Who Wants to Be a Voice Talent?

Recently, I’ve received e-mail from a number of folks who are checking out the prospect of becoming a voice-over talent. They ask me questions about how I got started; what I did to become successful; and what a typical day looks like for me. I openly let them know that it’s hard work and encourage them to give the idea some careful consideration before taking the plunge. My 1000-foot level response looks something like this:

Self Examination

There are a number of “things” to consider before diving into a voice-over business and it will be important for you to think about each one.

  • Are you willing to make very little money the first two or three years in the business?
  • Are you open to working a “day job” while you’re developing your ability and establishing your client list?
  • Do you have the skills to set up and maintain accounting, taxes, insurance and marketing that a small business requires?
  • Do you like your voice and all the uniqueness it possess?
  • Can you read clearly and are you willing to take direction?
  • Do you have a thick skin and can you keep from obsessing about every audition you send out?

What’s Next?

After doing some honest reflection and answering the above questions truthfully, you may still be interested in the business of voice-over. The next step it to get started with training from a reputable coach. A good coach will tell you during your first session whether you’ve got the chops for VO or not. Next they’ll help you identify your signature voice and find genres that fit your voice and delivery. When you’re ready, many will also direct and produce your demo.

Take some acting classes, improv is best. Practice cold reading anything you can get your hands on. While voice-over talent get to rely on scripts, you have to act the part. You need to deliver the lines in a convincing way so that they don’t sound read. You need to sound like you know what you’re talking about even when you don’t.

Get you demo(s) produced and website created to feature your abilities. Your first impression to talent seekers is super important. Take your time getting the training you need before your demo is produced. Hopefully you will have found a coach that isn’t part of a production mill and can truthfully tell you when you’re ready. Your website acts as your storefront with demos, details and contact information. Do not start to look for work without either of these.

Where will you record your broadcast quality audio? In your very own home studio of corse. You’ll need a quiet area to call your own, a mic, computer and software. Plus, the know-how to connect all these goodies and record your dulcet tones. Outside noises, distractions from family, pets and friends need to be removed.

You Gotta Work

Go out and look for work. Since you’ll be owning a business, it will be up to you to get clients on your own. Whether that means signing up with Voices.com or Voice123.com; leveraging your existing business contacts, family and friends or cold calling businesses…it’s up to you. You’ll find the most success in using a combination of the above.

Agents will not get you work. Agents will line up auditions for you. That’s it. If you book a gig from an agent arranged audition, you’ll pay her or him 10%. Yes, the agent will have access to the big money gigs but will only be interested in representing you once you’ve proven yourself independently. They’ll look at you and say, “What are you bringing to my talent stable?”

During an industry teleconference with the talented and respected voice actor Randye Kaye, she said that about 10% of full-time professional VO peeps are in the SAG or AFTRA unions. You’ll be more flexible to stay nonunion at the start. You’ll know when it’s time to join a union, a client will want to hire you and only works with union talent. That’s the day you’ll be signing up.

Plan Your Day

My schedule is much the same from day to day. It’s flexible enough for me to schedule sessions. When not “working” my time is spent auditioning and marketing.

  • Check e-mail from overnight and respond
  • Add appointments to my calendar
  • Practice for 90 minutes reading copy, recording my takes and analyzing my delivery. We are, after all, our own worst critic.
  • Audition 4 hours
  • Lunch
  • Marketing 3 hours
  • Virtually socialize with my vo peeps (twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, blog, other…)

I wake at 6:00 a.m. Pacific time and leave my studio to have dinner with my family by 6:00 p.m. If necessary, I work weekends and get up early when the east coast is calling for me to complete an early morning gig.

So, there you go. A little sporadic but it covers a lot of ground. This is what comes to mind every time I answer the question. I’m sure you have your own 1000-foot-level of what it takes in this business. What would you add?

31 thoughts on “Who Wants to Be a Voice Talent?

  1. Nikki August 3, 2011 / 11:01 am

    I think you answered that question with a lot of thought and more important wisdom.
    I think anything a person is thinking about doing needs to research it first before jump
    in to it once again thanks for that wonderful wisdom
    Thank you very much Nikki

    Like

    • JCDunn August 3, 2011 / 5:34 pm

      Nikki- Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog post. I know exactly what you’re saying. I don’t want anybody disappointed by their uninformed decisions. Yes, vo is fun. No, you are not going to make a lot of money right off the start. But, if it’s what you want and you’re passionate about being a voice talent, by all means… go for it! -JCD

      Like

  2. Leslie Diamond August 3, 2011 / 1:40 pm

    Pretty accurate and very close to my own schedule; I start at 6:30 and I’ve got exercise schedules from 7-8 am.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 3, 2011 / 5:36 pm

      Leslie- Exercise? I knew I was missing something. 🙂 I bow to your extra energy. -JCD

      Like

  3. Arlene Tannis August 4, 2011 / 6:19 am

    That schedule sounds like mine, too. I try to get the exercise in like Leslie, too… helps with my breathing control and lung capacity. I tend to work later into the evening when I have a swim aerobics class. When people occasionally say to me “I haven’t seen you lately… where have you been?” I tell them I have a business to run… and if I’m having a good week, hardly anyone will see me. Marketing, invoicing, organizing, networking…. that’s 80% of the work right there. SO much more than voice. Though radio has been laying off people left and right, not every producer and voice talent can do this …. it’s like any other profession… what you put into it you get out of it.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 4, 2011 / 10:33 am

      I agree. The maintenance of my business outweighs the voice work significantly. I know of a few vo peeps who have been in the business for over 25-years and they are still hitting the street looking for work. Times are tough but the work is there, you just have to LOOK FOR IT.

      Like

  4. John Miles August 4, 2011 / 7:30 am

    Some very useful information. Under “You Gotta Work,” you reminded me of the occasional email I’ll get from a new VO talent asking about how to land jobs, especially when you’re first starting out. I have found Googling for media production companies and those who might need voice overs, then emailing a very brief introduction with a link to my online demos, to be the most effective way for me to obtain work. I’m not a big fan of cold calling-folks are busy and you’re interrupting their day. To me, email introduction wins the day with that all important link to your demos.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 4, 2011 / 10:41 am

      Thank you for reading my post and I’m happy you were able to get something out of it. The school of thought on contacting production companies is somewhat split. There are those who suggest to contact producers and agencies by phone first to ask if they are open to receiving demos. Then there are those like you, which to be honest, I’ve not tried and will be giving it some consideration. However, I recommend doing what works. In any case, online demos are a must and necessary to showcase ability.

      Like

  5. Great overview – with honesty! Thanks. It’s very helpful for those of us just entering the field. Could you share what groups you think are valuable to be a part of in social media? Thank you.

    Like

  6. zach irwin August 5, 2011 / 7:55 am

    I would add energy to anything I would read, voice over, or say extemporaneously.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 5, 2011 / 3:07 pm

      Zach- That’s interesting. Care to expand a bit? 🙂

      Like

  7. mike ortego August 5, 2011 / 12:38 pm

    Just curious as to your approach to marketing yourself…I noted in previous posts the school of thought about contacting production houses and other potential partners. What is your emphasis on to date?

    Like

    • JCDunn August 5, 2011 / 2:58 pm

      Mike- My marketing push is a combination of cold calls to businesses, service reminders to prospective clients and clients I’ve already partnered with. I’m also contacting friends and relatives with a short e-mail that calls out some of the successes I’ve had the past year. These are folks who aren’t aware or have forgotten what I do for a living. My goal is two cold calls per day, three personalized service reminders, two e-mails to friends and families.

      Before the summer started, I hired ArtistUpgrade to design two websites for me, one for commercial or short form work, the other for narration an long form. I’m leveraging the focus of each site in my marketing to prospective clients.

      Start local and then expand your reach. Voice Actor Mandy Nelson wrote a great article called, “The Newest VO Opp Is Right In Your Town: Internet Marketing” http://www.voiceoverxtra.com/article.htm?id=4sxx6d1r. This will get you thinking about your local turf a bit differently.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  8. Steve Gimbert August 6, 2011 / 7:24 am

    When I first logged on 123 I was overwhelmed. I think the first thing I did was drop to my knees and thank God I didn’t have to try to do this for a living! I think the PGA tour is a good metaphor!

    Like

    • JCDunn August 6, 2011 / 7:58 am

      Given the choice, I’d rather be a voiceoverist than a golfer. My drives are horrible, my putts are either wimpy or overpowered and I strongly dislike cleaning my cleats! 😉

      Like

  9. Rick Lance August 6, 2011 / 11:40 am

    J. Nice, direct, chronological “in a nutshell” information for the newcomer or inquirer!
    Hope you don’t mind me passing this along when I get my next inquiry.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 6, 2011 / 11:47 am

      Yes. By all means, pass it along at will! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

      Like

  10. Paul Strikwerda August 6, 2011 / 12:07 pm

    In order to reach a goal in any context, you need at least six things (apart from talent and skills):

    1. A plan
    2. Passion
    3. Persistance
    4. Patience
    5. Business acumen
    6. A financial cushion

    It took Bob Souer 26 years before he finally gave up his day job and became a full-time voice-over. He recently told “That Voiceover Podcast”:

    “I don’t know anybody who’s in voice-over who’s a.) starting in voice-over and b.) making a good living at it, unless they’re already really established as a performer in some other way.”

    Christopher is absolutely right: if you’re just starting out, do not give up your day job.
    Here’s the rub though: it’s unreasonable to expect full-time results from doing this part-time.

    If you want job security, this is not for you.
    If you expect an agent, a coach or a voice casting site to get you work, this is not for you.
    If you expect seasoned pros to do your homework, this is not for you.
    If you’re not prepared to invest thousands of dollars, this is not for you.
    If you don’t know whether or not your demo is good enough, you’re not ready.
    If you don’t know what to charge and believe that $50 is good money for 2 hours of work, you’re not ready.
    If all of this is news to you…. you should ask yourself the following question:

    “Am I only interested, or am I committed?”

    Being interested is fine for a hobby, but it is no basis for a professional career.

    Like

    • JCDunn August 6, 2011 / 12:13 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for stopping by, Paul!

      Like

  11. VOplanet VoiceCasting August 6, 2011 / 3:39 pm

    Fabulous answers! Of course I get asked his multiple times a day and these answers will be a great help to me. May I have permission to repost this to the VOplanet social sites, JC?

    Like

    • JCDunn August 7, 2011 / 6:57 am

      Please, feel free to repost this blog on VOplanet. That would be super cool!

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      Like

  12. Winnie english August 10, 2011 / 12:52 pm

    Someone asks you that question and the next thing you know you’re talking for an HOUR

    Like

    • JCDunn August 10, 2011 / 1:07 pm

      Not anymore. Now, I just send them to my blog. Typically, they do not have follow up questions and seem satisfied with my answer.

      Like

  13. Samantha August 16, 2011 / 9:49 am

    Awesome insight, thank you for sharing!
    I am a French VO talent living in the U.S. and I feel that what you describe is absolutely accurate, maybe even x10 for me because of my accent.
    Again, thank you for your post.
    Samantha

    Like

    • JCDunn August 16, 2011 / 10:41 am

      You’re welcome and thanks for stoping by to read my blog. The uniqueness of your voice may be the aspect to leverage when marketing your VO services. It’s the one thing, out of many I’m sure, that makes you sound different from all the other vo peeps. 🙂

      Like

  14. Kym Dakin September 8, 2011 / 5:49 am

    Hey J;

    I particularly loved the break down of what you do each day. As a mom, a day-jobber, and an Audie-winner, I struggle with keeping a consistent schedule. This blog has been inspirational and I’m curious about how others break down their day…. Thanks!

    Like

    • JCDunn September 8, 2011 / 3:19 pm

      Hi Kym-

      I would venture a guess that everybody’s day is structured uniquely. It took some trial and error to figure out what activities I do best during a particular part of my day cycle. Being flexible is key because I never know when a gig, audition request or quote request will land in my inbox.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
      J.

      Like

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