So. You’ve decided to pursue your dream of becoming a voice over artist… now what? Where do you begin in a world that has so many avenues, obstacles and opinions?
The above chart is here as a handy checklist to guide you through each process, but we would like to give you a little bit more insider info to give you a helping hand. How nice of us!
First off – DO YOU HAVE A GOOD VOICE? A big misconception is that every professional voice over talent has a great voice. The truth is – many do, but just as many others sound like the guy or girl next door. Being a great voice over talent is the most important thing. Besides speaking clearly and having some personality and presence, it takes training to learn the skills and great instincts for the art of it. If, in addition to being good at it, you sound as if you just swallowed a bottle of honey – or may have a particular quirkiness, raspiness or simply a je ne sais quoi to your voice – that’s just icing on the cake!
Now, you need to address HOW YOU READ ALOUD. Most of us think we do, but when push comes to shove, is it natural, flowing, without hesitation?
Do this: find a book, a page of a magazine, whatever – something you haven’t looked at for a while – open to a random page and read it aloud. How did you do? Few stumbles while clear and natural? If yes, then great! You are ready for the next step, if not – PRACTICE. Reading well aloud is the first important skill in voice over. Scripts are not memorized, they’re read. And often read cold.
Read everything – cereal boxes, cooking instructions, menus – be voracious and keep working at it. Your brain and tongue are muscles; you just need to train them to work together. 15 minutes a day is a good start.
Next, you’ll need a GOOD FOUNDATION OF VOICE OVER KNOWLEDGE before you can even begin to think about next steps, so let’s talk about classes. These ‘essentials’ or ‘basics’ are to teach you just that – the basics of voice over: how to use a mic, what to take into the booth with you, tonality, enunciation, diction, volume, breathing exercises, getting familiar with a recording booth, and, most importantly, interpretation and taking direction.
All of these things are imperative for starting your voice over career. Be sure to take at least two multi-week series (i.e. Beginning and Intermediate). No matter how much you think you can bypass this step because you’re a teacher, public speaker, singer or actor – start at the beginning. Everything else will build on the foundations you learn there. A Beginning or Essentials 1 Workshop is primarily commercial work. Animation, Games, Narration, Audio Books, Trailers, etc are all specialties. Learning the basics in commercials will be the foundation on which everything else will be built, and it’s also the bread and butter of VO work.
There are heaps of training options out there, but how do you know which ones are going to be worth your time and money? Tried and trusted is always the way to start. Recommendations are great, but also do your research on the internet and find some honest reviews from past students, agents, and other working pros. Look up “voice over workshops…” in your nearest large city. You may have to drive an hour or two to find a good one, but it’ll be invaluable to find an actual studio situation to get some hands-on experience and coaching.
If you’re in Los Angeles or New York, check out the Voice Over Resource Guide – it can help you find classes in the specialties you want. Of course, if you’re here in LA, there’s always TalkShop. Our classes are small, concise and honest. You get real feedback from real casting directors and producers who have been in the industry for (ahem) years – and lots of time on the mic to hone your skills and draw out your natural talent. If you are waaaaay too far away to get face-to-face training there are a couple of online options as well. But nothing beats the experience of being in a live studio. You will benefit from the booth practice, enabling you to address those pesky nerves early on and gain some valuable techniques to stand you in good stead for the future.
So, you’ve taken a block or two of basic and intermediate classes. You’re feeling confident and challenged, with some good knowledge of what to expect in your recording future.
What next, you ask?
ITS DEMO TIME. Demos are essential for every professional VO talent, especially when kick-starting your career. They are your resume, your calling card, your head shot. They represent your talent and your versatility. So with that in mind…
Hire. A. Professional. This isn’t something you throw together – it’s the most important marketing tool you’ve got. Agents and producers are looking for professional voice over talent – make sure you’re able to present yourself as one by working with someone who knows how to help you get there.
Once again, do your research online. The Voice Over Resource Guide (in NY or LA) has a particularly useful list of options, and most producers will specify their price point and areas of voice over in which they specialize. And of course, TalkShop offers killer demo production.
ASK AROUND – class mates, teachers – get personal recommendations. Ask to hear other VO demos they’ve produced. Is there a nice range of styles, paces volumes, etc?
There’s a lot that goes into making the perfect demo – you could write a whole other blog post just about the process. And lucky for you….we did!
You’ve got the tools and the demo, it’s time to TAKE THE LEAP and reach out to Talent Agencies. Getting in with a talent agent on a recommendation or referral is the ideal scenario, but what do you do when you don’t have that as an option? Research. You want to give yourself the best chance of booking as many jobs as possible – to build your experience and reputation. But how do you do that in a saturated industry? It’s a great idea to start small – to give yourself a fighting chance – especially with little to no experience. You may not get that opportunity with hundreds of other (more experienced) voices on the same roster. When your agent is restricted to sending only the top 5 auditions for a casting, will you be one of those? The bigger the agency roster, the less chance you’ll be in that group.
Search for “voice over talent agencies…” in your nearest fairly large city and check out their websites. See how many clients they represent, and if they work both union and non-union. At this stage of the game you’ll have a better shot of booking non-union work, but the ultimate goal is to get union work. If the agency has a submission protocol on their website – follow it – to the letter. If they don’t, give their office a quick buzz to find out how best to submit. It will probably include an email with an MP3 of your demo attached, so be sure to include your phone number. You may also include a link to your website, but it shouldn’t only include a link.
If you’ve got a great home recording set-up (read more about setting one up, here) you can go for agencies in other cities. Be sure to let them know where you’re located and the recording options you’ve got.
Finally, you have representation and are starting to get auditions! WooHoo!
But remember, every time you audition there will be tons of other voice actors with various levels of experience going for the same job. Only one person can win it, so be sure to treat every audition as you would a job interview. Whether submitting online or attending in person – be professional.
WHEN AUDITIONING IN PERSON YOU NEED TO REMEMBER: Be at least 10 minutes early for your appointment. Be comfortable but clean. Remember the small but important things like your own water, an apple to prevent smackiness, a pen, your copy (if you have it). There is a level of expectation in the industry and you want to ensure you come across as professional and reliable.
If submitting online – be sure to label the file according to the required naming protocol or your audition could get lost. Listen back before sending so you know it’s clean of breaths, smacks or other noises. Read all the project specs and additional direction; and submit on time.
Once you’re auditioning regularly, you’ll be prepared for what’s required for work. But be sure to keep well-practiced and up-to-date. Don’t allow yourself to become lazy or complacent. Your voice is your instrument and needs to be well-maintained; and your mind nimble and able to change direction at a moment’s notice. Read aloud every day. Continue to take more coaching as often as you can – you will never not benefit from taking more classes. Workout groups with colleagues, one-on-one coaching, guest directors, experienced group classes, specialist animation, narration, dialect classes…. can all offer you an advantage over your competition by helping keep your skills honed and talent agile.
Being a voice over talent is like playing an instrument or sport. It takes skill and devotion. The more you work at it – the better you get. Take advantage of any opportunity to get advice or training, when possible. Keep abreast of changes in the industry, by paying attention to current commercial trends on TV, radio, and internet.
And if all of that hasn’t put you off…..Good Luck!