listen to VO for commercials.
Money! Money! Money!
If you read the FAQs you know by now that this is not a get rich quick career. In fact, getting started in Voice Over is not cheap... like AT ALL. Coaching, classes, memberships, casting sites, demos, websites, business cards, equipment, industry conferences and events, studio time or building your own studio, accounting software, CRMs, all of it adds up. DO NOT expect professionals to give you their time for free! It is disrespectful. Don’t ask and definitely don’t demand it. Pay coaches or consultants for their time. You got your free information with all that research you did. Now it;s time to invest in your future. How much will it cost you? Upwards of $10k-15k, but who’s counting? How much is it worth to you?
Don’t have a panic attack!! Most people get their career started for less than $5k. Be resourceful, do your research, make the most of your investments, but do NOT cut corners. Once you start making some money be prepared to put it right back into your business. If you work your business well, and dedicate the time into your business, you will break even after a couple years. On average it takes 5+ years to start making a real profit.
To Be A Voice Actor You Must Be An...Actor
You want to be a Voice Actor, but you have never taken an acting class? What about performing in plays? On camera? Nothing?!? Oh, you have to change that. Voice Acting IS Acting! If you don’t have the skills and knowledge of acting, your auditions will fall short and booking a job will become nearly impossible. Take an acting class (many community colleges offer these to get you started). Take an improv class. Go to some acting or audition workshops. If you area singer, do a musical. Do some community theatre or short films. Get paid or don’t get paid, just get your butt on a stage or in front of a camera. Learn the joys of acting. Learn the ways to express yourself and how to dive into characters.
But I'm Not A Singer...!
It doesn’t matter. TAKE SINGING LESSONS! If you want to be a Voice Over Actor, you need to learn how to use your most crucial tool - Your Voice! You don’t have to try out for The Voice or even be any good. Learning to use your voice safely will allow you to work more and make a better living. Vocal training will teach you have to control your breath, how to keep your voice healthy, how to manipulate your tone, rhythm, pacing, etc… Vocal fatigue sucks. It can take you out for weeks or can cause you to lose your voice permanently. Also learning to safely find different vocal tones will allow you to develop different types of characters.
Look for some improv classes and groups around you. You’ll be surprised by how many times a client will say, “Alright, I want you to do your own spin on it. Show me what ya got.” Playing with a script on the fly is a handy tool to have and it can leave the client feeling like they collaborated as a team rather than just seeing you as an employee they hired. Improv can help you make the script your own and that is the ultimate goal. Improv also keeps you present and engaged in the character of the copy rather than just reciting the words that you see on the page.
Look at you! You did your research about the Voice Over world! You have your favorite podcast on your phone. You’ve probably started googling IMDB of your favorite cartoons and animations. When commercials come on the tv and radio, you turn them up and listen to them rather than flipping to the next channel. You have been taking your acting, singing, and improv classes and have become quite the actor. You are still doing those things, right?
NOW YOU'RE READY! (for more learning)
Voice Over Training
Now that you have a strong base, you are almost ready to become a Voice Actor. All you need to do is take some Voice Over classes and get some coaching, but with whom? There are tons of reputable coaches out there, but there are also a lot of people with outdated knowledge (or no real knowledge) who are just in it to just make money off of beginners. If you did your research (remember step 1?), you should at least a general idea about where to start. Get some recommendations, then take those recommendations and research them. (More research? Yep!) Research the people who referred them. Are they working? Are they successful, or at least gaining some steam, in their career? Plus, your coaches should have coaches. Ask who they study with and who they would recommend. (Most people have multiple coaches so getting recommendations from a current coach is ok.) This field is about learning something new everyday. Everyone should be learning.
More Voice Over Training
You didn’t think you were done, did you? Training and coaching is an ongoing thing. Always keep learning about the new trends in Voice Over. Learning to pull from your stage training, on-camera experience, and improv training to bring something new and unique to your copy (script) on the fly. You won’t have time to memorize scripts. You won’t usually have a director helping you make the right choices. If you’re lucky you have time to mark your script after a quick read through before you audition. You’ll be glad you invested your time and money into those acting, singing, and improv classes and combined that training with your Voice Over training. When you are given brand new scripts from a new client you’ll need every bit of that training to help bring that script to life and make it your own and you’ll be glad you spent the time to master these skills. Remember you can’t sound like you’re reading.
Seriously Keep Training!
There is absolutely no reason to stop training and coaching. Like top athletes, top Voice Actors still train throughout their careers. Coach with everyone. Take more acting classes. Keep doing community plays or musicals and short films. Learn what you can from anyone you can so that you can make it your own. Develop your own style from the knowledge of others.
Voice Actors today are expected to know basic audio production skills (recording, editing, making mp3 and WAV files, etc...). You will need to find a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or recording software that you are comfortable with and that will do your audio justice. There are a few dozen out there and everyone is partial to their own. There are a few very good free programs to get people started as well. So explore and have fun. This is something that Facebook groups can help you with and, again, you can learn anything on YouTube. I use Presonus Studio One
Voice Over can be done from anywhere so you don’t have to live near a large recording studio. Even if you do, it’s a huge expense and a hassle to schedule. Often you get a job and the client needs it later that day. That’s why clients expect Voice Actors to have a professional home studios ready at a moment’s notice.
There are a few essentials that you will need for your studio.
The most crucial aspect of your studio is your recording space! Have different types of accoustic treatment is a must. This helps keep your audio clean and clear. A good mic picks up a lot of noise you wouldn't have even noticed before starting this career. It also means that the space doesn’t sound hollow, creating too much reverberation, pickimg up too much bass (making it sound muddy), or other things that can distort your voice.
Sound proofing requires dense barriers to keep out unwanted sound (kids, car noises, even the AC) Many people buy vocal booths from various companies to have delivered to your home. There are many out there and a few are excellent. You will want to use your newly honed research skills to check on these. Not all booths are equal and you don’t want to waste your money. It’s a huge investment.
You can also build your own from scratch, which is what I did. If you have an extra room that you can dedicate to your studio space, that would be ideal. Many Voice Actors use PVC pipes to create a framed booth and cover it with heavy moving blankets or special accoustic blankets. Most people convert a closet. Everyone has a closet, just find room in there for a mic, a music stand (or tablet stand), and your set. Pay attention to how it sounds, though. Background noise is your worst enemy and reflection is your enemy’s sidekick. Defeat them with all your might! Like everything else, YouTube has a lot of information about building your own space.
Your mic will also help make your voice sound as good as it should and can also be a big factor in how to sound treat your space. Make sure you take your time to choose the right mic for you.
What Mic Should I Get?
This question will be at the forefront of your mind during your journey, which is why I left it until now. You don’t need the most expensive gear, but the quality of the equipment is essential. It can land you or lose you the job. If your sound is not up to par with other professionals your auditions will get thrown out within seconds. That’s the truth. Stay away from USB microphones. They are for podcasts and hobbyist. Get a good XLR mic and audio interface with an excellent preamp. There are awesome mics, preamps, and interfaces for every budget.
The most important equipment that you will need in your home studio is:
-Treated Recording Space
-External Mic Preamp (not necessary)
-Audio Interface (with a good mic pre)
-DAW (recording software)
Demo producers have their own specialized set of skills. Someone who knows proper demo production, who understands how to write custom copy for the genre of your demo. Whether it be commercial copy or character copy. Also, someone who can and will direct you in the session to give your demo a clear purpose and can push your reads to their fullest potential.
Once you have your demo finished it is your most essential tool as a voice actor. It will be the first thing anyone sees on your website. It’s what potential clients hear first. It’s what your future agents will use for marketing you. Never put something on your demo that you can’t recreate on the spot. Your demo shows your strengths. Never let them see your weaknesses. You know you can use your demo for marketing too? It’s the greatest marketing weapon in your arsenal. Marketing on your own (appropriately) can help you go from “Voice Over is fun” to “Holy Crap! I’m paying all of my bills with Voice Acting!” But remember it takes time and dedication. And not everyone is good at marketing. This is just one more thing to add to the list of what you will need to learn. There are so many wonderful Voice Actors and other marketing professionals who specialize in marketing voice over. You will want to check them out too.
Marketing Is Your Friend
Whether you are cold calling potential clients or sending them an email, marketing is a HUGE part of being a Voice Actor. Your job is to get your demos in front of as many clients as you can. Voice Over is a numbers game. You will have to rack up a lot of No(s) to get to the Yes(es). To learn how to market as a Voice Actor you will want to work with the best, so I’m going to name drop the people I trust in marketing for Voice Over.
Jonathan Tilley, Celia Siegel, and Marc Scott are just some of the excellent resources, but I can personally recommend them as the best I know. They can teach you everything from helping you develop your brand and logo, designing your website and business cards, to marketing directly to clients. I have developed my strategy for marketing to clients through Instagram, but that’s what works for me, for now. Everyone has their own unique way that works best for them, but it’s always based on what the experts have taught them.
A Website By Any Other Name...
It’s important to have a cohesive and professional look to your website, business cards, and other branding. If you haven’t worked with someone on branding and you don’t have a design background you will need to get some help deciding what it should look like. Most importantly: Make it simple. You don’t need anything crazy or elaborate. Don’t fill it with too many colors and graphics. Don’t use multiple fonts. Don’t add unnecessary widgets and other elements. This is all you need: your name, your contact information, your brand new demo, AND you need it all with your very own domain name. Once you have that you can begin your marketing journey. A great company to use is voiceactorwebsites.com. They make amazing websites for voice actors. Wix and Squarespace are also two great platforms to create your own site. They are very user friendly, but there are also Voice Actors who have design backgrounds and can help. There are other options, too, just do your research.
Confrences Make Careers!
No, you’re not going to book a job by meeting someone at a conference. Ok, it is a possibility, but that’s not why we attend them. Conferences help you on your path as a Voice Actor by teaching you more about your craft, more about marketing, and introducing you to more people in the industry. The bottom line is that they’re networking events. You’re meeting people who are just thinking about starting out in Voice Over and people who have been doing it for 20-40 years. I’ve met some of my heroes at conferences, people who I can now call my friends. You also learn A LOT at conferences. You can learn from casting directors, agents, and even other voice actors about the do’s and don’ts, the tips and tricks, and the inside scoop into the various genres. Going to non-Voice Over conferences and networking events is just as much, or more, beneficial. Marketing events, local business events, developer events, etc. will help you grow your business and grow as a business.
*Sometimes you met a casting director or agent at a conference that will lead to new jobs. Sometimes you meet a colleague who one day might refer you to a client looking for a fresh voice. And, of course, the non-Voice Over conferences could be a good place to meet potential clients. People don’t usually land a job from directly attending an event, but they are almost always a catalyst to more jobs.
"Where Do I Find Jobs?"
Literally every business on the planet is a potential client. How do you find these potential clients? Google them, go to their websites, follow their social media, strike up conversations with them at their businesses or at conferences. Find your contact point to them and begin your marketing. Email them your demo and maybe a personalized sample for their business. Make sure you are ready for this. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row before reaching out because you only have one chance to make a first impression.
There are also multiple other ways to look for jobs, like casting sites and industry conferences and other events.
Let’s say a potential client has just reached out to you asking what your rates are. There’s just one problem, you have no clue what you will charge. Well, you think, you are relatively new to Voice Over so $50-$100 for, let’s say a commercial, sounds good right?!?! NO! You have dedicated yourself to this. You’ve studied with multiple coaches, you went to conferences, you paid for top notch demos, a website, your home studio and equipment, marketing, and numerous other business expenses. That all adds up and your rates need to reflect that. A rate that low is not only robbing you but it also lower standards rates for Voice Actors across the board. This is where research comes in handy again! Lucky for you, a good friend and VO buddy of mine made this part easier for you. He and others have helped create an online rate guide that you can reference for the various genres of Voice Over. GVAA Rate Guide! Check it out! The best way to negotiate a rate is to go to a professional. That's what Agents are for
P2Ps, or Pay to Plays, are casting websites where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to have the opportunity to audition for projects. Just like anything you invest your time and money into, DO YOUR RESEARCH. A lot of these companies aren’t worth it. All of them will have you spending hours auditioning to not even to be heard because you auditioned too late, so you’re number 75 and they stopped listening after the first 11. There has been at least one company that was found out to be stealing money out of the talent budgets for themselves. Is it impossible to find success on P2Ps? Absolutely not! Many people make a great living with these sites, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! You may find that marketing yourself is a better use of your time and money, like I have, but there are many paths to success in Voice Over. If you do decide to go the P2P route be smart about it. Choose the right one for you and then learn when and how to audition and which projects are the best ones for you. Don’t audition for everything. Prioritize the auditions on what you are most likely to book. Get to those first then go back and work on the others.
Welcome to the Talent Agency!
Getting An Agent!
Hopefully by now you have done your training. Oh, and are you keeping up with your training and coaching? You’ve found an awesome demo producer to make you a kick-ass demo(s). You have your website up and running. You’ve even landed a couple of gigs with some clients through your direct marketing or maybe a P2P. Well, that’s good because most agents won’t rep a newbie who they are not sure can deliver to a client. Usually, you can find agents in any large city and or market. Use Google to see what agents are in the areas closest to you. Look for an agency that is specific to Voice Over first, but also look at other agents and see if they have a Voice Over rep. First, listen to their roster. Listen to the people you will be competing against for jobs. Do you sound like you have something to offer that could get you chosen over them? Do you even match up? Be honest with yourself. Is your demo on par with the rest of the demos which are repped by that agency? If so, every agent has their way to submit to them. Read their requirements. Then reread them. Then read them out loud a couple of times. Agents make you submit specific ways to test your capacity to follow directions because you will be reading custom directions in each audition and they expect you to follow them to the letter. You have one shot to impress them. Good luck! (And don’t mess this up!)