As you can see in this picture from 2002, I had an Advice page on my original web site. Since the page contained a lot of good information, I am sharing much of it here on the blog.
People often ask me how I started in voice-overs or for any advice that I can share. I could really get wound up on this topic since it’s my life’s passion! Instead, I’ll give you the short answer: have a dream; read some books; practice; take some classes; practice; hire professionals to work with you in creating your demo; practice; market, market, market yourself; and follow up with each contact (usually more than once and often 5-7 times) to get gigs!
Please note that I do not teach, and I do not accept demos for critique or casting. I am providing the following information on my web site and in my blog topics as a service. If you want to start and/or maintain a career in voice-over, first recognize that READING is intrinsic to the job. Therefore, I refer you to my blog to read the entry titled So You Want to Get Into Voiceovers?. My history below will outline some information about marketing and finding clients. I have written in greater detail on these and other topics on my blog.
Many folks seem to think the only requirement for voice-over work is having a good voice. Some people even think that becoming a voice actor is as easy as signing up for frequent flyer miles. A good voice is NOT even the most important attribute for work in this business! As in any field, good marketing can beat a good product.
Like many of the people who have contacted me for information, I had wanted to do voice-over work all of my life. After years of letting the dream lurk in the dark cobwebs of my mind, I decided to volunteer to read for the blind and print-handicapped over the Georgia Radio Reading Service. While being a volunteer reader is a worthy cause in itself and certainly wonderful training for the field, I didn’t satisfy the hunger of my dream.
I started reading books by Barbara Sher after seeing her on Oprah.
I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was was the first I read, followed by Wishcraft and Live the Life You Love in 10 Easy Lessons.
I HIGHLY recommend her books if you need help figuring out what is important to you and how to get it in your life. Other favorite books on goal-setting are
Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser and Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.
One of the Sher books listed a book in the bibliography called Take It From the Top by Alice Whitfield. I ordered it sight unseen because it was about working in voice-over, and it was the only book I knew of at the time that addressed the topic. I now have about a dozen or more. I think it’s important to read more than one so that you will pick up different perspectives and tips for working in the industry. You can look at books from my book shelf about voice-over on my recommended reading list. I expect to create other lists on business, goal-setting and self-development as time permits.
I always recommend that you start with a book on voice-over. It is a small investment in time and money that will give you the information you need to decide whether you want to pursue this career. The books usually provide practice scripts. You definitely will want and need to practice your delivery styles. Some people suggest that you read everything aloud as practice; acting skills are also extremely important. You may want to take acting classes to help you interpret and become the person in the copy.
After reading the Whitfield book, I decided to take an introductory class in voice-over at a city theater, and then I attended a workshop with a local voice-over instructor with dozens of national credits. When I completed the workshop, the instructor felt I was sufficiently ready to make a commercial demo. I rented studio time and hired my voice-over coach as my producer/director. The demo process took dollars and months as we had to choose material, music and sound effects to compliment the selected spots. The demo was sequenced so that it would contain a wide sampling but be no longer than 2 minutes. Most demos now are no longer than 1 minute.
I worked independently for 3 years before an agent would represent me. I’ve determined that the agents want to see that you are marketable and getting work before they agree to represent you. They are busy seeking work for the people they already represent and may be reluctant to take on a new person for any number of reasons, including the economy.
As with any contact you make about voice-over — and I can not stress this point too much — you must FOLLOW-UP after any demo submission. You need to be self-reliant and organized; no one is coming to the rescue. An agent is not your mother or your manager and won’t be the one responsible for ensuring you have publicity. That job falls to YOU.
I found potential clients through the Yellow Pages, the state business directory and organizations such as MCA-I. One mistake that I made was adding leads to my database without first qualifying them. This can be a costly mistake over time if you send mail to people who would never be in a position or have an interest to hire you. I researched and purchased equipment for my studio, and I continue to enhance it and my skills. I market myself continuously with numerous techniques including phone calls, personal meetings, advertisements, social networking, and direct mailings.
Getting work in voice-over is based partly on talent, persistence with demo submissions and follow-ups and sometimes plain ole timing or luck of the draw.
For ongoing advice about becoming a voice actor or expanding your career in voice acting, I invite you to read my blog.
Many people think that the only way to obtain work is through agents, and they probably can’t get good representation without experience. However, the Internet age has put power in the hands of the talent. You can sign up for on-line casting services. For a fee, these sites allow you to post your demo(s) on-line and receive audition notices for a wide range of projects.
You can record the auditions on your home system and send back the .mp3s with your quote for the job. The sites act as clearing houses between the producers and talent; once selected for a job, it’s up to you as the talent to work out the payment details with the producer.
You have to determine whether you want to utilize any of these services and which sites to join as part of your marketing plan. You can read the archives and join the discussions in one of the many on-line groups devoted to voice-overs to assist in your decision process.
Lots of interesting jobs are being posted on these sites every day. People are doing auditions EVERY DAY — and you can never have too much practice doing auditions! Somebody is getting hired and making money from these sites EVERY DAY. Is today going to be the day that one of those people is YOU?
The most important thing I can tell you about becoming a voice actor — or any dream that you have — is best summarized in the following inspirational quote from my favorite entertainer Barry Manilow:
I believe that we are who we choose to be.
Nobody is going to come and save you. You’ve got to save yourself.
Nobody is going to give you anything. You’ve got to go out and fight for it.
Nobody knows what you want except you, and nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it.
So don’t give up your dreams.
The rapidly expanding audiobook retail market is approaching $1 billion in annual sales, and audiobook narration is a field open to new talent. While any voice-over genre is a story-telling medium, your ability to tell a story and maintain listener interest for a long period of time is absolutely essential as an audiobook narrator. After all, you are literally breathing life into an author’s words, and you must remain true to the author’s intent when telling the story.
If you have facility with accents and dialogue, you may want to concentrate your efforts on fiction books with different characterizations. If accents aren’t in your arsenal, you might turn your attention to non-fiction, instructional and self-help titles.
When preparing for any career, the first thing you should do is research the industry, and audiobook narration is no different. The first thing I recommend is that you actually LISTEN to lots of books by different authors and narrators. You can and should read reviews of audiobooks in Audiofile Magazine, which is the top publication of the audiobook world, and Publishers Weekly. Get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Listen to the phrasing, pacing and articulation of various narrators. Audiobooks are available at many libraries, but they are also available for purchase and download on-line
One of the best series of audiobooks ever produced is the one for Harry Potter books. Jim Dale has earned Grammy nominations and 2 Grammy awards for his amazing portrayals of 100s of memorable characters in this series. In fact, he holds the Guinness record for the most characters in a single book, with a whopping 134 characters in book four! You may think these books are just children’s books, but I can tell you that I and thousands of adults have thoroughly enjoyed each one in the series and eagerly await each new book.
In order to gain skills and experience, you can volunteer to read for the blind in your area. You may also wish to participate on the http://librivox.org site, where volunteers are working together to voice audiobooks in the public domain. You can listen to a story about that site on NPR. Pay close attention to the sound of the samples aired in the program versus commercially-produced books. Can you hear the difference?
By the way, if you want to download the text of free e-books of work in the public domain, head over to the Project Gutenberg site. Any of this work would be fabulous practice material and could even be something you would want to develop as your own projects!
In preparing your book and if time permits, you should plan to read your book at least twice before recording. The first time, you will read the book to get a feel for the material. I take notes on the characters’ introductions so that I know whether they are major characters with a lot of dialog or have any sort of unusual accents. The second pass is to mark the copy. I use colored highlighters to mark each character’s lines so that I can instinctively flow from one character to another when I am recording the book. I also mark phrasing in the copy and look up pronunciations of unfamiliar words.
As the narrator, you are responsible for ensuring the correct pronunciation of the words. In addition to a good American-based, unabridged printed dictionary, I can recommend these resources for assistance with pronunciation:
Google (enter the word as your search, and click on the definition link to the far right)
Voice of America Pronunciation Guide
Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures from Library of Congress
If you really want to work in the audiobook industry, you must concentrate on establishing relationships with publishers. Naturally, we all dream of narrating the Grammy award-winning bestseller. However, you’re much more likely initially to work with smaller publishers, especially if you don’t live in the NY or LA commuting areas and have your own studio.
Don’t send your commercial or narration demo to an audiobook publisher. They want to hear you performing literature, and they are listening for transitions between the narrative and dialog sections in your excerpts. You’ll fare much better if you send a custom audiobook demo that demonstrates you are familiar with the publisher’s product line, such as a children’s book demo for a publisher of children’s book.
Many publishers pay per finished hour. You can easily invest 60 hours to produce a book with a 10-hour run time. A good rule of thumb would be 2 hours of recording time to produce an hour of audio, and 2 hours of editing time would be needed for every hour of audio.
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