Voiceover or Voice Acting?
The value of proper training.

A newsletter subscriber writes:

Dear Penny and James, 

I have just a couple of questions pertaining to voice coaching. I have heard from voiceover studios that they suggest voice coaching before recording a demo. Now I can understand that some people who have just started in the business may need some coaching but how much coaching is needed before they leave the nest?

What I'm getting at is you can gain acting experience by acting in theatre plays and get paid acting jobs doing commercials in certain cities without getting an acting coach. I understand that voice acting is doing just that - acting behind a microphone. Why would someone need to pay for a voice coach if some people can gain experience by involving themselves in other acting communities?

Please don't misinterpret my question thinking that people who provide this service is a sham. That's not my intention because I know professionals like you, James and Penny, Deb Munro, Joan Baker - the list goes on, are great artist/actors and all of you are great for a reason.

It's just that when I dig deeper into the business I realize it is costing more and more for me to put together a package to represent myself (I.E. studio time, $$ per demo, coaching), when all actors need is a head shot and a resume with some experience.

Thank you for taking the time to read my venting and frustration

Here's James' answer:

My first question to you is this: Have you read any books on the craft of performing for voiceover? Or are you basing your ideas solely on what you perceive the work of a voice actor to be? You’ll learn a lot about the basics about voiceover side of performing from books on the subject. If you haven’t read many books on VO, I’d suggest you start with mine, “The Art of Voice Acting.” Answers to most of the questions you’ve raised are in my book.

You are correct in saying that someone will learn a lot about acting by getting some experience in theater and film. However, they will only learn a small fraction of what it takes to be successful in the highly competitive performing arts. The best actors don’t rely on only “real-world” experience for their training. The best actors are constantly taking acting classes. Some of the biggest film stars take class when they are between projects – and most of them took classes for many years before they got their big break. 

As you mentioned, some people may be able to rely on limited “real-world” experience if they are going to act in community theater or in small-market commercials, but the chances of graduating to national-level projects are very small without formal training. It is a misconception that someone can be successful in voiceover simply because they have some acting experience.

Another misconception is that people in radio are qualified voice actors. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. On-air radio is a completely different form of performance than working as a voice actor. Suffice to say that voiceover work requires specific training if one is going to be competitive and successful.

The simple answer to your question, “Why would someone need to pay for a voice coach if some people can gain experience by involving themselves in other acting communities?” is this: Experience is only as good as the training behind it. Would you rather have your teeth worked on by someone who learned his craft only through their involvement with the dentist community, or by someone who was properly trained and skilled in the work they do? 

Contrary to what you may think, voiceover is NOT simply “acting” in front of a microphone. Voiceover is also not something that all stage or film actors are capable of doing. In fact, many people with extensive film and stage experience find voiceover work to be incredibly challenging and frustrating. With most forms of acting, there are many supplementary aspects to the performance: props, scenery, wardrobe, makeup, lighting, sound effects, music, and other actors. All of these supporting elements contribute to the communication of the actor’s character and the audience’s perception of that character and his/her role in the story. Plus, stage and film actors will have the luxury of time to prepare for their performance. None of these elements are available to the voice actor!

With voice acting, the ONLY thing the performer has available is the sound of their voice. And it is through the sound of their voice that the voice actor must clearly communicate all the nuance, subtlety, emotion, attitude, dynamics, and meaning of every word in the script. And the voice actor may have only a few moments to prepare for their performance. In fact, at a national level, voice actor’s are expected to deliver a near-perfect “read” within the first few takes – and that’s with only having a few minutes to look at the script. The process of acting for voiceover is completely different from acting on stage or on-camera. True, the basic techniques are very similar (although voiceover work has many techniques that are unique to this type of work), but the disciplines are radically different. Voiceover is possibly the single most challenging form of acting there is. 

With all non-voiceover types of acting, the job is booked through an audition and the actor supports their audition with a head shot and resume. But it’s not quite that simple, and it doesn’t stop there! Film and TV actors will also supplement their audition with a video of their on-camera work. A good photographer costs money. Printing the head shots and resumes costs money. A good video costs money for the taping, editing, and duplication. Acting classes cost money. The reality is that a serious actor is going to be spending a considerable amount of money before they will even be able to go out on that first audition. To be properly represented, any actor who wants to be considered a professional needs much more than just a “head shot and some experience.”  

National level advertisers and industrial producers hire professional voiceover talent because they have very specialized skills for delivering a message. And they can do the job quickly and efficiently. These voice actors are paid well because they are very good at what they do. How did they get that good? Through LOTS of experience that began by taking classes and studying their craft.  

Thousands of people can “do funny voices,” yet the bulk of voiceover work in animation is limited to only a handful of performers. Why do you suppose that is? It’s because high-end character voice work requires an extremely versatile voice actor who knows how to sustain the character’s voice and how to use that voice effectively in a recording session. These are not skills that are “picked-up” through real-world experience.

Look at it this way: Most people have a decent voice and can read pretty well, right? OK, so pick someone at random and hand them a script for a medical narration with lots of complex medical and technical terms. I’ll make it even easier. Pick any theatrical actor and give them the script. Give them 10 minutes to study the script before the recording begins. Do you really think that person would be able to present a viable delivery of that script? Probably not. An experienced, and trained, voice actor would be able to do the job with no problem.

The single most important thing a voice actor must have is passion for what they do as a performer. That passion must be an underlying drive, and it is critical in order for an actor to overcome the rejections and frustrations of “making it” in the world of voiceover. Anyone who enters the world of voiceover (or any other area of acting for that matter) is ultimately setting themselves up as an independent contractor as a performer. In other words they are going to be in business for themselves. As with virtually every other business, there are costs involved in getting started, marketing, promotion, advertising, equipment, and many other things necessary to running the business. For the voice actor, some of these costs include workshops, private coaching, books, a computer, recording software, a demo, etc. A person who is passionate about working in voiceover will find a way to cover the costs of training and everything that goes with the business.

If you were passionate about being a doctor, would you really allow the cost of the training to dissuade you from reaching your dream? Of course not! You’d do whatever you needed to do to make your dream a reality - even if it took several years longer than you might like. Voiceover is no different. The reality of the performing arts is that it will take time, education, business knowledge, marketing expertise, and more to make the dream happen. And all of that will cost money. If you let “money” get in your way, you are almost certainly destined for failure.  

I could go on (and on, and on) but I think I’ve made my point. I hope this answers your question and perhaps has encouraged you to either pursue your study of voiceover more actively, or re-think whether voiceover is really right for you. 



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