So You're Thinking of Becoming a Voice Actor
Top 10 Considerations Before You Start
Congrats! Not only are you thinking about becoming a voice actor, you're one of the few people who actually know that voice over is "a thing." Most people associate the voice on the radio with a DJ, the voice of a cartoon character in the movies with a celebrity, and the voice announcing their favorite upcoming TV show ... well, most people have absolutely no idea.
But voice over extends way beyond radio imaging, animation, and promo. It plays a huge role in business, with corporate narration for company websites and internal presentations, eLearning for training employees and clients on products and services, and explainers on company websites that illustrate those products through video, animation, and whiteboard presentations. Voice actors describe medical innovations, treatments, and procedures. They also walk the viewer through documentaries or guide museum goers through the exhibits. Political ads, video games, crowd conversations in movie scenes, telephone systems, course audiobooks, and many other genres are all voiced by actors trained to bring words to life, using only their microphone and their vivid imaginations.
But getting started in voice over involves much more than buying an inexpensive mic and hooking it up to your computer. Here are my top 10 considerations before getting started:
1. What do you want to voice and why do you want to do it?
What draws you to voice over? Do you love audiobooks and imagine yourself voicing multiple characters? Are you a fan of video games and want a career in their creation? Are you a former DJ and want to transition your on-air skills into your own business? Are you particularly adept at tongue-twisting medical jargon and see a financially rewarding opportunity in voicing medical journals and training modules for health care workers? Every genre has its own unique qualities and calls on different skill sets. Decide which ones appeal to you, learn as much as you about them, train with voiceover coaches with experience in those genres, and with their help, create a professional demo.
2. Do you want to be a full or part-time voiceover professional? Or hobbyist?
Many people can earn full-time wages as voice over artists, though it doesn't happen overnight. What are your goals? How many hours a day can you devote to it? Do you see it as a side business while working full-time in another field? Or will you be pursuing voice over as a hobby, in which you may derive more joy than income? Knowing the answers to these first few questions will help you answer the rest.
3. Are you prepared to invest time and money to learn your craft?
As with screen and stage acting, voice over requires training, practice, and dedication. You don't wake up one day, decide to become a voice actor, and expect to book projects simply because you plugged a mic into your computer. Besides training and individual coaching, you'll need to invest in creating a good recording space, purchasing and learning how to use software to record and edit your recordings, and creating one or more demos that show off your ability and range. You'll also need to invest in yourself, particularly in patience as you build and learn how to run your voiceover business.
4. Are you comfortable working alone in a small, confined space for long stretches of time?
Voiceover booths, studios, or dedicated recording spaces are typically small (4'x4' is the norm) and insulated to reduce the "noise floor," so that outside activity doesn't interfere with a quality recording. If you're claustrophobic, this may not be the best career choice for you.
5. Are you willing to dedicate yourself for the long haul?
A voice actor can earn a comfortable, full-time living, but this is a competitive business and the professional standards are high. As with any new business, the first few years may see far more investment than payoff, especially when you consider the time to train and develop a quality product (your voice). It's said that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a new skill, and voice over is no different.
6. Are you willing to learn and adapt to an ever-changing marketplace?
The demands and whims of the marketplace change often over time, and sometimes take an abrupt shift when outside events change dramatically. For example, to demonstrate the shift over decades, the once popular deep announcer voice gave way to a more conversational tone, which segued to the popular laid-back, "I don't care" Millennial read. A good part of this shift came with the changing generations, as younger people rejected commercial messages that preached to their audiences what they should be buying and why. With the internet and then social media, attention spans shortened and voice overs adjusted with new-found attitude and humor to attract listeners. Now, more recently with the Coronavirus pandemic and a fearful public focused on medical information and treatments, we're seeing fast-growing demand for the caring, reassuring, and compassionate middle-aged voice.
7. Are you a self-starter?
Are you an exceptionally lucky individual with uncourted opportunities falling in your lap at every turn? Do you have a huge social media following clamoring for your next project? Are you a "name" celebrity that creatives would like to see attached to their projects? Neither am I. So clients are probably not going to be hunting us down for our voiceover services right out of the gate. You'll find that agents are not easy to come by and even when you are on a talent roster, auditions will be far fewer and in between than what you may have imagined. Casting sites ("pay to plays") seem to offer tons of opportunities, but are you aware that you'll be competing against a hundred or so other voice actors for one job, most of whom may be far more experienced than you? Most voiceover work comes from our own marketing and networking efforts, and being a self-starter is a must.
8. Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
Yes, if you took my hint from point #7, we are running our own businesses. Voice over is more than just a creative outlet, an artistic skill, a natural-born talent. It is all that, PLUS the understanding and mindset that it is also a business, which requires getting out there to promote our services, deliver a quality product, and handle all the financials involved with a business transaction.
9. Can you consistently demonstrate your professionalism and reliability to your clients?
The successful voice actor is both a creative artist and a responsible business person. We back up our talents with organization, follow-through, and clear, concise communications with our clients. We have a professional website that provides the viewer with all the pertinent information they need: who we are, what we offer (with at least one demo to show our work), and how to reach us. And we respond quickly to queries and audition requests.
10. Does all the above make you happy?
If you are still reading, then perhaps all this appeals to you! Wonderful! I find voice over to be exciting, rewarding, and a great deal of fun. If you'd like to read more, then please head over to the other blog pages, where you can learn more about finding training, setting up a home studio, producing a demo, etc. And for more perspectives on getting started, click on these FREE resources:
I Want to Be a Voice Actor! by Dee Bradley Baker
So You Want to Be a Voice Actor by Sarah Sealey
How to Start in Voiceover Without Losing Your Shirt, Part 1 by Patrick Kirchner
How to Start in Voiceover Without Losing Your Shirt, Part 2 by Patrick Kirchner
The Voice Over Entrance Exam by Peter K O'Connell
Voiceover e-Book by Dan Hurst
35 Mentors, 1 Piece of Voice Over Advice by Marc Scott
Looking for some great training resources? Check out this article for links to online and in person options.