I’ve been doing voice over work for the last 10 years (more, if you count my time in broadcasting radio/tv) and now that I’m full time and finally booking ‘the big stuff’, I get a lot of questions on how to get into it.
First, a little bit about my resume: I started doing a lot of explainer videos and small corporate narration voiceover gigs when I began. Now, I've added long-form eLearning, meditations, corporate narration and national commercials (in Canada and the USA) to the list!
Whether you’re looking at voice over as a side hustle or as a long-term plan for a full-time career, here are the very basics of how to get started and continue.
It doesn’t come without cost! “You get back what you put in,” as they say. But I also believe in starting small and reinvesting what you’ve earned into your business to get more coaching/training (lots and continual, even for pros!), buy better equipment and software.
There is so much more than this, but it’s a good starting point.
Studio: The first thing you need is an at-home set up. And the most important thing about your setup is how it sounds to the clients you’re auditioning for! It must be in an almost dead-silent part of your home (no furnaces or refrigerators humming, no fluorescent lights buzzing, no kids yelling in the next room, no lawnmowers running outside etc) and this may require some testing and moving on your part, to determine where that is. For me, it’s in a corner of my basement, far from my furnace and overhead refrigerator. There are plans online to create your own PVC-pipe-and-acoustic-blanket-studio or you can build one (like I did) or buy something like a Whisperroom, Studio Bricks or Bear Cave silent booth. If you choose to build, be sure to look up plans for double-walled studios and seek lots of pro help!
Equipment: Then you’ll need a condenser microphone (you get what you pay for but I made thousands with an Audio Technica 2020 when I first started!), an interface (if you have an XLR cable rather than an USB), decent computer, software (Audacity and Garageband are free but there are better, paid options, like Adobe Audition, Twisted Wave, Reaper and others). You’ll eventually need to subscribe to Source Connect to do remote sessions live from your studio.
Next, is training. And you’ll be doing this constantly throughout your career. Most voice over actors have a budget for training/development each year and train with various voice over coaches to up their game. You need to look for someone who is reputable, well-established, has booked a lot or coached a lot and really knows their stuff. There are a lot of bad actors out there who pose themselves as ‘experts’ when, in fact, they are not. That’s why I’m not a coach! Even after 10 years, I am no expert!
People get into voice over from many different areas of expertise including: broadcasting (like me), vocal/singing work, on-camera acting and other areas. And while those areas are a good segue into voice over, they are also incredibly different! You need to be able to act with your voice and offer different tones, styles, emotions and bring them on cue when directed by your client.
For my radio friends, we get stuck in an ‘announcer voice’ (or, at least I did), which is a rarely-asked-for style now in voice over. Trending specs now are ‘conversational’, ‘real person’, ‘casual yet professional’, ‘warm and friendly’ etc.
One way you can practice: take some ads from magazines and try to read them as if you’re not reading them. You know how when people read something aloud it sounds like they’re reading it and not just telling you as if it were a conversation? Yeah, don’t do that.
Other than having talent, you also need to know the technical part. You need to learn how to record, edit, master/produce and send. This is basic and will be expected of you at almost every level. (Mostly) gone are the days where you walk into a commercial studio, record and leave. There are jobs like that but you won’t book those ones when you’re starting out.
You’ll need a demo to submit for auditions! Your demo is your business card. This is what will get you work and get you noticed (or not!) so be careful who you hire and make sure you’re in top-notch form (after training) to record one.
Many auditions will ask for custom samples, which means you’ll read a part of their script (rarely should you read the entire script on P2P’s - we’ll get to that) and submit a custom audition. But sometimes, you’ll simply submit your demo, which will showcase your range and what you can do. There are demos for every genre and you’ll need one of each for the genre’s you want to or typically book in: commercial, explainer, corporate narration, eLearning, animation etc.
To get a demo, you hire a professional demo producer who will work with you to develop script, practice and record. They should also know the market/genre trends and how to showcase a variety of styles you can perform. If they’re good, they should also be upfront and honest with you about whether you’re ready to record a demo; since you’ll be using this to submit for jobs, if you’re not up to par, it’ll be ignored by casting directors and it’ll be a waste of money.
Demos range in price from $500-$3000+++ And, again, make sure you look for someone reputable, professional and with some references.
IF you’re one of the few people with production skills (radio friends, I’m looking at you), you may consider making your own demos to begin with. That’s what I did and I booked a lot. However, once you make more money, reinvest it into your business and pay someone to make it for you. It’s a whole new world when someone else is listening, critiquing and creating your demo to make you sound the best you absolutely can!
4. FIND WORK
This is a biggie and it’s what voice over artists are constantly working at: finding more work. Voice over (and freelancing in general) is a hustle and not for the faint of heart (or the lazy). You’ll be auditioning daily, doing your own marketing and direct emailing and looking for new ways to network and find new jobs.
Here are a few ways you can find work:
Pay to Play sites (also called P2P’s) are the lowest barrier to entry. They’re also saturated with both pro and novice voice actors. You’re competing against thousands of people for Every. Single. Job. But, it’s also somewhat of a numbers game. The more auditions you do, the more chances you have of booking a job. There are many P2P’s that are popular.
Free Options include: Upwork and Fiverr.
Paid options include: Voices.com, Voice123, Voquent, Mandy (formerly Backstage) and many more that I’m not currently thinking of.
Be aware that P2P’s are a contentious issue in the VO world. Many people look down on
those who use them. But many of the pros are on the higher-end sites and make lots of money! That being said, as the lowest barrier to entry, and at the beginning of your career, you just need to book work, anything, to showcase and prove yourself.
Direct Marketing: There are courses you can purchase to learn more about direct marketing, its benefits and how to do it. But, at its core, you look up potential clients who may need a voice actor for whatever reason, and email them your info and demo. This is tricky because you’ll be ignored most of the time and your emails may end up in spam folders. But, done right, it can really work and be a huge benefit to your career!
Networking: This is fairly straightforward; you network with people in your area (or online) in hopes that when they have a need for a voice actor, they come to you first!
Agents: You can’t get an agent until you prove you’re bookable. And you can’t prove you’re bookable until you book jobs. It seems like a Catch 22; like how new graduates can’t find work because they don’t have experience but they can’t get experience until they book work! To that end, grind it out on P2P’s and direct marketing until you are booking consistently in those ways, then pitch yourself to agents.
Auditioning is the job. You are going to be doing this most of the time, every day. ‘Send it and forget it’, as they say. Become quick at cranking out auditions so you can do more and more in, say, an hour. For instance, I don’t spend more than 5 minutes on an audition (unless it’s a big one for my agent), I may give 1-3 takes of varied styles and then send! You cannot, and should not be spending 30 mins+ on an audition! Again, there are courses and coaches to help you with auditioning skills and I highly recommend them if you haven’t done any voice acting auditions before.
6. BOOK WORK
Yay! After all that, you booked a job! Now you need to know what your prices will be, what your terms for delivery will be, what the client expects in terms of style, specs and due date. Ideally, you should have your end figured out far before now, but this is just an intro guide so I’m sure you have time to get that sorted!
Check out voice over rate guides online like: Global Voice Acting Academy, Gravy for the Brain and others that are easily google-able. Create your own rate sheet based on those. I created a spreadsheet for myself when I first began, which I kept updating as my prices rose. Voice jobs are prices based on project type, usage (where and for how long, ie: radio/tv vs web or corporate) and/or length of script in terms of word count/finished audio length.
After doing all of those auditions, you should have a decent idea of how long it will take you to record, edit and deliver the audio, so you can discuss with your client accordingly.
7. FIND AN AGENT
As I mentioned earlier, you can’t book an agent until you can prove to them that you’re bookable. And you can’t prove that you’re bookable until you book work! Agents don’t even want to hear from you unless you’ve done some decent work in the industry. They don’t work with minor players because they are taking you on in hopes that you’ll make them some money. And if you don’t, you’ll be dropped. That being said, once you have an agent, it can be a wonderfully long-lasting relationship.
Some actors have agents in multiple major centers; for instance, Toronto, New York and LA. You’ll have to check your contract to see what is allowed.
As for fees, agents typically charge around 15-20% of the job earnings. You do not pay them up front! And if they ask for that, run! As an aside, this is my beef with P2P’s, since you pay to be on their site and, for some, pay a percentage of each job you book! Not all are created equal. But I view them as a necessary (sometimes) evil in today’s voice over environment. Where else are you getting groups of auditions ready-and-waiting for you?
8. BOOK BIGGER WORK!
And the cycle continues! Once you’re booking consistently, creating a good client base and making more connections, you’re well on your way! And the hustle to find work and audition never stops!
Best of luck on your voice over journey!