Voice over work: how to get started
I’ve been told I have a great voice! How do I get started with voice over work?
I wanted to write this guide because I hear this a lot. I love helping newcomers to the industry get paid to use their voice, but there’s a lot to learn and do before your first paid gig as a voice actor.
Yes, I know you want to get out there and start auditioning, but just like someone who decides they want to be a surgeon doesn’t jump out there and start cutting people up right away (okay, sorry for the grotesque imagery!), you can’t just “jump into” being a voice actor. You’re going to need proper training, equipment, resources, and yes, some natural talent to make a career as a voice actor. The great news is that even though the voice over industry is competitive, there is plenty of voice over work out there for everyone. This guide will give you a good idea of where to start.
Things you should know before you begin reading:
- You will spend money getting into this industry. Professional recording equipment, training, demos, marketing, etc. all costs money! This guide will help you get started relatively inexpensively.
- You will spend lots of time getting into this industry. While you can do voice over part time, keep in mind that clients can be last-minute and will sometimes send revisions and “emergency” projects at all hours of the day.
- You will have lots of fun in this industry. Your voice acting career is what you make it. There are so many different kinds of projects, from audiobooks to cartoons, to medical training videos and phone systems, you will need to find and focus on the areas of voice over you are good at and enjoy. While it sounds like talking into a mic for a living is all fun all the time, just like any career, if you are not interested in your work as a voice actor, you will burn out quickly.
- Ask yourself why you want to do this. If you know upfront what your goals, expectations, and motivations are, you will be more successful. Setting small achievable goals and placing deadlines on them will make sure you stay on track, even if you only want to do voice over as a hobby instead of a full-time career.
Okay, ready to get started? Let’s do this!
Step 1: Hone Those Acting Skills!
In the world of on-camera acting, a pretty face doesn’t mean you’re the next Brad Pitt or Kate Winslet. It’s the same in the world of voice over. Just because you have an incredible or unique voice doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a voice actor rockstar. Before you invest tons of money in home studio equipment and a demo reel, head to your local theater and jump on stage! In every voice over script you read, whether it’s for a commercial, corporate training video, audiobook, etc., you will be playing a role behind the mic. Getting into your “character” is even harder to do when you are alone, in your padded room, talking to yourself (this is why they say voice actors are crazy)! I have worked with many people who have a great voice, and usually, one of two things happens when I hand them a script and put them behind the mic for the first time.
- They become “flat.” Suddenly, there’s zero emotion in their voice! All the sentences end on the same inflection and have this monotone, “sing-song” quality.
- They try too hard. They over enunciate all their words and try to imitate those old school radio announcers they grew up listening to. In radio, we used to call this particular kind of aspiring voice actor a “puke-talker.” Sorry for the graphic imagery there, but it really is the best way I can describe it!
Here are some first steps you can take to prepare for your new career as a voice actor:
- Take an improv class at your local theater
- Attend an acting meetup in your area (there might even be a voice actor meetup group near you!)
- Volunteer to read to your child’s classroom
- Take some online classes – Online classes are great because you can learn at your pace and you can learn from the best voice actors and coaches in the industry no matter where you live. Our voice actor community is a great place to ask for advice when selecting a coach. Be cautious! If a coach starts asking for lots of money upfront to record a “demo”, get out. A coach should get to know you and your voice for a while before producing a professional demo. More on demos later.
- Volunteer to read for LearningAlly.org
- Go to VoiceBunny.com and start listening to other voice actors. Use the search feature to put in the keywords and parameters that you think match your voice. Find some demos you like and some that you don’t. Figure out what it is that makes you like or dislike a demo. Also, sort by “popular” so you can hear what clients are finding the most interesting.
- You can also listen to voice actors on Voice123.com (VoiceBunny’s sister company) to hear longer voice over demos. Keep in mind that our clients typically listen to about 9 seconds of a demo before deciding to keep listening, hire, or move on to the next voice actor!
All right, you beautiful thespian, let’s get real about finding voice over work.
Step 2: Get Some Feedback and Find Your Voice!
It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know your starting position. Voice acting is a huge industry and just because you are great at doing commercials doesn’t mean you can do animation or video game characters. It took me ten years in the industry to figure out where my voice “fell” in the huge spectrum of work that is out there AND it keeps changing! First, figure out what you like to do! Some people love doing character voices. Some just want to do commercial, announcer, or presentation style reads. Others enjoy recording phone systems (sometimes called IVR or Interactive Voice Response). Now, you should get some honest, professional feedback on your work.
There are a few options here. Before spending tons of money on professional recording equipment, I suggest finding a voice over coach in your area who will let you use their studio to start practicing and give you some feedback on your voice. Yes, this does cost money, but this investment is much smaller than what it will cost to set up your home studio (step 4 will cover this topic), plus the feedback and advice you will get just on your first session is priceless. Now, if you already have some decent equipment at home (something other than a USB headset, see Step 4), you can jump behind the mic and start practicing.
You can find some practice scripts in the Voice123 Script Bank, or you can listen to some of your favorite ads online and record them yourself (just don’t try to imitate the voice actor in the ad too much). It’s very hard to judge your own work, though, and your friends and family probably won’t be honest with you. I suggest posting your recordings in our community Feedback Forum to see what other voice actors think. This is a free option, and you will get honest, but constructive, professional feedback. A few things to think about:
- Breathing – are your breaths distracting? Do you take big inhalations or exhalations? Do you sound like you are running out of breath mid-sentence?
- Take natural pauses – Just speak at your normal conversational pace. Unless you are voicing a monster truck ad or a fast disclaimer, most clients just want a normal speaking pace.
- Don’t fade out on the ends of your sentences – when we converse in person, we naturally fade our voices out at the end of a sentence to allow the other person a chance to talk. Don’t do this to your microphone! It will not talk back. Maintain the same volume throughout your read.
- Watch out for “P-popping” – plosive sounds are created by air hitting the mic when you say sounds like the p, or even the wh sound. Speaking at an angle on the mic instead of directly in front will help. Click here to hear what a “plosive” sounds like.
- Do your warm-ups! Warm up your voice, throat and tongue before beginning a session. There’s a pretty cool mobile app called, “Activate Your Voice” that will coach you through proper diction, breathing, and pronunciation.
Step 3: Get Your Voice Over Demo Produced
Just like fashion, trends in voice over demos change over the years. Back in the day, people liked flashy demos with sound effects and lots of compression and EQ, but today, all those agents and potential clients want to hear is you. More than a great voice, they are listening for a great personality, and if you are covering it up with tons of effects, you will be costing yourself jobs. Different jobs will require different demos. You should not make a “compilation” reel that has several styles on one audio file.
There are several reasons for this. The first being that if a client is looking for a voice actor to read a commercial script, they don’t need to hear your cartoon characters, narrations, etc. They just want to hear commercials. I suggest making a demo in each of the categories of work you want to do. You’ll need a separate demo for each. Another reason is that many clients will only listen to about ten seconds of an audition or demo before moving on to the next. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. If the “good stuff” is buried 30 or 60 seconds into your demo, the potential client will probably never get to it. Our demo production expert Deb Munro recently wrote a great two-part series on this topic.
I recommend checking out her “Recipe for Voice Over Demo Success” on the Voice123 Blog. All this being said, VoiceBunny works a bit differently. You don’t have to have a “demo reel” to start getting work. All you need is a “sample” in each category. So, if you’ve done a voice over work for a local radio station or even something you’ve recorded for a friend, as long as it is HIGH-QUALITY audio (see Part 4 of this guide), you can post it to your VoiceBunny profile. You should upload a sample in each category (commercial, audiobooks, etc.) that you would like to audition for. Something to keep in mind, when a client hears your sample, they assume that you can deliver that same audio quality when they book you for a gig.
If you have a professionally recorded demo, but no way to deliver high-quality audio for the jobs you do book, there is no point in auditioning or posting those samples. I have spoken to many frustrated VoiceBunny clients who booked a voice actor based solely on their sample and were very disappointed to hear sub-par quality in the audio that was delivered to them.
Step 4: Set Up Your Home Studio
This is the big topic. There are blog posts, forums, and discussions in social media all about audio equipment and setting up a home studio. My recommendation is to start small and reinvest the money you make into upgrading your equipment and set up. All clients, whether they are Pixar or just a guy who needs a voicemail message, expect crystal clear audio recordings. You absolutely MUST be recording in a professional recording environment with professional equipment. They are NOT going to settle for less than perfection. Does this mean spending thousands of dollars? Maybe, eventually it does, but not today. What you’ll need to get started:
- A quiet space to record in, away from traffic noises, appliances running, kids, dogs, etc.
- Professional soundproofing materials
- XLR cable (most mics come with one)
- Firewire cable
- Recording software
Soundproofing is as important as your recording equipment!
Many voice actors ask me for feedback on their audio. On many occasions, I’ve had to tell voice actors that their audio sounds reverberant (imagine the sound of talking in a bathroom), and they proceed to tell me how much they have spent on their microphone, cables, mixer, computer, etc. They are missing the most important part of their setup –the soundproofing. Microphones are going to pick up ANY noise or echo and amplify it. You might be in what you think is a silent environment, but your microphone works much differently than your ears! Because this is such an important topic, I went straight to the experts at Auralex. Their CEO (and former voice actor himself!), Eric Smith, was happy to share his guide to soundproofing a home voice over studio. He says: “Absorb It. Don’t Diffuse It.” In music studios, concert halls and certain other settings, we often use acoustical products called diffusors, which reflect and redirect ambient sound without absorbing it, but these are not appropriate for use in voice over studios because they promote room tone, which is not what voice over work requires.
Broadband absorbers are absorptive panels that affect the whole range of frequencies while bass traps are designed to primarily absorb frequencies below 250Hz. Properly chosen and implemented, these will tame your studio and make it sound fully pro.” Not sure what to use in your studio? Auralex offers a FREE “Personalized Room Analysis.” Get yours here.
I have set up several home studios and here’s some advice:
- Start small, then upgrade! I use my walk-in closet, and the clothes provide an extra layer of sound protection! Clothes are NOT enough, though.
- Invest in legit soundproofing materials (not the egg crate mattress topper you get at Walmart). I recommend the Auralex Roominator kits they sell on their website. These are designed to keep your voice from bouncing back off the walls.
- Cover everything! For example, if you are using a metal mic stand to hold your script while you record, cover that baby with a piece of carpeting or something to dampen that noise because your voice will reflect off of it.
- Get your computer out of the room. Your microphone will pick up fan noise from your computer. Unless you have a solid state drive that is completely silent, you will want to set up a monitor in your studio and run cables through your wall to a computer outside the room. You can use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control your recording software. This also cuts down on the heat of your studio. Trust me, once you get a lot of equipment in there, it heats up fast!
Choosing Your Microphone
Choosing a mic is like picking out a pair of jeans. No one can tell you which one fits your voice the best; you’ll just have to jump in and start trying some on! I suggest heading to your local music store and testing out some. A few recommendations:
- Don’t get a USB microphone. I know it is tempting because they simply plug right into your computer, but the sound quality is just not up to par with traditional mics that use an XLR cable.
- You’ll read lots of forums that say the Neumann U87 or others are the “industry standard”, but the truth is that there is no “standard” these days. Use whatever mic makes your voice sound the best!
- I recommend checking out this forum post on which mics work best for voice over talent.
Getting the sound from your mic to your computer
Since you can’t plug in an XLR cable to your computer, you’re going to need a mixer that you can plug your mic into. This little 5 channel mixer from Behringer is a good starter. Then, you will need a firewire orThunderbolt cable to run from your mixer to your computer (I recommend firewire or ThunderBolt over USB, although USB 3.0 is a contender). What cable you need depends on the computer you are using and the audio interface you purchase. Next, you’re going to need some recording software.
I recommend Adobe Audition because it’s a powerful tool that will allow you to get into some serious audio production (such as producing commercials with music beds, radio imaging, adding sound effects, and more) but is still very simple and easy to learn. You can download a free trial here and if you are interested in learning how to record, edit, save, and send audio files using cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive, check out my course, “Audio Editing with Adobe Audition for Voice Actors”. Other recording programs:
- Audacity – it’s a very simple program, and it’s free!
- Twisted Wave – very easy to use audio editor
- ProTools – This is the most expensive and most robust option on the list. I feel it’s a bit “overkill” for voice actors and really is meant for music production.
- There are many others out there. Use the one that works for you!
Here’s a video recorded live in my home studio (aka my walk-in closet) that will show you how to get great sound and pass the VoiceBunny quality assurance process.
You can get into mic processors, fancy sound cards, and much more. For discussions and recommendations on gear or if you have specific questions about your home studio setup, ask our community here in our Home Studio Forum. I also highly recommend the East-West Audio Body Shop show all about home studios, audio engineering, recording, and much more! You can go back and watch old episodes and catch a new one each week. It’s entertaining and educational!
Step 5: The Fun Part: Auditioning!
You’ve got your samples, your home studio, you’ve gotten some training, and now, you’re ready to start making money with your voice. How do you find voice over work? I’m going to focus on auditioning online because that’s how I’ve gotten most of my voice over work and that’s where my expertise lies, but I do want to give you a little comparison of working online vs. working offline. Offline Casting
- Usually involves getting a talent agent to represent you (which can be a difficult and expensive process)
- Might involve commuting to audition and callbacks (which you are not compensated for)
- Commission paid to agent is usually 10%-20%, taken out of your earnings for the job
- You’re expected to audition for all jobs your agent sends your way, so it can be hard to turn down those jobs you just don’t feel comfortable doing.
- Direction provided by agent/client/casting director
- Payment/contract negotiations done by agent
- Most of the time, the studio is provided by production house/agent/casting director, paid for by client, which can be stressful due to the pressure to perform and not wanting to “waste their time and money in a studio.”
- No commute
- No intermediary or middlemen
- No commission
- Invited automatically by software or directly by the voice seeker
- Very easy to say ‘No’ to auditions
- Direction provided by you
- You negotiate your payments/contracts/terms
- Do your voice over work from your home studio
Online auditioning etiquette
The best thing you can do when auditioning for a voice over job online is to think from the client’s point of view. The most valuable thing to a client (even more so than money) is TIME. When you save the client time, you make them very happy. Here are some tips:
- Follow directions. Sounds simple, right? Make sure you submit your audition in the requested audio format, labeled properly, and slated according to their specifications. Now, with VoiceBunny, you don’t have to worry about this part as this is all done automatically. But, when auditioning via other methods, it shows that you pay attention to detail and may actually help you land a job when you follow all instructions.
- Don’t slate over 5 seconds. A slate is the first part of an audition that usually includes the voice actor saying their name and perhaps the name of the project and number of takes included. DO NOT SLATE AUDITIONS OR READS FOR VOICEBUNNY! Some voice talents choose not to slate at all (I usually don’t on Voice123 since my audition stays attached to my name and info at all times). An example of a slate could be, “This is Tara Tyler auditioning for Acme Training Video, 2 takes.” I’ve heard talents that use this space to talk about revision policies or even their resume! NO! At this point, clients just want to hear your read of their script, all that stuff can be talked about later should they consider hiring you as their voice actor. It is far too tempting to just skip to the next audition instead of listening through your slate.
- Not-So-Fun Fact: Clients report listening to about 9 seconds of an audition before moving on to the next one.
- Make sure you meet all project requirements before auditioning. A client may request ISDN or phone patch, production services, etc. in addition to the voice over (this does not apply to voice over work on VoiceBunny). What you must remember is that sometimes you are not auditioning for the end client, but perhaps the ad agency or a production studio who is then relaying the auditions to their client. You could be wasting a lot of people’s time when you audition for jobs that you cannot fulfill.
- Keep remarks short and sweet. There is no place to leave comments or remarks on VoiceBunny, but there is on other casting sites. This is where you could include contact info, revision policy, and clarification of budget. Most importantly, you should thank them for listening and be nice. This is not the place to critique the script or complain about the budget. If you don’t like the budget, don’t audition.
Where to find voice over work
Of course, since I work for VoiceBunny and Voice123.com, I think they are the best and easiest way to find voice over work. In fact, when I started my voice over career years ago, Voice123 was so helpful to me that I begged to work for them! I have used other sites like Elance and Craigslist to get voice over work, so I’ll go over that later on in this article.
How to get voice over work with VoiceBunny
VoiceBunny is a great place to start because there is no fee to join the service. You simply set your rates, and VoiceBunny adds the profit margin on top. You don’t have to deal with paying commissions or anything like that. All payments are done through the platform, so you don’t have to deal with invoicing clients or worry about not getting paid. I did a webinar that covers how to get started with VoiceBunny. I highly recommend checking out the video:
I’ve also written many articles in the VoiceBunny resource center here that will help you get going.
Getting voice over work with Voice123.com
Once you’ve set up your studio, gotten some experience, and are ready to deal with running your own voice over business (taxes, invoicing, marketing, etc.), you are ready to use Voice123.
Get a Premium Voice123 Membership
Voice123 Premium members receive opportunities to audition for voice over work every day via our SmartCast system. SmartCast takes the information given by the voice seeker (client) and automatically invites the best matching voice actor for that project to audition. This eliminates the “first to the microphone” competition as only those who are the best match will be invited to audition first. SmartCast will then begin inviting more people until the requested amount of auditions is filled or the client closes the project. Clients only get auditions from voices that match exactly what they asked for. This encourages them to listen to all their auditions and come back to post more projects. Voice123 Premium members also have their profile shown in our search feature. This allows clients to book you directly just from hearing your demos on the site. Check out membership options. All Voice123 members get a profile page, can upload 10 demos, and get a Voice123.com URL they can use to promote themselves, but only Premium members appear in the search feature and get invites to SmartCast projects. Click here to get your free Voice123 profile. Already have one? Click here to find out more about upgrading to Premium.
Getting voice over work on other websites
Early in my voice over career, I scavenged the internet looking for any voice over work I could find–Craigslist, Elance, forums, etc. What I found is that people who post on these kinds of sites have no idea what they should be paying for a voice actor or how the process should work. It was very difficult and time-consuming because I had to educate these clients and then trying to collect payment was a hassle too. Most clients who cast a lot of voice over work use a voice over actor they’ve worked with before (sometimes they are actually “in-house” employees), agents, VoiceBunny, or Voice123.com because they know they will get a professional voice actor every time.
There is no one path to finding success as a voice actor. Choose the options that work best for you and your career. There is a lot of great, free information online about working in the voice over industry, just make sure that it’s coming from a trusted source. Just like any career, you get out of it what you put into it. You can make voice over a part-time hobby, but just keep in mind that working with clients, finding voice over work, auditioning, training, etc. can be very time-consuming and, not to mention, you might just fall in love with voice over work and want to make it your full-time career!