Acting | How To's

How to Be a Voice-Over Artist: Understanding Today’s Landscape

1 Aug , 2014  

Written by Kevin T. Cunningham | Posted by:

If you are thinking, “I’m a good actor, but I don’t necessarily have a great voice,” keep reading. First, the voice-over industry might be different than you thought, especially since recent technology has revolutionized the voice-over industry—changing both the work available and how we get work. Read on to learn about the scope, sound, and sourcing of today’s voice-overs.
If you are thinking, “I’m a good actor, but I don’t necessarily have a great voice,” keep reading. First, the voice-over industry might be different than you thought, especially since recent technology has revolutionized the voice-over industry—changing both the work available and how we get work. Read on to learn about the scope, sound, and sourcing of today’s voice-overs.

The scope of today’s voice-over industry

When we think of voice-overs, most people immediately jump to commercials that they hear on radio or television. Perhaps especially for NewEnglandFilm.com readers, movie trailers may come to mind first, like the classic Don LaFontaine voice booming ‘in a world…’. But, today less than 10 percent of voice-over work is estimated to be commercial work. As you go through your day, try to be aware of all the times you hear someone’s voice without seeing the person speaking–after all, that’s the basic definition of a voice-over. You’ll begin to discover there are many more opportunities to earn a living with your voice that he might have otherwise thought. The other 90 percent of voice work will include prerecorded announcements that you might hear at amusement parks, airports, train stations, stadiums, or even supermarkets. Perhaps of particular interest to actors will be the ever-developing audiobook industry. Animators need narrators and character voices for video games, cartoons, or multimedia educational games/software/videos. Opportunities in corporate or industrial films might also include voicing videos for sales presentations, tradeshow exhibits, how-to’s, or human resources training programs for new hires or compliance. Then there are the documentaries and specialized training videos that can benefit from your extra experiences or things you learned in your day job like how to pronounce dysarthria. “Telephony” refers to the voices on the telephone answering systems that help direct callers while ensuring a consistently professional image–regardless of how large or small the organization. Just think, those things that used to drive you crazy might provide potential income!

The sound of today’s voice-over

Actors might find a new source of material and income in voice-over work. Not only have new opportunities for voice work emerged, but the actual nature of the voices sought has also morphed in the last few decades. Bill DeWees, a voice artist and coach writes, “Let me tell you one thing voice-over is not. It is not about having a big, booming announcer voice. Those days are over. In the old days, the announcer sound was based on a military model…The sound of authority, the sound of a person telling you what to do was big, bold and rather obnoxious”. (How to Start and Build a SIX FIGURE Voice Over Business). Bill adds, it’s all about “how you connect with other people. In the old days, you had to sound big and bold to be authoritative. Today you have to sound friendly and familiar. You have to sound like a person the listener can instantly like.” New England native John Melley adds, people are “surprised when I tell them a ‘nice’ voice isn’t always necessary. People hiring voice talent want the listening audience to “identify” with the person delivering the message”. (Voice Over: A Beginner’s Guide to 7 Insider Secrets to Profiting as a Voice Over Artist Kindle Locations 41-42). If you are an actor thinking that voice-over means you need a background in radio, there’s good news for you. People from radio, work hard to overcome that background. Actor/voice actor Mike “the Mic” Jablon told me, “I really had to reinvent myself and really coach hard to lose that sound to be more natural and be what they call relatable, conversational.” Personally, I’ll sometimes introduce myself as a ‘recovering’ radio guy. In a nutshell, in radio, my main goals were to entertain the audience and to sell products for the sponsors. As I understand it, a good actor’s impulse is to serve the story. Your acting training and skills put you far ahead of someone with radio skills when the producer is looking for natural, relatable, and believable. You may need to learn how to finesse a microphone–but that’s doable.

The sourcing of today’s voice-over

Another major development in the voice-over industry over recent decades is the decentralization of the entire process from casting to production. No longer does someone have to travel to a recording studio to be able to record professional quality work. With the developments of technology, it is possible to have a professional grade studio in one’s home at a fraction of the cost of previous decades. The Internet also makes it possible for voice talent to find work without having to wait for an agent to call. There are a number of websites where clients can go directly to the talent, such as www.Voices.com, www.Voice123.com, and www.ACX.com. The upside of all this is it opens the global voice-over market to a wider range of talented people. Therefore, a well-prepared talent in New England can contract and produce work that goes all across the globe. Of course, the downside is that it also opens the market to anyone who can string three words together, purchase a microphone and computer and hang out a shingle as a “professional voice artist.” There will always be people tempted by what they perceive as a big payout for minimal effort. Some will start out that way and soon give up when they realize how much work is involved. Others will be motivated and inspired to put in the work, to get the training and coaching needed to last and excel.

Putting it all together

So, where do you fit in? Perhaps the key is to explore the expanding market for voice and your own skill set to see where the two might overlap. One of the many benefits of voice-over work includes the opportunity to overcome typecasting. With experience both behind the mic and on camera, Mike “the Mic” Jablon (Technical Director of the Lau Lapides Company, a boutique actor/voice-over coaching firm) shared with me how he knows he may never get the leading man roles on camera. “But, as a voice actor, I can be any character I want to be!” The competition is fiercer than ever before. But also, the opportunities are amazingly vast and seemingly ever expanding.

In future articles, we’ll continue to explore the voice-over landscape including the various hats of the successful voice talent, the importance of demos, training, and coaching, and some strategies for developing your craft with or without a budget. If you have any specific questions or suggestions for future articles, please comment below or send the author an email at NEFilm@NarrationByKevin.com.

For more information on Lau Lapides Company, see http://laulapidescompany.com/

Related Article: How to Be… An Actor


In future articles, we’ll continue to explore the voice-over landscape including the various hats of the successful voice talent, the importance of demos, training, and coaching, and some strategies for developing your craft with or without a budget. If you have any specific questions or suggestions for future articles, please comment below or send the author an email at NEFilm@NarrationByKevin.com. For more information on Lau Lapides Company, see http://laulapidescompany.com/