When I was a little girl I was intrigued with voices. Not just any voice, but those of the people you never see on commercials. I was particularly perplexed with the “Time Lady”. Remember, there was a number you could call to get the most accurate time of the day. Back then it wasn’t a computer generated voice reprint. Back then the time lady was an actual lady who had vocally recorded the time and had it played back on a general number. My inquisitive nature kept me guessing about this profession known as Voice Over for decades.
I went through grade school, high school and then college trying to find an answer to “How do I become the time lady.” I didn’t even know it was called voice over. I just knew I wanted to do.
Well, after decades of living life (military, corporate America) I decided to rekindle an old love; acting. I was in San Francisco, CA and had decided to take an acting workshop I had seen in the paper. The workshop was Auditioning for TV Commercials at the Beau Bonneau Studio on 2nd street. I loved the workshop but really didn’t feel comfortable in front of the camera. Mr. Bonneau was teaching the class and tried (to the best of his ability) to make me comfortable saying and doing the commercials for the camera. For the most part it worked, “Gail, you have a beautiful smile. Let me see it. When you smile it can be heard in your voice.”
When the class ended I was so jazzed about the possibility of being in commercials. But, I still wasn’t that jazzed about being in front of the camera. On the way out of the studio I picked up one of the trade publication’s Beau keeps by the front door. I saw the words “voice over”. A place called the Voice Trax was giving a workshop on “Getting into Voice Over”. My heart actually skipped a beat. Was this it? Was this the dream I had been pursuing all of these years.
I called the Voice Trax studio and signed up for the class. Oh, this was 1995. Websites were a novelty and this information was more word of mouth.
The class ran two days and was held at the studio in Sausalito. What a rush. Not only did I enjoy gaining valuable knowledge about my new found passion, I really embraced the microphone. My instructor, Charles, just stared at me. “You really get this stuff, don’t you?” was his comment as I exited the booth after one of our exercises.
I did. I really did get that “stuff”; stuff being the ability to perform a myriad of emotions strictly with my voice. He called me a “natural”. But, truth be told, I had been using my voice for years to make things happen over the phone. Not all of them were on the up and up, but my voice has gotten me into and out of many sticky situations – – Don’t tell anyone, but . . . I once called my high school and pretended to be my own mother to get out of gym class. Yes, at 15 I could stretch my range to a 35 year old woman. I once called my boyfriend and pretended to be one of his buddies. For fifteen minutes I got valuable information out of this guy about a party he went to after telling me his parents wouldn’t let him take me to the movies.
Now that I’m older and more mature, I enjoy using my powers for good and am constantly helping others find their voice in voice over. So, without further a due, here’s a breakdown of how to get into voice over.
Most workshops are held by casting directors in their studios. This will give you an opportunity to network with those who can get or recommend you for work. These classes were not that expensive in the early 90’s (when voice over began to get popular). But, as one would suspect the fee has gone up. It is an investment. If you are serious about this profession you will have to keep your day job in order to pay for the incidentals.
GET ONE-ON-ONE SESSIONS
There are many voice over coaches who will do one-on-one sessions with you. This will come in handy when you get ready to put together your demo. AFTRA and SAG is a good place to start your search. There are many people out there who will happily take your money. But, you want someone who truly knows this business. You can find many coaches on the web. But, by starting with AFTRA or SAG you have a better chance of weeding out the predators.
GET A DEMO
A demo is your calling card. You will invest the bulk of your money here. They can range from $150 to $3000. But, I recommend listening to a demo of someone who is already working voice over in your area and ask who did theirs. A demo is your calling card in the world of voice over and all other types of broadcasting work. You will pay for studio time, tape and production.
My last demo was produced at the Voice Factory in San Francisco, CA by Taylor Korobow at Crescendo Studio. I had taken a workshop from Taylor in 1996 and was impressed with her no non-sense approach. Taylor does not mix words and will tell you if you have the right stuff or if you should invest your money elsewhere. You will get a no-holds barred approach from all legitimate voice over sources. I have asked a few trainers in the business if they have just turned anyone away. “It’s rare” is the feedback I’ve gotten. A good coach can train anyone to do anything.
TAKE ACTING CLASSES
Why an acting class if all you want to do is voice over. You need to be able to see an expression in order to reproduce it. I would have never known my smile could be heard had Beau not mentioned it to me. I have consistently replayed his words in my head. When I got my first job as a radio announcer that was the first thing I remembered. “Your smile can be heard in your voice”. Taking an acting class makes a great difference when you’re trying to find an emotion. Plus, acting classes help you to identify characters and understand scripts better.
Yes, voice over workshops offer these classes, but here’s where the acting class will give you leverage. Let’s say your agent calls you for a voice over audition for a car commercial. The agency auditioning you likes your look. Now, they want your voice and your body. Will they pick the person who can follow directions in front of a camera AND a microphone? Or, will they pick you?
DO YOU HAVE A NICHE?
Many voice over gigs are going to well known celebrities. Years ago this was unheard of. Serious actors would not do commercials let-alone voice over. Now, with the success of video games, Pixar and many Disney films, the top food chain of actors are clamoring at voice over gigs.
Can you do character voices? Impersonations? If so, you’ve got a niche. How are you at dialects? Foreign Languages? Regionalisms? You’ve got a niche.
I do not do character voices. I can pronounce most words in any language. But, I cannot do accents. I’m a southern girl so I have most southern regionalisms down. Unfortunately I cannot reproduce the regionalism of my home town of New Orleans. I prefer doing corporate voices and narration. Or, just being an ordinary person.
GET A HEADSHOT
Okay, now you’re getting closer to going for the jobs. Yes, it’s just a voice, but, depending on the scenario it could turn into something bigger. You need a headshot.
Do not spend a lot of money on your first headshot. Especially if you “only” want to do voice over. You can get good leads on were to go for decent headshots by checking resources on SAG’s website.
GET A RESUME
You have a demo; you have a headshot . . . what? No resume? You mean you’ve never done this work outside of the studio. Geez, you need something to put on the resume!!!!
You can find good resume examples on SFCasting.com. But in order to build that resume you should volunteer, volunteer, and volunteer!!!! Yes, do on-hold messages for your company, church, grocery store . . . anywhere. If you acted in your 3rd grade school play, put it on the resume. You must have something to show an agent when you start looking for representation.
I found a great resource that not only allows me to continue honing my skills, but I am able to help people in the process. Reading and Radio Resource is a non-profit organization that does books on tape and CD for the blind, visually impaired and ADD/ADHD students. You read books, newspapers or do a radio show and the final product is given to the worthy source for free. Teachers may also get these works for a nominal fee for teaching ADD/ADHD students. This will also help you to know how most studio equipment works.
GET AN AGENT
This is actually not as hard as one would think. If you have the skills, a demo and a headshot most agents will, at the very least, examine your work. If you have that million dollar smile or voice, trust me, they will represent you. But, if you are turned down by an agent, do not take it personally. Agencies are being saturated with demos and photos lately. A lot is due to reality TV. Many things aren’t calling for actors but more often ads are for “real people” types.
Let me clarify something. An agent is the person who gets you the gig and negotiates your money. A casting director is the person who works with the outside agency to see you perform and determine if you should be considered for the gig. Here’s what you need to do in regards to both.
You should send a personal letter to all agents stating you are “seeking representation”. You do not need to write your autobiography. Just, “I’m seeking representation. Headshot and demo are enclosed for your consideration” with a little note to make it personal. These people get thousands of letters a week and do not have time to read your life story. Keep a list of who you contacted. You will want to follow up in six weeks if you do not get a response from the one you want. Or, you may need to just keep following up until you get a response from any of them.
For the casting directors: send a note with demo and headshot stating, “I would like to get listed with your agency. Please advise. Demo and Headshot are enclosed.”
Now, with the casting directors you may have to pay a fee to get listed with their service. Most will have a website outlining the details and all who are registered should be listed at the SAG or AFTRA website. They will normally cast background work and will allow agencies to utilize their database when casting commercials and other projects.
Also, you can have more than one agent as long as they are not in the same city. I have three (SF, Dallas and Wisconsin)
ON-LIVE VOICE OVER REPOSITORIES
Yet another option for voice over work. With the on-line databases, you really should be at a place where you are confident you can read a script and handle the load of auditioning.
I have an account with voice123. I booked my first gig within three months after registering. At first I was a bit disillusioned, but then I recognized how my voice has improved due to the time spent auditioning. You’re up against thousands of talent from all over the world on these boards, so make sure it’s something you’re really comfortable with before investing your money here.
What to buy
These are just suggestions, but . . .
“The Art of Voice Acting” by James Alburger is the voice over bible. Get it, read it and apply it!!
A decent computer and recording software –
Unless you own a recording studio you will need resources at home. Much of the voice over auditions done today are done from remote locations.
Cool Edit Pro software –
Or any other voice recording application you can utilize at home. My Wisconsin agent does not expect me to fly in for auditions. I just audition at home, upload an MP3 and wait to see if I get the gig. And, yes. I do get gigs in Wisconsin and San Francisco while living in Dallas!
A good microphone –
I have a cheap little $6 microphone and it works. But, I know a $200 mic will alleviate me having to mask my current $6 investment in toilet paper; proping it up on a stand; turning my face slightly to the left and tilting my head when I record in order to get a good sound.
Yes, keep apples and other high pectin fruits on hand. Read Alburger’s book for clarity. Something about soppy up the little bubbles that form in your mouth when talking for long periods.
Now that you have the information and the resources it’s up to you. My mother used to tell me, “Nothing beats a failure but a try.” I’m not sure who she heard it from, but I’ve tried darn near everything and my failures have only strengthened me.
Lastly, don’t forget your junior colleges as a resource. Since you will be a starving artist and will need acting classes, a junior college may have more to offer than you could ever imagine.
Best wishes and keep smiling.