Becoming a Voice Over Artist

Voice over is a business that can be very unfriendly to the faint of heart. If you cannot take constructive criticism, if you’re impatient, if you hate to lose, if you can’t handle rejection, then these traits will not work in your favor when seriously considering becoming a voice over artist. To begin with, the competition is fierce. At the top of the food chain are the union voice actors, then the independent professional self-contractors, and finally all of the amateurs or “wannabes” looking to make a quick buck. The internet is saturated with the latter, which is unfortunate. Particularly for the experienced talent who strive to maintain a standard. Most professionals have their own websites in order to promote themselves online. There are also the numerous talent pools, many of which charge for membership on their sites. Inclusion into the more recognized “voice banks” is like attempting to join an exclusive golf club. Very few are selected for admission. The same goes for the top talent agencies. Unless you can fill a specific “hole” they may have, you will be passed by in a heartbeat. Not to mention they’re first obligation is to cater to those already represented. Discouraging as it may sound, seeking representation can lead to many dead ends. Even if you are unique enough to be accepted by an agency, they will only do so much for you in terms of auditions and getting you work.

Therefore, the road to any success in the voice over industry involves a ton of self-promotion. Firstly you should have your own website, where potential clients can listen to your voice over demos. This also demonstrates that you are legitimate and genuine. Anyone can create a voice over page in social media, or post a video portraying oneself as a voice artist, which are paths of least resistance in terms of cost. Paying for a membership with a well known voice over website could be an additional option. In these cases, one would have to audition for voice over jobs posted by voice seekers, some of which may not be trustworthy or reliable. There’s a degree of risk involved since there are no guarantees of securing work. Levels of membership can also pose a problem when it comes to receiving the same quality leads as the highest level. Signing up for a profile is free on a number of voice over sites, but ultimately paying a fee is required to audition through them. Self-promotion also entails contacting production companies who have used independent voice talent on their projects. Blogging is another option. Sending emails announcing your services to businesses that advertise is still another option. Networking through social media too. Investing in AdWords could be another way to go, and many are already taking that route. In any event, getting your name out there should be your primary goal.

Be prepared for competition once you’ve established a degree of online presence. You will be going up against many of the big guns who are repeatedly sought after by the same clients. Fortune may work in your favor though and you’ll get a paying gig within a few days, or a few hours of your site being visited and your demos found and heard, or it may take much longer depending on demand and what you bring to the table in terms of talent. Finding new sources of voice over work is difficult, but not impossible thanks to the internet which reaches around the globe. Overseas can be a great source for voice over projects, but be prepared for possible communication gaps, unless you speak a dozen languages. American voice over actors are highly sought after across the pond however, so this could be a direction to pursue. The UK, India, China, the Netherlands, and Japan have all used American English speaking voices. Chances are, if you have decent search engine ranking for some of the important voice over search terms, you’ll be contacted by overseas voice seekers. Potential projects include independent films, major and small events, wedding videos, animation, radio imaging, documentaries, and corporate websites to list a few. Question now is, how do you compare to the competition? Do you sound believable? You can’t sound like you’re reading. Sounding like an announcer, unless specifically requested, can also be your downfall. Having a deep voice isn’t always an advantage either. Currently there seems to be a trend of leaning towards more college age voices, but the conversational, natural sound wins out on a consistent basis. The storyteller, “guy next door” approach is without doubt in the highest demand today. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and involves the ability to act, or to “pretend” to sound genuine, sincere, and realistic.

We’ve come a ways now in this discussion, but have still to talk about the actual recording end of it. You can’t depend solely on opportunities to record at a professional, multi-million dollar studio that talent agencies send talent to for auditions, even when one has representation. You have to have your own studio at home, or wherever you can afford to assemble and have room for one, no matter what and where the source of business situation. You have to have a microphone, preferably a condenser mic, an amplifier, a compressor, and an interface for starters. Then you’ll need editing software installed on your computer, ideally a PC with plenty of ram. You’ll need a method of delivering finished audio files, and of course a way to accept payment. Practicing reading while recording yourself, then listening back for objective critique is an ongoing process, even for professionals, and someone other than your mother should provide the feedback to your reads. This is where a vocal instructor could come into play. Microphone technique is an art in itself, and must be incorporated correctly during recording. It must become second nature so it doesn’t distract from interpreting the script. The main focus needs to be on what’s being said, keeping in mind who it’s being said to, and how to say it in a convincing manner. One-on-one is a term often used in the industry. In other words, sounding NATURAL, while avoiding breathy pops, and clicking sounds while speaking. Staying hydrated and maintaining breath control are integral to the whole process of recording in front of a microphone.

What about categories of voice over, and should you concentrate on a single genre? The variety of voice over projects is limitless, but all invariably fall under specific categories or “genres”. They are, in a nutshell, commercials, promos, narrative, radio imaging, movie trailers, and animation. Just about any application of voice over will involve one of these concepts. The goal of the voice over artist is to evaluate and decide in which category one’s strengths mostly lie, those which one’s talents are best suited for maximum impact. In other words, finding your “niche”. Attempting to cover them all could lead to an exercise in futility, so honing your skills to excel in one area might be the better approach to take. This only comes with practice, and more practice, and being critiqued by an objective party. It takes time and patience to eventually succeed, and most success stories don’t happen overnight. Rejection is a large part of the business, so be prepared for that. It’s all mostly a matter of opinion anyway, so what sounds inadequate to some, may sound like the best thing since sliced bread to others. You can’t take any of it personal. You need to stick to your guns, and believe in yourself. Believe you have what it takes, and you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. If it’s professional voice over, then needless to say it takes a lot of commitment and drive. Should you hang in there long enough to build up a respectable clientele through your pursuits, gaining invaluable experience along the way, then the realization of it all having been well worth the time invested will subsequently become your primary motivation to be the best at what you do. Again, there are no guarantees of success, but unless one gets in the mix, there’s no way of knowing for certain.

How to Find a Talent Agent

A talent agent can open up doors for actors and get them auditions and bookings that the vast majority of people never even hear about.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask Ethan.

Ethan was a teen actor who had signed up for an on-camera acting workshop I was teaching. He had some theatrical experience but hadn’t done any on-camera acting previously. But he was very talented and enthusiastic, and after the workshop, I invited him to meet with me at the talent agency I worked at to discuss representation.

We ended up signing Ethan, and within just a couple of months, we got him booked on a major supporting role in Spike TV’s The Kill Point, starring Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo.

This teen actor with almost no experience in front of a camera got booked on a major cable network TV show because he found the right agent.

Can you imagine the auditions and bookings you’d have access to if you signed with the right agency?

How different would your career (and your life) be?

It all starts with finding a great agent to represent you.

Where do you even find a talent agent?

And how do you know that they’re legit?

And not going to rip you off?

One of the best pieces of advice I will give to any actor starting out is to work with what is called a union-franchised agency (or agent).

There are several unions that you may deal with as an actor-SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) are the most common when it comes to working on camera. SAG and AFTRA used to be their own separate unions, but in 2012 the two merged to become SAG-AFTRA, one combined union to represent all actors for on-camera work.

There are pros and cons for actors who are a part of SAG-AFTRA.

The union guarantees that they get paid a certain minimum wage for any on-camera work they get booked on. They also guarantee certain working conditions, and offer actors health insurance, retirement, and other benefits.

However, once you join you can ONLY do union work on camera. If you live in one of the many, many smaller markets around the country that doesn’t have a lot of consistent work for union actors, this could be a huge drawback.

But the question of whether or you not you should join the union is a debate for another day.

The important thing for ANY actor to know is how unions work with talent agencies.

Benefits of working with a union-franchised agency

SAG-AFTRA issues franchises to qualified talent agencies that meet specific requirements.

These are called union-franchised agencies.

These agencies must apply, pay a free, and be approved by SAG-AFTRA in order to be able to represent union actors.

It does NOT mean that you need to join the union in order to work with these agencies.

In fact, for most actors living outside of a major market like LA or NYC, I usually recommend that you don’t join the union (but that’s a longer conversation for another time).

What it does mean is that these agencies are highly regulated by SAG-AFTRA, and have all agreed to certain conditions for ALL of their actors, union members or not.

These conditions include:

the agency must make its income almost exclusively through commissions they receive when they get work for the actors they represent
they cannot charge a fee for getting actors auditions
the agency cannot be connected with an acting school or teach any classes or workshops as an agency
there cannot be an in-house photographer or specific third party photographer that actors are required to use
they can only charge actors 10% commission for SAG-AFTRA jobs (they can charge higher commission for non-union jobs, generally 15-20%)

Union-franchised agencies only get paid when they get work for their actors. They are generally a safe haven from the many scams out there designed to rip off unsuspecting actors.

Does this mean that non-franchised talent agencies can’t be trusted? Or that you shouldn’t sign with them?

Of course not.

There are a lot of very reputable non-franchised agencies out there that follow the same guidelines as the franchised agencies. They work hard to get work for the actors they represent, and they only have the best of intentions.

But finding out which of those non-franchised agencies are reputable and which ones are a scam is something that comes with a lot of experience working in that industry.

And there are many that appear to be legit UNTIL you start to work with them and end up wasting your time and your money.

So that is why I always recommend that actors try to work with a union-franchised agency when first starting out.