Dear Voiceover Newbs,
I know we all start off at different levels of knowledge and that it’s good, brave even, to ask questions and expand our level of intelligence, but when it comes to those new to voiceover, there are a few questions I could never hear again and be a very happy woman. Especially, when I’m in a workshop or attending a panel and you’re wasting my valuable time with your stupid question. (Yes, there are stupid questions. Don’t look at me all hurt; you know you’ve thought it when someone else was asking the stupid question.)
A few months ago, Peter O’Connell wrote in his voxmarketising blog that as an advanced voice talent he doesn’t want to train with intermediate level students. It may sound harsh, but it’s a valid point. When training in a class or group environment, most instructors will teach to the lowest level. It’s really frustrating to hear questions from that lowest level again and again in classes that are supposed to be at more advanced levels. If you are asking the following questions, you are not ready for a higher level class.
Here are the most frequently asked questions that I hear from new or wannabe voiceover students, along with the answers. May I never hear these questions again.
- (To professional or working voice actor) How did you get your start?
First of all, you could ask 10 different voice actors how they got their start and you will hear 10 different answers. While it makes for an interesting and sometimes inspiring story, it doesn’t really matter how we got our start. It won’t help you get your start. If you want to learn more about voiceover read a book. Read a blog. Google the words “voiceover”, “voice actor”, and “voice artist”. I realize it can be overwhelming to start researching something you know little to nothing about. Here are a couple of excellent books you should check out. For years, I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to work with Elaine Clark, author of There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is. (She’s just completed a new update so look for the current edition in your local library, then buy the new edition when it’s published later this year.) Another excellent book is Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic. I’ve read the book and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the authors; it’s a great read that gives you a truthful look inside the business and technique of voice acting. Start by reading one or both of these books then, if you’re still interested, get thee to a voiceover class!
- I’m an aspiring voice actor; can you give me any tips to get started in a voiceover career?
Yeah, take a workshop! Take a class! Take an acting class. Oh, if you knew how many times I’ve advised a student to take acting lessons in addition to voice lessons and they respond with, “Well, I don’t want to be an actor, I want to do voiceover.” I don’t care which category of voiceover interests you: commercial, narration, animation; you’re going to need some acting skills if you want to achieve any level of success. Bottom line, you need to train for this particular career. Technology has made it easy for anyone with a laptop computer and a $50 USB microphone to call themselves a voiceover artist but it takes a lot more than the ability to record yourself. Voice acting is a skill, a technique, an art. It takes a lot of training and work before you begin reaping the rewards. That’s why coaches always tell actors, “If you can be happy doing any other job, go do it.” They’re not trying to discourage you, they’re telling you that what you’re undertaking is grueling and difficult and if you don’t enjoy the journey now, you never will. For those of us who truly love to act, it is the most rewarding career we can imagine and even the “struggle” doesn’t feel grueling because we know we’re on the path to something great.
- When should I make a demo? Don’t I need a demo to get work and an agent?
If you’re asking this question, you’re really not ready to make a demo. How do you know when to make a demo? You just know. And no one should tell you. But if you’re really not sure… you’re ready to make a demo when all the training you’ve invested in is second nature. You’re ready to make a demo when you can approach a script and perform it without thinking about the technique needed to perform it. That’s what it takes to get hired for jobs and you’re not ready for a demo until you can perform with consistency. And while it certainly makes getting jobs or an agent easier, you don’t necessarily need a demo to make either of those things happen. It’s important that you wait until you’re ready to make a demo. (Conversely, if you know you’re ready to make a demo, don’t let anyone tell you you’re not or talk you into taking more classes before you do.) Your demo is your calling card and your first impression to potential clients and agents. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- How do I get an agent?
Show them you can make them money. It’s that simple. Agents work on commission. If you don’t work, they don’t get paid. The only reason for an agent to represent you is that they think you’re good enough to get the work. So show them that you’ve trained, that you’ve done your homework, that you’ve got a good marketing package in place, that you’re a problem solver and that you’re good enough to get the gigs. There are deeper levels of advice and answers to this question, such as researching agents to find the one that’s right for you and using referrals to even get the agent to listen to your demo and consider you, but again, if you’re asking how to get an agent, you’re not ready for one.
At the top of this post I said it’s good to ask questions. Well, at the risk of contradicting myself, while it’s good to ask questions, chances are that if you’re asking the question, you’re not ready for the answer. Students who have trained and put in their time, learn the answers to these questions as they go. If you’ve done your research, you don’t need to ask questions like the ones listed above. If you’re asking these questions at the early stages of your training, you’re rushing things. To build a successful voiceover career you need to invest in your training and in yourself. Give yourself the time and space to do it right.
The incredibly talented Dee Bradley Baker has gone through the trouble of making an entire website to answer your voiceover questions. If you’re even a little serious about pursuing a voice acting career, then you owe it to yourself (and to Dee) to read this site. Visit iwanttobeavoiceactor.com and LEARN. This is required reading for anyone who’s new to the voice acting profession and wants to know more about it.
Okay, I’ve been expressing some frustration about hearing these questions again and again, but in all seriousness, I will always help an actor who is interested in learning more about voiceover. I’ll take the time to answer your questions, but I’m also going to encourage you to do your homework. Sometimes it’s important to try to find the answers on your own. You learn more that way.