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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. 

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