I fell into my voice over career by accident. I attended a beginning voice over workshop on a whim, because I figured that, as an actor, it might be another useful skill to add to my resume. Much to my surprise, I ended up really loving it. Fast forward several years, and I’ve narrated projects for companies like Coca-Cola, Summer Infant, and Lexus, as well as more than 50 audiobooks. I cannot tell you how often friends, acquaintances, and near-strangers approach me with questions about voice over as a career. “How did you do it? Should I give it a try?” The answer is complex, but it boils down to this: it’s not for everybody, but if it’s for you, it’s amazing. So, what should you do if you’ve been thinking about jumping in? Is a career in voice over right for you? Here is the best advice I’ve got about the basics of the business.
Ambition and training
Let’s get some of the easier (or at least, more straightforward) aspects out of the way first. The number one requirement for a career as a voice over artist is the drive to do it. Working as an artist of any type with the intention of it being a full-time job (whether you start out that way, or work up to it) is NOT for the faint of heart. Sure, there’s a person here or there who is an “overnight star”, but more often, people work at this for many years before they reach the measure of success that they desire. You’ve got to be ready for the long haul! I don’t say that to be discouraging, either. But I want to be upfront and honest. It is possible for people of all types to have a voice over career, but it isn’t easy.
The next thing you need is training. This is a VERY tricky issue. There are many, MANY people out there who will claim to be expert teachers in voice over who don’t know their plosives from their pop filters. It will be up to you to find a reputable class or private coach. But how do you do that? If you don’t know anyone already who does this kind of work, find some Facebook groups or other online communities of voice over artists and ask them who they recommend. One of the benefits of voice over is you don’t even have to live in the same city as a coach – this is an easy skill to learn over video chat. Besides classes specific to voice over, I also highly recommend a basic acting class and an improv acting class. Both of them will teach you about creating characters, speaking truthfully, and thinking on your feet.
Consider whether you can create a home recording studio. This isn’t exactly a requirement to become a voice over talent, but thanks to the internet, many clients hiring voice over talent expect it. You can be a VO talent without a home studio, but it will be more difficult. There are 100 different ways to create a one – much more than I have time to detail in this blog. Look for a space in your home that is small, but not too small. You will need material for sound suppression, and room for you and your microphone. My first booth was a walk-in closet in our spare bedroom where I hung clothing I didn’t wear often, extra towels, an old camping mattress, and even a spare sleeping bag until the space no longer echoed.
Beyond that, equipment setups can vary pretty widely. You can go for broke and buy a mic that costs thousands or get one for cheap from eBay. The important thing is that it makes you sound good. If you can, go to a music store and try out several different microphones until you find one that makes your voice sound amazing. If you’re just starting out, I recommend making a budget, with most of your available money dedicated to your microphone. Get the best one you can for the most you feel you can comfortably spend. You may be able to plug it right into your computer, or you may need a breakout box that converts the signal between the mic and your computer.
Isn’t there anything I can get for free?
Yes! Your editing software! This is what you’ll need to record audio on your computer and cut out any mistakes you make. Audacity is freeware that many professional VO talent use. There are other programs that are more powerful, but Audacity is great for people who are just starting out. There are also many online tutorials that teach you how to use it effectively.
Something else you can get for free is a little bit of self-training. While I still recommend taking a class or working with a coach, there are things you can do to improve your ability to do VO without spending any money at all. First, pay attention to voices on commercials on both TV and radio. Try to replicate them, or even think about how you might have read the copy (that’s a voice over script) differently. Look for opportunities to volunteer to read aloud to seniors, children, or even shelter pets, especially if you’re interested in audiobook narration. It will give you the chance to practice your reading skills while giving back.
Mic check, 1-2-1-2
These are very basic tips for determining whether a career in voice over is right for you. There is a lot more work involved than people realize, but once you decide to commit, it’s one of the best jobs, EVER. You can work in your pajamas with no makeup on. Many people work in their spare time, and voice over talent are some of the nicest, most selfless artists you’ll ever work with. You’re never too old or too young for it – it all just comes back to how you sound. I do want to caution you to protect yourself. Shop around, read reviews, and when in doubt, trust your gut. We’ll be hearing your voice over the airwaves in no time!