8 Pieces of Terrible Voiceover Advice

Voice acting is a field in which finding a reliable source for routine information can be hard to come by. It’s even harder with social media making it possible for just about anyone to jump in with an opinion. Rather than answer questions, this month we’re taking a page from Jeopardy and starting with the answers. From the mouths of our students and expert colleagues, we have put together a short list of some of the worst career advice ever given to voice actors.

1. With a voice like yours, you should go into voiceover! This is easily the most common advice, even though it’s often meant more as a casual compliment. Even today’s least experienced voice actors know that there’s more to voice acting than your voice. In an ideal world, this advice would read more like the following: “With a voice like yours, plus your engaging personality, creative spirit, tenacity, open mindedness, strong work ethic, and courage to stand up under scrutiny, you should consider voiceover.”

2. You can practice by using the ads in magazines. The ads in magazines are meant to be read, not spoken. Further, they are written with the knowledge that the consumer is choosing to read them on his own time, at his own pace, hence they can be of any length. Radio and TV spots are typically confined to no more than 60 seconds and locked into a schedule set by the broadcaster. These scripts must instantly engage the listener and compel him to pay attention in the moment. The competencies and strategies involved in print ads and TV/radio ads are completely different. Except in ways too esoteric to explain here, you will not learn voice acting practicing with magazines ads.

3. You can learn everything you need to know by studying TV and radio commercials. Everything? First, how do you know which commercials are good or bad. Not every spot that makes it to air is up to standard. Many are subpar and will steer you down the wrong path. There is a great deal of complexity behind advertising. What you learn will be limited by what you understand about how commercials are developed and how they achieve their marketing goals. You can look at cakes in a bakery window, but that won’t teach you how to bake. Nevertheless, studying TV/radio commercials can be a good practice when taken with a grain of salt. In conjunction with a competent teacher, reviewing and analyzing commercials can be an extraordinary tool and will enhance your knowledge and performance acumen.

4. Find your niche, make a demo reel, and you’re on your way. Figuring out your voice, as it relates to voice acting, is a matter of training, thoughtful guidance, and diligent practice. There is much success and enjoyment to experience as you develop an awareness of your range and capabilities. There is no telling where your journey will lead. The last thing you want is to immediately box yourself into a niche. Others will be happy to do that for you. The niche(s) will find you. Your job, whether starting out or continuing to build on an existing career, is to continually grow and develop your performance skills, range, diversity, and malleability as an actor.

5. There’s too much competition to waste your time trying to succeed in voice acting. If you find yourself resonating with this rather cynical point of view, consider yourself lucky. You just learned that voice acting is not for you and can happily move on. Voice acting is for people who can tolerate a certain amount of risk and are not afraid of challenges. Those who do well possess a dynamic sense of themselves as winners. They tend to be those who operate with creative brio and have fun doing it. There is little if any personal or financial reward in finding a safe place to eke out a quiet living in your pajamas. You have to believe in yourself and your dreams. You have to take off the PJs, grab a shower, put on your street clothes, and get out there. After all, there are many successful voice actors and they got there by making the choice to succeed.

6. You don’t need an agent. They take 10 percent and do nothing for it. This is an uninformed point of view. Smile politely and move on. Agents are like angel investors but without the cash infusion. They risk their time, money, and reputations on the talent they send to their clients. How you perform as an actor reflects on the agency. Agenting is a respectable and difficult job. The fact that companies call the agent represents cash outlay for marketing, countless phones calls, careful networking, and building a track record of success. The agenting doesn’t stop when the talent books the job. From there, the agent must negotiate the best deal, provide bookkeeping, manage union protocol, put out fires, and collect payment. Putting aside the fact that you, the talent, wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity without the agent’s hard-earned advance work, keep in mind that you didn’t have to pay them to do it. Put your focus on what you do for your 90 percent of the pie. Keep improving and book the job.

7. If you’re serious about voice acting, the first thing you should do is set up a home studio. And so begins the destructive pattern of putting the cart before the horse—a pattern that seeps into your development process and wreaks havoc in all sorts of ways, including on your budget. A well-rounded voiceover education will guide you through a logical and effective sequence that supports your training and development. The basic building blocks (training, demo reel, marketing, and acquiring an agent) can morph according to the individual voice actor’s overall readiness and resources. It’s a delicate balancing act that’s different for each voice actor.

8. Stay away from conferences and networking events that charge you money. They’re all a scam.Conferences are not a new phenomenon. Most industries have them because they provide significant value. The goal is make them relevant to a particular industry and give the attendees more than they expected. Of course, conferences cost money! The sidewalk lemonade stand, run by your 10-year-old neighbor, costs money too. Conferences are businesses. You, as a voice actor, are also a business. Conferences are a great way to learn, share, flex your muscles, and gauge the marketplace. For some, the experience of getting into the mix and meeting new people is a life-affirming breakthrough.

In the interest of full disclosure, we, ourselves, are the founders of SOVAS, which organizes major voiceover events That’s Voiceover!, Voice Arts Awards, Speed Dating with Your Demo Reel, and Audition Spotlight.

There you have it. We hope these tidbits will sharpen your awareness for deciphering common sense information in support of your voice acting career.

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

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.

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.