Lately, I’ve received much more communication than usual from people interested in knowing what it takes to get started in a voice over career. The disruption in stage, TV and film production due to the COVID-19 pandemic has financially impacted a lot of working actors (and plenty of others), and many are looking for alternate or additional forms of income.
For most, there is an assumption that it’s a pretty easy way to make money from home using something most all of us possess: a human voice.
Working actors may be even more encouraged by the knowledge that they can capitalize on a skillset they’ve already mastered; namely, their trained ability to handle written copy in a way that brings it to life.
While the skills of a working actor are definitely a plus when entering the VO world, they are often not the most important factor. Nor are they necessarily the key reason one sustains continuing voiceover work.
Building a Voice Over Career
Establishing and maintaining a voiceover career is different than just getting a few opportunities here and there that might help with paying some bills.
Those who think of booking VO work (or acting work in general) as a fast, easy way to make money are living a bit of a fantasy. Most working actors already understand the dedication and connections needed to function successfully in the professional performance world.
They know the many unseen steps necessary to reach a point of not only making money, but making enough money to replace all other income streams, is rare. And it’s a never-ending gig economy, where there is no steady paycheck. For the most part, actors generally embark on a daily hunt for one-off jobs… a hunt that continues day after day… forever.
Certainly, there are new people entering the VO profession every day with varying levels of success. Most realize that immediate success is unlikely, but there is always that lucky break. It is possible to create a fulfilling career if you invest the necessary time and effort to do it right.
What does doing it right mean?
It means ensuring a voice over career is something you really want – for the right reasons – and then taking the necessary steps to attain it. To gauge if it’s something you truly desire, you need to go deeper than aiming for a fast and easy paycheck. Going deeper involves thinking about the reasons you’re choosing to take the voice over path in the first place.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are three questions to ask yourself to help determine if voice over could be a fulfilling career choice for you.
Why Are You Choosing Voice Over?
If you’re looking for short-term fast and easy money, we already ruled that one out. Once you’ve established yourself in your career, with the building blocks necessary to sustain it, VO may turn out to be a great gig for you.
The fallacy that you’ll be having tons of fun every minute of the day, or the incredible ease of simply reading into a microphone for a living, will also be revealed. You’re going to be expected to do much more, and you’re going to face fierce competition from those who’ve already figured it out. You want to be sure you’re onboard for the full ride, and won’t be discouraged after investing time, money and best intentions, only to come up with a big goose egg.
A good reason to choose a voice over career would be to use your strengths in a way you find rewarding. You enjoy acting. You have a highly versatile, strong and pleasant voice. And you’re excellent at juggling tasks, challenging yourself, and adapting to the various hats you’ll need to wear and ongoing changes you may need to make as a VO-preneur.
Using your strengths, and excelling with them, provides a sense of achievement. And a sense of achievement is high on the list of factors that contribute to life satisfaction. When you’re good at the job you choose, you’re also more apt to find it fulfilling – as well as monetarily rewarding. As with any job, the highly skilled are able to negotiate higher pay.
If you’re just starting out and feel you’ve yet to develop your full range of talent, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. As long as you’re willing to work smart and learn as you grow, you may have the right components in place to expect some positive results.
There is no shortcut to the time and experience necessary for success in any venture. Voice over is no different. If you’re able to stay the course and work against the odds, you’ll have a great asset working in your favor.
Another reason to move forward would be if you truly feel voice over is your calling. This happens when you’re less interested in career advancement or making tons of money and more interested in the sense of fulfillment you get from the work itself.
I know actors who enjoy the storytelling aspect of audio book narration and have found a good niche for their acting talents there. They stick with it out of enjoyment, even though it doesn’t come with the higher price tag commercial work does.
What Are You Looking to Achieve?
When someone I meet finds out in conversation that I’m a voice over actor, the first question they usually ask is “Where have I heard you?” They often think they may know me from the latest Pixar film or some character in an animated TV series.
Even though I can point them to some things on TV or elsewhere where they might have heard me, they’re usually disappointed to realize that I’m not a famous household voice. Those seeking fame or notoriety may end up sorely disappointed in the largely unglamorous world of voiceover.
Yes, there are actors who book that high-profile work (mostly A-list celebrities. You can check out my blog on that here.) But for most VO professionals, the bread and butter of the work is of the unglamorous type, consisting of projects that most of the general public will never hear.
Using your talents to be of service is a fabulous achievement. It’s also one that’s close to my own heart. Being of service doesn’t have to mean being openly charitable (though I will sometimes work pro bono for certain philanthropic or student projects without a proper budget), but being involved with teams and in projects that have a broader reach than just recording text.
For example, some of my voice over projects involve teaching English to children in other countries and recording captioning for the blind. Many provide basic assistance to small businesses by promoting their product or service, or instructing their work force with necessary information. This mindset makes it all much less of a job, and more of a mission to help people.
I’m not only serving my clients with the recorded end product, but I’m also here to collaborate. This can include translating, correcting or editing the script, massaging the message to best speak to the target audience, or promptly answering a client email or phone call to provide immediate support.
Voice over to me is about serving others. The fact that my needs and desires may be met along the way is an extra bonus, but it’s more like an inherent reward that comes as an aside. I think of my role as not the center or “star” of the project, but more of an integral part of a team effort. This effort helps to keep our economy, our livelihoods and, in the broader sense, the happiness of the world spinning.
How Are You Going to Achieve This?
Getting started as a voice over artist ultimately requires you to find clients who need your audio recording services. If you’ve already got an agent for acting, they may be one resource for VO auditions, but agency auditions are often highly competitive and very hard to book.
Casting directors in larger cities like Los Angeles may be another avenue for established actors, but with the same competitive edge.
You will find a ton of audition calls listed online on various websites. Randomly answering those calls and hoping for the best is not the most strategic game plan either. In fact, it’s not a game plan at all.
For starters, many of the websites require a paid membership just to respond to the listed audition calls (aka pay to play). You’re also likely to get burnt out from submitting audition after audition, and then frustrated when no one books your voice.
Like any other undertaking, building a voice over career starts with a plan. Your first step is to get a firm foundation in place. This includes things like:
- Setting up a home studio
- Considering voice over training to improve your skills
- Creating a quality website, brand and marketing plan
- Recording demos and samples
- Getting yourself into the right mindset to increase your overall chances of success
Once your foundation is in place, it’s time to think about different strategies you can use to break into and maintain a presence in the field. Strategies I’ve used over the years include:
- Researching the market and targeting my most likely prospects
- Maintaining a compelling, SEO-optimized website
- Using a variety of marketing tactics, such as social media, email newsletters, direct mailing, blogging, and others
- Industry networking
- Auditioning through multiple sources
- Continuous improvement through ongoing training and learning
- Upgrading skills and equipment as needed or desired
As with any type of career, there are a lot of different strategies you can use to achieve and maintain success in the voice over industry. What works for one person may not necessarily be the same for another. It takes trial and error to determine which strategies work best for you.
And there’s never any guarantee of success. But having a well-thought-out and executed plan gives you a better chance of success than having no plan at all.
These three questions can be incredibly helpful on several levels. Not only do they help you dig deeper to determine if you’re choosing voice over for the right reasons, but they also let you examine your goals as well as the amount of effort it may take to achieve them.
If you’re satisfied with your answers, and truly feel a voice over career is something you are driven to pursue, you’re off to a good start. But there’s still more to do. Read about the next steps in Part Two of this series coming soon. Stay tuned!