Back in college one of my fondest memories was working as a DJ at our FM station. It was called Radio X and I hosted a three hour show a couple of times a week. I gave myself the moniker “The Peace Chick” and adopted an easy breezy style of chatting it up with my audience between songs, providing weather updates or reading the news off the AP wire. Sometimes I worked with a co-host and sometimes it was me solo. Unfortunately, I only learned that there was a tape deck that was set up to record the show near the end of my time there. Which means I only have two samples on cassette that we sometimes play during long road trips when we are in the mood for some Pixies, Matthew Sweet and obscure songs off the soundtrack of Empire Records.
Even though I had extensive practice on a mic I was extremely late to the Voice Over (VO) game. It had a little to do with how difficult it was to make my own demos and the expense of renting studio time but it had a lot to do with my general cluelessness about VO as a career. I thought you had to be a Robin Williams type vocal artist, able to do any celebrity impressions and all of the dialects. While it does help to have those skills, especially for animation, it is not a requirement by any means.
VO work comprises many specialty fields; Animation, ADR/Looping, Audio Books, Documentary Narration, Radio/TV Commercials including Infomercials, Medical or Technical, Podcasting and Video Game Characters. Each area requires a special skill set and knowledge of on mic technique, jargon, best practices, understanding of specific software and if you want to be able to audition at home you’ll need recording equipment. Finally, to be considered for most of these job opportunities you need a VO agent(s), sometimes in multiple markets.
This subset of the entertainment industry is very complicated to navigate. I’m constantly asked by other actors “How do I get into VO? My friends tell me I have a great voice.” There is no easy answer to this despite all the online courses and local classes that try and tell you otherwise. Yes, it is a lot easier to buy affordable equipment which greatly simplifies recording at home. However, so can everyone else. I think getting work in VO has actually gotten more difficult. Here’s why…
When casting is done through a VO studio they have to be selective about who they bring in because they only have so much time in the day. The upside to this was actors brought in had a much higher chance of booking the job, the agency was only choosing between +/- 30 people. If the agency opens the job up to anyone who can record at home, or even just sends it out to talent agents who only have their clients record from home, the number of submissions could be in the 1000’s. The other consideration is all of the gig sites (ex: Fiverr.com) that allow you to be contracted as a VO actor but pay well below scale (per Fiverr, payments can start at as little as $5) and expect you to provide professionally produced audio.
This information is not meant to discourage you, only to prepare you for the work you’ll need to put in to succeed in VO. Here’s what you need know to get started.
Step 1 – Education
Before you invest in any equipment you should take a voice over class. There are a LOT of them online, but I would recommend going to one in-person and if possible at a casting office or recording studio. Here’s a review about one that I attended. One benefit of this is they usually send you home with some of your samples from the course. These may not be ‘demo’ quality but it is something that you can use to pitch yourself to VO agents. The other important thing about being there in-person is the feedback you’ll get from the teacher. They can help you identify possible bad habits so you can learn to do it right from the start. Finally, it’s good to get out of your bubble, network and make relationships with other people. They’ll have great info and experiences to share with you too.
Step 2 – Representation
It is not impossible to book VO work without an agent, but it is unlikely that you’ll book anything that pays well on your own. You will want to seek out VO agencies and submit your samples to them. Hopefully, you learned in your classes about your vocal type and you’ve narrowed your industry focus. You may want to find agents in other markets, for example, if you have a regional dialect from your hometown you could sign with a local VO agent for that area to book region specific work. Sometimes those agents only represent actors that physically live in the area but sometimes they’ll allow you to record remotely. You definitely want to set up profiles on the VO casting sites like Voice123.com a quick google search will turn you on to many of the online sites, but first make sure you have voice samples on the actor casting sites too, like Backstage.com, Casting Frontier, LA Casting, etc…
Step 3 – Demo
Yes, it still helps you book work if you have a professionally produced demo. You do not NEED one but you’ll be perceived as more professional if you do. Typically, you’ll make one for each area of VO work you intend to do. They will set you apart if they are produced with intro’s, music and sound effects, and sound like they did, or could have, aired. All of the online casting sites expect you to have voice samples or demos to upload.
Step 4 – Equipment
You do not need to purchase special equipment, but it will help you book work. There are still VO studios that hold auditions and plenty of places you can schedule last minute time slots that are sound-proof and come with an audio engineer. If you don’t live in an industry city or if you are able to set up a home studio, then there are lots of great resources for that and it is waaaay less expensive and complicated that it used to be. Some people get by with their iPhone, a good recording app and a 3mm mic that plugs into the phone. This works in a pinch when you’re traveling too. The pros have soundproofed rooms in their homes and top of the line mics/recording equipment, which is ideal if you’re regularly booking work. The average voice actor will have a USB wired condenser mic on a stand with a shockmount recording into a software program like Audacity (free) or Adobe Audition, for example. The USB mic allows you to plug directly into your computer eliminating much of the interface equipment needed to convert XLR wired mics to digital. They have become increasingly affordable starting around $100 for a decent mic. The recording software will allow you to edit your best takes together and run audio processes to level your sound and improve dynamics.
Step 5 – Practice
You can work on your VO skills everywhere. Read books out loud, grab a magazine and read the ad copy, record radio spots and transcribe them, listen to podcasts with interesting voices and practice them in the car. Keep going to classes or find a VO workout group so you can practice coaching each other. You can literally do this anytime you’re in a place where you can speak, so there’s no excuse, practice every day.
The voice over field is highly competitive and if you want to make a living doing it, you’ll have to dedicate time and money. As one of my first VO agents said, “They make their decision in the first few seconds of hearing your voice, so be undeniably good.”