I wanna be a Voice Actor – Where do I Start?
After co-hosting the Dragon Con Voice Over panel, I was asked by several people to elaborate on my answers, as they appreciated my insight. It’s been a few months since then and I’ve unfortunately already forgotten most of what was even asked (aside from ‘how do you warm-up’, which I will cover in the near future). So, I thought this blog would be a great platform for me to delve in deeper and maybe help one or two people!
Allow me to be frank for a moment. As many aspiring Voice Talents as there are, there are that many blogs, articles, seminars, webinars, and coaches explaining how to become one.
What makes this blog different?
I am what happens after you do what the FAQ tells you; I’ve been through all the “101” classes and I’m not yet a full-time success. I’ve made mistakes and I am still learning. Reading my blog is like a Senior in High School giving advice to the Freshman. They may not know as much as the teachers, but they’re more likely to tell you things the teachers won’t! So, if nothing else, I might save you some time narrowing down what your focus should be. Also? I’m not getting paid to sell you a service under a thinly veiled disguise of genuine concern and guidance. Shots fired? Indeed.
Now, let’s begin.
I’m going to guess that if you are…. 25yrs old or younger, your desire to be a voice actor came from your love of anime (or cartoons, animation, video games as runner-up inspirations). If you’re above 25yrs old, you probably had some Radio experience either in college or professionally and you’re looking to expand your income.
How close did I get?
For me, I knew I wanted to be an actress since I was four; I have a distinct memory (also retold to me by my family) of me standing outside and vowing that I would entertain people, “even if I had to play the bad guy.” Three years later, at age 7, my sister taught me what a voice actor was; the rest is history (which I know I’ve told before but may have to dedicate a ‘Retrospective’ chapter to it all the same). Even still, it wasn’t until after I graduated college and spent a few years aimlessly wandering that I truly realized my dream could become a reality. 3 years later and I’m sitting here, writing this post. I don’t make enough to support myself full-time but I was able to pay off all of my debt and pay yearly Self-Employment taxes so…. how does one measure success. I may not be where I want to be but I’m getting there.
You think I went off-topic but trust me, I didn’t. I knew I loved voice acting at the age of 7 yet I didn’t even START on my journey until I was 27 (Math is hard; my birthday is in Sept but I officially started my career in Nov, after months of specific training). I wasted 20 years before I even BEGAN to follow my dreams. It’s like the Odyssey with less violence.
THE MEAT OF THE ANSWER – For Voice Over Talent
First, you have to acknowledge that there is a difference between being a Voice Talent (Voice Over Talent) and a Voice Actor (Voice Artist). If you go to a coach and they don’t acknowledge this distinction, they only focus on the “Talent” and not the “Acting”.
Why do you need to know this? Because if you’ve ever been told you have a “great speaking voice” or you really love reading out loud to your kid, you’re on the path of becoming a Voice Talent. You will do voiceover for Commercials, IVRs (“interactive Voice Response” – those voices you get when you call a doctor’s office that tell you to pick a number), Company’s Internal Training Projects, and if you want to dabble, narration.
For these, you will need proper diction, correct pronunciation, and usually a Mid-Western American Accent (i.e. The “non-accent’. In other words, the listener shouldn’t be able to guess where you’re from). If you have any sort of lisp or “lazy tongue” or an incredibly thick regional accent, I recommend seeing a Speech Therapist first or you will be extremely limiting your options. Sounds mean but trust me on this. Chances are, if you’ve been complimented on your voice, you are good to go!
(1) Go through at least a beginner’s seminar/workshop/ whathaveyou to get the basic principles down.
Sounds easy enough & it is. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can still attend such classes through the magic of the Internet! Here, dear Freshman, allow your Loving Senior to do your homework for you ( and Yes, you may call me Senpai).
Do yourself a favor and go ahead and sign up for WoVO – World Voices Organization. They have a mentorship program (which I’m planning on participating in soon) and a wonderful list of resources for you. Honestly, I originally joined solely for the Community. You are invited to their private Facebook Page and from there, the advice is endless. Fun fact, I run the very small, very sad, Atlanta WoVO chapter. It is my dream to build it into a strong local support troupe that goes to monthly Networking events, but so far have not been successful. ( We encourage anyone from the surrounding states ( AL, NC, SC, TN, FL, and GA, of course!) to join)
Another one-stop-shop to seek out is Global Voice Acting Academy for all of your coaching needs. Honestly, they’ll be able to set you up entirely and it’s the closest thing Voice Over has to a Trade School at this point. This is not a paid advertisement, just a happy student. Here’s an honest review to prove it: Some of their marketing tends to sound a little redundant in an attempt to get your money. You’ll attend something thinking you need it and come out feeling like you learned nothing. From my experience, this was because I’d learned all this stuff elsewhere, so I looked on the positive side and was pleased to know that the advice I received (& that they were giving) was accurate. That being said – the coaches genuinely care about you and are there for you, always. David Rosenthal has gone out of his way to support me in his personal time (i.e. I did not pay a cent) and I am eternally grateful. They also provide tons of free information and resources and if nothing else, I encourage you to Subscribe and Watch their YouTube Channel.
Bill DeWees is probably the most popular individual Talent coach in the community. Click his name to go to his YouTube channel, where you can get his advice absolutely FREE. Cari Tip: I love Bill but some of his advice is sadly outdated. That’s not to say he’s wrong but things have already changed since he published his “Voice Over Training” products. The sentiment is still incredibly insightful but some of the tips (like using Craigslist) is virtually useless these days.
(2) Find a respectable coach to assist you with producing at least a Commercial Demo.
CARI’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I was working at Connecticut School of Broadcasting and had the opportunity to attend one of their Voice Over workshops. The instructor, Eileen Kimble, pulled me aside and told me if I was ever interested in pursuing, to give her a call. ANY TIME, she emphasized. I owe SO much to her initial support and push. She became my coach and I studied with her, weekly, for a solid 3 months or so. My only regret is that because my budget was so tight, Eileen graciously recorded my practice sessions and used those for my demo reel. Listening back on the demo, it’s apparent (to me, at least) that some samples are delivered better than others. This is why. 100% this lesson is on me but I would HIGHLY recommend that even if you do use your practice scripts for your Demo, re-record them for your final she-bang. My demo has served me well and it’s about time I redo one anyway, so luckily it did not seem to hurt me by doing it this way, but it’s something to consider in your budget.
(3) While you are studying, start to build your home studio. I’ve discussed my own journey with this in previous blog entries and I’m not a Sound Engineer. So, instead of re-iterating great advice out there, why don’t I just share some reference material for you? I will say that my 1st microphone was the AT2020USB and I just upgraded to the AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone with an iD4 Audio Interface. While many will scoff at the use of “USB mics”, I’ve recorded all of my gigs for the past 3 years on it with not a single complaint from a client. Having moved to a condenser just recently, I’ve not recorded anything other than practice. There is an audible difference in the richness or fullness of my voice but I still do not regret going with the USB to start. It’s an easy plug-and-play tool that I am now using for a personal project in another room.
As far as the Audio Editor, I have heard across the board that this does nothing for the quality of the recording itself, so pick an editor that you are comfortable using and stick with it. I’ve used Cool Edit Pro 2.0, Adobe Audition 3.0, Adobe Audition Creative Cloud, Sound Forge Audio Studio 12, and I’ve dabbled with Garage Band and PreSonus Studio One. I also had to record a rather large project using Adobe Captivate (making PowerPoint presentations) which would have been fine had the client’s laptop not been so sluggish! While I do not overly enjoy using Audacity simply because of the limited editing tools, it is an absolutely FREE download (Windows and Macs), so if you are in a pinch or as a backup, it’s always good to have. Oddly enough, I have heard a playback difference between Audacity and the more advanced software but I’ll blame that on the computer’s speakers that I was using.
(4) Arguably an “optional” step or one that can wait until later is Branding. That is, create a website, a tagline, business cards, and potentially a logo. While you don’t “need” these, they help you stand out from the endless see of hobbyists.
CARI’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: As part of my Senior Seminar, I was tasked with creating a website for my acting. It was free from “Moon Fruit” (a really fun website builder for the Java script or HTML impaired but I think it is now defunct) for about 4 years before I switched to wix and bought a domain. Yes, all those YouTube ads are correct – unless you know how to use WordPress to build a website, go with Wix for a very simple yet professional looking business website. Saving money on not hiring an actual Web Designer was essential at this point – every penny you can put towards voice over should go to education or equipment. However, business cards and the like would again, put you one step further. I did not have a logo at first and I was never really satisfied with the tagline I created. I started with “Atlanta Voice Actress” I think. Then I had like, “Dependable, Creative, Inspired” or something…. your tagline isn’t set in stone but it is nice to have “Your Name: A Descriptor”. Currently, mine is “Cari Favole: Voice of Fairy tales”. This illustrates what I love doing while also being a play on my name (‘Favole’ is Italian for “Fairy Tales” and comes from the Latin word “fari” (Speak) or “Fabula” (story). Yes, I am in love with my own last name, thank you for noticing).
I’ve used Vista Print for both of my Business Card Designs and absolutely love it!
(5) Once you feel confident that you can audition well and you have a Demo, start submitting yourself to agents.
You may argue that since this could take some time (one of my agents took about two months to catch up to my email and sign me), you should do this sooner rather than later. I, and many agents, disagree with that. The Agent is not your 1st step, it’s the last step. Get all your ducks in a row before you lead them to the pond. There are always exceptions but you’ll know if you’re one of them; then again, if your uncle is a Talent Agent, you’ve probably been signed since you were 8!
Congratulations! In essence, you’ve graduated and can now play the game of Marketing yourself to every and any one who makes eye contact. Be careful treading these waters though! I could make a whole thesis just on Social Media Marketing and I only know the basics! Joining certain Pay-To-Plays is a great way to start immediately with auditions. Though some in the profession shy away from P2Ps due to the unfair rates (think Freelancer!) some are viable such as Bodalgo and Voice123. Research a bit before committing as these yearly fees can add up if you join more than you need!
CARI’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: While I was studying under Eileen – before I’d gotten my demo – I joined Freelancer.com and a few “Fan-Made Projects” websites. I did a few things for free (just for the experience), like Machinima YouTube videos and an Indie game that is STILL in production. That is where I booked my first paying job, a Children’s Audiobook for “Thumbelina” on Freelancer for $40 that the client sold on iTunes with is own illustrations. No, to answer your question; none of these were great professional gigs. However, they gave me invaluable practice working with clients, editing my audio, and meeting deadlines. While you are still in the studying “Aspiring” stages of your career, I actually DO recommend taking a few of these free or low budget gigs. THAT BEING SAID – As soon as you get a demo, a website, an agent: you are no longer “Aspiring” and should hold yourself to higher standards. It’s not just about you any longer. You have joined a community that needs to stand united in fair rates.
THE MEAT OF THE ANSWER – For Voice Actors
“What?” You’re probably wondering. “I thought we were done here.” You are, if you want to be a Voice Over Talent. Come back next week for more bloggi-goodness!
However, if you want to voice characters in cartoons, video games, what have you – you’re going to need a bit more on the back end.
Steps 3,4 and 5 are the same. So, that’s handy!
The first step to being a Voice Actor is – ACTING.
Why? As Beau Weaver describes it “Because spoken word is not primarily about having a good voice. It’s just acting, off-camera. Put another way, voiceover is storytelling with a point of view. It has much more to do with attitude and emotion than voice quality.”
What motivates your character? How does she hold herself? What backstory might he have that would incorporate into his sound?
I’m sure you’ve seen at least one “behind-the-Voice” specials, where you see your favorite actor hopping around the recording booth, maybe squinting one eye or placing their hands on their hips. They aren’t just reading the words, they are bringing them to life.
Theatre actors have the entire stage to fill with their presence. Film actors have their body framed by the camera lens. Voice actors have only their lips. How do you bring all that life that the character needs, just through your voice? Emotions! Place yourself there, as that character; a person speaks differently if they are on the battle field versus holding a sleeping child. Are they tired, or maybe sad, or is it all a ruse to get what they want? You have only your voice to illustrate this with.
You should take at least one acting class even before Step 1 of the Voice Over Talent. You must first be an actor before you can focus on voice acting. Think of doctors – first they study pre-med to get the basic understandings. Then they go into their field of specialty. The career here, at least to me, isn’t separated out from the root stem of “Voice” but rather “Acting”. Study acting, then focus on voice. You may run parallel with Voice Talent, much like a pediatrician might study closely with internal medicine. Both doctors but with different specialties.
(1) Go through at least a beginner’s seminar/workshop/ whathaveyou to get the basic principles down.
There are many more seminars for voice over talent than there are for voice actors. These seminars and workshops will be very beneficial to you but will not always line up exactly to a T with your Career vision. I still highly recommend attending, watching, or reading these training programs because the gigs you want are not as easy to find as the general voiceover work.
In addition, keep your acting skills sharp and partake in some improv – you’d be amazed and how helpful improv is to voice acting! (I myself am due for a tuneup!)
(2) Find a respectable coach to assist you with producing at least an Animation Demo.
Many will argue that you will need a separate Video Game Demo from an Animation Demo and while there are differences, I personally don’t feel they are as separate as the Industry wants them to be. The majority of Video Game Auditions I’ve seen have required custom demos, with no opportunity to provide your personal demo anyway. Your demos are a great way to market yourself but always keep that in mind. 95% of the time, you will be asked to read a script sampling for that role (i.e. a custom demo). I’ve gotten gigs where I was approached because they loved my demo and after going through the rates discussion, I was then asked to provide a custom demo to hash out the specific character sound. So while I’d already booked the job with the help of my Animation Demo, I still needed to provide a few variations of the voice they’d heard, to make it unique.
I would also recommend getting a Commercial Demo. While having a wide spectrum of voices is fun, most clients will be turned off to hearing this rather than the ‘realistic, conversational read’ they were requesting.
CARI’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I learned the hard way that my “Character Commercial Demo” I produced was not considered Industry Standard for a Voice Actor’s Animation Demo. I worked with both Commercial and Character Commercial demos for roughly two years before I started studying voice acting through the Global Voice Acting Academy. If your coach doesn’t explicitly state the difference between Commercial and Animation work, it is a clear indication that they are Voice Over Talent Coaches only. That’s not to say they aren’t great at what they do, but what they do is not what you want for voice acting. Another indication for me, was that I always had to stay in the realm of reality for my Character Commercial Demo; I still read commercial scripts and only lightly played with vocal techniques to change my natural voice. Again, I don’t regret creating my Character Commercial Demo because it was affordable and I learned a lot from doing it. However, I now consider it a fusion of two genres, like a Dubstep rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon In D Major. Sure, it might have a sick beat and be the sound of the future but anyone looking for the Classical rendition isn’t going to be pleased.
I could go on but I think I’ve illustrated the beginnings enough for one post. I will continue to discuss the various aspects of beginning your career, so please comment below if you have anything you would like for me to touch on or elaborate.
For now, take a look at the incredibly talented Dee Bradley Baker’s website “I Want To Be A Voice Actor!” for more FAQ and Starting Step Goodness!