How to Start a Career in Voice Overs
In the world of voice overs, there's no substitute for practice and experience. Whether you're already an actor or someone who has an inkling that their voice is unique and expressive enough to make an impact, the easiest way to learn is to do! I've worked in this industry for a few years now, but I'm still learning with every job I do. Here's my guide on how to become a voice over artist.
1, Listen to Voice Over Talent and Learn
Listen to commercials on the radio and TV with open ears and search online to listen to established voice over artists at work (if you type 'voice over artist' into Google you'll find lots of great sites with example voice-reels). Hone your ear for what's effective and what isn't. Ask yourself what makes a certain voice speak to you? Variation in tone? Pitch? Intonation? Rhythm? If you hear a voice over that you don't think is so hot, ask yourself why? Is it monotonous? Unexciting? Dis-engaged? Listening and analysing will help you learn the various styles of reading you'll learn how to do good voice overs.
2, Where Do You Fit In Within the Voice Over Industry?
Try and describe your own voice in a few words. Is it youthful and positive? Or mature and knowing? This will help you establish the type of voice over work you might eventually be suitable for. Some people have the perfect high-energy voice for selling adventure weekends, whereas others are more suited to being soft and seductive, which is perfect for selling chocolates or perfume. Would you be more suited to a soft sell or a hard sell? If your voice is authoritative and wise, perhaps you fancy your chances as a narrator of documentaries. If you are a great mimic, then animation and computer games might be the road for you.
Write a list of the sort of products your tone and character might be associated with, the type of information you might be good at delivering and the mediums in which you think your voice would work well. This will give you an idea of where you fit in within the industry and help you establish a unique selling point, when approaching agents or trying to get started in voice overs.
3, Practice, Practice, Practice
When you first start out, read in your own natural voice. You can learn to 'act' the reading later on, varying pace and intonation, and developing breath control. Although you may never hear intakes of breath on voice overs, that's because they are usually edited out, so don't try to get through masses of text without breathing. Also be aware (particularly if you are a theatrical actor) that projection of the voice is not always necessary; a lot of the time you'll be asked to speak in a more natural, conversational tone.
Record yourself reading copy samples; search for 'voice over scripts' online or get together a bunch of articles from newspapers, passages from books, and tag lines you've listened to in commercials. Be critical of your voice and monitor how you can improve on your own before going out into the big wide world. Then, re-record the voice over taking on board your own critique. But don't be too hard on yourself; like anything, to do it well, learning how to become a voice over actor takes time and effort, even if you are naturally gifted. There are very few of us who like the sound of our own voice when we hear it played back the first few times. It can sound alien to us; we hear our own voice slightly differently to others because of the way the sound resonates in the body. You'll get used to it eventually; in the meantime, focus on the interpretation of the script.
Challenge yourself by not preparing too much before recording. This will improve your self-confidence and get you up to speed with working professionally and auditions, where you often only have a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with the words on the page.
It's a great idea to enlist the help of someone who is experienced in this particular industry to coach you. If you are an actor already, the likelihood is that you'll have friends who are seasoned voice over actors. Ask them to listen to your recordings or readings and to give feedback and tips. You may even consider hiring a voice coach for a few sessions to further your practice and help you start a voice over career.
Once you are confident enough to go out into the big wide world, it's time to record your voice reel or demo. Nowadays, it's possible to find great free software for voice overs online and make a decent job of it yourself; I would only suggest this if you are confident technically (you know how to use the multi-track software to record and edit), have a suitable home studio (this doesn't need to be fancy - just a sound-proofed area in your house), and own some decent voice recording equipment (a high quality microphone and pop-filter).
If you decide to go to a professional sound engineer and editor, there are many great studios out there who produce fantastic voice reels on a daily basis. Shop around; listen to examples of their work and make an informed choice. It isn't cheap doing it this way, but the results will be worth it.
The people you will be working with, on the day you record your reel, are usually great engineers as well as having a well-developed ear for what works and what doesn't. Before booking make sure they are willing to guide you and give direction on how to do a good voice over. They should also be able to suggest material, put on effects and music and give you advice on the next stage of starting a career in voice overs.
Choose your material wisely. This is where the list you made earlier comes into play. There is no point in recording a promo for MTV if you are in your 60s; it's just not your niche. Go back to the type of voice you have and what other voices in your demographic are being used for in the industry.
6, Getting A Voice Over Agent
It is possible to get bits of work on your own with sites like Voices.com (especially if you can work from home), but it's far easier to do it in partnership with a well-respected, informed and professional talent agent. They will have access to thousands of contacts that will be out of your grasp. Doing a simple search online will produce thousands of results for voice over agents. Listen to the clients they already have (their reels will normally be on the agent's website) and try to find a gap in the market for you. They are more likely to be responsive if you show you've done your homework and can offer a particular niche or style that they currently don't have; this might be a certain dialect or age group.
Agents will also normally specify how they would like you to submit your voice reel (either as an MP3 in an email or on a CD through the post). Write a great, personal covering letter explaining why you think their agency would benefit from representing you. Don't be disheartened if you receive a fair few rejection letters before one of the agents bites; it's a highly competitive area and even the most talented voice over artists can struggle to find representation at first. Stick with it and if you've got a quality reel, you'll eventually strike gold and break into voice over work.
7, Doing it On Your Own
As I touched upon earlier, it is possible to build a career in voice overs with your Mac or PC from the comfort of your own home nowadays. Online services like Voices.com, Voice123.com and OnlineVoices.com allow you to put a reel and biography up on their site for free, although to really get your name out there and benefit from these sites you'll probably need to pay a monthly subscription. You are showcased on these sites with a voice reel and biography and many companies are now using them to find the voice over talent they require; this could be for commercials and adverts, documentary narration, cartoon and animation, computer games, audio books or more. It saves them money as they don't have to pay out huge sums for the hire of a sound studio and they know that many technically minded people can achieve professional sounding results on their own.
Just to reiterate, you'll need discipline, tenacity and a great, unique vocal quality to do it this way; you have to stand out in some way to get noticed among the vast amount of voice over talent advertising their wares online. You'll also need a semi-soundproofed room (no echoe or background noises), a fantastic microphone (this is the professional microphone I use for such work and it's produced great results for me), a pop filter to use with a compatible operating system (most work on Mac and PCs but make sure to check before purchasing) and some great software to record and edit your work. So, you have to weigh up whether the initial investment of time and money is worth it for you.
Finally, don't give up. It's a tough, competitive business and you'll have to develop a thick skin, but if you feel you've got what it takes, stick with it, develop your craft and be dynamic and pro-active in your approach. Good luck!
For more great advice on how to become a voice over actor, why not check out these articles:
- Voice Training: A Practical Guide
- Beginner's Guide to Scripts
- 20 Tips for Success
- Software for Audio Recording
- Best Microphones for Mac