In late 2009, my wife Simone received an email from Prague in the Czech Republic. The sender, Mirek Jirku, was heading up a project to record voice messages for the foreign‑language versions of the latest Avast! anti‑virus software. Mirek sent us eight messages to be recorded, specified the fee and deadline, and requested a slow, friendly read. He asked us to send separate stereo MP3 files (at 160kbps or higher quality) for each message, specified that we'd have to sign a non‑disclosure agreement before recording, that we'd need to invoice afterwards, and that he'd pay via a wire transfer instead of PayPal (which is often used for international payments).
Both union and non-union have advantages and disadvantages; ultimately, it’s a decision that you, as a voice over actor, will have to make. Like everything else, it’s of critical importance that you do your research and weigh up the pros and cons. Seasoned pros will usually tell you it’s best to be a union member because, if you run into trouble, the union will fight your cause.
You need to appreciate that there is a lot to learn and do before your first paid voice acting job. Yes, you want to get out there and start auditioning. But first, you’re going to need proper training, equipment, resources, and yes, some natural talent. The great news is that even though the voice over industry is competitive, there is plenty of voice over work out there for everyone. This guide on how to become a voice actor will give you a good idea of where to start.
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As the engineer, your key job is to select and set up the recording space, choose and position the microphone, set levels and make sure you're recording a good, clean signal at a healthy level. Like music, the louder the signal you want to record, the less audible the noise floor, but you don't want to have to speak louder than sounds natural, and you don't want to overcook things when tracking: any distortion will be very noticeable on an exposed voice part, and an otherwise great take with digital clipping won't be acceptable. If you notice clipping only when you start editing, software clip restoration tools might help to make the take usable, but it's not going to be perfect. Remember that although you may have needed to record 'hot' on analogue tape and older 16‑bit digital recording systems, modern 24‑bit A‑D converters can accommodate a much wider dynamic range, so you no longer have to track so loud: you can leave much more headroom.
Another factor to consider is how the project is being used and in which medium. If you record a commercial that’s airing nationally on television, then that is a larger rate than a regional television commercial specific to a certain market. The voice-over spot you worked on is being seen by more viewers nationally as opposed to regionally, which warrants more compensation. You should not only consider your session fee, but also get the specifics on how the voice-over is being used. My personal opinion is to avoid “in perpetuity” usage because as your career develops, something which was not a conflict in the past could be in the future. If the spot you had conflicts with another brand in which you are auditioning, this could become a conflict that was unforeseen when you initially booked and recorded the job.
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.
Always keep it professional. A client may not have a budget that works within your rates presently, but one day they may have a project with a much larger budget and think of you as the talent to circle back to! It never hurts to politely decline when a project has too low of a rate and exclaim, “I would love to work with you in the future when our rates align!”
"We recorded two or three takes of each story, and within those takes there were some pick‑ups [overdubs] for certain lines. When I was editing, I used takes that gave the best delivery, had the least movement or other noise, and provided the most provoking images. In some cases [we used] the first take. Sometimes, after saying a line over and over, one starts to lose the meaning of the line. Pick‑ups should go back to the top of the sentence, making editing much easier.”
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:
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.
Always update yourself on industry standard rates. I recommend reviewing the union rates set forth by SAG-AFTRA. Voices.com also offers a rate card as well Voice-Over Resource Guide. Upon viewing these rates you may find, based on your current experience, you fall a little lower or higher than said rates. Maybe you have a great deal of experience in the commercial voice-over world, but now you’re branching out into narration, e-learning or audiobooks, so your voice-over rates may be a bit lower for that genre as you find your footing. The most important thing is that you have a baseline rate for yourself and you’re comfortable and confident stating this rate to a client. It’s beneficial to first ask your client’s budget and proceed from there. While stating your rate, also take into consideration edits and pick-ups. It’s customary to include one free round of edits in your rate, but any edits or pick-ups past that incur a fee.