So you’ve decided to become a voice actor. Maybe you’ve always been in love with reading, or are a huge fan of animation or gaming, or truly have imagined yourself being the voice of your favorite brand in commercials on the radio and TV. Now what? With an industry as diverse and expansive as voice over, how do you move forward with purpose and not get caught floundering in the ocean of overwhelm? Voice acting is much more than just reading words into a microphone, so here’s what you need to know before you dive in.
Start With A Voice Over Genre You Love
You’re going to spend a long time building your craft, so start with a voiceover genre you love. Then make sure you respect and “get” the importance of the genre you choose to explore. If you go off in a direction because you’ve heard that’s where the money is or some well-meaning individual told you that your voice would be great for eLearning when all you’ve ever dreamed about is animation, you may spend a lot of time moving down the wrong path for your career. And since you want to be doing it for a long time to come, you will lose heart if you don’t follow your passion.
Cover your Basics
With the rare exception of Mozart or Baryshnikov, great artists are made, not born. Sure, natural talent can come into play, but you wouldn’t attempt to be a visual artist or a musician without studying the basics first. The same is true of voice over. Incidentally, only 5-10% of being a good voice actor is based on your instrument – the rest is what you do with it. Learn how the vocal mechanism works and how to support speech from your diaphragm. Work to keep tension out of your throat so that you can sustain talking/performing for 8 hours a day. Learn some daily technical exercises to warm up your voice and improve your breath control. Stay hydrated.
In addition, work to get your diction and pronunciation precise – you can always soften it later. Inaccurate and casual elocution should be a tool in your toolbelt for those “conversational read” moments, not your only delivery style. To improve your diction, tongue twisters are great (Rodney Saulsberry has a great book of them). So is reciting Shakespeare (O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters).
Don’t let impediments hold you back
There are ways around sibilance, a stutter, dyslexia, and other issues that keep people from reaching their voice over goals. This may involve speech therapy, vocal exercises, practice, and concentration. Don’t let an early diagnosis of an impediment hold you back. I was told I was too sibilant early in my career, so I went to a speech therapist and learned to hold back a little on my breath while saying “s”. That’s also where I learned about consistent air/energy throughout a performance. My daughter Lisa was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. She powered through, developed great concentration, and nurtured a very successful voice over career.
Acting, Acting, Acting
All voice work is acting, no matter the genre. So find a coach, (or multiple coaches) take classes, and workshops, and get training to acquire or enhance your skills. Become part of the voice acting community and lurk in Facebook pages and other forums. Go to conferences, and attend masterclasses. Watch coaches work with other actors. Soak it up – listen and read and learn and after you’ve absorbed a good amount, then interact and ask questions. The best way to improve is to immerse yourself in learning.
Learn how to analyze scripts. 80% of the time when an actor doesn’t book a job it’s because they either haven’t connected with the person they’re talking to or they haven’t connected with the words/message in the script. Don’t just skim through a script and step in front of the mic and hit record. Read the specifications sent and every word in the script (even the words not intended for you to say aloud like stage directions). Look for the general meaning, and the deeper meaning, and dig for subtext and emotional cues.
Learn how to talk to someone who isn’t there with you. In other forms of acting, we have the advantage of being in the same space at the same time as the actor we’re in the scene with. Not so in voice acting. If there are other actors in the scene they likely aren’t recording at the same time as you. In other genres of VO, there doesn’t seem to be another actor – but there is – it’s the listener. And even though you are not together in the same space at the same time, you are speaking to them and so must do the imaginative work to make sure you connect with them.
Demos and Home Studio
Skills first demo second. A voice over demo (or two, or three, or ten) is a necessary investment in your voice over business. It is a direct representation of who you are as an actor and your ability to perform in a specific genre. Do not record a demo until you can perform well and consistently without a coach honing your every read. You want your demo to be a representation of what working with you will be like in a real booking, so you need to be able to deliver the same performance quality as on your demo (or better).
If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that to be competitive in voice over, you need a solid home studio set up where you can record and listen back. Be sure to practice in your studio. I have an exercise I call “2 Hats” where the first hat you wear is “performer” and you give yourself full license to create – no critic allowed. Then LATER as you listen back, switch hats, detach from your performance and listen with a (kind but) critical ear, and evaluate your performance. A solid home studio lets you hear what a buyer is looking for in performance and recording quality.
This is not a quick profession to get into. No overnight sensations abound. It often takes years to build the skills and invest in the tools (craft, studio, demo, website, marketing) before you see an ROI and then again before you can become full-time. Even then, the average voiceover artist in the US makes about $30-$35K a year. But for those who can’t imagine anything else, it’s a delightful way to make a living.