The pursuit of a voiceover career almost always starts with the recognition of something distinctive about one’s voice. People are struck by a certain vocal quality and are compelled to identify it as “special.” Sometimes it’s as simple as the voice being deep and resonant or high-pitched and squeaky. Aside from the obvious qualities of vocal pitch and texture, the often unnamed reason that people pick up on a particular voice is the charisma that supports it. Confidence, calm, and authenticity are often the initial qualities that get a voice noticed.
Getting noticed is the easy part. In fact, most people think it’s easy to do voice acting. It just looks easy. But while a distinctive voice is certainly a plus, significant training is required to transition into voice acting. Through our friendship with the late Don LaFontaine, we witnessed the rare occasion where an actor is working so often, and with such varied content, that the work itself is the practice. In Don’s case, he had the benefit of being wholly invested in delivering his best, even when he knew his producer was perhaps young, inexperienced, and intimidated, or when he knew that the script didn’t quite live up to its potential and would need him to dig even deeper to help find its truth. The wind of a positive and loving attitude was at his back.
For most, however, you’ll need a good coach or teacher. But how do you find them? We could name a few people we know, like Pat Fraley or Nancy Wolfson (L.A.), Andy Roth (N.Y.), and Deb Doetzer (Chicago)—and naturally we would highly recommend ourselves (N.Y.). But even better would be to empower you to find the right person on your own terms. Other voice actors can be a source for referrals, as well as voiceover talent agencies. Mind you, a talent agency is not in the business of giving out referrals, so you don’t want to call them under the assumption that it’s their obligation to answer this one simple question. It’s their choice.
From there, do your own research on the referrals and get references. A positive sign, in our opinion, is when the teacher or coach is active in the voiceover field.
The teacher-student relationship is a two-way street. You want to bring your very best self to the relationship. You want to be as good at being a student as you expect your teacher to be at instruction. We asked Nancy Wolfson, a prominent coach and teacher based in Los Angeles, about her process for taking on students, and she had this to say:
“Most coaches can and should find a way to work with just about anyone who is serious, professional, motivated, willing, and diligent. I always ask incoming applicants about their background, their education, and their interests. It is not a prerequisite for them to have had prior voiceover training, but it is helpful for me to know if they have had singing training, theater training, if they are an accountant, if they are a working mother or father who reads to their children, etc. Their answers to those questions quickly flip my intuitive switch into speaking their language whilst guiding and directing them.”
The more diligent you are as a student or seeker of mastering the craft, the more likely you are to attract the best teacher for you, and to draw out the best in that teacher. Ultimately, good training and coaching will lead you to become aware of your capabilities and evolving talent.
Joan Baker is the author of “Secrets of Voiceover Success,” and the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for commercial and documentary voiceover performances. She is an actor, voice actor, and teacher. Baker trains individuals and groups in the craft of voice acting and VO career management. She has written trade articles for Backstage, Adweek, Multichannel and Broadcast & Cable.
Rudy Gaskins, is an Emmy Award-winning creative director and branding expert. He launched Push Creative Advertising in 2001, after holding executive roles at Court TV and Food Network. His accounts span American Express, Tribeca Film Festival, Lexus and BET. Rudy has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, promos, and marketing campaigns and has directed documentaries for PBS.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Voiceover Exchange.”