It Ain’t Just Talking
Some factual insight
into pursuing a voiceover career.
©2008 Mike Harrison
What may make a career in voice-over so appealing to some is that they may feel it has a lot of glamour attached to it. Very much like a career in film acting. The growing popularity of entertainment publications, movies, and television shows reflect the public’s fascination with people who make six-figure (and higher) salaries for what appears to be easy work. After all, those who speak and act for a living make it seem so effortless.
Anyone with aspirations for success in any field must realize that we don’t often get from point A to point G without first having gone through points B, C, D, E and F. Nothing in life that is worth achieving comes easily or for free. Success is relative: you get out it only what you put into it.
For as long as Hollywood has been making motion pictures, there have been countless stories of everyday folks with stars in their eyes who have gone there seeking fame and fortune. Trouble is, there are only so many roles to play and there are many more actors already there, waiting to play those roles. Most of them wind up waiting tables or doing some other work to pay the bills until their big break comes along. Just like film acting, voice-over is hugely competitive.
This doesn’t mean you should give up. What it does mean, though, is that you’ll have to work very hard. Voice-over is much more than having a “nice” or even “great” voice. Many times, in fact, producers look for an everyday, or even a quirky voice. But… do you read well? Aloud? Can you act? Meaning, are you able to properly interpret what you’re reading so that you can sound as though you’re not reading… and be convincing? Can you read well, act well, and take direction? How about read well, act well, take direction well, and finish within the allotted time? And then do it all again but make it sound different? Are you able to do all that and still retain your composure and professional demeanor, even when the director asks you for take after take?
So, while it may seem that voice-over work is easy, rest assured, it ain’t just talking. An honest coach will tell you if you truly have potential. And, if that potential is there and you’re ready to get started you will, however, want to keep your full-time job. Never jump into unknown waters without a life preserver.
You may, early on, have a “quickie” demo produced; one that might get you some work doing local cable TV spots. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want more, be prepared to roll up your sleeves. First, it’s very important you take the time to listen to demos of established voice talent www.voicebank.net and www.videovoicebank.net are excellent places to start, and other voice-over casting sites, plus the sites of some voice talent themselves can be easily found in web searches. Then, spend some good money on proper training with qualified coaches (know their background and experience), take the time to read as many books on voice-over as you can, and practice, practice, practice.
And, while buying recording equipment may help you to practice, consider instead whether your money would be best spent on that all-important training… one area where more is always better.
You want to be able to put your absolute best foot forward. Your demo will land on agents’ desks along with those of others who have every bit the talent, experience, and drive that you have… and perhaps more. The agents and producers you send your demo to will know immediately whether you are a contender or not, and the last thing you want to do is leave busy agents with a less-than favorable first impression. But, quite often, even with a great demo, an agent may not take you on as a client simply because your ‘sound’ is represented by other talent already on their roster.
So this is where the challenge begins; where the going gets tough. Because after the demo comes the marketing, and the 80/20 rule: even established talent spend roughly 80% of their time marketing themselves, with the remaining 20% actually performing voice-over jobs. Included in that 80% is auditioning. You’ll do lots of auditions but will land only a few jobs. And you’re never told why you don’t get the part. In fact, you’ll never hear anything unless you do get the gig. So, while you may feel some rejection, this is where the tough get (or, keep) going.
To sum up, you’ll need to spend lots of time working hard, and you’ll need to spend some money. But you will also need thick skin to weather some negative feedback and rejection along the way, and the tenacity to keep moving forward. This helps us learn and become better. But, patience, patience, patience: we have to eat our vegetables before we get any dessert.
Mike Harrison has, since 1973, been writing, voicing and producing radio commercials, plus narrating and/or producing audio tracks for many Fortune 500 corporate/industrial clients. He was a two-time co-Finalist, for copy and production, in the 1985 International Radio Festival of New York, and his voice is currently heard in various markets across the U.S. as well as in the United Kingdom. Mike is a member of SaVoa, Media Communications Association - International, and the e-Learning Guild, and his website is www.mike-harrison.com.