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So, you want to be a Voice Over? | Sarah Sealey
So, you want to be a Voice Over? I’m sure all the dazzling tales of working from home, earning money just by using your voice, getting an agent and doing fabulous sessions in glamorous sounding studios are making you salivate at the thought. Surely this is an EASY way to earn money, right? Well, think again.
Yes, when you are established and doing well, it’s a great industry to be in, but too many ‘newbies’ are seriously underestimating what it takes to get into the industry, and as such are agreeing to do unpaid or low paid work which is a) doing them no favours and b) actually slowly killing the very industry they want to get involved in.
I’ve seen too many stories on Voiceover Groups of aspiring talents wanting to make it big and not understanding why they aren’t getting anywhere. I’ve read their posts moaning that they are having no luck, that they’ve been voicing for years FOR FREE but are unable to book a paid job, and that they are still waiting for ‘their lucky break’.
Let me let you into a secret- luck has NOTHING to do it with it. It’s simply a case of hard work, dedication and doing EVERYTHING you can to open doors.
First off- you have to have TALENT.
Your mum might say you have a great voice, but a VO agent or casting director may think you are simply uncastable. Surround yourself with people who you trust to give you the right answers- not ‘yes men’ who simply tell you want you want to hear.
There are plenty of people out there will happily tell you that you are great if you are paying them for something. You need to get honest advice from someone who books and/or hires talent. If you aren’t good enough- please don’t waste time chasing a dream that just won’t happen.
TRAIN, LEARN and PRACTICE. Make sure that you are going to acting classes, regularly attending coaching workshops, or better still, get yourself an awesome VO coach. Even A List Hollywood actors keep on training when they are earning millions- which means you should be doing even more training, and then some.
Read articles and stories out loud, record it on your phone and listen back- read out loud as much as you can and work on your craft. There are plenty of resources online to find scripts from commercials and narrations that you can practise with. Google is your friend here.
Doing silly voices that have been done a million times before won’t book you a gig- there are LOADS of people out there who already do that, and you are simply a tiny fish in a MASSIVE pond. Be YOU. Create YOUR sound, YOUR voice. You are your own USP. People will book you for how you personally sound and bring something to life.
When you have done enough training and feel like you are ready to make the next step, get some PROFESSIONALLY made showreels recorded. But only get reels done WHEN YOU ARE READY.
Only get these recorded with reputable companies who are recognised as being good by working professional voiceovers, casting directors and agents. Please don’t try to do it yourself at home. Just don’t. You might think you sound great and that your editing skills are sublime, but those dodgy effects and background music you found on the internet will smell of a dodgy homemade reel from a mile off.
And you’ll need a seasoned showreel director to guide you through the process- telling you in the session when you need to record another take, that you need to change this or that with your voice, to be louder, softer, more ‘real’ sounding. This is all very intricate, clever stuff and you need someone who does this day in, day out to get a reel that you’ll be proud enough of to send to producers, production houses and agents.
BUILD A STUDIO
Once you’ve done a lot of training and got a great reel, then the hard work REALLY starts.
As a full time working Pro- I’d say 98% of my work is found by myself and recorded in my home studio- and that the remaining 2% of work is found for me by my agent, and recorded either at home or in a sound studio in London.
If you think being a voiceover is all about going to lovely luxurious studios all the time to record, then you have a BIG learning curve ahead of you. It’s all very lovely to go to a nice session in London, but any seasoned pro will tell you these are getting more and more rare. Thanks to technology- people are able to record at home, either live or remotely- and work globally. This means if you want a serious career in this business, you need to get yourself an excellent home studio set up.
Now- hold on to your pants- this is EXPENSIVE. You need to outlay a fair whack of money to build a professional home studio BEFORE you can make any money. Be prepared to part with a wad of cash for good kit and a good sound quality in the booth- if your voice is great but the audio quality is bad, you won’t be booked.
Don’t know how to record audio at home on all your shiny new kit? Do a course. Learn. You are not only a voiceover, you are a studio engineer, editor and director all in one when you work from your own studio set up.
Right, so you’ve got ongoing coaching set up, a great set of hot showreels and a fabulous sounding home studio- what next? One word- HUSTLE.
If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable with marketing yourself, this business is NOT for you. You have to hustle, do your research, find out professional rates, producers names and emails, call production companies, have a kick ass website, a proper email address, be contactable from 8am to 6pm daily, and be your own mentor, accountant, motivator and CEO. You are only answerable to yourself.
No one is going to hold your hand through this and give you a long list of client names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. Professional voiceovers have cultivated their client lists for years, so don’t go round asking people to ‘put in a good word’ or ask for their database, or where to start from.
Get yourself onto Google, find out names of production houses, voiceover agents and producers, and say hello.
Contacting 2 agents and relying on oversubscribed P2P sites that offer pitifully low paying work is not marketing yourself. If you aren’t willing to pick up the phone and make contact with these prospective employers, or drop them an e-mail, then just bail out now. Getting work is all about showing people that they need to be hiring you, that you are a professional and great to work with.
Want a VO agent? Contact everyone you think you’d like to be represented by and be prepared for the ‘sorry, our books aren’t currently open’, and the ‘we already have people on our books that sound like you’ letters. In this industry you have to be prepared for knock backs- and develop a very thick skin very quickly. If you are talented, don’t take it personally. Who knows though, you might get a ‘yes, we would love to have you join our books!’
The truth is, the market is already saturated and getting an agent is tough- even for a professional VO who has been doing it for years. Yes, it’s lovely to have an agent- but consider anything you get from them to be Nutella. The bread and butter you have to make yourself.
BE A PROFESSIONAL, NOT AN AMATEUR
If you want to voice and be treated (and paid) like a pro, be prepared to be in this for the long game. You won’t earn money over night. If you truly want to make a serious career of this, you need to make it a full time job, not something you do on the side unless you are already an actor, TV presenter or in radio.
Act like a professional from day one. If you start off your career like an amateur, you’ll always be treated like an amateur. In Voiceover World, there’s no need to take on free or low paying work to get credits or to create a voiceover showreel. If you accept these terrible opportunities, that’s all you will ever be associated with. To reiterate, if you need a reel to get your career off the ground, go back to the section earlier in this article about getting a Professional Reel made by a Professional Showreel company.
Contact Equity and get the official rate cards for Radio Commercials, use usefee.tv to find out TVRs for TV Commercials. Find out the correct rates for hourly fees, usage etc.
Not sure what to charge for something? Join one of the very helpful Facebook Groups for Pro Voices and someone will help. Professional VOs want you to charge correctly to uphold all the standards that we have been working hard for. We are a very supportive bunch of people who will gladly advise another voiceover on best business practices, especially charging.
You don’t need credits. If you’re an actor, then yes you’ll need credits for a CV, but they are NOT required as a voice actor. I’ve been a pro VO for ten years and not once (even when I started) was asked ‘what have you done before’. You get cast on either your showreel, an audition, or both.
Most importantly, if you are someone thinking you can make a fast buck in this business and are happy with £60 for a TV commercial, get wise. Yes, it might pay for a meal and a bottle of wine, but that casting director at Disney won’t give two hoots about that credit you have for that low budget commercial you did a while back.
Another thing about being Professional- this is a small business- and if you swear, are rude, use bad grammar, repeatedly spell appallingly and moan on social media, people know about it and word will spread within the industry. That forum you are on- there are voiceovers on there who are also producers, as well as agents and casting directors, keeping their fingers on the pulse. They certainly won’t hire or even look at someone who doesn’t conduct themselves appropriately. Be funny, be smart, be savvy, but please, don’t be rude and grammatically inept.
DRIVE, GUTS AND BALLS
I have emails from people wanting to get into the industry all the time (and I’m a voiceover not an agent!) and this is what I tell everyone.
It takes guts, determination, drive and the nerve to jack in the day job and go hell for leather to make it work in this industry. That’s what I did. I realised this was something that needed 100% from me and it was no good even considering doing it part time. So, I took a massive risk. No more salary, no more safety net. It was me, a small studio set up, a phone and a load of balls.
It paid off for me as my dream was worth chasing, but remember that as a Voice Actor you are unemployed at the beginning of every day, unaware where the next job will come from. As a pro, you often get called 5 minutes before a producer wants a session- that’s the way the industry works. Getting a session booked a week in advance is rare!!
Why did I take the time to write this blog? I did this to help make and keep our industry strong.
I hate reading ‘poor me’ stories on Voiceover Forums of people who moan and say they ‘can’t make it’ when they themselves are the reason they are failing to succeed.
I’m horrified how people think this is a glamorous, easy money business that should be handed to them on a platter without doing all the hard graft that I and my peers all did to get to where we are now.
Watching people take on obscenely low paying work is a total disservice to the industry and makes it even more difficult for ‘newbies’ to get on the ladder.
I wanted to help those who REALLY want a voiceover career and have real talent to succeed, by writing an article about the do’s and don’ts of getting into this business, and hopefully educate the aspiring artists of tomorrow. I hope this helps anyone looking to be a PROFESSIONAL voiceover.
I love this industry, it pays my mortgage, its full of great people and we must all make sure it remains a beautiful place to work. That means respecting HOW it works, learning WHAT you need to do, and understanding that the best things come to those who wait and work bloody hard.