The Quickest Way to Break into Voice Acting

Recently, the mother of a 10-year-old girl asked us about breaking into voice acting for herself and her daughter. She began her query with, “Can I ask you a quick question?” Like most people who are new to voiceover, she was surprised to learn her “quick question” required a rather involved answer. So, as is often the case, we want to take a step back and answer some of the most basic elements surrounding her question. Voiceover is not an exact skill until it is. By that we mean you have to get into the mix and begin training before you really begin to see what there is to learn and what pertains to you.

Like learning to swim, you have to get into the water. You can’t figure it out by walking around the edge of the pool. One of the key things to learn is the different script genres within the commercial genre, i.e., real person, announcer, spokesperson, character, banter, PSA, etc. There are other genres and they all require different interpretive skills and talents. Promos, audiobooks, character animation, and ADR are the most popular. There’s also comedy and drama to be considered, and some folks may have a knack for one or the other. In addition to knowing the genres, training includes timing, relaxation, projecting a naturalistic tone, microphone technique, releasing inhibitions, and learning to create the world of a script within a lonely, lifeless recording booth. Unlike acting for film, TV or stage, you don’t typically have other actors or props with which to interact. You do it all with your imagination!

Ten years old is not too early to start professional training. All voices are needed at some point and teen voices are quite popular. Just look around at all the teens in commercials on TV. These same commercials often have radio counterparts, as well as a Web component. That’s an abundance of work! A lot of advertising is directed at youth and one thing advertisers understand is that consumers and ads connect better when an ad is delivered on a peer-to-peer basis. In other words, teens like to get information from other teens. Of course there are cases where a teen would want to hear from an adult too, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of voiceover jobs for young voices.

To recap, the way one gets into VO acting is through training with a good coach. (See our article,“Finding The Best Voiceover Teacher For You,” for more on this subject.) We provide reputable services in this regard, but you will otherwise have to do some research by working with several people to see where you find the best fit. Once you have a certain amount of training under your belt, your coach will guide you through the process of creating a demo reel. The demo reel is a critical tool if you’re ever to gain the attention of talent agents, casting directors, and buyers. You will also use your demo reel to showcase yourself to potential buyers you meet in your travels or whom you seek out for employment. It’s important to continue consulting with a coach, but at the very least, to use research and common sense to ensure that you’re operating within a professional production process. If you hear offers like, “Train and get a demo reel in one weekend,” or “four classes and a demo reel,” run for the hills. In fact, anyone who suggest that voice acting is something that can be learned easily or quickly is either a rip-off artist or completely out of the loop. After receiving good training and creating a professional demo reel, you’ll be ready to move forward, meeting agents and casting directors and learning how to promote yourself to buyers. This final marketing step will probably require a coach’s guidance and, in the best possible scenario, will include joining SAG-AFTRA.

  1. Training
  2. Demo Reel
  3. Agent
  4. Marketing
  5. Auditioning
  6. More Training

Oh, and booking jobs along the way.

There you have it. The quickest possible answer to a “quick question.”

 

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.

Finding Your Voice as a Voice Actor

A common conversation in the art of voice acting revolves around the concept of “finding your voice.” It’s an important conversation to which every voice actor should pay close attention. As teachers of the voiceover craft for many years now, we’ve noticed that some students experience anxiety over this issue. Some confuse it with finding a niche or genre within which to find work. Others quickly move forward with little or no consideration to whether the concept has merit. “What is this mysterious voice that I have to find?” We have some guidance that will hopefully set your mind at ease. The good news is that it’s as natural as breathing and as plain as the nose on your face.

A quick look at human physiology reveals that the voice changes dramatically from birth to adulthood to the senior years. This is a natural process that often brings wonderful new colors to the timbre of the voice, even as the range may diminish. Of course, you can cultivate the quality of your voice through coaching, training, and a plethora of vocal exercises. You can also nurture and preserve the voice through practicing healthy habits and not exposing yourself to environmental irritants, like smoking. Regardless, the voice continues to age along with the rest of the human body and is therefore a moving target. In a very real sense, you never stop finding your voice.

Then, there is the psycho-social aspect of the voice. As you mature intellectually and emotionally with more life experiences, the way you use voice begins to reflect this history. The more life experience you have, the more stuff you bring to the table when interpreting a script. Consider a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old, performing the same script, and you can imagine how the seasoned maturity of one will differ from the youthful naiveté of the other. One’s voice is not just a matter of timbre. It’s equally a matter of how one thinks and feels about themselves and the world around them. Some people are soft-spoken because they carry a fear of being noticed. Others speak loudly and forcefully because they harbor a fear of being overlooked. Knowing one’s self is the simplest path to knowing (or finding) one’s voice. 

Timbre physiology psychology practice equals your voice. This is the 360-degree picture of the elements of the voice as we think of it for performance purposes. It’s easier to find something when you know what you’re looking for. At the same time, the voice is a dynamic, ever-changing, and responsive aspect of your personal expression. It looks different from one life stage or milestone to the next. The most important thing to understand about finding your voice is that the essence of your voice is already present in the way you communicate each and every day in your life. For the voice actor, using his or her true voice becomes obscured as a result of three unnatural features of the craft: 

  1. The words you speak as a voice actor are not your words. They are written by someone else. 
  2. As a voice actor, you’re reading the words as opposed to generating them as a natural impulse caused by a need.
  3. The actor assumes he or she must add or embellish with ornamentation in order to feel as though they are “acting.” It can’t possibly be as easy as being yourself. 

With good coaching and dedicated practice, you can and will develop the skill of making the words your own. This is the ultimate realization of finding your voice and we see it time and time again in our coaching practice. 

Listen and Observe
Listen to the way people speak to each other in everyday life. Yes, we’re encouraging you to eavesdrop. Take critical note of how a person’s need (intent) naturally translates into speech. If you can record without infringing on anyone’s privacy, do so. What you’ll hear is what is commonly referred to as “conversational” speech. No matter the nature of the subject or the emotional states of the speakers, they will speak in the natural way that everyday people speak. That is to say, without any voice technique, professional polish, or decorative stylization of the words. It’s the difference between trying to do something and simply doing it. Any special emphasis will come out of the speaker’s emotional need. There’s a night and day difference between having emotional authenticity and feigning it. If you do this exercise regularly, you will develop an ear for conversational speech. You can then build on this awareness by allowing the emotion and meaning behind the words of the script to sift through
your unique point of view.

The Moment Before
A voiceover script is a definitive body of text. The actor speaks the first word on the page and off he or she goes. However, for a conversational or “real person” read, you want to do what real people do. Real people speak when inspired by a need. And deep down, the need is always compelling. Compelling is what wins auditions. Compelling is what entertains, educates, and illuminates. The voice actor must identify that compelling need before he speaks. This is the almighty moment before—a common technique in traditional acting.

Trust
No performance is more captivating than one that conveys authenticity. Voiceover auditions inevitably come down to a few options in terms of the timbre of the voice and actor’s ability to hit the key messaging. The element that sets one audition apart from the pack is the unique DNA of the actor’s point of view. While anyone can cultivate their vocal instrument, it is the incorporation of your heart and soul that allows your authenticity to shine through. Trust in who you are and embrace your point of view. You can’t fake it. Truly, who you are is all you have to work with and it’s your best shot at cutting through the noise. Anything else will sound artificial. Surrender yourself to the compelling need of the script. Let the words sift through your interpretive filter. Let go!

 

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.

6 Ways To Rev Up Your Voiceover Career

It’s the start of a new year and many have embarked on new ambitions, fueled by heartfelt resolutions and good intentions. That’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned. Anything that supports you in creating the life and career you desire is something you want to embrace. So what’s out there to inspire success in the world of voiceover acting? We put together a few tips we believe will encourage you to take the actions that will serve your dreams and goals. Remember “Dreams without goals remain dreams.”

Acknowledge that you are deserving. The good news is that you are the one in control of taking the actions that will give you what you want. First, honor the idea that you deserve the life you want and resign yourself to being accountable for achieving it. Many confuse the idea of deserving with something due for good deeds done. That’s not it. You were born deserving! Make this a daily mantra until it becomes part of your spiritual psyche. The idea of not deserving stops you from pushing through when the going gets tough. It’s that little voice in your head that says, “I’m not strong enough, tall enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, talented enough, or good enough.” You were born deserving. It’s an inalienable right. With that, all you need is personal accountability: Say what you mean and do what you say, period. Plan your work and work your plan, period. 

Find your inspiration. Surround yourself with positive, knowledgeable, and supportive people. Outside support reminds you that you’re not in it alone—that you’re part of a network of positive energy. But inspiration is also within and you can tap into it at any time. As human beings we are as much as anything else, the very sparks that make up the universe. We are self-generating engines of inspiration. To have success in the voiceover business or in any other pursuit, get to the root of self-generated action. We have worked with some students who see a voice acting career as a way out of something else; a job you’ve grown tired of, an unfulfilled lifestyle, etc. Whatever that something else is, you are at the heart of it. You are the answer. Continue getting in touch with “you” as you pursue your dreams and goals in voice acting. Start a practice of self-reflection, be it therapy, meditation, yoga, Zumba, etc., and get in touch with the inspiration that lives within.

Respect the new faces of voiceover. It’s smart to look to the experts and experienced pros for guidance on how to launch your voice acting career, but don’t overlook the moves of the emerging new VO talents who are blazing the paths that will serve as the roadmap for voiceover success in the next generation. Their moves may not seem like the ultimate path today, but neither did the humble beginnings of those we deem to be today’s master voice actors. Those who are ahead of their time rarely appear practical in the current time. Can you spot the emerging tigers who will be tomorrow’s breakthrough talents? Are you making similar moves? Sure, learn what you can from the masters, but also learn from the future masters who are rising right beside you.

Get into acting classes. Voice acting is a subset or category of acting. As such, take advantage of immersing yourself in a traditional acting class where you practice the craft and technique of human sensory and emotional recall along with the interpretation of words, ideas, and human circumstances. Acting classes are fun and enriching in their own right, and will ignite a fiery blaze under your voice acting skills. Traditional acting training will not only enhance your nimbleness as a voice actor, it may give your talent agent reason to introduce you to their on-camera department, increasing the number of auditions and jobs that come your way. It may come as a bit of a surprise, but when you chose voice acting, you chose acting. Embrace it, baby.

Treat auditioning as your job. Last November, during the 2014 That’s Voiceover™ Career Expo, Sondra James—who founded and directs the infamous SpeakEasyADR loop group out of New York and is herself, an actor and voiceover artist—rendered the most revealing and powerful remark of the entire event: “Your job is to audition.” You will never hear truer words. You can soak this in for the rest of your career and it will always be new and regenerative. Most people look at the booking as the end game. Not true. Jobs are events that happen in the throes of a life auditioning. Avoid the trap of looking at auditioning as a necessary evil where rejection awaits. Auditioning is the work, the practice, the life blood of your career. The sooner you recognize the affirmative nexus between auditioning and employment, the sooner you’ll fall more deeply in love with your voiceover career. Consider that auditioning is acting. That it’s called auditioning is a designation for what the casting directors do. Casting directors audition actors. The actors, on the other hand, act! 

Manage your expectations. Don’t get caught up in the fantasy that becoming a successful voice actor is going to be easy. Nothing worth having comes easy and a fulfilling career is no different. We’ve met many who, at the start of their training, claim they fully understand that voice acting is a tough, competitive business that takes time to master. Then, four weeks into training they’re chomping at the bit to produce a demo reel and solicit an agent. Though they’re not ready for either, it’s easy to see how their personal timeline and expectations are out of sync with the rhythms of the industry.  Read “Secrets of Voice-Over Success” and you’ll see what it took for 21 diverse voice actors to achieve success. Getting clear about the realities of the voiceover business will help you manage expectations. It will maximize the time and money you invest in developing your career. With a little patience, you’ll find that you have everything you need to have everything you want. And you deserve it!

 

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.

8 Tips for Creating Your Voiceover Flight Plan

The best thing about teaching voice acting is what you learn in the process. Teaching can be downright selfish when you consider the wealth of information that pours in from your students as they pursue knowledge, skills, riches, fame, and infamy. What our students have taught us is that with all the talent, enthusiasm, and training in the world, you can’t take off until you have a flight plan. And the dream career is about surveying the landscape for opportunity, reaching greater heights, and being free to spread your creative wings. Our goal as teachers is to take you higher.

Voiceover Flight Plan™
Planning is something most prefer to avoid. It’s a solitary endeavor requiring introspection, research, and resourcefulness. It means sitting down and thinking hard about what’s in front of you, assessing the skills you’ll need to reach your dream, and determining the tools and people you’ll need along the way. Think of your voiceover career like flying a plane. Each stage of your career is simply a new flight path, a new destination, a new view of the rest of your life. With each new destination may come the need for a different kind of aircraft. You must adjust for fuel, baggage weight (That’s a big one), weather conditions, and air traffic. You need a Voiceover Flight Plan™.

Realistic Planning
Don’t make the mistake of thinking of your “flight plan” as an antiseptic, heavily structured matrix that sets you up for failure. A rigid plan is no plan at all. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, so your plan must leave room to improvise. You are your business and you never want to forget that the “you factor” is the most important part of your plan. You’re the face, the voice, and the brand. We teased about “baggage” earlier because it’s valuable to look inward at what there is about ourselves that can be elevated, enlightened, and inspired. Therapy, self-help books, and spiritual guidance can be a lightning rod to reinvention. You may know a million things about yourself, but it’s the one thing you don’t know that will bring down your plane.

Plan Your Display
This is a huge visual poster of your Voiceover Flight Plan™. Your plan will not work as notes scribbled down in a journal. It will not work as an index card taped to the bathroom mirror where you brush your teeth. We’re talking about a billboard—a display that cannot be ignored. If you wanted to ignore it, it should require an enormous effort to do so. Ideally, your display would be out in the open where your friends and family can see it. Not only will this invite supporters and fans, it will engender accountability and raise the stakes. It’s not that you’ve made a promise to be perfect or never slip up, but to honor your commitment to your dream. Clearly, there are forces more powerful than you are. There will be times when you have to land the plane and let the storm pass.

Destination
A good plan begins with a destination. Once you choose your destination you can map out a way to get there. Let’s say your destination is to be the voice of a national TV commercial campaign for Volvo. Great! Let’s get more specific. How much money do you expect to make from this campaign, over what period of time? Sure, it’s all made up at this juncture, but this is how things become real. This is also how you come to terms with the veracity of your plan. The next question will set the tone for your entire plan and every critical lesson you will learn along the way. By when will you arrive at your chosen destination? Let’s say you plan is arrive at this destination in 18 months. Go out and buy some poster boards and colored markers because now the real planning begins.

The Timeline
It’s a simple process from here, except for the fact that our personal baggage tends to get in the way. Otherwise, the timeline, created by answering the next series of questions, enables you to map out the milestones that will track and measure your progress. Measured results are the key to your success.

1. What must you have in place in Month 14 if you are to reach your destination in Month 18?

2. Working backwards, what must you have in place at Month 10 if you are to accomplish what you’ve indicated in Month 14? The same question applies as you move backward through Month 5 and Month 1. You have just mapped out the milestones that will help you to arrive at your final destination.

The Display
So far, everything you’ve done is just in writing. You may want to write down a few more thoughts or milestones to fill in any actions you feel will be needed to ensure success. Now, let’s get on with the arts and crafts. Create your map across one or two sheets of 2×3 poster boards. Everything you write here will also exist in your notebook or journal, but it’s the display that reminds you to stick to it and take action each day. You can find motivating images, quotes, etc., to adorn your display so that you remain inspired.

Committed Co-pilot
Identify a highly responsible, wise, and learned person who is willing to occasionally evaluate your progress. This person does not have to be in the business of voiceover. In fact, it may be better if they are not. The purpose of enlisting a co-pilot is to get an objective opinion on the general status of how you’re fulfilling your plan. Co-pilots must be given full freedom to say and think as they please, to offer their opinion and judgment as they see fit, without any concern for your feelings or rebuttal. Your job is to make it clear to the co-pilot that you want their unfiltered honesty and that you forego any right to challenge their judgment. The co-pilot must know that you are true and honest in this regard. You don’t have to do what they say, but you must listen and seriously consider their input. You must set up a regular monthly meeting with your co-pilot to share your status and hear their response. Remember, you have asked for a considerable commitment from this individual and you must stand by it. That means never missing or being late for the appointments.

Accountability
Be a person of your word at all costs. Plan your work and work your plan. No matter how good an excuse may be, it is still an excuse. Say what you mean and do what you say. It’s easy to dismiss the power of your word, but when you make a practice of standing by it, you will realize that it is not only the most powerful instrument in your arsenal, but the only one that really matters.

Professional voice actors looking for new horizons are very similar to new actors who are just beginning. That is to say, they want the success yesterday. It seems to be human nature. The plan we’ve outlined for you will enable you to see the big career picture from above. With the Voiceover Flight Plan™, you’ll be able to develop practical steps and truthful expectations. 

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.

15 Networking Tips for the Thriving Voice Actor

Every human enterprise gives rise to its own brand of networking. One might argue that networking is the lifeblood of success. Some describe it as “playing politics,” some subscribe to the philosophy of “It’s who you know,” and then there are some who are content in the belief that, “good things come to those who wait.” Networking is a powerful and essential tool for any endeavor and we want to show you specifically how the voice actor can use it to ignite career success and create meaningful long-term relationships.

In years past, word of mouth was generally enough to keep a relatively small pool of voice actors busy doing the lion’s share of the most lucrative jobs. Now the industry is decentralized—spread out across a web of home studios and new digital offerings that have created greater demand for more varied and more specialized voiceover skills. The evolving nature of the industry and supporting technologies is more of a moving target with new specialties emerging daily.

Networking is the great equalizer. It is one of the most useful tools you can employ towards a successful career outcome. The key is in learning to appreciate the mindset of the people with whom you wish to network. Gaining this appreciation takes time, experience, and research, but mostly it involves listening to your target audience.

The Purpose of Networking
Networking is the creation of a community resource where synergy fuels success for all within the community. To prepare yourself to develop such a community, diagram a picture or chart of the community of people with whom building relationships will do three key things: generate work, friendship, and prosperity for others; generate work, friendships, and prosperity for yourself; and identify the personal skills, contacts, and resources that you can personally bring to bear on the two reasons listed above.

Buyers, Producers and Facilitators
Familiarize yourself with the professional roles of buyers, producers, and facilitators. These professionals work inside TV networks, movie studios, production companies, talent agencies, casting agencies, ad agencies, gaming and toy companies, etc. Their titles (EVP, SVP, VP, Executive, Director, Manager, Producer, Copywriter) will relate to the following departments: creative services, marketing, on-air promotions, advertising, sound design, programming, digital/web content and production.

The Fourth Wall of Networking
Now, let us introduce you to a concept we’ve coined as “the fourth wall of networking.” In acting, the fourth wall is known as the imaginary wall between the actor and the audience. If the actor turns toward the audience, he is facing the fourth wall. If the actor speaks directly to the audience, it’s called “breaking the fourth wall.” In networking we describe the fourth wall as turning to friends and family who live and work outside of the voiceover industry—the connection being that some of your friends and family work inside companies that maintain marketing and advertising departments.Breaking the fourth wall is known to be a somewhat risky proposition because it can be disconcerting for the audience if not done just right. The same is true for breaking the fourth wall of networking. You don’t want to damage the relationships you have with friends and family. Keep in mind that however wonderful a person you believe yourself to be, breaking the fourth wall of networking takes a profound degree of self-awareness and sensitivity to others. 

If you’re looking to get out there and network, and grow your voiceover career, here are some useful tips.

  1. Understand that the meaning of networking is to establish multiple relationships that connect on a variety of meaningful levels, some of which you may serve only a peripheral role. It’s not about meeting one key person, but meeting multiple people and appreciating the relevant connections between you.
  2. Be honest and straightforward in your dealings. Don’t play the game of “fake it ’til you make it.” You will eventually be found out and you will not be given a second chance.
  3. The goal of good networking is to create a network of people with whom you are able to build and develop opportunities toward mutual interests.
  4. Be consistent. Half the battle is being recognized as someone who shows up regularly at key conferences, events, and happenings. It may take showing up at a voiceover conference like That’s Voiceover! year after year before you finally get detected by the radar of someone with whom you can establish a meaningful connection.
  5. It’s not enough to bang your drum. You have to play an intriguing beat.
  6. Embrace the practice of learning about what other people need as opposed to trying to convince them that they need you. Remember, even that major agent or producer you want to meet has his or her own challenges to manage. Aside from voice acting, you may know someone who can help him or her meet that challenge. Be aware of what you can do for others.
  7. Know your specialty and be prepared to describe it in a clear and concise manner. Don’t describe yourself as being good at five different professions. People won’t see you as multi-talented. Instead, they’re more likely to see you as having no “special” expertise. Obviously, voice actors are expected to have multiple talents related to voice acting and it’s fine to discuss those skills if the opportunity presents itself.
  8. Don’t turn a first meeting into a “do or die” scenario. A first meeting is like a first date. You explore interests just far enough to see if a second date is warranted.
  9. Hold people to their word and no more. If someone says to call, be sure you follow up accordingly, and include a note that you’re following up as requested. On the other hand, if someone says, “Maybe we’ll talk sometime,” don’t follow up under the false pretense that they said they wanted to meet with you.
  10. Collecting business cards is more important than handing them out. A business card is tangible information and a solid point of contact. When a serious person gives you their business card, they’re handing you an opportunity to build a relationship.
  11. Don’t hand out business cards like popcorn assuming you’ll get a bite by playing the numbers game. The choice to offer your business card tells people about who you are. In the best case scenario, one exchanges cards when a conversation produces a clear benefit to a future connection. The worst case is when you hand out your card as a perfunctory reflex to meeting someone.
  12. Once you’ve had a meaningful meeting and exchanged cards, take a moment to yourself to jot down a few key points about the encounter. Did they recommend a book or restaurant, or point out a particular problem they’re trying to solve? Be ready to refer to these things when you speak to them again.
  13. Your personal brand is shaped by the consistency of your presentation. Consistency begins with following up on any and all promises. Keep track of your contacts and follow up with a “nice to meet you” card. (Contrary to popular belief, follow-through is a rarity in business.)A personal note of appreciation makes a person feel special.
  14. Networking is more than scoring a connection with the people you want to meet. (Remember that there are people who want to meet you, too!)Rather than focusing on hunting down the moguls, make friends with everyone and allow the networking to expand organically. Remember, networking works both ways. You want to be as invested in helping others as you want others to be invested in helping you.
  15. Paying it forward is a powerful way to build a rewarding network of long-term relationships.

 

Follow them on Twitter: @JoanTheVoice and @RGaskins1, and like them on Facebook: Rudy Gaskins At Large  and Joan Baker Live.