Distinguishing a Career from a Hobby
Hello, Lovely Readers!
As I try to re-define what this blog is (yet again), I wanted to take a moment to indulge in a topic that many a Voice Artist have discussed. They might have said it in harsher tones or in a trendy-petty meme sort of way, but we all have the same message:
Don’t confuse a career for a hobby.
Quite often, one might hear the usual “my friends tell me I have a great voice so I’m gonna get in the biz” or “I love reading, maybe I’ll get into voice over” or even “That sounds fun; does it pay well? It would be nice to have a little side-hustle.”
These are the people we in the Industry stifle a groan at and try not to roll our eyes too noticeably.
Don’t get me wrong – I love helping others get into the Industry! But there is one key difference between those I enjoy helping and those I am slightly offended by…
Is this person looking for something to fill their free time, either just for fun or to make a little extra spending money? Or does this person listen to commercials on the Radio and daydream about their voice playing? Do they assume that since they read every night before bed they have what it takes or do they volunteer every time something needs to be read aloud and ignore their friends’ jabs when they get a little too invested in what they’re reading – even if it’s just instructions for building furniture?
There is a difference. And it’s an obvious one.
The truth is, having a nice voice is only 1/10th of the requirement to be a Voice Talent. No, seriously. Being able to read well? That’s not exclusive to this Industry, sorry. Plus there’s a difference between “reading aloud” and “connecting to the copy.” But I’m glad you don’t have a stutter; that’s cool.
Sorry, I know I’m coming off as a bit snarky. But have you ever had someone publicly (metaphorically) spit in your face, in public, and you can’t speak up because you will be the one who will look rude? Picture yourself in a business meeting – if you’re in retail or food, there’s a group of customers in front of you – and they’re having a jovial discussion about one of your hot topics: politics, religion, a fandom. They all are saying something off but you can’t speak up because you’re the one who will be punished for doing so.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s the frustration I feel when someone says “How do I get into doing voice over?” and I respond ” Get a coach and produce a demo” and they look utterly deflated. You mean there are steps?
Take that question and insert another profession: How do you become a…. welder, teacher, doctor, masseuse, seamstress, HR manager, Fire fighter etc & so forth.
You can’t expect to get into college without a high school diploma. Sure, technically you can skirt the whole ‘school’ process by getting a GED but you still need a piece of paper that says “I did the prerequisite requirements, let me in the door.” (I know I’m simplifying the process but bare with me).
People think that because there’s no “Voice Over School” that you can just jump right in. That’s an oversight that is going to cost you time, money, and potentially even any future career you might have had in the Industry.
Why? Well… you don’t walk into Google, throw a thank you note from the charity you volunteered at on the desk of the CEO and say “Go ahead, ask me to work here.” Best case scenario, Sundar Pichai chuckles and asks you to leave – in a movie scenario, maybe he likes your chops and gives you an unpaid internship. Worst case? “Security!”
And then? Then your face goes in the binder of everyone who is now blacklisted. Sorry, buddy. Your dreams of working at Google are gone now. Remember that news story a few years ago, about that teenager who posed as a doctor? Yeah, he’s serving 3 years in prison for that. In other words: Your amateur knowledge is going to surface.
“Okay, okay” you might say. “I get it – what’s your point? Not to even try?”
No! Of course not! If you WANT to be a voice actor – go for it! Don’t ever let anyone tell you to stop! Reach out and I will tell you everything I know; our Industry Community is very supportive.
But if you think this is an easy way to make money – think again.
Let me break it down to you this way:
If you want to have fun, voicing your favorite characters in fan-made abridged YouTube series or Indie games…. Awesome! Buy yourself a Blue Yeti, Download Audacity, and take all of 10 minutes finding Subforms and Community Websites listing all of these scenarios to your heart’s content. (I’d link some here for you but it’s been over 5 years since I’ve done this sort of work…)
Search EVERY social media site for things like ‘voice over’ or just the series that you want to be involved in. Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, potentially Instagram.
Find the YouTube channels you enjoy who do series like this and reach out to them. Provide samples of your range (like a demo but you can produce it yourself for this) and let them know you just want to do this for fun, not profit!
Attend local social gatherings of YouTubers, Podcasts, Gaming, Anime etc A lot of independent creators need help but can’t afford to pay; they’d love to have you voice for them!
This is voiceover as a hobby. It doesn’t pay (maybe $25-75) but you might become well-known in the community surrounding the work you did. There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist. But I would advise you to stay away from interacting with Agents, Casting Directors, Production Companies, and even Pay-2-Play sites. You might get lucky; natural talent can get you in the door sometimes; everyone’s story is different. But there is a difference between voicing a fan-made series and a radio commercial; you need to admit this distinction.
If you want to make a quick buck on the side, voice over is not for you. The Industry is already fully saturated with trained, experienced talent. We are everywhere – yes, some even frequent Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork. Are you recording your audition on an iphone? The answer should only be ‘yes’ if you are responding to a time-sensitive request from your agent and even then… most would advise against it. Some of the highlights on what you need to do to get started:
Coaching: The cheapest I’ve seen is $75 for a session. Most are $175 – $300/session or seminar. You need at least 6 – 8 sessions, generally speaking, to prep you for:
Produce a Demo: A Commercial Demo is the most standard staple in a VO arsenal. You might specialize in audiobooks or animation or medical E-learning presentations but 95% of talent, no exaggeration, have a Commercial Demo. When I was first starting out, I got mine on a budget at $300. That is… insanely LOW. I would say low-ball price would be $750 and the average is around $1,200-1,500. Some specialty demos can reach $2K but I wouldn’t pay that for a commercial.
Time: Remember those sessions I mentioned? How 6 was standard to prepping for a demo? Yeah those are done on a weekly basis. We’re talking 6-8 weeks or roughly 2 months of training before you get through Step One. Can you rush your training? Potentially. But you need time to practice at home what you learned, so I wouldn’t recommend doing more than 2 sessions a week. If your coach lets you do 3 sessions in a week (and you aren’t prepping the week before your demo production or for an awesome audition coming up etc), you might question how much they care about your training and how much they care about their income…. (Note – I have never had a coach push to do more than one session a week; a few have even given me homework to do between sessions, which I submitted electronically or had a buddy in the group class vouch that we studied together).
You also need a way to record your auditions; yes, you can rent a local studio but those are usually around $200/hr, so I would only recommend renting once you book a gig if your home studio is not up to par. Ideally, you will set up a home studio (no worries, it can be in your closet). You need a mic – the cheapest are about $150-$300. Full disclosure, starting out I used a USB mic (AT2020 USB) and I know many people use Blue Yetis. Here’s the truth:
Blue Yetis are great for podcasts and YouTube channels. They pick up your voice in an open space pretty well and actually performed better at this than the AT2020 when I tested it on my Gaming channel. Go Yeti! But tell ANYONE you’re using a Yeti and you will be laughed at, straight up. If you use a Yeti, you must keep it as your ‘dirty little secret’. Is this hate warranted? Probably not. But it’s the Nickelback of Mics in the VO industry, seriously.
USB Mics in general will record a clear audio. Your client will not hear any difference, mine never did and I used one for 3 years. However, once you upgrade, you will hear your voice truly come to life. It has to do with picking up your voice’s wavelengths (or whatever actual science term) so what works for John Doe will not work for Jane Smith because the frequencies in their vocal registers will be picked up differently. Honestly, this all goes over my head. What this means is that you can do a fantastic job recording – don’t worry! But with the right mic for your voice, your auditions will stand out because your voice will sound as smooth as honey. It’s really a marketing thing. But if the client booked you off the USB mic you used, then they like your voice the way it sounds on that mic and you don’t have to stress that your performance quality will suffer. Essentially – it’s an elitist thing that you actually can hear in the audio but you’ll only notice if you do a test of your voice on several mics.
You need somewhere to record: Pretty much the same as above – you need a home studio to really submit auditions. Especially if you want to do this in your ‘free time’ which I assume is evenings and weekends (Unless you work in Retail / food). Now, it’s pretty simple to do this on a budget starting out, you just need to realize a few key points: (1) Acoustic treatment is not Noise cancelling; there is such a thing as deadening the room too much and it will make your voice sound flat. I may do a post on this in more detail, but essentially, focus on removing the echo of a room. (2) You can only control so much. Turn off the ceiling fan or your A/C. But construction outside your window? Only a miracle could block that out.The cheapest way you can do this is to literally go in your closet; your clothes will quiet the echo but there will still be pockets for the wavelengths to bounce off of (so your voice won’t sound dead). Acoustic foam is more affordable than you might think. I would say you could spend between $0 (using your clothes) to $300 for a starting home studio. I have converted a walk-in closet to 100% be my studio (i.e. no personal items, except some plush toys for decoration because they’re cute!) but I upgraded and added to it over the course of moving areas (I started out with a hand-me-down self-made whisper room that I housed in my garage, so my studio journey isn’t standard). Let’s average it to $150 for a basic starting setup. In here we’ll include the audio editing software; you can use Audacity which is free (I personally don’t like it) but there are some very affortable options (Sound Forge is a one-time purchase of $40) or the Industry Standard (Adobe Audition CC for $50/mo).
So, that’s Step One. I’m not even mentioning ACTING LESSONS which help even those not trying to do the ‘entertainment’ side of things. Then there’s the Website you need to house your demo. Yes, you could just use Soundcloud or YouTube to start but it will be obvious that you are just starting out. (Which isn’t horrible for an agent, per say, but they do want to know the person they’re backing is established in some way).
Let’s add all of this up to see how much you need to spend in order to earn some “fast cash”:
6 Weeks of Prep
$1,050 in training
$1,200 for your demo
$300 for a basic mic + home studio setup.
So, a month & a half before you can begin and $2,550 investment. Honestly? With a bit of budgeting, if you’re able to put $2,500 aside in 2 months ($417 a week for 6 weeks) I think your side-hustle is Coupon-clipping + Frugal spending! Seriously, that’s more than you’ll earn doing voiceover “on the side”.
In Summary: If you read all of my above, long-winded rant and your first thought was something along the lines of “Worth it”, “that’s way easier than I thought it would be” or “Bring it on” – Congrats! You see this journey as an investment into your new career; it won’t be easy but it will be attainable. Keep pushing!
If you read the above and realized you don’t want all the stress and headache, you just want to do impersonations of existing characters? Congrats! You learned you want to do voice over as a hobby – stop wasting your time figuring out how to “make it in the biz” and go have fun!
If you read the above and felt put-off, worn out, or discouraged…I’m sorry. But also, Congrats! You’ve just saved yourself a lot of time and money from avoiding entering a high-maintenance career as a side-hustle. Google “hobbies that pay” (no joke, some really cool articles popped up when I just did that!) and find something that you naturally enjoy doing that can actually make you the money you want. (Side note, couponing was on the list! How fitting!) These are also careers (blogging, travelling etc) but with crafting – if your end product is as good as a store, then who cares how you got there? Set up an online shop and do your craft as you watch TV in the evening. Sounds fun, I might give it a go! But what I’m not going to do is label myself a professional toy maker and try to establish a brick and mortar. I recognize that this pursuit would be a hobby and that I am an amateur craftsman having fun & selling my work rather than letting it collect dust in the corner. See? Distinguishing can be easy!
I hope you enjoyed reading this. I don’t mean to offend anyone, it was all in good fun with pure intentions. No one wants to see you lose time, money, and motivation. At the same time, Voice Artists want to be recognized as professionals. It is not a career you can just ‘pick up and go.’ Honestly…. nothing is like that. Day jobs, yes. You learn on-the-job to be a kick-ass Office Manager or you climb the ladder to become a Store Manager: those are legit careers. But you don’t just walk in with Zero experience and get your dream job. You have to put in the work towards it. Always improving and recognizing that you don’t know everything just because you are inherently good at it or, in this case, “have a good voice.”