I always ask potential students why they want to be a voice over talent. There are two reasons given that give me pause:
“People have always told me I have a great voice.”
“I love making up funny voices/doing impressions.”
Actually, these aren’t the best of reasons. Not bad, but not great. Here’s why.
Don’t get me wrong. Having a deep, resonant voice (the usual male equivalent for a “good” voice) is nice, but the days of studio announcers, for whom that was a hallmark, are long gone.
And the call for wacky, crazy character voices and accurate impressions of celebs has also all but disappeared. Just watch a few hours of modern animation (like shows that make up Adult Swim and other animation blocks) and you’ll hear much more normal voices than the days of Mel Blanc and Dawes Butler and June Foray.
What is in high demand are story tellers: actors who can tell a story whether on stage, on camera or on mic. Plain and simple. And those actors must, without fail, have three skill sets nailed to have any chance of success.
The first is getting experience and expertise in performance, or the art of storytelling.
The answer I love to hear is:
“Because I’m a really good actor (or I’m going to be), and I want to add VO to my portfolio.”
“I love watching the reaction of people when I tell them a story.”
That tells me they have at least a third of the battle under some semblance of control: the ability to use their body and voice to bring their characters to life with strong, appropriate-to-the-story choices and contribute to a successful telling of the story.
And the story can be anything from a commercial to an audiobook to a phone prompt to a web help file or the most high profile animated Disney or Pixar film.
This means if you’re not a good actor, get going.
I’m not kidding.
After storytelling, the second skill that must be acquired is to become expert at being a good business person, owning and managing You, Inc. I am amazed at how little some talent understands even the very basics of running a business, or how to surround themselves with effective management of their affairs.
And far more often than not, I sense that some VO artists actually believe that if they do achieve mastery of even the simplest of business skills, that they will somehow lose some amount of performance prowess. It’s as if they can either be a great talent or a great entrepreneur, but not both. The idea of billing and collection and marketing and rainmaking is anathema to them.
It’s sad, and not, repeat, not true.
And the final skill required to maximize your chances for a successful VO career is mastery of the technology needed to create high quality auditions and production work from home. Sure, as you achieve success, you’ll get to go to more and more actual studios, but they aren’t going to be sending a limo to whisk you off to the studios around town to do your auditions and work.
No, you’ll be responding to emailed audition scripts with well voiced and well recorded MP3 files, and possibly delivering finished audiobooks to Audible and other publishers from your home studio.
Understanding how to maximize your experience with microphones, processors, software, casting sites and other retail and broadcast technical requirements is essential. Fail at that, and you’ll be left behind as the industry continues to be disrupted and moves toward self-publishing of VO output.
Look around: everyone that has the career you would kill for in VO has all three: performance/story telling skills, control and management of their business, and technical proficiency.
Note how none of the three have anything to do with a nice voice or wacky characters.
Rather, they all revolve around creating a business for yourself where your inventory is talent, time and effort, the tools are fairly inexpensive, the training is readily available and support from your fellow VO artist and mentors is, IMHO, plentiful and generous.
Jumping onto a casting site, producing your first demo before you’re ready or buying a bunch of expensive equipment are all bad ideas. Learn about the business, practice every day, find a mentor that is up to the minute on what actually is happening in the studios in the major production centers as well as what can happen in your walk-in closet. And take their advice.
And commit to making a living at it. Make your goal to actually get regular paying work, not just playing at it. Narrating audiobooks, voicing commercials, providing phone prompts and so many other VO opportunities (some that have yet to be devised – if you’d have told me a few years ago that I’d have an app VO demo, I’d be asking you what an app was) can more than pay the bills if you excel at all three areas.
I wish the best for you. There’s a lot of work out there, and a lot of VO talent that can do that work…why not you?
What are your reasons for wanting to be a world-class actor and voice talent? Tell me in the comments below.
Hope this helps.