A New Way to Break into Voice Over

Interested in Getting Into Voice Over?

I’ve had some people ask me about voice over and becoming a voice over artist – how I did it, where I find clients, what’s involved, etc. So here’s my answer.

First, I need to say that sometimes when I read certain articles from those who are established in the voice over world, I feel like a voice over fraud. I’m not a trained actress. I have no degree in this field. I don’t have an agent. I haven’t done anything in the “traditional” way. And I haven’t worked at it for years and years. I’m relatively new to voice over (doing it full time for the last year). But I started working almost immediately, and have been doing it ever since.

So how did that happen?

I completely bypassed the traditional route.

By this, I mean I never tried to find an agent or talent agency to manage me and find me work. Most voice over artists who’ve been doing this for decades are represented by talent agencies/agents who pitch Quilted Northern audition scripts to them, which they do (for free) in hopes of being chosen over hundreds (thousands?) of other extremely talented hopefuls. Get the job with Quilted Northern, and you might take home $1,000 for a few lines of script.

Don’t get the job with Quilted Northern … and you get zero.

The level of competition at this stage is quite intense. That’s why you hear voice actors complain about how hard and competitive voice over is. I liken it to trying to become a popular musician. Good freakin luck. Even if you’re uber talented, only a tiny fraction make it to the top, while the rest waste their time and talent trying to win the big record deal that will never come.

But here was my thinking on this, particularly when it comes to voice over: I knew there had to be people out there who needed a solid, clear voice but didn’t have hundreds and/or thousands of dollars to pay for it. I just had to find them. Rather, I had to make it easy for them to find me.

After all, Quilted Northern isn’t the only company out there in need of a voice for their brand. What about the thousands, millions, of small businesses and start ups around the world? They need voices, too!

So I decided to let the top voice over people and their agents fight over the Quilted Northern scripts, and see where I could find normal, every day people in need of a solid voice. Where would they look? Could I make a living doing it that way?

And that’s what led me to the Internet, and to websites like Fiverr, as well as Elance, Freelancer, Guru, and other sites. I’ve found customers via my LinkedIn profile, my YouTube channel, and Amazon’s audio book publishing platform, ACX.

I discovered there is a HUGE market out there for quality voice talent. These are customers who won’t bother with the expensive “pros” or the agents or the union fees or anything with strings attached. They just want fast, high quality, affordable audio.

Which brings me to….

I made my services affordable.

I don’t charge extra for broadcast quality. Every file I deliver is broadcast quality from the get-go. Why? Because I can, easily, and I prefer to deliver top quality to everyone that orders from me. I’m not in any union. I don’t charge royalties. What you buy from me is yours to use over and over again, no matter how big your audience or in what city you broadcast it.

This is not normal. Traditional voice over artists often make money via royalties, based on the location and reach of the broadcast. They charge differently for broadcast (expensive) versus non-broadcast (expensive but less so). There are a lot of strings attached. I decided to make my files available with no strings attached.

That doesn’t mean I work for nothing. I currently make $30-50 an hour voicing and producing my orders. I have to keep certain things in mind, such as taxes at the end of the year, but overall, it’s decent pay per hour.

Some voice over artists, mostly veteran voice over artists who are losing work to people like me, like to say we are “ruining the industry.” This is my response to them. 

I can tell you one thing for sure. I’d rather do 20 scripts and earn $1,000, then do audition after rejected audition in hopes of scoring one $1,000 order (which may never happen).

I ignored people who told me I needed years of experience.

People who say you need years of experience are the ones fighting over Quilted Northern. You don’t need years of experience. I’m living proof. I had about seven years of military broadcast experience, but that involved mostly video work. I’d voiced plenty of radio and TV products, but I wasn’t that great as a narrator. My audio editing skills were good, but I would say my voice over knowledge level was beginner at best. Regardless, I launched my own voice over career with a $50 microphone and a home-made studio, because I was down to my last $75 and it was either that … or be homeless.

I have no agent, no degree in voice over, and no acting experience, and I still got hired almost immediately. I’ve continued to work since.

Voice over isn’t easy, and I don’t want to give the impression that it takes no practice and that it’s a great idea to do it on the fly. It’s a skill like anything else, and you need to work at it. However, do you need 30 years of extensive experience? Hell no. I hear the pros say this all the time: It takes years and years (and years) to get anywhere and to be any good. This is just a lie, in my opinion coming from people who are trying to keep what they view as the “competition” at bay.

Ignore them. By all means, practice your skills. Learn to enunciate correctly without overdoing it (a skill all by itself). Practice a variety of sounds – everything from professional, to completely natural (I get asked to sound completely conversational, like I’m talking to a friend, more than any other style), to super excited (I get this for lots of commercials), etc. You might even want to practice character voices! These are quite fun. I will write a post shortly about how to practice these different vocal styles. 

The truth is that you don’t need to be an expert to get work. I’ve learned more about voice over in the last year of actually DOING it than I EVER would have learned in ANY school. My customers are my best coaches in terms of telling me (sometimes nicely, and sometimes not so nicely) how they want me to sound.

Practice as much as you can, but if you wait until you think you have the perfect sound, you’ll be waiting forever.

Competition is irrelevant.

One thing that really stuck out to me about voice over is that beautiful sound is in the ear of the beholder. Some people will love your voice; others will hate it. I’ve had people tell me everything from, “You’re the best voice over artist on this website!!” to, “You are terrible, and I want a refund.”

It really doesn’t matter what you sound like. Some people have very raspy voices; others have very smooth ones. Some speak low, and others high. Every customer’s preference is all their own. If your samples are high quality recordings, and customers have access to them (i.e., you are advertising your services in a place where people can find you), the people who like your particular sound will hire you – regardless of the competition.

I’ve seen this over and over again in the voice over world. The real key is to do your best work, and focus on those customers who gravitate naturally to you and your sound. Never mind the rest. 

Kind of like dating… hah.

Work hard at what you do, and produce a quality product.

It should go without saying, but you can’t go into this (or anything else you hope to do for work) half-heartedly. Your customers deserve your best work. The final product you deliver is a direct reflection on you and your level of professionalism. Make sure every file you deliver is something you can be proud of.

Half of this goes back to practicing your vocal skills (see above) and developing different sounds/styles, but the other half is making sure your equipment is solid. Unless you have an audio engineer at your disposal, you will be the voice and the producer of the final product.

The essentials: A good microphone (doesn’t have to be expensive), a solid studio set up (ensure that your sound is echo-free and also free of extraneous background noises – those darn washing machines, lawn mowers, planes, cars, trucks, small children…), and good audio editing software. I use Adobe Audition CS6, but I’ve heard Audacity works quite well, and it’s free.

One thing I strongly recommend is to make sure you understand how to cleanly edit your audio, making sure your audio levels are correct and that you are sending a polished final product. I will post more about how to do this, as well as how to create a home studio, shortly. 

Believe people who say it’s lonely work.

Standing in a small studio talking into a microphone can be a soul-sucking job. I’m not going to lie. You are pretty much isolated from the outside world, and that can get really lonely.

I’m not saying this isn’t a reason to do voice over work, but it’s definitely something to consider. If you are an introvert who appreciates a lot of alone time, this could be the perfect gig for you. However, if you’re an extrovert, it might drive you crazy. Or… you might just have to find a way to do this work in a way that allows interaction with other people. A home studio might not be the answer for you.

Want to know more about how to do voice over?

These are just some quick tips to hopefully help you if you are considering voice over or just want to know more about it! Check back for more tips and how-to videos coming up!