The advice we present here is tried, tested, and true. Peter Dickson is the foremost leading professional voice actor in the UK known for voicing the X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Live at the Apollo, The London 2012 Olympic Games and countless brand commercials. In a stellar career spanning 40 years, he has worked on over 120 TV shows and series, many of them award winning, been a promo voice on 60 TV and Radio channels around the world, been a featured voice actor on 30 AAA game titles, and voiced in excess of 30,000 radio and TV commercials!
There are now more opportunities in the voiceover industry than ever before — but competition has never been so fierce — so, in this short series of articles I'll set out what you need to know to get started as a home‑studio voiceover artist, and turn it into a paying job. This month, I'll explain some differences between the voiceover and music industries, and run through the different roles you'll need to become good at. Next time, I'll discuss what makes a good voice, the sort of home‑studio setup you need, and how you can start to get the jobs coming in.
So, how do you get started? Like all things acting, voiceover can appear elusive at the onset, if not downright secretive. In part because your experience, or lack thereof, leaves you vulnerable to assumptions, hearsay, and clichés such as, “The same 10 people get all the work,” which is literally impossible—especially when you consider the average American hears approximately 9,000 voiceovers a day. And, according to one study, the demand for professional voiceover talent, otherwise known as a vocal brand, has increased by more than 2000 percent since 2009.
This is the number-one issue most people bring up when they discover they have to do voice over work for their video. Let’s face it. Most of us rarely have to hear our own voices in audio recordings. We’re used to the rich, warm sound of our own voices in our own ears. There’s no way around the fact that you sound different on recording that you do to yourself.
Because I've prepared properly, the first take is often the one I end up editing and sending to my client. The second is simply there as a safety net, in case I need to replace any mistakes while editing. It's much better to capture such drop‑ins during the same session as the main performance, as you can be sure that the mic will be in the same place and your voice will have a similar character in both takes.
1. You need to get oriented with the industry. You need an education in this business prior to investing in it—especially if you hope to be valuable as a voiceover talent. You need to understand who your core clients would be and who you would eventually create a voiceover demo for, namely, producers. If you’re not servicing them, then you’re not servicing your self. This is precisely why I wrote, “The SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voiceover & The Business of Being a Working Talent.” You need insight as to what’s needed and wanted of you in this field, and how professional sessions are run, otherwise you’ll likely frustrate yourself with unrealistic expectations.
Realistically as a voice over actor you make between who can’t make $50k – $100k by using online casting sites and local agents and of course hustling for work on your own. That’s right, you need to hustle. I often hear voice over actors say that they they are not good at marketing or selling. Yet every business owner has to do this to make money. So learning these skills can make a big difference to your earning potential.
No place is totally silent, so find the best place you can — even if that means thinking outside the box. I have a friend who regularly records his podcast in his car. He lives in a small house with dogs and kids, so there really isn’t anywhere else quiet enough. He takes his laptop and mic out to his driveway, shuts himself in the car and records. The results are surprisingly good!
First of all, don’t be put off by the word technical. The ‘technical’ skills you need to learn to involve how you record and then edit your recording and of course you will need a home studio to do this. This needn’t be a daunting prospect though. Many freelance sound engineers are available who can help you with this – contact us if you want a reputable one.
Voice over is a production technique where a voice that is not part of the narrative is heard over the action. It’s often used in movies, TV shows, plays, or other presentations. Voice over is an effective way to convey information that doesn’t naturally fit into the plot or the other visual elements that are occurring. Voice over work is read by a voice actor who reads from a script, and it is added to the other elements during production.
"The editing process for all our titles starts with receiving the Pro Tools sessions or WAV files and the engineer's script, which has the markings of how many takes there were, and which ones the director liked best. In some cases, I use Strip Silence and add a bed of room tone to expedite the assembly edit. In others I'll add the room tone as I move through the audio. Once I had all the final takes to be used in [Favorite African Folk Tales], I went back to do a fine‑edit pass and created notes on any issues, such as misreads, mispronunciations, noises, and so on. With that list, I was able to discuss with Alfre how we would address the issues. Since the actors' schedules did not permit them to come back in to do pick‑ups I had to do some creative editing.”
Next, go back to the beginning and start editing out your mistakes. I also like to edit out any abnormally long silences between sentences or statements and any weird sounds that don’t belong. Remember, though, that pauses are ok (and even necessary) to help break up the audio and make it feel more natural and conversational, so don’t go hog wild with it.
If a client likes your demo, they may invite you to audition. In the 21st century, you can download the audition script, record the audition at home, and then send the results to your client over the Internet. Prepare yourself for a life of constant auditions: Even successful voice pros may do many more auditions than actual jobs. But if enough jobs come your way, it's worth it.
How much do voice actors make? There is of course no simple answer to this. What you get paid as a voice actor will depend on the type of work, size of project, your experience and many other factors. Some voice actors who are also movie stars, are worth millions. Others, who use freelancing sites can make as little as $30 for a simple radio commercial in a small market. Most professional voice actors fall in between.
Our recommendation is to start small and reinvest the money you make into upgrading your equipment and set up. All clients, whether they are Pixar or just a guy who needs a voicemail message, expect crystal clear audio recordings. You absolutely MUST be recording in a professional recording environment with professional equipment. They are NOT going to settle for less than perfection. Does this mean spending thousands of dollars? Maybe, eventually it does, but not today. What you’ll need to get started:
Some might think that the audio portion of a video takes a backseat to the visual portions, but that’s not true. Most video watchers note that they are more likely to stop watching a video with bad audio vs. lower-quality video. In fact, a recent TechSmith study of video viewing habits showed that more than 25% of video viewers watched a video all the way through because the audio was good — more than those who said professional video style was most important.
First of all let’s dismiss the obvious – there is no such thing as a standard rate, there are only guide lines and even these vary by Country and type of work. The only standard rates are those set by some Union scale rates. One of the most notable differences is that between voice over union rates and voice over rates non-union. Unions provide a standard voiceover rate and therefore you can safely rely on the unions guide (depending on which Country you are in). However, non union voice over rates vary enormously and are often down to negotiations between the voice over actor and the client.
The point is each person can often have a different perspective on how they ‘bid’ for work. Another factor is how you work within an industry if you have a really high profile. For instance if a big car manufacturer chooses you, you’re not going to get any kind of work from any other car manufacturer so you’re alienating yourself out of the rest of the market for the big players.
It's only after this sort of processing that I'll start cleaning up the recording and dealing with the gaps of silence between spoken passages. A noise gate (or an off‑line 'strip‑silence' function) can be used to automatically mute sections that fall below a certain level. However, if not used carefully, these tools will clip the 'T's and 'P's off the ends of words, and shut out natural breathing sounds. Worse, if your recording is noisy, a noise gate will actually draw attention to the problem, since your client will be able to hear the difference between room tone and absolute muting. Another trick is to use a downward expander to reduce the noise floor of quiet sections, rather than cut out the noise completely.
However, there are lots of second tier voice over agencies and ones that are just getting established. One of your goals as a voice actor should be to get listed by an agency. However, wait until you have at least established yourself and put together a portfolio of work and super hot demos you can send out to them for consideration. When selecting an agent you need to carefully examine who they currently represent and then ask yourself: How do I fit in here? Does this agent have anyone like me on their books? If not, you will most definitely stand a better chance of being represented.