Here are some questions I’m often asked. I’ll try to provide as many detailed answers as I can. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me; I’d love to hear from you!
I'm New To Voiceover
A “Voiceover” refers to the performance given by an actor that is not seen on camera. A “voice actor” or “voiceover artist” specializes in interpreting “copy” (the script) for the off-screen lines in a TV or radio commercial or other production. When I say I’m a voiceover artist, that means I’m the guy who does the “Coming up next on PBS…” or “This week only at KFC…” voice. Oftentimes, people think of this as the “announcer” in a spot, but it’s not always an announcery sound. For example, I often work with clients with radio spots to sound like the “guy next door” who’s having a conversation with his girlfriend or thinking out loud about the hot new deals on eBay.
I’m often asked if I do on-camera work as well. In short, no. While I dabbled in my younger years and appeared in a few commercials, voiceover is to me, well, much more fun! Part of being a voiceover artist means that I get to work often from home in my home studio while being directed remotely by a director in a studio in some other part of town – and often in another country entirely!
Wow, this is a tough one. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my years as a professional working voiceover artist is that it’s not about the voice. “You’re crazy… what do you mean?” you ask.
Let’s use DJ’s (radio hosts) as an example. I don’t mean to pick on them – many of them are my friends – but usually, DJ’s who try to break into voiceovers don’t have much luck. But why? I mean they have a great voice, right? That’s why they’re on the radio, isn’t it? Yes, exactly. They have a good voice, and they know how to talk and have fun. But voiceovers are a lot more than just talking with an interesting sound. As a voiceover artist, our job is to take a script – something totally lifeless, dead on the page – and really bring it to life. The words don’t have meaning by themselves, and while many DJ’s could pick up that script and “BOOM” it into your ears, that might not be what’s needed.
Voiceovers usually aren’t about announcing, they’re about conversing. The writers who crafted the copy have a certain meaning and depth in mind. A voiceover artist should first be able to interpret what those writers likely meant, and translate that into audible sounds with emotion. Subsequently, the voiceover artist also needs to be able to take direction which he or she may not agree with. Ultimately, the director in the session is the one who has the grand vision of the spot as a whole. We may only have the words on the page, but the director knows everything about the spot… the colors of the shirts that the actors are wearing, whether it’s sunny or pouring rain, and perhaps most importantly, exactly who the spot is intended for – are the listeners 8-year-old boys or elderly women in an assisted living care center?
All of this to say: voiceovers is about so much more than just how cool, interesting, textured or memorable your voice is, and often, having an unusually cool voice can negatively affect your ability to book work. What’s most important is learning the ropes, learning how to interpret copy, learning the terminology you’ll hear in a recording session, and learning how to take direction, all while having fun!
“Union”, in the context of voiceovers, generally refers to being a member of SAG-AFTRA. The union is in place to keep me safe from untrustworthy producers, clients who later decide they don’t have the money to pay me, and so on. The union also acts as my employer, since I’m technically self-employed. They take care of my health benefits, retirement, etc. like most other full-time employers would. If you have further questions about SAG-AFTRA and what that means, I would encourage you to visit their website at http://www.sagaftra.org/.
The voiceover community is awesome! It’s like a world of its own, and it practically seems like everyone knows everyone! Fortunately, with the democratization of the artform, there have arisen a myriad of online resources to communicate with artists and learn more about the craft. Here are a few websites I would recommend:
Voiceover Universe (http://www.voiceoveruniverse.com/): This awesome message board / social media portal for voiceover artists was started by the awesome and talented Zurek (http://zurekvo.com/). It’s free to join and you can communicate with almost anyone, even those “famous” voiceover artists!
Voices.com (http://www.voices.com/): This site is a must-join if you are brand new to voiceovers. It’s designed specifically for people who are getting started or perhaps don’t have an agent yet. Every day, many companies will post audition opportunities for a wide variety of jobs, from TV commercials to narrations and more. A premium membership is a couple hundred bucks – well worth it if you’re really serious about getting some practice (and potentially some $!) under your belt.
Podcasts.Voices.com (http://podcasts.voices.com/): These are some of my favorites! Voices.com has provided a number of podcasts you can subscribe to on iTunes (or your preferred podcast provider) to listen to while you’re exercising, driving, or whenever! These are SO helpful if you’re starting out. You’ll hear from some of the biggest and best voiceover artists in the business, talking about everything from how to audition better to which equipment to buy. Best of all, all free!
If you’re more of the reading type, there are a number of great books out there about the VO business. I would recommend “The Art of Voice Acting” by James Alburger, “Secrets of Voice-Over Success” by the awesome Joan Baker, and “VO: Tales and Techniques of the Voice-Over Actor” by Harlan Hogan, who also makes some really cool portable products for recording voiceover sessions on the go!
Where to begin!
There are so many phenomenally talented voiceover coaches out there, most of whom have been in the business much longer than I have. One thing’s for sure, coaching is a must if you’re looking to have a successful career in the biz. Here are a few I recommend (assuming you’re local to LA or can travel out for training):
- Kalmenson & Kalmenson: This duo (Cathy & Harv) are perhaps the most respected and experienced voiceover coaches in the world. They’ve trained pretty much everyone. One of the huge benefits of training with Kalmenson & Kalmenson is that they also are among the biggest voiceover casting companies in the industry. If you train with them, are a good learner and naturally gifted with a strong work ethic, it’s entirely possible they’ll be calling you with booking opportunities down the road. More info at http://www.kalmenson.com/.
- David Lyerly: David is the king of voiceover coaching for network promos. The former senior promo agent at Atlas Talent, David now works with the best of the best, and his guidance has propelled many of the most notable promo voices into very profitable and successful careers. David is based in New York City, and offers coaching via Skype to talent in other markets. David is highly selective with the talent he takes on, but for those who are ready, his insight is invaluable.
- Pat Fraley: The man, the myth, the legend. Pat has coached countless people who are now incredibly successful. Pat himself has voiced hundreds upon hundreds of characters in cartoons, animated films and commercials. While I especially recommend Pat for copy interpretation and animated character voice acting coaching, he also leads very popular commercial and audiobook narration classes. Learn more at http://patfraley.com/.
Not anymore! Auditions and sessions are conducted daily with talent around the world. If you have Skype, you can set up a phone patch for remotely directed sessions (provided your studio meets the broadcast standards of most editing, mixing and mastering facilities). If you’re working with major networks or other big studios, you can install an ISDN line in your studio. It’s not cheap, but for certain clients, it’s a must.
That said, there certainly are advantages to being in one of these two major cities. Most of the big agencies for all the powerhouse commercial and network promo voices call New York and LA home, and it’s often difficult to sign with one of these agencies unless you’re local. Don’t hurry off to quit your day job and head East or West though! That’s a decision to take very seriously, and I would recommend only considering it if you’ve got the income to afford and justify the expensive living and full-time voiceover employment.
This is a tough one. It depends completely on your work experience, union status, and other factors. First questions to ask yourself:
Do you have a compelling commercial, character/animation, promo and narration demo? If not, you’ll need at least one or two of these depending on the area of representation you’re seeking.
Are you union? Most of the big agencies will require that you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA before they’ll sign you onto their roster.
How much work experience do you have? This is one of the really difficult parts of voiceover. You can’t get work without having work experience. It’s quite the catch-22. Agencies won’t sign you (generally) unless you have a proven track record of performing well on the mic with a decent client base. But how do you get work without an agent? That’s where sites like Voices.com come into play. They’re great for getting audition practice and work under your belt without an agent.
Once you’re really ready, with a good demo and good work experience, you can start submitting to agencies. Each agency has its own submission policy. Many will take emailed attachements of your demo MP3 (though usually not unsolicited), others will only accept mailed hard copies of your demo CD with a cover letter and resume. I would highly recommend researching the agencies you’re interested in joining and reading up on their submission policies. If you send an unsolicited email to an agency you’re serious about when their policy states that they don’t accept unsolicited MP3’s, you may have blown it… forever! Like the great poet Eminem once said, “You only get one shot!” Be sure to make it count.
If you’re looking for a list of agencies to start reading up on and submitting to, I would recommend checking out the links on Voicebank. Good luck!