Becoming a Voice Over Artist

Voice over is a business that can be very unfriendly to the faint of heart. If you cannot take constructive criticism, if you’re impatient, if you hate to lose, if you can’t handle rejection, then these traits will not work in your favor when seriously considering becoming a voice over artist. To begin with, the competition is fierce. At the top of the food chain are the union voice actors, then the independent professional self-contractors, and finally all of the amateurs or “wannabes” looking to make a quick buck. The internet is saturated with the latter, which is unfortunate. Particularly for the experienced talent who strive to maintain a standard. Most professionals have their own websites in order to promote themselves online. There are also the numerous talent pools, many of which charge for membership on their sites. Inclusion into the more recognized “voice banks” is like attempting to join an exclusive golf club. Very few are selected for admission. The same goes for the top talent agencies. Unless you can fill a specific “hole” they may have, you will be passed by in a heartbeat. Not to mention they’re first obligation is to cater to those already represented. Discouraging as it may sound, seeking representation can lead to many dead ends. Even if you are unique enough to be accepted by an agency, they will only do so much for you in terms of auditions and getting you work.

Therefore, the road to any success in the voice over industry involves a ton of self-promotion. Firstly you should have your own website, where potential clients can listen to your voice over demos. This also demonstrates that you are legitimate and genuine. Anyone can create a voice over page in social media, or post a video portraying oneself as a voice artist, which are paths of least resistance in terms of cost. Paying for a membership with a well known voice over website could be an additional option. In these cases, one would have to audition for voice over jobs posted by voice seekers, some of which may not be trustworthy or reliable. There’s a degree of risk involved since there are no guarantees of securing work. Levels of membership can also pose a problem when it comes to receiving the same quality leads as the highest level. Signing up for a profile is free on a number of voice over sites, but ultimately paying a fee is required to audition through them. Self-promotion also entails contacting production companies who have used independent voice talent on their projects. Blogging is another option. Sending emails announcing your services to businesses that advertise is still another option. Networking through social media too. Investing in AdWords could be another way to go, and many are already taking that route. In any event, getting your name out there should be your primary goal.

Be prepared for competition once you’ve established a degree of online presence. You will be going up against many of the big guns who are repeatedly sought after by the same clients. Fortune may work in your favor though and you’ll get a paying gig within a few days, or a few hours of your site being visited and your demos found and heard, or it may take much longer depending on demand and what you bring to the table in terms of talent. Finding new sources of voice over work is difficult, but not impossible thanks to the internet which reaches around the globe. Overseas can be a great source for voice over projects, but be prepared for possible communication gaps, unless you speak a dozen languages. American voice over actors are highly sought after across the pond however, so this could be a direction to pursue. The UK, India, China, the Netherlands, and Japan have all used American English speaking voices. Chances are, if you have decent search engine ranking for some of the important voice over search terms, you’ll be contacted by overseas voice seekers. Potential projects include independent films, major and small events, wedding videos, animation, radio imaging, documentaries, and corporate websites to list a few. Question now is, how do you compare to the competition? Do you sound believable? You can’t sound like you’re reading. Sounding like an announcer, unless specifically requested, can also be your downfall. Having a deep voice isn’t always an advantage either. Currently there seems to be a trend of leaning towards more college age voices, but the conversational, natural sound wins out on a consistent basis. The storyteller, “guy next door” approach is without doubt in the highest demand today. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and involves the ability to act, or to “pretend” to sound genuine, sincere, and realistic.

We’ve come a ways now in this discussion, but have still to talk about the actual recording end of it. You can’t depend solely on opportunities to record at a professional, multi-million dollar studio that talent agencies send talent to for auditions, even when one has representation. You have to have your own studio at home, or wherever you can afford to assemble and have room for one, no matter what and where the source of business situation. You have to have a microphone, preferably a condenser mic, an amplifier, a compressor, and an interface for starters. Then you’ll need editing software installed on your computer, ideally a PC with plenty of ram. You’ll need a method of delivering finished audio files, and of course a way to accept payment. Practicing reading while recording yourself, then listening back for objective critique is an ongoing process, even for professionals, and someone other than your mother should provide the feedback to your reads. This is where a vocal instructor could come into play. Microphone technique is an art in itself, and must be incorporated correctly during recording. It must become second nature so it doesn’t distract from interpreting the script. The main focus needs to be on what’s being said, keeping in mind who it’s being said to, and how to say it in a convincing manner. One-on-one is a term often used in the industry. In other words, sounding NATURAL, while avoiding breathy pops, and clicking sounds while speaking. Staying hydrated and maintaining breath control are integral to the whole process of recording in front of a microphone.

What about categories of voice over, and should you concentrate on a single genre? The variety of voice over projects is limitless, but all invariably fall under specific categories or “genres”. They are, in a nutshell, commercials, promos, narrative, radio imaging, movie trailers, and animation. Just about any application of voice over will involve one of these concepts. The goal of the voice over artist is to evaluate and decide in which category one’s strengths mostly lie, those which one’s talents are best suited for maximum impact. In other words, finding your “niche”. Attempting to cover them all could lead to an exercise in futility, so honing your skills to excel in one area might be the better approach to take. This only comes with practice, and more practice, and being critiqued by an objective party. It takes time and patience to eventually succeed, and most success stories don’t happen overnight. Rejection is a large part of the business, so be prepared for that. It’s all mostly a matter of opinion anyway, so what sounds inadequate to some, may sound like the best thing since sliced bread to others. You can’t take any of it personal. You need to stick to your guns, and believe in yourself. Believe you have what it takes, and you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. If it’s professional voice over, then needless to say it takes a lot of commitment and drive. Should you hang in there long enough to build up a respectable clientele through your pursuits, gaining invaluable experience along the way, then the realization of it all having been well worth the time invested will subsequently become your primary motivation to be the best at what you do. Again, there are no guarantees of success, but unless one gets in the mix, there’s no way of knowing for certain.

Successful Performing Artist – The 20 Things you Need to Know

As a “performing artist”, you want to come across to your audience and other music business professionals as being reliable, and professional in your work.

To do this, it is important to maintain a business ATTITUDE throughout all your stage shows, and when communicating with venue owners and staff.

1. Where possible, issue written contracts or letters of agreement in advance. Check with your employer or agent the week before the show, to make sure no details have changed.

2. If you are booked to play at a venue that you’ve not been to before, try and visit on another band night before your gig. This will enable you to check access for the equipment; where the stage or playing area is located; where to position your mixing desk and speakers; whether your cables need to be flown over fire exits; what volume levels are tolerated, and what kinds of music the regulars enjoy most.

3. Always arrive at the venue in plenty of time to complete a full soundcheck BEFORE the public arrive.

4. Always carry spares of things like fuses, cables, backing tracks, strings, or any other small item that could mean the difference between doing the gig or not.

5. Always take along an extra long mains cable in case the nearest socket is broken.

6. Safety first! – Buy yourself a mains power polarity checker (such as a “Martindale” Ring main tester) and a set of circuit breakers for all your backline amps. No matter how badly your guitarist played tonight, he didn’t deserve to die!

7. Always create a “set list” for every show. This can be tailored to the type of audience that you now know frequent this venue (See tip no. 2). If you have rehearsed well, you will know exactly how long your set will last. Don’t go on stage late and overrun your contracted time. The venue owner’s license will depend on all music ceasing at a certain time. You don’t want to be the one who gets the venue closed down!

8. Play your set without long gaps between songs. Only communicate to the audience what REALLY needs to be said. A slick presentation and tight performance shows how well rehearsed you are, and keeps your audience on the dance floor.

9. Rehearse a polished entrance and exit. There is nothing more unprofessional than a bunch of musicians meandering onto a stage carrying the remains of a sandwich or pint, then spending several minutes chatting to each other, tuning up, playing along with the record on the disco, jamming, smoking, adjusting their clothing, answering a call on their mobile…. The list goes on! Believe me, I’ve seen it all!
Use the dressing room to apply your stage clothes and make-up. Wait for your performance to be announced, then march briskly onto the stage and launch straight into your first number. At the end of your performance, the reverse should be observed. Don’t hang around trying to encourage the audience to shout for an encore. Leave the stage as quickly as possible and wait in your dressing room to hear whether the audience want more.

10. Never be seen on stage in the same clothes as you were wearing in the soundcheck, or whilst mingling with the crowd.

11. If you are hiring a PA system, take your own can of telephone cleaner/sanitizer. Rented microphones are rarely cleaned!

12. Rehearse in your own time, not in the soundcheck!

13. Practice, the show thoroughly, but always leave a “breathing space” of a few days between the last rehearsal and the gig. Over-familiarity can make you complacent.

14. Always be pleasant and business-like when dealing with staff at the venue. Especially with the person who is paying you! Don’t automatically expect gratuities such as free food and drink. These are bonuses unless stipulated in your contract, where they then become part of your “fee”.

15. Respect the venue’s fixtures and fittings. Don’t damage their furniture or wall coverings with your speakers and gaffa tape. Ask permission first! They will often be glad to fetch you some beer crates to stack your speakers on, rather than using their tables.

16. Don’t get drunk, or high on illegal substances before, or during, the show.

17. Don’t hang around the venue for longer than is necessary after the show.

18. Don’t stop playing a number whenever a small problem occurs. Never re-start a number if someone in your band makes a mistake. You should be sufficiently well rehearsed for these mistakes to go unnoticed by your audience.

19. Don’t play any louder than you absolutely need to. Not everyone in an average venue will be there to listen to you. Don’t try to fill the whole venue with loud music. Just the area or dancefloor immediately in front of the stage will do! People will want to be able to hold a conversation in other areas, such as at the bar.

20. If you know you have a good mix and a member of the audience wants you to turn down. Pretend to turn a knob in order to please. The chances are, he just doesn’t like that particular song. On the other hand, if the venue owner or bar staff tell you to turn down … DO IT!! They know when it is too loud, after all, they are there every night!

Finally… Your bonus tip No. 21. If you have released CDs. Make sure they are on sale at every gig you do. Employ a friend, or one of your fans to set up a table with your merchandise. It is also a good excuse to get new people to sign up to your mailing list. After the show, you can even go out front and sign a few autographs!

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