I have attended one of our local Charlotte Voiceover Meetups, sponsored by Gabby Nistico and VOCareer. One of these meetups was held at a local audio equipment distributor, SE Systems. One of the attendees asked for my contact information, and he called me with a number of questions about getting into voiceover, as anyone who is in the business can report any number of times. I thought I would actually make this a document I could refer back to and modify for future reference. So without further ado…here we go.
Question 1: Where do I start, other than attending these “meetup” meetings? (and I don’t have $5k to get my home studio yet, nor do I have funds to consistently get voice lessons right now)
Let me address the studio question first: you don’t need $5,000 to set up a home studio. You don’t really need anything close to that right away. Of course down the road, you will have to have serious equipment, but I will point this out: I know many voice artists who make plenty of money recording in a closet in their house. But you are right on one thing: the meetups alone aren’t going to get you going. But coaching? Yes, you need to look into it, and there are many reasonable paths to getting coaching. One is Voice Over Club, and they can coach over telephone/Skype for rates you can manage, to get real coaching from real voice actors. They also offer other modules you can check out away from your coaching sessions (disclaimer: I have done work with and for Voice Over Club). Also check out Voice Coaches and Edge Studio for more resources and coaching possibilities.
Pertaining to your home studio; as I said, you don’t need to invest $5,000 in your home setup. First, check out this video from Trish Basanyi about her home studio setup regarding sound treatment. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and doesn’t require investing in a Whisper Room.
Second, you will need a computer capable of being your recording platform. It doesn’t take a monster of a PC or Mac, but it will take something capable of running today’s software, so it will need to have been purchased within the last two to three years. Third, an interface and microphone. You can address this one of two ways, neither of which is extraordinarily expensive. Remember, this is for audition purposes, which you will have to be able to do from home.
Best Buy offers equipment that would be ideal for a starter setup from M-Audio: either a USB mic or audio interface to which you can connect a full fledged condenser mic of your own choosing, both of which come with ProTools LE software for recording, and a pair of M-Audio monitor speakers. If you choose the interface, you can get an inexpensive mic like this Audio Technica 2020 from Sweetwater and have a credible, useful setup. Don’t forget you will need a pop filter and a mic stand as well.
The bottom line is this: you will need to spend money to get there. There is no way around that. But you don’t have to spend huge amounts right now. You can always step up your equipment as you get work and invest back into the business. And it IS a business.
Question 2: I know what sector of voiceover that I want to do (documentaries, like National Geographic, Educational Channel, etc.) and animation; but I am open to doing it all; how do I find out these openings? How do I get my foot in the door (i.e. voiceovers for Travel Channel commercials, Speed Channel commercials, Jack Daniel commercials, etc.)?
There are obviously paths to getting to the arenas you want to be in. But none of them are short and easy. You find out about these opportunities through multiple sources; online, agents, referrals, on and on. But he biggest thing you have to have, no if ands or buts about it, is a demo for the relevant area. If you check my website, you will see my demos for commercials, e-learning, IVR/messaging on hold, narration, messaging on hold, and singing. Without these, you have no shot. None. And these definitely WILL cost money. And you honestly cannot make demos until you have done some training. I know this seems like a grand circle, but it is the fact. And through the course of training, you will get information about how to get into those fields, who to contact, who to submit to, and so on. But you must have a professionally made demo in order to do it. My most important point about demos: Do NOT make one right away, without training and practice. If you haven’t been practicing and training for 6 months at the very least, you will be wasting your time and money, and the time of the studio you work with to make it.
Question 3: How did you get started?
In a nutshell, you can find how I got started on my bio page. What I don’t mention there is I did training with Susan Berkley of Great Voice before I made my demos. I fell into an opportunity, and tried to capitalize on it. I still am!
Question 4: Can I try to audition for some work, even though I have no demo/voiceover reel? And if so, what steps do I take?
The problem with auditioning without a demo is that the only thing you have to represent your ability is the demo. Anyone can read one line or one paragraph. But your demo show you can do that with different styles, different contexts, pacing, all of it. Virtually anyone you reach out to for voice work will ask you for a demo, and you have to have something to hang your hat on. If you don’t have one, you will not be taken seriously. So though you could do it, I strongly recommend that you don’t.
Question 5: Could voiceover work really be a lucrative opportunity for ‘regular’ folk like myself?
Can it be lucrative? Yes. Will it take time and hard work? Oh yes. As you can see from my bio page, I’m regular folk like you. I studied different subjects than you, but I am no superstar actor. Regular folks are able to make it, if they are willing to work hard, study, practice. But none of it comes easily or quickly. You need support from friends and family and a willingness to try new things. Take an acting class. Pick up a couple of books, like The Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and On The Road, The Art of Voice Acting, and others. Search the voiceover category on Amazon to find more books. Get on Twitter and follow the #voiceover and #vo hashtags and see what other voiceactors are doing. Read my blog, and more importantly, the blogs of people I have listed in my blogroll to see what they have to say.
My friend Mercedes Rose, the voice of Princess Rosalina in the Nintendo Wii Mario games, has this spectacular list of what it takes to get going in voiceover:
do some internet research
get in a VO class
get in an acting class
get in an improv class
start working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
(continue for between 6 months and 2 years)
do a VO demo
tell everyone you know you are doing VO
continue working one-on-one with a VO coach
stay in group class
pay attention to what you hear on the TV, radio, etc
try to get an agent specifically for VO
keep it up!
If you are on Twitter (and there is no reason you shouldn’t be at this point), you should also make it a point to follow these voiceover resources and actors. There are so many more I could add. If you want to see who I follow in voiceover, you can get my list here.:
It’s out there. You have to go get it.
Question 6: I’d like to know how contracts and payments work regarding documentaries, commercials, etc. For example, that voice that does the baby voice/ E Trade commercial- how much would he probably get for those series of commercials and does he get residuals for those commercials or does he get paid one lump sum and the commercials play accordingly?
Payment for projects varies by project. Variables include whether the job is union or not, was acquired through your agent or on your own, if it is broadcast or not, if it goes on the web, how long it will run, and more. But here’s the basics for radio and television commercials.
TV and radio commercials are generally paid based on market and length of run, determined by the number of cycles (13 week periods) it is purchased for. Jobs that run nationally pay the most. Then those that run in one of the top three markets (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). Then those in the next 22 markets. You can find the full market listing for radio at Arbitron, and television at Nielsen. Also, union rates for both TV and radio are higher than non-union, and offer the opportunity for residuals, though reputable non-union job sources should pay you for reuse of your work if it goes past the original usage period. You can look up union rates at the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) websites. Edge Studio offers a great rate card resource for non-union work as well.
About the E-Trade guy: his name is Randy Krallman, and he’s a film and commercial director. He became the voice of the E-Trade baby after they couldn’t cast anyone that did the proposed voice any better than he could. He also shot the commercials!
Honestly, I have barely scratched the surface here. I haven’t talked about the need for career coaching, not just performance coaching. Marketing. Networking. Choosing and learning your software of choice. The key things to remember are these:
- This is hard work. Barring a miracle from the sky, you won’t be recording national commercials or Discovery Channel documentaries tomorrow.
- This costs money. In training, in equipment, in marketing and branding. Everything counts.
- This is fun. Funny voices, serious voices, all of it. It’s fun.
- This is not fun. The invoicing, the pavement pounding for new clients, the editing of long sessions.
- This industry is full of some of the most sharing and uplifting people you will find anywhere. No, they aren’t going to open up their contact lists to you and say “go for it!” But if you have a question about tech, want feedback on a demo or website, or information about the ins and outs of the business…all you have to do is ask. And share the information you have. Because someone out there is right behind you, trying to do the same thing.
I just realized that George Harrison’s “I Got My Mind Set On You” nails it:
But it’s gonna take money
A whole lotta spending money
Its gonna take plenty of money
To do it right child
Its gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
Its gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child
Now get out there! We’re waiting to hear your voice!