This is the timeless question that I am asked time and time again by friends, family and folks interested in how they too can whittle their time away inside of a box talking to themselves. I know, I know it looks like all glitz and glamor from the outside (mainly because you can’t see enough through the booth window to realize that I’m naked) but it is in fact a job in a very competitive industry populated with many fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) people.
As much as I would love to tell you that it’s a cinch to provide character voices for cartoons and/or video games it actually takes quite a bit of work and dedication. I’m still working to allow my career to grow and evolve as well as hone my instrument. I vividly recall (and am often reminded by my wife) when I first got started in full time VO that I put in 10 to 16 hour days for about a year and a half. Pounding pavement, emailing, networking, training, researching, practicing. I can be a rather tenacious and overzealous lil’ bugger when my mind is set on something. Now all this workin’ and hustlin’ was after I quit my day job and moved to Arizona from Philadelphia, which in itself is a tale for another time. I don’t quite work that maniacally these days but I still put in my time and have a good ways to go on my journey. I hardly feel that I’m an expert in all things related to voice acting but I got started and this is how I make my living so I can at least offer you that much good will. I offer the standard disclaimer that “your results may vary”, “I have been incalculably lucky”, “I am not responsible if this info inspires you to meet a hilariously grisly demise” and “batteries not included.” With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to become a voice actor and take part in this crazy industry. I’ll most likely expand on these at some point in the future and I always welcome feedback both good and ill to round out the discussion.
Before you begin:
This is a very, VERY competitive industry where only a small majority work regularly and can make a career out of it. It’s also very challenging and difficult at times to get even the slightest of a foothold. Before you plummet into the abyss, know to manage your expectations. Just wanting to lend your voice to a few small projects for fun part time is a very different ballgame compared to making a full time financially rewarding career. Both approaches still require work, dedication, perseverance and a generous heaping of good ol’ fashioned luck however.
1. Know and practice with your instrument. This includes voice and acting lessons. Some people have really good natural instincts, but to get an edge you really need to train and hone your skills with talented teachers. Do some research and find the most reputable and well respected instructors that you can find. Also, don’t ignore the acting component. It’s called voice “acting” for a reason.
2. Take care of your instrument and your body. In other words, maintain a healthy lifestyle. Now, this one is optional (hey, there’s always a job for a morbidly obese, career smoker’s cancer-ridden, thick crusty vocal “style”), but having the appropriate posture, breath control, lung capacity and overall body mechanics (it IS a more physical job than some people realize) is tremendously important to the end result and how long you can maintain it.
3. Find your niche. There are a fantastic number of categories of voice work these days. Most folks are generally better suited for some than others. Do you have the pipes as well as diversity and stamina for comfort and consistency through marathon audiobook sessions? Are you adept at characters and/or accents (and able to “act” within them) for animation/video games? Do you have the diction, delivery and gravity for corporate narration? Can you sell a product? Do you make people want to go see that terrible movie? Do you know what IVR is (most likely you’ve interacted with it and didn’t realize it)? There are many, many more areas of VO, and within them certain styles of delivery reign supreme currently (like most things, the trends do change with the times). Finding out what you like and what you can do reasonably well (or have the capacity to learn to do well) will take you far. A good coach and reliable peer network can help to narrow this down. Another novel concept to find out what you do well is simply by seeing what you actually get hired for. Of course, this may be putting the cart before the horse. Hope that cart has a motor in it and comfy horse seating.
4. Demo. You need a demo to showcase your skills. Now that you’ve identified your niche areas of expertise you need to show people what you can do. A professionally recorded and produced demo is the ticket here. You will need a demo for each area of VO that you are planning to pursue. A coach/instructor will help here enormously. Most importantly, do not waste the time and effort creating a demo until you’re ready. You want your demo to shine, not to showcase mediocre “I’m still learning” work. Granted, most jobs you will get these days require a custom demo based on their script/material, but you need to begin somewhere to have a home base and for potential clients to get a solid feel for what you do.
OK, now what?
Now comes the hard part. After taking care of all of the above and with your demos in hand it’s time to drum up some work.
1. Website. Ah, what did we do before the web? Your own website is not mandatory, but if you want to be taken seriously it certainly helps to have a central place for potential clients to see your goodies. No, not those goodies. Your other goodies. Not those either…your VO goodies! Current demos, bio, contact info, previous clients (when you get them) should all go here in an easy to access, simple site. VO is a business, so your branding, style and image also need to be considered. How you get people to your website along with SEO and marketing is gigantic topic best left for that business marketing course you signed up for. Right?
2. Online Voice Marketplaces. I usually recommend joining www.voices.com and www.voice123.com and auditioning your butt off. These sites are set up for voice seekers to find voice talent all over the world. Voice seekers post jobs, hopeful talent audition and hope to get said jobs. First off, this is largely a numbers game. I found the most success when my audition was not only well done, but was submitted within the first 20 submissions. After a while (say listening to audition number 87) the voice seekers’ senses are dulled so that even if your audition is good, they may not realize it. Using online marketplaces is a great way to build a client list (if you do actually get hired) by managing relationships well (more business skills at play here. How’s that business development class going?). Of course, learning how to simply audition is a tremendous skill in and of itself. AND sending a decent audition in a timely manner is accomplished only if you have:
3. A Home Studio (and the skill to use it). A must have in today’s industry. Currently only about 20% of my work is currently done in a studio other than my own. This has a large part to do with my niche and the clients I work with, but it’s still a good indicator. If you are working on larger ensemble projects, most likely you need to commute into a larger studio, but that’s for after the audition. Also in order to audition quickly and regularly you don’t want to have to pay studio fees, book time and find out that you’ve missed the audition deadline anyway. A home studio these days is not expensive. Most people already have a PC or Mac, so to assemble a basic audition studio you just need:
- About a $300 to $500 budget
- A decent audio interface/preamp
- A decent microphone
- Someplace relatively quiet
- A voice and skill level suited to the project you are auditioning for
There is more to it than this (it’s a huge topic in and of itself) but it’s a start. There is a tremendous wealth of info on the interwebz about this hotly contested topic. Granted, if you have a larger budget the sky is the limit. Just be sure to know how to use your software and outboard gear…it takes time to get the basics of recording, mic technique, vocal delivery, editing, post and digital delivery down. Again, a good coach and the internet are full of win.
4. An Agent. After you get a good number of gigs under your belt (or if you’re really, really good and fill a much needed vocal void somehow) you can go agent shopping. Fun! Just don’t bother with the ones at Wal-Mart. Of course forging a strong relationship with an agency is location dependent. If you’re in a small market it’s a good idea to start locally and then branch out as you gain reputation and skill to larger markets both domestic and internationally. An agent/talent relationship is a partnership and you need to help them as much as they help you. Don’t just sit back and wait for the phone/inbox to chime. Put yourself out there and work! Once again, more research on the net is golden here to help in this process. Remember, an agent is not necessary. Many talent can do just fine as independents. It gets harder to nab those bigger jobs however without representation. Heck, you may even consider joining the union…just do your homework before you take the plunge to see if that is right for your situation.
5. Don’t be a dick. Yes, don’t be a douche canoe either. The majority of this industry (and life in general) is built upon relationships and networking. Nobody wants to work with a jerk and word can travel surprisingly fast, especially in this age of social media madness. Everyone is connected somehow so spread positive energy and enjoyable interactions to help not only yourself but those whom you work with. Play nice and share!
That’s the quick and dirty view. There is an infinite quantity of greater information but this should at least get the juices flowing. As I said earlier I’ll hopefully revisit these topics later if there is interest. It’s hard and it’s mean but I am one of the lucky ones who made my way and was rewarded with my current career. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t work 15 hour days and spend most of my waking moments initially to get to where I am today (and still climbing), but you need to be dedicated, smart, competitive and have a powerful work ethic, as in anything.
Location is also an important factor. You can’t expect to get booked for huge gigs if you’re not on one of the coasts, specifically in LA or NY. Granted, it is still possible but manage your expectations. It is also possible that you will win a huge lottery jackpot and promptly be struck by lightning from the noodly tentacle of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Yep. Want to do large scale animation projects? LA, Texas or Vancouver are the places to be, and you need to build the contacts to even hope to get a shot to audition. Let alone be union talent. It’s tricky bid’ness.
Finally, even after all of the above you will need an uncommon, uncanny, unusually inordinate amount of that stuff called luck. There’s no magic bullet to make it. I like to look at Luck as a formula of:
Yeah…good luck with that.
Feel free to shoot me any questions.