Nice voice? √
Quiet space to record? √
Decent mic? √
Six-figure, full-time voice acting career? Woah, hold your horses….
On the face of it, voice acting might sound like an attractive way to make a decent salary. In reality, unless you’re at the top of your game in a sea of incredible talent, it might not be the panacea you’d hoped for.
Like any profession, you’ll need experience, ongoing training to keep up with the latest techniques and resilience to cope with daily rejection.
But more than that, to truly succeed, you need to come from someplace of innate understanding of the spoken word, of how words shape emotion, of how the power of language can move a person to feel something and of how the musicality of words can drive someone to take action.
Voice acting is most definitely all about the feels. It’s not stage acting. It’s very different. If you’re not feeling those words through voice alone, without visual aids and clues, you won’t make a connection. Equally as important, can you hear when something lands? Do you know how to reset the tone until it does?
So before you ask if voice acting is right for you, here are some things to consider.
What part have words and language played in your life so far?
There are several ways into voice acting, but unless you’ve had a lifelong love of language and the sound of words, you may struggle to deliver the subtleties and nuances needed for emotion-driven performances.
My own journey into voice acting started as a child, with stage performances and exams in speech and drama. An early career in radio and storytelling taught me how to hold an audience’s attention and craft audio, both in the live setting but also in packaged long form.
Of course, there are many other routes. Many begin as stage actors or drama students, honing their voice-acting skills through further training. Acting on the mic is a whole different skill set, and before even going near a studio, you will need that know-how. If you want to know if you’ve got what it takes, you can’t go wrong by asking a voice-over coach or trainer. If you at least have potential, they will hear it and help you learn the skills you need.
How committed are you to develop?
Even with a 20-year background in radio storytelling, I coach as often as possible. It wasn’t until I employed the services of arguably the industry’s most established and accomplished expert, Tanya Rich that I truly understood the difference between a radio vocal and a voice-over delivery. Sure, there are similarities between the two disciplines, but Tanya has helped me unlearn bad radio habits and learn modern voicing techniques.
Yes, it’s an art, but it’s also a science. You need to know anatomy, how your breath and diaphragm work together and how the muscles in your face can contort to define your sound. It’s a career I wouldn’t now dream of thinking I could do without Tanya’s invaluable expertise and guidance. Workshops and groups are great; my personal preference is one-to-one coaching for the absolute focus and time spent. Having technical expertise? Well, that’s a given. From editing software to knowing which mic to use, you’ll need that knowledge in abundance. Especially when the tech fails.
How much do you truly understand the capacity of words to move hearts and minds?
Everything comes back to intent. What’s the intention behind the script? What are the linguistic clues in the script? How do you know the difference between commercial, corporate or character reads? Of course, it has a lot to do with experience, but how much of the world you want to be part of are you consuming on a daily basis? Skip through the ads on TV, and you’ll miss an opportunity to immerse in commercial reads. Scour and devour business websites for corporate examples. Get glued to Discovery for documentary narration. If you want to get ahead, listen, repeat and practice. Absorb everything audible.
Don’t underestimate sight reading.
In a live session, you’ll be under pressure to read those takes as seamlessly as possible. But even when self-directing, a seamless read from top to bottom is perhaps the only way to carry the read and the listener with you and maintain that intention right through to the end. Edits are often unavoidable, but they can also be heard. If you’re not a natural sight reader, this probably isn’t your future.
Can you read to time?
Ambitious copywriters will often try and squeeze as many words as possible into a script. In radio, the clock is king. Going over time means you’re literally cut off. Voice over can be more forgiving in a prerecorded setting, but a radio producer will want to know you have an internal clock that can perfectly pace the written word. Seconds really do count.
Can you read to music?
Can you feel the way the words crescendo or move with the beat? While not always necessary as music can be added in post production, you definitely need to be aware of how your voice complements a bed or track. If you’re self-selecting and adding your own music, you’ll need to know how to choose what matches the emotion of the piece but that also enhances your read.
Do you have a marketing mind?
No one is going to bring you lucrative work. It’s your business and no one else’s responsibility; it’s down to you alone to do the leg work. There are casting sites and so-called “pay to play” platforms where - in return for a subscription fee and a cut of your earnings - you can audition for work. There’s demand for voice-over through freelancing sites such as Fiverr and UpWork. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, which I’m not going to get into here. Ultimately, it’s your business and your choice how you bring in your income. Direct and social media marketing can also result in long lasting work relationships.
Whichever route you decide, my advice would only ever be that you definitely can’t settle on just one. And if you don’t know much about marketing, you’ll either need to learn or get help. This year, I’ve learnt as much as time allows about SEO. It’s helped my website visibility but clients are finding me in a way that I control. Where my next job comes from directly correlates with my level of interest in what I can learn and push myself to achieve. If I’m not bringing in the work, it’s that either my skills need work or I’m not doing enough to get out there. And that’s all down to me.
What’s your product?
In simple economic terms, is there a demand for my product? Am I priced to compete? Sounds soulless, and contrary to the very essence of the job itself, but thinking of your voice as a product helps you know how and where it will sell.
Versatility will undoubtedly offer more routes to work. However, establishing a niche can help carve out a career with repeat clients that return again and again for your expertise in that field.
I’ve reached a point where I know where and how my voice works, and I also know where I’m a lot less likely to gain work. It doesn’t mean I don’t hunger for work outside my comfort zone - far from it. I just know what works and the rest will come as further training pays off. What’s important is that I’m still developing where I need to. And having something to work towards keeps me on my toes and constantly learning.
Once you know your product and how to price it, how often do you update it? I definitely don’t sound the same as I did two years ago. And I know I won’t sound the same next year. Make sure you sound like your current reels and can replicate that when a creative director comes knocking.
Lastly, how’s your mental health?
I’m not being flippant here. I truly believe that mental wellness is pivotal to this career. Not just because you’ll likely be sat alone in a home studio for many hours a day, but because your voice carries your every mood. Fed up with recording your 9th take? You’ll hear it. Dealing with a difficult live session and want to sound off? You’ll hear it. Down about the last email rejection you opened? You’ll hear it.
And on that last point, you will need to get used to it. It’s day in, day out. And it is the one and only time you definitely don’t need emotion in this job. Audition and move on. It’s business, after all.