Getting Started in Voiceovers

I get emails and phone calls on a regular basis from people asking me for tips on getting started in voiceovers.

It’s no surprise, really, since it’s a great way to earn a living, whether full-time or part-time.

I think what a lot of people want to know is, what’s the secret formula for having a successful voiceover business?


TL;DR

There is no secret formula – at least not one that I’ve ever figured out. It takes a lot of work. Everyone’s path will be different. It will probably take a long time before you feel successful. You’ll likely get discouraged along the way. Hard work and patience just might pay off.


If you’re still interested, I’ll offer some ideas, tips and advice below. The format will be sort of Q&A using the most frequent questions I get.

Q: People say I have a good voice, how can I become a voice talent?

A: Having a “good voice” is fine, but there’s a lot more to voiceover than having a good voice. In fact, having a good voice may not even matter.

Take Gilbert Gottfried as an example. He doesn’t have what most would consider the typical “good voice.” Yet he’s a highly successful voice actor. His IMDB page lists more than 60 productions with a credit as a voice. That doesn’t include commercials and other types of productions that aren’t listed on IMDB.com.

A good voice can help, but you’ll need to know how to “use” that good voice. You have to understand how to deliver script copy in a way that matches the copy and what the client is looking for. That takes time, maybe some coaching, and lots and lots of practice.

Q: I can do a great Homer Simpson or Porky Pig voice. How can I get that work?

A: It’s great that you do those voices. But, it’s not likely you can be the voice of Homer Simpson since Dan Castellaneta has been the voice of Homer since the beginning. He’s also the voice for Grampa Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty the Clown, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Quimby, Hans Moleman, Sideshow Mel, Itchy, Kodos, the Squeaky Voiced Teen and Gil Gunderson.

Meanwhile, Bob Bergen has been doing Porky Pig’s voice since 1990.

Doing character voices is great, but use that skill to develop your own characters. The voices you create will likely get you more work than trying to imitate other well known characters.

Q: Can I buy you a cup of coffee/lunch/a beer/something and pick your brain?

A: No, but thank you for the offer. I know you’re sincere in your offer, but I honestly don’t want to do that. The main reason, is that my schedule is really full. I spend a lot of time working on my voiceover business. Not just recording and editing, but also invoicing, marketing, sending quotes and proposals to potential clients, following up with existing clients. And when I have some free time, I prefer to spend it with my wife and the rest of my family.

Q: Can I call you and spend about 30 minutes picking your brain?

A: Again, there’s really nothing more I can tell you on the phone than what I’m saying here.

Side note: having my brain “picked” sounds painful. I have a vision of three big crows picking at a piece of roadkill. Ouch!

Q: How did you get started doing voiceovers?

A: It’s not really relevant to you getting started in voiceovers. You’ll have to find your own path into the business.

But, okay, if you’re curious here’s the quick version. I was fortunate to start working part-time at a radio station in a small New Hampshire town when I was still in high school. A lot of my career was spent in radio and I learned to use my voice professionally. I recorded and edited thousands of radio commercials during my career. I also worked for a production company recording TV and radio commercials. It gave me a chance to learn from other voice talents and improve my skills.

Q: So how did you move from radio to voiceovers?

A: For quite a while, I did both. And by “a while” I mean years.

While still working in radio, I marketed my voiceover services any way I could think of. In the pre-internet days I made copies of my demos on cassettes and later CDs and sent them to any place I thought might hire a voice talent: production companies, books-on-tape producers, phone installation companies, businesses with in-house media production, and so on.

With the arrival of the internet, I built a website, did email marketing, registered myself on various voiceover marketplaces, etc. Again, marketing myself anyway I can.

Over time, more and more clients hired me for various voiceover projects. Some of the clients only needed one project recorded. Other clients have used my services over and over. Some have been clients for two decades.

Q: How long will it take to become successful?

A: That’s like asking how long it takes to become a millionaire. Honestly, it depends on what success means to you. It also depends on how much work you’re willing to do to become successful. The voiceover business is not a “get rich quick scheme” like some people think. I’ve known people with radio experience who are looking for extra income and say, “I’ll just go pick up some voiceover work.” Okay, good luck with that. I’ve looked, and I’ve never come across any place where you can just “pick up” voiceover work.

Q: How much time do you spend doing voiceover work?

A: It pretty much follows the Pareto Principle. About 80% of my time is spent managing my business, with about 20% actually recording and editing voiceovers. Managing my business includes marketing, invoicing clients, updating my accounting records, working on my website, and all the other things that go into operating a business.

Q: Should I work with a voiceover coach?

A: Sure that might help. Having someone who knows the business can help you learn more about how to use your voice, how to market yourself, how to build your studio, develop your niche, and so on.

Be careful, though, about who you hire as a coach. There are some really great voiceover coaches out there. And there are some not so great ones too. Do your due diligence and investigate the coach/coaches you work with. Talk to former students, do some deep digging on the web, and learn all you can before you part with your money.

And, no, I don’t have any recommendations for coaches.

Q: Can I hire you as a voiceover coach?

A: No. I’ve done some teaching/coaching in the past, but it’s not something I’m currently doing.

Q: Do I need my own studio?

A: If you’re serious about being a voice talent you do.

Clients and potential clients will expect you to turn around a voiceover project quickly. If you have to book time at an outside studio, you’re delaying the project, and you’re spending money for studio time. You either have to eat the cost or pass it along to the client.

Q: How much do I need to spend on building a studio?

A: That’s one of those “it depends” kind of things. Some voice talents have invested thousands of dollars in building a studio and buying equipment. Others have been able to do it for a few hundred. You’ll need to research this and decide what the best option for you is. I would suggest spending a minimum amount to get started and then upgrade as you get regular work.

Q: Where else can I look for information?

A: Use your favorite search engine and look up “getting started in voiceovers” and you’ll see tons of results.

Resources

Here are some other resources that might help as well:

The Voiceover Entrance Exam – this is a free e-book written by Peter K. O’Connell, an experienced, successful voice talent. He wrote it a few years ago but it’s still a great way to learn more about  the voiceover business. He gives you the positives and negatives of working in this business.

Write it How You Want it Said

If you’re new to the game of writing a script for voiceover one of the main things to remember is: write it how you want it said.

Write it how you want it said when writing a voiceover scriptThis is especially true if your voice-over talent is recording your script without you there, either in-person or on the phone. If your talent isn’t clear on what you mean, they have to guess — and they may guess wrong. That will cost you time, and can cost you money too. So write it how you want it said.

So Many Choices

Let’s say your script is about the CAB-7506 Widget your company has just developed. You write, “The CAB-7506 widget is the state of the art widget for the 21st Century.”

As a voice-over talent, the first thing I wonder is, “How do I say ‘CAB-7506’?”

Here are some of the ways I can read that:

  • cab seventy-five oh six
  • cab seven thousand five hundred six
  • cab seventy-five hundred oh six
  • cab seven five oh six
  • cab seven five zero six
  • c-a-b seventy-five oh six
  • c-a-b seven thousand five hundred six
  • c-a-b seventy-five hundred oh six
  • c-a-b seven five oh six
  • c-a-b seven five zero six

And there are probably a few others I haven’t even thought of at this point.

Then I’ll wonder if you want the “-” in there, like, “cab dash seventy five oh six” or the dash with one of the other permutations. Or do you want me to say “hyphen” instead?

See how complicated it all can get? Write it how you want it said.

But Can’t The Talent Check?

Some will say that it’s simple enough for the talent to make a phone call for clarification. It may not really be that simple. I do a lot of voiceover for clients in other parts of the world and that means that I might be recording something when it’s the middle of the night for my client. I’m not going to get an answer, I’ll have to stop recording the project, and it might delay things for a day or more.

A good rule of thumb when you finish writing, is to read your script out loud. When you find items that are company-specific or industry-specific think whether those can be said multiple ways. If so, write it how you want it said.

In the end, a few extra minutes up front can save a lot more time further along in the project.

Here is another script tip that will help you when writing for voice-overs:

Say What?

I’ll have some others for you soon.

 

What Do You Mean By That?

It often surprises me that some businesses make their marketing more difficult than it needs to be. A marketing message should be clear and not make people guess at what you’re trying to say.

Is your marketing message clear?Take a local restaurant for example.

My wife and I drive by this restaurant regularly with a sign that reads:
Open for Dinner on Mondays.

What does that mean?

Does this mean they are only open for dinner on Mondays? What about the other six nights of the week?

Does it mean that they used to be closed on Monday nights but now they’re open?

If that’s the case, they’re assuming people know they used be closed on Mondays. A poor assumption since this is a busy street with thousands of cars passing by each day. And this place has only been in business for a couple of years. It’s not an established restaurant that’s been there for twenty years, was known for being closed on Mondays, and suddenly starts serving dinner on Mondays.

Even if they used to be closed on Mondays, why not advertise dinner seven nights a week?

Too Many Questions

your marketing message must be clearThat marketing message creates too many questions. But they aren’t the kind of questions that have made us want to stop in to try it out.

Plus, they may be losing business on other nights of the week — if they are even open the other nights. Some people won’t even bother to go there the other six nights of the week thinking it’s only open Mondays.

A marketing message that creates a question in your target’s mind is good if it’s a compelling enough question that makes people want to find out the answer.

For me, the question about this restaurant only makes me want to stop in, not to eat, but to ask, “Why aren’t you advertising your dinners Tuesday through Sunday?”

 

Who Are You? Contact Information is Essential

It’s always a surprise to come across a website, promoting a business, that has limited contact information. However, this happens all the time. I’ll see a business website that has only a contact form for learning more about the business. No phone number. No email address. Just a form to fill out.

contact information on your website is essential

This seems to happen more frequently with single person businesses, often freelancers, who seem afraid to list their phone numbers or email addresses. Although I’ve seen it even with small businesses with multiple employees.

Don’t be Afraid to Share Contact Information

I’ve never understood that. You want to sell your product or service, yet put up roadblocks to having people contact you.

When questioned about this, people will say, “Oh, I don’t want to get spam emails,” or “I don’t want my phone ringing in the middle of the night.”

My question to them is: Don’t you want to get business?

Then why are you only giving your potential customers one way to contact you.

Don’t get me wrong, having a contact form on your website is a great idea. However, that shouldn’t be the only option.

Sure, I have contact forms on my website, but I also list my phone number and email address on every page – including on the page with the contact forms.

Do I get spam emails? You bet! Probably 40 or 50 a day. But my email client is pretty good about catching them and putting them in a separate folder. It only takes me a couple of minutes a day to scan that folder to be sure a valid email hasn’t been thrown in there.

Do I get phone calls in the middle of the night? Very rarely, but I’ve got my phone set up with a “do not disturb” feature that only allows my family to get through at night. Other calls go to voicemail.

Do I get spam phone calls during the day? All the time, usually robo-calls that are easy to hang up on. Then I block the number from future calls.

Plus if the phone calls really bother me, I can get separate phones for business and personal use.

If you’re serious about doing business, make it easy for potential customers to contact you.

And if you need a voice talent for your next project, contact me using my phone number, email address or even my contact form!   🙂

 

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