A lot of people when they make the decision to get into voiceover think that the first thing they should do is buy the gear and set up their studio. I’ve talked with plenty of people that think this is the right way to go.
Sorry, but that’s not how it works, folks.
There is a specific cycle to the voiceover process. It’s a cycle that repeats itself as you move forward in your career. Every voice artist goes through this cycle, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
It looks something like this:
Researching your plan of action is the important first step. Studying the trends, reading books, watching videos and listening to the demos of working pros (not just the ones that call themselves pros, but the ones that are actually making money) are all important parts of this first step. Also figuring out what niche of the VO industry you might want to work in. This will probably change as you move forward, but its a good idea to start thinking about this from the beginning. Do you want to work in commercial VO? Animation? Audiobooks? Each one of those niches requires different skills.
The next step is taking action. This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where you need to make an investment in time (and yes, money) to move forward in the process. Researching is important, but if you want to be a successful VO, you need to get off your ass and get to work. There is no such thing as "passive income" in voiceover.
After that, comes coaching. Everyone thinks they know about being a VO when they first start - I know I was certainly this way. I’d been doing VO on my own for years but it was only after getting some coaching that I realized that what I thought I knew, turned out to be pretty terribly wrong. Now, when I listen to my first demo that I recorded and “produced” on my own prior to coaching, I cringe so hard it makes me dizzy. But at the time I recorded it, I thought this was the best demo ever and would definitely get me work. Get a coach and start learning the skills required to do this job the right way. There's no room for amateurs. If you want to work for beer money, that's fine. But if you want to be a pro, get a coach.
After coaching comes practice - this is probably the point where you’ll want to start getting your gear and recording chain set up. But dont run out and buy that Neumann U87 just yet. Start small. The microphone on your phone is probably good enough. You just need something to get your voice converted into the computer for your coach to hear. This isn't for work. It's for practice.
Don't get me wrong - I totally understand. I’m a gear fanatic. I understand the excitement of seeing that big package from Sweetwater sitting on your doorstep. I know full well that “kid on Christmas morning” bliss of tearing into the boxes and setting up the equipment for the first time. (that smell...that new gear smell is intoxicating). It’s the tangible evidence that tells everyone you’re “in the business.”
But we’re not there yet.
I ride a motorcycle and there’s an adage that the old-school bikers like to say when they see some noob on a shiny, brand new machine thundering down the highway: “15 grand and 15 miles doesn't make you a biker.” The same holds true in voiceover. You can drop thousands of dollars on gear, but if you don't have the skills to know how to use them properly, you’re putting the cart before the horse.
Practice is the most important part of this whole cycle. You have to put in the time. You think you could pick up a golf club without any training and compete in The Masters? Of course not. It takes time to develop the skills needed to be able to compete with the pros. These skills don't come overnight. They certainly don't come from a weekend voice acting class taught at a junior college or something. You need to take those recently-learned skills and practice them over and over (and over) again until it becomes a habit. You don't want to be thinking about enunciation and phrasing, musicality, timing and the “soul of the copy” while you’re standing there with the script in your hands. All of that should have been done long before you stepped into the booth. It needs to be subconscious; firmly implanted into your brain through countless hours of practicing.
After practice comes the demo - once you and your coach agree that you’re ready, then - and only then - should you attempt to get your demo produced. If you create a demo when you first get started, all you’re doing is showing the people who listen to voiceover artists every day just how much you suck.
Once the demo is produced, THEN you can start the process of letting the world know you exist. Marketing is about getting your voice to hit the right eardrums at the right time. Without marketing, you’re just a schlub standing in your closet, talking to yourself. And you won't make any money doing that. Knowing the right ways to find and approach the people who hire VO talent without coming across as pushy, arrogant or desperate is an art form unto itself.
Lather, rinse, repeat
Once you’ve completed this cycle of researching, taking action, getting coaching, practicing, getting the demo and then marketing yourself, the cycle then starts all over again at the next level. And this is how it goes through your entire voiceover career. I have several friends who are WAY up the food chain from where I am that are going through this very cycle on their own. Top pros still get coaching. Just because you may be making a million dollars a year doesn't mean you stop learning. Once you stop learning, you start dying.
Take the time to pay attention to these steps as you move forward with your voiceover career. Each step of the cycle builds on the previous one. Doing things out of order only makes the process more painful, slow and expensive.
You CAN do this. Get to it.
About Rob Marley -
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, coach, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.