How to Become a Voiceover – 10 things you need to know.
If I had a pound for every time I had been asked during the past six months, ‘How do I become a Voiceover Artist?’, I would have £48. Whilst not a substantial sum of money it did make me think about adding some pages to my website with some information people might find useful.
I have been a voice actor for 15 years. I trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and have been alternating between ‘face’ acting and ‘not-face’ acting since 2008.
You have probably landed on this page because you have always longed to get in to voiceover or maybe you are tired of people telling you what a great voice you have. Hopefully after reading/skimming through this post you will know a little more about what you need to get started. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, its not easy. It’s not for everyone. A get rich quick scheme it certainly isn’t. It takes time and patience. I may be biased but I think the rewards are well worth the effort.
This is not a job for everyone. There is a certain entrepreneurial element to building your own voice empire. It can be quite solitary when you start. You’ll spend lots of time in a padded room on your own. There is no guarantee of one job let alone a steady career. But, If that doesn’t put you off I encourage you to continue.
Below are 10 areas, in no particular order, you may want to focus on to get you started.
1. BUILDING A VOICE STUDIO
This will be the subject of the entirety of the next blog post. But for now it’s worth talking about the importance of having access to your own studio. 95% of my work is from my studio so it would be wrong of me not to highlight the importance of it. However, I also don’t want you to be intimidated by it. I’m certainly not telling you that in order to succeed you have to go out and spend £3000+ on a home studio set up. The work from my home studio is split 50/50 between two ways of working. Firstly, the client might dial straight in (over the internet or ISDN) and direct and record the session from their end (anywhere in the world). Alternatively, I might be sent the script and asked to voice, direct and edit the track and deliver it back to them ready to use. Normally within the hour.
When you are starting out and don’t have a home studio, you may want to record the audition/sample script for a client on your phone. Making clear to them that the recording quality is not to the highest standard. Letting them know however if you are booked for the session you will record it in a professional studio. Izotope produce an iOS app called Spire, this lets you produce better sounding vocals on your phone. Voiceover Studio Finder is a great way to find a studio near you that you can rent by the hour. Often complete with an engineer who will take care of all of the technical side of things. It may mean that you have to absorb the studio hire cost from your fee, but it’s a great way to get you started. Other voice artists may also be willing to rent out their own studios at a reduced rate.
You can use these early jobs to invest in your own equipment. Slowly building up to having everything you need for your own home studio. Paying particular interest to soundproofing the room you are recording in. More on this in the next blog post. If you are looking in to how to kit out your studio, you can find some options here.
2. RECORDING DEMO REELS
The most important thing! This is the equivalent of your headshot if you are a model; your showreel if you are an actor or your bank balance if you are an investor. Nobody is going to take your word for it that you are great and they should just hire you and find out. They need an example of you doing exactly what they are looking for. A collection of reels, full of diversity and you sounding awesome.
When I first started, most voice artists had one demo reel. A compilation of various genres of voice work all smushed together in to one 2 minute mp3. This was sent to every casting call regardless of the criteria. It’s advised that you now have a separate reel for every genre you intend to work in. So for example, if a client is looking for a voice to narrate a new television show you will have a demo reel dedicated to TV Narration Voice Over. You can see a selection of my reels here.
I advise you to listen to lots of demo reels Go to voice agents websites and see what is on offer. What do you like? What annoys you? It’s worth noting that clients will rarely listen past the first 10 seconds. So, have your best thing first and after 9 seconds switch it up to something totally different. Show your range. Consider this when you choose a company to produce your voice reels. Some companies may offer a 10 minute compilation of all things voiceover recorded in an hour and delivered back to you within the day. It may be that doesn’t offer you the best results.
A google search will come up with hundreds of showreel companies in Soho, London alone. Take the time to check out what they are offering and listen to examples of their work. I would advise you to get as much studio time as possible. Don’t focus too much on the minutes of recorded material promised. What you need is time to settle behind a microphone and get used to hearing yourself back through the headphones. You need time to try out different scripts and see what feels right for you and your voice.
Some companies may offer to source all your scripts for you and while that may be useful I would suggest you entered the session with a clear idea of what you want to record. What are your unique selling points? If you just record the voice scripts that they write, you will have no time to practice. You may also find lots of other actors with the exact same voice reel as you. I would go with a selection of scripts that I had rehearsed and I know serve me well. Even if you don’t use them they are a great back up.
Demo sessions can cost anywhere between £150 – £600+. Whilst that is expensive don’t put too much pressure on yourself. They aren’t for life. I change mine every year. Once you get a studio set up and you are confident in self directing and editing you can record them yourself for free.
3. THE VOICE COMMUNITY
When I started doing voice work, I really kept myself to myself. I think the feeling was voiceover was a closed shop. A select group of individuals dotted around the country in their padded rooms cleaning up all the work. In recent years there has been a concerted effort to debunk these myths.
Regular VO networking events and conferences take place all over the world. Facebook has various members groups full of valuable advice and information. Don’t underestimate the value of really engaging with other voiceovers. I often recommend other voice actors to clients and other voice actors recommend me.
4. FINDING VOICEOVER WORK
So once you have your reels and you have somewhere to record a session, what next? I have lots of actor friends who tell me they have been trying to get in to voiceover for years. The truth is that they recorded a demo, but never sent it anywhere. Now I know it sounds obvious but nobody is ever going to knock the door because they heard a rumour you became a voice artist and they want to offer you a huge contract. You need to get yourself out there!
As I mentioned earlier, you are going to become the head of your own company. You’re an entrepreneur. It may be that you actually spend more time on marketing and continued training than actually recording jobs.
You have to have a fast responsive website with lots of downloadable demos on the homepage. You need to be present on all the relevant social media platforms. 90% of my work comes directly to me and not through an agent. It’s not unusual for a big client to find me on Twitter or LinkedIn. They don’t want the hassle of using an agency, booking a studio, a director, an audio engineer. They want a one stop shop and more often than not they want the completed track within the hour.
There is some controversy over pay2play websites. There are new companies every week that will offer you the chance to audition for jobs in exchange for a subscription of £15-£30 a month. These websites are often criticised for their low fees and commission they take. Whilst I encourage you to not sell yourself short and to know your worth, these sites can be a good starting point. It gives you the opportunity to regularly audition and challenge yourself with new scripts. You might decide to make membership to these sites part of your initial business plan. I talk a little more about Voiceover Casting Websites on my blog post here. I joined 20 sites for 30 days to see what they had to offer.
As boring as it is, targeted marketing to production houses and cold calling studios might be a way to get your demo out there. It might also be worth starting a little closer to home though. Take a look at your close friends and family, are there any opportunities there? Does a cousin have a startup company that needs a voice for an informative video. Does your friends company need a voice for their telephone system. They may be small jobs, but they can lead to other work.
5. IT TAKES TIME
According to the actors union Equity, 95% of actors are out of work at any one time. So don’t treat this like a normal job where you start on Monday and every year you progress through the company until you retire in your 60s with a gold watch and a handshake.
Set yourself goals. If you are currently in another job, maybe say to yourself, ‘after 6 months I want 20% of my earnings to come from voice work.’ Maybe after a year it’s 50%. If things are going well you may be able to leave your regular job and commit fully to voice acting after 18 months.
One of the beauties of voice work is that you can work at any time of the day. It may be that I have a session late at night because I am working with a client on the west coast of America. Or maybe an early morning session if I am working with someone in Hong Kong, for example. It is the job that doesn’t sleep. So, when you are starting out it is the perfect job to fit around your current commitments.
6. DO YOUR RESEARCH
The fact you are reading this is proof that you are already doing some of the research that is needed to get started. In addition to checking through blog posts, there are thousands of podcasts and YouTube tutorials in to the voice industry.
Try putting your own criteria in to the voices .com voice search and check out the competition. For me there are 824 male British 30-something voice artists. Whilst that may be daunting to some, you may find it interesting to look through the kind of work they have done and listen to their reels. A recent casting that an agent put me forward for had 600 submissions. 600 British male voice artists in their mid 30’s recorded a custom demo in their home studio and sent it back to the client. Now, were they all great and truly fit the criteria? No, But, this is a boom industry and there is no way the casting director will listen to all of those reels. You need to think to yourself, how will I stand out from the crowd?
You’ll get to know studios, engineers and producers over time. I’m lucky to have clients I have worked with for over 15 years, all around the world. Because I often work remotely, I wouldn’t know them if I passed them in the street. However, I consider them good friends and we have grown our businesses together.
7. HOW TO GET A VOICE AGENT
When I am asked, How do I become a Voice Artist? The question that follows shortly after is, How do I get an agent?
I can’t stress enough, don’t focus on getting an agent. Focus on getting great at the job and focus on creating your own client list and steady stream of work. A very small percentage of my work comes through my agents. The trend now is for clients to go directly to voiceovers. Although the larger jobs I will often put through an agency. Even if I get a large (International or high profile) job myself, I will put it through an agent so they can look over all of the legal aspects of the contract.
If you are adamant about getting an agent quickly, you may consider approaching them with a job offer you have already received. If it is a big job ask if an agency could look over the contract for you. In return they can obviously take a commission but they may also consider trying you out on their roster of voice artists.
If you are going to ‘cold call’ an agent your demo has to be awesome and you probably have to be offering something to them that they don’t currently have. So do your homework and look through the agents website. If they already have somebody vocally similar to you they may be unlikely to take you on. You may then consider looking abroad. If you are an English male VO, you would have less competition within an agency in America or other European countries.
By all means try to get an agent. Get lots. Most agencies won’t make you sign an exclusivity contract. So look to get somebody to represent you in every country that you can possibly work. But most importantly find your own work and make your own connections. That is how you will truly grow as a business.
8. VOICEOVER TRAINING
Sometimes the problem with working in the arts is people assume you either have the natural skill necessary or you don’t. Invest in your career as if it were an apprenticeship of any kind. It takes time. You will continue to learn and grow. Dedicate time in your day to an online course or a podcast. Resources like Gravy For The Brain, YouTube or Udemy and many others will only help to increase your knowledge and enhance the way you work.
There are lots of one-on-one VO Coaches online. Lot’s of people will be only too willing to take a new voiceovers money, so do your research. Find the right match for you. Maybe you want to work particularly in computer games, there will be somebody who specialises in that. I’m happy to make suggestions if you are struggling and want to get in touch.
9. VOCAL HEALTH
If you are serious about becoming a voice over, you have to look after your voice. The mucousy tissue that is the vocal folds are delicate and need protecting. They are your instrument and you need to protect them like a violinist would a Stradivarius.
Like most of these subheadings, this really deserves it’s own dedicated blog post and it will do in time. But it is worth talking about the importance of vocal health whilst we are here. Hydrate. Drink (water) little and often. It takes two hours to hydrate the human body. If you aren’t hydrated for a VO session it will soon become apparent when you are on the mic. You are also more likely to damage yourself.
Steam. Steaming the voice is the quickest way to directly repair and protect the vocal folds. No essential oils necessary, just warm water. Foods and drinks can dehydrate the body and in turn harm the vocals. Before a session stay clear of tea, coffee, spicy food, alcohol, diary and anything else you think may affect your performance.
People may remember to warm up before a session, but it is rare they will cool down as well. Treating your vocals with the care and respect they deserve will ensure you are always ready to perform, it’ll help increase range and protect you from strains. If in pain or discomfort, rest. Complete vocal rest for 24 hours. Not a sound. The pain is there to tell you there is a problem. Listen to your body.
I know this last one seems a little harsh. You will be told ‘No’ everyday of your career and that’s ok. That means that you are putting yourself out there. You can’t be right for every job. I have friends who enjoy the stability of a 9-5. They know what they will earn every month and where they will be in 10 years. If it excites you, as it does me, not knowing where the next month will lead you then this may be the job for you.
Good luck and get in touch if I can be of any help!
The next blog post will be on How to Build a Voiceover Studio