acting

Three Steps to Getting Started in Voiceover

I get a lot of questions about doing voiceover. Almost as soon as I started doing voiceover, i started getting friends coming to me saying “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I don’t know how to get started.” 

I’m always up for helping people. I LOVE helping people. I love connecting people to opportunities, and assisting them in realizing untapped potential. And I love talking to people and getting to know new people.

But lately, it’s been happening so often, that I can’t keep up. So to that end, I have written this blog post, with lots of resources listed of places to get more information and get started. If I’ve sent you to this post, it’s not that I don’t enjoy your company and don’t want to talk to you, but I’d rather chat once you get the basics from the pro resources I’ve listed below. Then, if you still have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them, especially if it pertains to the Minneapolis market.

So…if you’re serious about doing this, here are the first three steps to getting into voiceover…plus some other stuff I think you should know.  

FIRST: GET COACHING

Just as actors imitate human beings and have to do things that human beings do every day, naturally, without thinking, and make them look NATURAL* and also be interesting, voice actors have to stand in front of a microphone, and say things in a way that is believable, very often saying things one would never say in a million years to another human being—“Oral B toothbrushes are just $3.99, through Saturday!”—and somehow sound like you’re saying it to your best friend, but sound like Rashida Jones, but with more energy, and NOT ANNOUNCERY. Cool? 

Voice acting IS acting.

If you don’t have the acting part down first, your road is going to be a much longer and bumpier one. Even with an acting background, coaching is important. You might get lucky and book some jobs without coaching (I did), but like with on-camera acting or stage acting, the craft is hiding the craft. You need to learn tricks to making difficult copy sound conversational.

You need someone to call you out on your upspeak, or your constant eating of the last words in your sentence that causes everyone to never really get what you’re saying. Or to teach you how to enunciate better, or stop enunciating too much, or whatever habit it is that you have that is going to cause you not to get booked. To correct your fear of breathing in front of the mic (that’s totally a real thing). To give you permission to speak in your natural voice instead of putting on that over-the-top smooth jazz DJ voice that you think everyone wants to hear, but which puts them off because you sound super phony. 

So, get coaching. 

SECOND: GET A DEMO

DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN DEMO. 

I repeat: DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN DEMO. I MEAN IT. 

I don’t care if you just graduated from sound engineering school, or if you have been a DJ for 40 years…get someone reputable. Invest in your career. Make a great first impression with something that is industry standard, that fits the style that agents and directors and casting directors are used to hearing. 

Also, do not make a demo that includes more than one genre. You will need separate demos for different genres, which is why most people start with a commercial demo. If you don’t know what other genres you might want to do, then commercial makes the most sense. 

As you are looking for a demo producer, be wary. Be skeptical. Tons of places will give you a little bit of coaching, tell you that you’re brilliant and that you’re going to make lots of money, then take your money and leave you with a terrible demo that will not only not help you get started in this business, but may make a terrible first impression with agents and ruin your chances of getting represented. 

Once you have a demo, the next step is to use that demo to get work. You can market yourself directly, join some P2P sites, or you can use the demo to get an agent, and then do auditions through them. This is a whole other topic I’ll leave for another day…

THIRD: CREATE YOUR HOME STUDIO

This step can be optional if you are an actor who lives in a market where a lot of work is done in studio, and if you are just hoping for voiceover to be supplemental to your other acting work. HOWEVER—without a home studio, you are counting yourself out of a LOT of potential income streams, and if you are recording your agent auditions using an iPhone’s built-in mic, you might be positioning yourself poorly to compete against professional voice actors who are sending in fully edited auditions with broadcast quality sound. 

Sound treatment is the main thing you need to focus on. Not only do you need a space that is relatively free of outside noise, but then you have to make sure the sound isn’t going to have any weird reverb or other noise issues. And your basement may seeeeeeem quiet until you start recording and realize you can hear your cat purring at your feet, your ceiling fan in the other room, the roommate walking around downstairs, and the neighbor mowing the lawn. If it takes you hours to get a clean take of a single audition, you’re going to get very frustrated very fast. Find the quietest space in your house and create your recording sanctuary. And if you have to, turn off the HVAC, impose quiet hours for your family, or record at night when the planes stop flying.

When creating your home studio, don’t spend a ton of money right away, but also make sure you’re making a wise investment. The $100 USB mic isn’t going to cut it for more than doing auditions for your local agent, but you don’t need to buy $1000 Sennheiser when you’re just getting started either. Do your research, get a decent mic, an interface, a mic stand of some kind, a pop filter…and you’ll need cables. And a reliable computer.

I started with a Blue Yeti USB mic, which I bought about ten years ago when I didn't know better. Two years into starting to do VO, I upgraded to a Sennheiser MKH 416 and bought a Steinberg UR12 interface recommended by Uncle Roy so I could pursue my own clients and work from my home studio.

GOING FURTHER

There are so many other practical aspects to starting up your voiceover business…creating your website, how to design a great business card, getting work through networking in person, doing more in-depth branding to help your work stand apart, getting agents in other regional markets or other countries, getting national-level agents in New York or LA, moving to a bigger market to pursue certain categories (it’s still really hard to pursue animation work outside LA), getting MORE coaching, expanding into other niches (automotive, radio imaging, promo, e-learning, etc), going to conferences to continue learning about the industry and its trends, and so on.

There’s a lot to consider past the basics, but don’t let that overwhelm you! Take it one step at a time. 

COMMUNITY 

Another aspect of this business that you should be aware of when jumping into voiceover: working from a booth where you speak into a microphone by yourself can be fairly isolating.

It’s a really great idea to find people in your geographic area who are also doing it. Find people you can learn from, and people who you can help bring up as you learn. Joining a voice actor meetup group or practice group will help you find your tribe, bring you opportunities you’d never find on your own, and keep abreast of industry trends and news. Whether or not you are in an area where you can meet with a group like this, online groups are also an option, both for practice, career guidance, and inspiration. 

INTEGRITY

I have to add one more thing, because it’s important. I IMPLORE you: as you begin in this business, please PLEASE PLEASE have integrity in your business practices. 

Don’t accept substandard rates just to get work. If you are good enough to book a job, then you deserve better rates. 

If you’re not good enough to book a job, then keep practicing and coaching. Though we all have to make our own choices in the end, it is the responsibility of everyone in our industry to help uphold rates at a level where we can all stay in business. 

You get to decide if you take a job for $100 just to win the job and put something on your resume or if you choose to uphold industry standards by consulting the GVAA rate guide to quote a reasonable rate. (btw, you don’t really use a resume in voiceover, so this is a moot point anyway) 

Certain P2P sites are well known for really shady business practices, and others are just known for really crappy rates. It may sound great to record a :30 spot for $100 (“OMG, that’s like $12,000 per hour!”) but once you figure out that it will actually take you an hour on the directed session with the client and you figure in all of the audition time it took to get that ONE job, and THEN the client comes back and wants you to do the whole job over again for nothing because they changed the script and you don’t have a policy about retakes…it very quickly becomes not enough. Do the math—how many of those jobs do you need to get to make a living doing this? And how much time does it take to get each one? And if the industry rates degrade to a point where it makes more sense to get a job as a server, then we all lose. 

TL;DR: USE THE GVAA RATE GUIDE!!! 

RESOURCES

So…if, after all of that, you are still interested in getting started on this path, here are some great resources to get started. I’m not saying these are the ONLY resources, but these are safe, trusted, industry-vetted resources. 

*(If you do a general Google search for more info, be diligent about your research before shelling out money—there are a lot of not-so-legit to flat-out-scammy places out there that will pump up your ego in order to get you to open your wallet.)*

The best starter site that isn't trying to sell you anything: https://www.getstartedinvo.com

And another starter site that does have stuff to sell, but is still pretty great:  https://www.vo2gogo.com/classes/vclasses/getting-started-in-voiceover/

And a paid resource that has a LOT of information that is very reputable: https://usa.gravyforthebrain.com//

Another resource for training and the RATE GUIDE: https://globalvoiceacademy.com

The professional organization that you should join as soon as you have credits to join: https://www.world-voices.org

The best place to get started with VO if you are local to Minneapolis: https://www.undertonemusic.com/professional-vo-workshop

Facebook groups to join: 

VOPreneur

Voiceover Pros

Voiceover Insider Connect

Voiceover Universe

(Pro Tip: Be careful posting "starter" questions on professional Facebook groups. Pros get annoyed at answering the same questions from beginners over and over. It's best to search the sites before posting and read VO blogs or listen to podcasts to get the info you're looking for.)

Reputable blogs about the VO industry: 

https://www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice/

https://tomdheere.com/blog/

https://courvo.com/blog

https://www.jmcvoiceover.com/blog/

Great VO podcasts: 

VO Boss: VO Business Strategies

VO Body Shop by Dan Lenard and George Whittam

All Over Voiceover with Kiff VH

VO Buzz Weekly

Voice Over Marketing Podcast

Voiceover Stories: Real, Raw and Relevant with Tina Zaremba

The VO Meter

Feels like the first time

Sometimes, I look back at things I've done in the past, and I can connect the dots. I can see that doing that reading for so-and-so led to getting cast in this project over here, and then that thing, and then this other. I can see how something seemingly insignificant, saying yes to a particular opportunity that didn't seem especially mind-blowing, has taken me down a particular path and changed my life greatly. 

Right now, the past week at VO Atlanta...all these facts, all these new pieces of information, all of these events, and all of these wonderful people I met...are just pinpoints of light on an inky black sky. They are just stars waiting for the constellation to be drawn in. And it's going to take a while before I can look back to see what the picture is. 

Whatever it is, I have a feeling it's going to be beautiful. 

Read More

Basilica Block Party...Just a Little Bit Late

I never claimed to be good at this blogging thing. 

MOM JEANS

My harrowing tale of love, loss, and the parrot that got away

Last month I shot a promo spot for the Basilica Block Party, a really fun little video spoofing Unsolved Mysteries-style tv shows. I worked with a (rather ill-tempered) parrot, and got to wear really unflattering mom jeans. Everyone from Periscope was really fun to work with, and I got to see Brandi Carlile and The Shins, so I guess it was worth it to wear the mom jeans and work with a diva bird. 

Bamboo Toilet Paper and a Trip Up North

Last week was a whirlwind of auditions (four on-camera, four VO, two theater), and rehearsals for Unsung, and the fundraiser for Candid Theater (I am on the board, plus I MC'd the event and performed at it as well), so I'm finally getting around to posting about my shoots. I started my week (last week) coming back from two shoots... One in Minneapolis, and one in Ely, Minnesota.  

On Saturday, I got to channel Joan from Mad Men on a shoot for a Kickstarter for Bim Bam Boo bamboo toilet paper, in a costume complete with Moschino vintage heels. It was a really fun shoot, very Poo-pourri in style. 

Keeping the lipstick intact while staying hydrated. V. important!

Keeping the lipstick intact while staying hydrated. V. important!

Vintage heels that fit me perfectly? It must be a dream!

Vintage heels that fit me perfectly? It must be a dream!

The whole team on the Bim Bam Boo shoot! How cool is this 360 photo courtesy of Kari Jo Skogquist?!??

The whole team on the Bim Bam Boo shoot! How cool is this 360 photo courtesy of Kari Jo Skogquist?!??

After that, I drove up north to Ely, Minnesota to play a nurse on the short film "Nobody's son." I can't post any photos from set, so here are a few pics from the trip up there...I spent about twice as much time driving as I did on set, so it's probably just as well that I show you glorious Northern Minnesota. 

Lake Superior

Lake Superior

Me. Lift Bridge. Cold. Wind. 

Me. Lift Bridge. Cold. Wind. 

Not many options. 

Not many options. 

"The Pardon List"

Last week I shot a short film...just a small role, playing Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress (and wife for 40 hours). Reunited in the afterlife, after Eva has spent 30 years waiting for him in purgatory, Hitler has a moment in front of the parole board...but will he ruin his chance to escape hell?

Originally, the script had called for me to punch Hitler...then it was a slap...and then they finally settled on having me hit him with a riding crop. It's really hard to say what the tone of the finished project will be, honestly, but I'm curious!

Off-Book

Next weekend I will be performing for the very first time at a unique improv performance called Off-Book, where the scenes are performed by one actor who is off-book, and one who has no clue what the hell is going on. I will be the off-book person, so I have some memorizing to do this week!  

From the website:

Come see Off-Book,,Saturday, August 20th at 8:00pm |$12 in advance, $14 at the door

Half-scripted, full speed ahead. It is every actor’s nightmare: getting thrown on stage to perform a play you’ve never read. That’s also the premise of Off Book. We have an actor memorize a script, then send them on stage with an improviser who has no idea what’s going on. Then we sit back and watch the magic happen.

A long-time HUGE Theater favorite, adapted with permission from Upright Citizen Brigade’s Gravid Water.

image.jpg

Years in the Making

So… I have been putting off making my voiceover demo for years.

A year ago, I finally contacted people about studio time and demos and actually made some connections in the interest of actually recording a demo.

Now, a year later, I have actually, finally, recorded my demo. And today, I finally got the finished product!

 

The whole story: 

I went to Mike Stalcar at Audio Ruckus last week. We met a few months ago, before both of us went on respective vacations to Belize (him) and me (Italy), and chatted about the actual recording, as well as what my background is and everything else that might be pertinent. And we talked about travel, and how we both like to travel by going in random directions without a plan, just feeling out whatever path feels right. Mike was so easy to talk to, he made me realize that just like with the travel, sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other, and make steps in a direction that feels right. Even if you're a bit apprehensive. That's how all the cool stuff happens. That's where the rewards are. 

I recorded my demo on Thursday of this past week, and despite having prepared for it for years, I still felt scared, and apprehensive, and nervous about if I would be able to perform adequately, if I would screw it up, if I had the right material, and etc.…but it was SO MUCH FUN!

For a little bit of background, when I was a kid, I was given a tape recorder for my seventh birthday. I was given a couple of actual cassette tapes of bands I liked, and also a package of blank cassette tapes. One of my greatest joys of my childhood, was to hang out in my room, and record songs off the radio. I also took to recording my own commercials, of products and things that I made up entirely. I would spend hours in my room doing this. Sometimes, my mom would yell up the stairs to me to ask me a question or demand that I do something, and my usual response was "Mom!! Shhhh! I'm recording!" So, this has definitely been something Ive wanted to do for a long time.

Well… I am so happy to have a finished demo! Who knows what will come of it, or if I will get work. But I am heartened by the fact that on the first day after I recorded the demo, and even before the demo was finished, I messaged one of my agents about the demo and she immediately sent me a response saying"Yes! I would love to listen to it when it's done. By the way, did you submit for this particular audition?" So, the day after recording my demo, even without having it in hand, I was able to audition for a radio commercial that will be recording soon. 

My acting teacher always says that work begets work. That even if you are just doing scenes in class, the universe will respond in kind. Maybe it's something to do with your attitude that you put out into the world, or perhaps it is that people see that you are working, but whatever it is, WORK seems to come from you putting forth work. A religious person would say that God helps those who help themselves. 

A quote, often attributed to Goethe, also follows in this vein: 

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
— http://german.about.com/library/blgermyth12.htm

 

It is begun! Let's see where it goes!

 

A Commercial with Meaning

In January, I filmed a tv spot for Gundersen Health Systems. In the spot, I portray a patient nervously awaiting a biopsy. It was a great gig to get. I worked with a director from California. I got to go home and visit my family. I got paid well enough to splurge on my first trip to anywhere off the continent. But mostly, I was proud of this one because it was something I believe in. My mom's sister was a nurse at Gundersen Lutheran. She passed away two years ago after fighting cancer for two years. My dad's parents both went through cancer treatment at Gundersen. My sister works there as a CNA tech while getting her nursing prerequisites. I feel honored to have gotten to work on this spot, and happy that my family, most of whom live in the area, and especially my grandmothers, get to see it on tv.

 

 

Theatrical Fortnight

I meant to post this Sunday night, but got sidetracked. Going to have to be more mindful in the future...

Part of keeping myself on track this year is going to be setting goals, and another part is going to be me writing about what I do each week.  Sometimes it's hard to see progress or feel like I'm working on "my craft" when I really am (for example: those dead spaces where I'm not in a show, but keep busy with auditions, class scenes, writing, reading plays, and other actor-related things).  And other times, I lose sight of the art I love and spend weeks doing nothing to work toward any goals whatsoever, and then wind up feeling really lost and purposeless. 
A major goal is to not get stuck in the latter one this year.  Having goals is important.  And achieving big goals requires lots of little tiny steps toward them, not big, giant leaps. 

Baby steps.

My goals for 2015:

1. Do 10 scenes for class.  Not including remounts.  Last year I only did 3 all year (plus remounts), and so I hope to do much better this year.

2. Record my voiceover demo.

3. Get new headshots.

4. Write at least weekly in my blog, and publish 5 articles before the end of the year.

5. Find and rehearse 5 new monologues for audition season.

6. See approximately 80% new work, 20% previously produced shows.

That's what I've got so far.  I might add more goals as the year goes on. 

So, the past 14 days of my life as an actor have been filled with a ton of theater-related things. There is no particular order of importance placed on these things, though perhaps there should be. Some of them are definitely more meaningful, more purposeful, and more in-line with my goals than others. I'm going to star the ones that are important baby steps toward my bigger goals.

  • I put up two scenes from Magnolia in class, and then remounted them the following Monday.***
  • At my job at the U of M Medical School, I played the mother of a sick infant; I worked on communications and presentation skills for case presentations; and I helped first years practice their exam skills with me as their patient.
  • I checked out a giant stack of plays from the library and have read quite a few of them (The Flick, Halcyon Days, Shooting Star, In a Forest Dark and Deep). I'm currently reading Trust, by Steven Dietz.***
  • I went to see three shows, all new works: Theatre Novi Most's Rehearsing Failure and The Red Eye to Havre Grace at the Walker's Out There series were both devised pieces, and Loudmouth Collective's production of A Bright New Boise.***
  • I re-watched Breakfast at Tiffany's (in the interest of making my roommate watch it for the first time ever), watched Paul Thomas Anderson's film The Master, and saw A Most Violent Year.
  • I binge-watched Galavant.
  • I did a private play reading with some other actors for a company I'd love to work with.
  • I had a lovely dinner with my director from Candid Theatre's production of Hauptmann.
  • I was asked to do four separate paid gigs which I was unable to accept because of conflicts with other commitments.
  • I auditioned for one play and was called back. Auditions are still a bit sparse at the moment.
  • I attended birthday festivities for three different theater friends and the Bar Mitzvah of another theater friend's son; My friend Rachel taught me two chords on the ukelele, and I tried out some new songs at karaoke, so I feel musically accomplished; and I went dancing at Transmission for David Bowie night. 

I think that's a pretty good start to my year!  Now on to my second month...

Small steps I want to take this week toward each of my big goals:

1. Email possible scene partners about a few more class scenes.  I have possibly in the works two scenes.  I'm meeting with one classmate on Thursday to discuss, and the other one hasn't gotten back to me yet.

2. Transcribe 3 commercials that I've recorded that I could use for my demo.

3. I have to pay my taxes for last year before I can get new headshots, but I will work out at least three days this week.  Gotta get more in shape for my shots!

4. I will write on a topic of importance to me, some sort of rough draft. And I will update this blog by this Sunday as well.

5. I will cut a monologue or two from one of the plays I read recently.

6. I am seeing one play this week, and it's Caryl Churchill's newest play, Love and Information...so I think I'm doing good on my percentage so far. 

Also:

Taxes.  I need to get my tax stuff for last year together.  This is not working toward any big goals, but it needs to get done, so this week I would like to get all my mileage entered in my spreadsheet.

I am meeting with a filmmaker I know to discuss a project we want to work on together.

I'm sure that's plenty...I still have work and rehearsal for Commedia Day with Shadow Horse Theater, which is February 25th.  I'm sure all of this will keep me quite busy!

Until next Sunday...