You want to be a voice over actor. You are certainly not alone.
In fact, the query “How do I get started in voice over?” is one I get so frequently that I’m compiling some basic information and advice. This way anyone who lands on my site with this question can check out this blog – instead of sending an email – for an overview of what I recommend.
You’ll find my advice may differ from other voice over actors, so you’re free to take it for what it’s worth. After spending nearly 30 years in this business, I’ve learned a lot and seen many changes from when I began.
Getting started or becoming proficient in voice acting is not as simple as it may seem. Contrary to what you may have heard or think:
- You need MUCH more than just a voice and a microphone.
- All the people and sites promising an “easy way to make money from home doing voice over” are way off-base.
Like any entrepreneurial venture, you have to be smart, and tenacious, and creative, and talented, and WORK hard. Yes, hard work is part of the deal.
It’s not an easy or obvious road to navigate and, for most, the challenge is simply more than they’re up for. Often, it takes years figuring out the right paths, and putting it all into play to actually start making money.
No “Get Rich Quick” scheme here. It’s all about building a business and career. Like anything worthy, it doesn’t happen overnight. But, like any venture, it can be done with proper commitment, talent, desire and some luck.
There are more voice over opportunities than ever these days, but the competition is formidable.
I don’t coach talent, but will pass along a link from a VO Pros group on Facebook. The link comes from a fellow voice over actor, based in Los Angeles, and offers a crash course in what to do to get started in the industry:
And here comes my take on what it takes to get started in voice over, with eight tips I freely share with anyone who asks.
1. Do Your Research
When I started, the internet did not yet exist (yes, I’m a dinosaur!). Now, it serves as a treasure trove of information – which can be a double-edged sword if you fall into the trap of information overload.
You don’t have to figure it all out overnight. But you will have to figure out what is helpful information, and what applies to you in whatever stage you’re in. There are lots of books, webinars, blogs, podcasts, groups, and on and on.
There is no ONE approach. It’s up to YOU to do your homework, and figure out what seems a good fit for your situation, your particular vocal strengths and what you’d like to focus on.
You’ll find a bunch of links throughout this piece, that I’ve personally selected from trustworthy sources, packed with solid information.
And remember, it’s a marathon. You have to take small steps and reward yourself along the way. Otherwise, it can all just be too much.
Do your due diligence, to see if it’s even something you truly want to pursue.
Making a Move
Many people have very limited knowledge about all that voice over entails. They may also not understand that most big commercial, animation and gaming work comes from talent agencies and casting companies in large markets, such as LA, NY and Chicago.
Your overall goal may be one that requires a physical move to get to the place where you can actually pursue the niche you want. (But I wouldn’t suggest making a big move until you’re truly ready and committed with your goals in place.)
Working from Home
A lot of VO work these days is done from home studios across the globe. That means it is possible to book work from anywhere—although it’s probably a lot less glamorous than what you might think. But you have to establish yourself first, and that can be the tricky part.
Do a Google search on “How to break into VO” and you’ll have thousands of links to peruse. You’ll also find tons of information on the topic on my own blog, so check it out for more specific details.
Here are two pieces you may benefit from right off the bat:
- What to think about before beginning a voice over career (from series on my blog)
- Practical advice on voice over demos (from respected VO colleague)
Knowing the Players
Part of your job is knowing who the players are. That’s the research I’m talking about. Here are a few links for some basics to get you started. Bookmark them and visit often:
- Vo Buzz Weekly: GREAT information from Chuck Duran (hottest VO demo producer in LA) and the incredible guests he has on this weekly show. There are archives of shows with VO actors, agents, casting directors and coaches. You’ll see some of the same names in links I personally recommend further down the page.
- Voice Over Resource Guide: Extremely up-to-date information on casting companies, talent agencies, union rates, training, and demo production in the Los Angeles and NYC areas.
- Global Voice Academy Rate Guide: This is a great guide for VO rates and other pertinent info on upcoming seminars, workshops, conventions, coaches and more. I use it all the time, to reference to clients, so they know I’m not just making up my rates out of thin air.
- Nethervoice Blog: Get on the subscriber list for this blog. Paul Strikwerda is one of the most eloquent and astute bloggers on topics related to VO. I agree with nearly everything he writes.
- Debbie Grattan Blog: And if you haven’t already checked out my website and blog, then bookmark that as well
2. Attend a Voice Over Workshop
Once you’ve done some research, seek out a good workshop. A good workshop is one that:
- Is led by a true professional in a real recording studio (if possible)
- Contains actual commercial and narration copy
- Teaches you about interpretation, trends, working with a microphone and taking live direction
There is a lot of skill involved in voice over…more than one might think. It’s not as easy as it may seem. Kinda like when you watch a great golfer take a swing. It looks effortless. But of course we know the years of coaching, detail and practice that went into getting it just right.
An industry professional will share current vocal trends in the market, such as today’s focus on conversational, real-person voice overs. This may be trickier than expected to deliver in an audition, when the copy is often not written in a very conversational style.
Niche Markets, Major Markets
Certainly, it’s possible to be proficient in many VO niches. But each requires not only different skills in interpreting copy, but also variations in audio editing, marketing, demos, gathering prospects and clients and follow up.
You’ll find many more workshop classes in major markets, but there can also be offerings in smaller markets as well. Even a community college might offer a class. Try it out somewhere to see what it’s all about. Your first encounter will give you a better idea if voice over is something you think you want to pursue.
Voice Over Workshop Benefits
Workshops also allow you to network with other VO actors, and find out what they’re doing to promote themselves and get connected in the industry.
Some examples of recommended workshops for VO in LA and vicinity:
- Kalmenson & Kalmenson: Definitely one of the best in town. Also, watch Cathy and Harvey “Da Harv” Kalmenson on VO Buzz Weekly to get a personalized interview to hear what expert advice they have to offer.
- Wallis Agency: A nice list from a Hollywood agent with several VO workshops in town.
- Braintracks Audio: Super- hot VO coach Nancy Wolfson. You can learn a lot just from watching her videos.
Schedules may be different or on hold due to COVID, making patience a key.
One more important note:
The vast majority of working VO professionals have a rich background in performance, so it’s a BIG plus to have training or experience in:
- Stand-up comedy
If you are lacking in these skills, best to get some basic training or brush up on techniques.
If you choose to pursue voice over as a career, you will be competing with top-notch actors. A background in performance will help you greatly.
3. Be Coach-Able and Be Patient
Allow your mind to embrace new ideas. Don’t get in your own way with negative thinking. Any career in the entertainment industry is highly coveted and fiercely competitive.
You need to maintain your own personal support system to help you roll with the rejection that’s a day-to-day part of the job. Be kind to others and to yourself.
The truth is:
The actual recording part of a VO pro’s day is only a very small part.
- 5 to 25% of the day: Time spent recording
- 75 to 95% of the day: Time spent FINDING the work (especially in the early days)
That’s the challenging part. And no matter how good you get, you’re still going to have to be your best cheerleader, your best salesperson, and learn to enjoy the challenge. Find the things you like about it, and celebrate when you’ve hit a goal or had a success!
4. Learn What It Takes to Run a Business
Most people find it hard being an entrepreneur, which is what you have to be as a VO actor. It’s a rare few that make it past the hurdles to actually make their living in VO or acting.
- Take charge
- Wear many hats, and be good at most (if not all) to succeed
- Make up the rules as you go
- Discern what’s working and what’s not
- Be creative in your approach
- Be tenacious
Whew. If that’s not enough, you must also keep going and going – even when the going gets tough.
While there are suggestions from everywhere, there is no ONE road to success. It’s different for everybody, and it’s up to you to find what personally works for you.
5. Invest in Yourself and Your New Career Path
You’ve heard “It takes money to make money?” Well, that’s definitely true in a voice over career.
You have to be willing to invest in your career. You will be required to spend money on the things that are vital to getting you up and running. Think in possibility.
My order of spend for your career over the first year or two:
In-person or remote VO workshops or coaching sessions
- Cost: $250 to $500+ depending on location and instructor
You’ll probably want to take more than one before moving on to the next step.
Home studio setup
- Cost: $1,000+ for adequate studio setup
Essential for your own practice and ability to learn the basics of recording and editing. You’ll find tons of online info to help with home studio setups. Don’t invest in a WhisperRoom or a super expensive mic just yet.
A quiet place like a closet or corner you can treat with a noise dampening technique is a good place to start. When or if it becomes clear you want to pursue this venture further, you can upgrade your studio setup as needed.
Joining a pay-to-play (P2P) site
- Cost: $199 to $300 per year to join at a beginning level
P2P sites let voice seekers post auditions for voice actors to submit. Major sites, like Voices.com, Voice123, VO Planet and others will have an annual membership fee. Since you won’t yet have your own professional website at this stage, P2P sites are a place to set up a temporary web presence with a bio and some demos of your work.
Beware: You may audition for hundreds of jobs on sites like these and not book one for a very long time – or ever! You have to not only be patient, but also get feedback from a coach or other industry professional to tell you what’s working and what’s not in your auditions.
Professional demo production
- Cost: $200 to $2,500+
Many newbies want to make a demo right out of the gate. I don’t recommend doing so, as you have to learn and grow as a voice actor before your demo is competitive in the market.
Certainly you can DIY, but most professionals will hire a demo producer to take you from beginning to final. Don’t spend on the high end at this stage.
Many auditions want a custom demo, with their script. That means having any type of premade demo may not even be requested or needed anywhere else but your web page.
At least one professional demo, and perhaps several, will be imperative once you reach the point where you decide to make voice over into something more than a hobby. You’ll need demos if you wish to pursue agency representation, which is not necessary but helpful for bigger jobs.
6. Regularly Read Industry Blogs to Stay in the Know
The internet is your friend. It provides answers to nearly all of your questions. There are TONS of books, articles, blogs and other content about the business of voice over. Read something by Marc Cashman, for sure.
- Cashman Commercials: Check out his site. Buy and read his book.
- Cashman Commercials Classes: Consider signing up for his coaching and workshops.
Once you start familiarizing yourself with industry pros, you’ll find those with whom you resonate. You’ll be able to keep up with industry happenings by continuing to branch out with those in the know.
7. Join Social Networking Groups for Voice Over
From Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter and Instagram, get on the social networking platforms. You’ll find TONS of VO groups, with all sorts of advice on everything from where to get a demo to how to set up a home studio, to what producers you want to avoid.
Helpful links to get you started:
- Members-Only of World-Voices (WoVO): A professional group supporting VO rights. They’re big on community building, serving up a host of podcasts, conferences, round table discussions and other activities. Also check out the World-Voices main website.
- VO Peeps: Meetup group delivering resources and info about the industry. Great for networking and ongoing learning.
Search around for more group on all the social platforms. But be careful to not waste too much time chatting or posting. Like most social media, it can be a huge time waster if you get sidetracked. If you stay on track, it’s a fantastic way to get connected to others in the industry and LEARN.
You’ll find the VO community to be among the warmest and most helpful out there. Everyone was once in your shoes. They all had to figure a way to get wherever they are.
If you’re not in-person in a workshop, then interface with the VO community online:
- In groups
- Chat rooms
- Wherever you can
Keep in mind they are doing a favor in handing out any advice (unless you’ve hired them for coaching services). That means you don’t want to over-impose. And never send a one-line note asking, “How do I break into the VO industry.” That’s just a big turn-off for most VO pros.
8. Study Successful VO Talent in Your Chosen Category
Identify and study your competition. It’s really simple to do that nowadays, with that fancy little laptop or smart phone you have. Or just watch and listen to commercial spots to hear what’s current.
Google is your gateway to the world. Research other VO talent. Take notes on what you like about their demos, websites, communication, blogs and other content. Then use it to assist you in your journey.
You need to be aware of who you are competing with. You also need to find your own unique way to stand out amongst the competition. That’s something you’ll have to do with EVERY audition, so get used to it!
Summing It Up for New Voice Over Talent
The MASSIVE amount of voice over information out there can be overwhelming, especially at first. But literally any question you can ask will have an answer – or multiple answers.
Podcasts to put on your list:
- 5 Reasons Your Voice Over Business Will Fail, VOpreneur.com
- Real Advice for New Voice Actors from Seasoned Voice Actors, VOpreneur.com
As mentioned, I personally do not coach talent, but there are many VO professionals who do. Marketing oneself as a coach for actors is an entirely separate business from acting and VO, and I only have the time and energy to devote to one. But there are good teachers out there.
If you follow through with the slate of info in this article, it will surely lead you to other important sources of information and the next step on the ladder. You’ll find many more steps past those listed here. In fact, the steps are never ending. But if you enjoy what you’re doing, then it will always be a fun ride.
Just keep swimming!
Best of Luck!