A VOICEOVER REALITY CHECK
Published July 25, 2009
The voiceover business is growing by leaps and bounds! There are literally thousands of people trying their hand at it. And no wonder! It’s a great business!
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear from someone requesting advice or information on getting into the business. There is a lot of information out there on how to do it. Just doing a search for “how to get into voiceovers” will get you about 3 million matches!
I’ve been in this business for over 20 years. I’m a witness to the amazing changes in the industry. And believe me, it is changing very, very rapidly. So here are some things that you should be aware of if you are planning to venture into this strange and wonderful world:
1. As best I can tell, there are only about 2000 of us true full-timers in this business. The thousands of others are part-timers or have an additional full-time job, or supplement their income with related activities such as teaching or radio/tv jobs, or club work, or whatever. And the reason they have to supplement their voiceover work is because the competition is brutal. Not mean. There is just a lot of it!
Not being in the voiceover business full-time means that your clients are going to have to wait on you. Now, that’s not a problem for some producers, but it is for most.
Why? Think of it this way: The copy has been written and approved; usually the music has been selected; if it’s a video project the acting has already been done; in many cases the buy for a commercial has already been placed; and all the producer/editor is waiting on is the voice talent. And usually by then they’re already behind schedule. They don’t have time to wait for somebody to get home from work, cut the voice, send it to them overnight, make changes, send it back to the talent, wait for the talent to get home from work the next day, and do it again…and wait ‘til the next morning to get it in their email. Not to mention that some producer/editors want to direct the talent live by ISDN or phone patch.
The only reason any producer/editor would wait on you in that case is because you have such an incredible voice, or it’s a tight budget and you’re working for cheap.
I tell you that right up front because most likely you are not going to make a lot of money in this line of work. For the ninety-some-odd percent majority, voiceovers are a supplemental income at best, and even then, very limited.
However, there are some that make a very nice living in the voice business. But they will tell you it’s a business and it’s a job. You have to treat it that way. If you want to make a lot of money, you have to do a lot of work.
2. Having a nice voice that people comment on doesn’t qualify you for the business anymore than having a nice face makes you a movie star.
It takes a lot of time…let me repeat that…A LOT OF TIME…to learn what your voice can do and what it can’t. It takes a lot of personal training to develop your signature voice. My vocal style is so incredibly different now from what it was years ago because it takes so much time to learn what it is that one can do well.
Let me come back to a stage and screen analogy. They don’t call them stage talents or movie talents. They call them actors. They’re all talents; it’s how they use that talent to act that sets them apart. The same thing is true with voice work.
A voiceover is acting. And because you don’t have a stage or props or costumes, it’s all about what you do with your voice. While you may be gifted, it’s what you do with that gift and how you use it that gets noticed.
3. It takes good equipment to stay in this business.
I hear it almost every day: an audition or a demo from a voice talent that has used equipment that is just not set up right, or just cheap. Believe me; producers/engineers/editors who do this all day for a living can hear that in the first 3 seconds. And when your equipment doesn’t measure up to their standards you’re probably not going to get the job.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to spend a fortune on equipment. In fact, you don’t. But you do have to have equipment that is compatible and right for your voice.
That’s one reason why I’m always so amused at the discussions on the voiceover forums where arguments ensue about the best microphone, or best recording software, or best processing, etc. Every voice is different and requires its own unique combination and tweaking of equipment.
4. A shingle doth not a business make.
Just because you declare yourself a voice talent, and even have a great demo to use, and even have a spectacular website doesn’t mean you’re in business. It just means you’re a voice talent with a demo and a website.
I know a voice guy with great talent, a really good demo and website, and even his own business cards. He hasn’t had a voice job in the last year.
Why? Because as I mentioned before, it’s a business and it has to be treated that way. And that means marketing. Strong marketing. Creative marketing. Ambitious marketing. Persistent marketing.
If you don’t have a good marketing plan you’ll be dead in the water. You might as well as use that Subxonic 1000 TMS Macro Flogulator as a boat anchor because you’re not going anywhere.
And by marketing I don’t mean joining a pay-site to send you voice job leads. Such sites are a very, very small part of an effective overall marketing plan. Now, I’ve joined some of those sites, and I do get work from a couple of them, but most people that I know that have joined those sites cannot say that they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
It takes a lot of networking to develop any sort of work flow. Who you know is important, but who knows you is more important.
I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter how much work I’ve done in the past, if I don’t have something lined up for tomorrow I’m unemployed. You’re only as good as your next job.
5. Carve your niche.
Some voice talents are cartoon voices. Some sell cars. Some do audio books. Some sell beer. Some are multi-lingual. Some do impersonations.
What is your niche? Not that you’re are limited to that.
Several months ago I found a new voice style I have that I had never used. It’s a deep, gravelly, weathered, sort of voice that I can do warm and friendly with, or I can go intense and hard-sell with. 20 years doing this and I never knew I had that in me.
I discovered it quite by accident. I had to leave town for a couple of days but I had some liners that I still had to get out to a client. I was in sort of a rush but as with most clients, I gave him several different takes. Jared, my engineer, cleaned them up and sent them on to the client. Later that day I got an email from the client saying that he loved takes 3 and 4 of each liner, and could I redo the other liners to match those.
I had no idea what he was talking about, so when I got back I checked them out. I was stunned to hear that voice! It was a voice I had always tried to suppress. I thought it was too harsh and old. Boy! Was I wrong!
I continued to work with that style until I found a very comfortable range and delivery. Now I get several requests for that voice. Who knew!?!?!
Well, that about wraps up my diatribe on this business I call mine. I hope it was a reality check, but at the same time some wise direction on how to proceed if it’s for you.
As I mentioned earlier, Voice Overs are a great business. You get to be creative. You do something unique that no one else can do quite like you. Some of us make a good living at it. Some make a good supplemental income. And it’s fun!
I love what I do and I don’t wish for a different job. I guess that’s the greatest endorsement for it.