The Business of Being a Voice Actor

Six Things You’ll Need to Know

1.     Make a Study of the Industry

One thing I do know about some creative artists is that, at times, they can be their own worst enemy.  Voice actor’s are no different.

To be a success in any industry, you must make a study of it, do your research, find out how it works and where you’d fit in. I know some really gifted performers and voice actor’s who’ve let themselves down by not making a study of their local or national industry before they launch or re-launch themselves.

Here are some things to do that’ll help you get a sense of the voiceover landscape.

  • Listen to radio stations to hear what kind of work is being produced.  Do your voice styles fit it there?
  • Call studios and ask what kind of work they do.  Could you get work there?  If you think you could, then ask about what they like to hear on a demo…and how they’d like to receive it.
  • Listen to television stations with a new ear.  Are you listening to local, national or internationally produced advertising?  Voiceover for television is very different to radio.  Can you hear yourself mastering those styles?
  • Find out what the rates are.  If you’re in Australia or New Zealand you have an arts union, the MEAA, who negotiates rates and fee structures on your behalf.  In the US, there is AFTRA, Equity and SAG, in Canada, ACTRA, and Equity in the UK.
  • Join your union, if you haven’t already, and get involved. Not only will you need their industry savvy and workplace protection, the more you know about the workings of the industry you work in, the more empowered you’ll be.

However, even if you’re not part of a union, you still need to be charging the rates that have been set by them and are accepted by the industry.  If you’re not, it’s considered as ‘undercutting’ and is frowned upon ‘big time’ by agents and voiceover actors.  If it’s non union rates you’re charging, make sure you get the right advice on the accepted or appropriate rate.

You can ask any studio to send you a copy of the rates or even refer to some of the voiceover agent websites, which have a ‘rates’ section you can copy. Of course, if you’re a Union member, the rates will be on their website.

You also need to start thinking about social media and networking. And if you don’t like the word ‘networking’, then perhaps ‘community’ or ‘family’ suits you better, because this is what you want, to become a part of the voiceover community.

2.    Managing Your Own Voiceover Career

Successful voice actors work all the time, some a few times a month or a week, some every day, some several times a day.  Part of their success is that they’ve cultivated solid working relationships with those who do the casting; that is producers, studio personnel and engineers.

Sometimes a voice actor will have an agent, some work freelance without representation.  It’s not essential to have an agent to work as a voice actor, but whether you have an agent or not, it’s important to realise just how important it is to manage your own voiceover career.

Your agent may call you and book you for the job.  They may have even suggested you for it, but they didn’t get it for you…either your demo did or you got it because the last job you did for that studio or client was a ‘cracker’ and they want to have you back.  But you do need to make sure your voice demo is always up-to-date and reflects the kind of work being made now, that you would be cast for.

Your agent may invoice on your behalf but you need to make sure they have the job details correct. When you’ve finished the session in the studio, ask what it was for, as in which medium, non broadcast for instance, TV or radio and what the release is, as in which states or territories and for how long.

And if you’re working freelance and taking care of your own invoicing, it’s even more important that you have all the information you need.  At the time of taking the booking, usually from the studio, but sometimes from the client direct, always ask, “Who am I invoicing and what is it for?”  The rates sheets will help you understand that.

One thing I’ve learnt in my career is to never leave anything up to anyone else without first checking that the details are right.

Create a Voiceover folder on your computer and start building some lists and information.

While you’re there, name a folder My Voice Demo’s to keep your demos in, and any single tracks you may record that you could one day use on a demo.  Once the job has gone to air, you can ask for an mp3 to be sent to you, then it’s just a matter of saving it to your Voice Demo’s file until you’re ready to use it…or not.  Generally you aren’t able to get a copy of a job that’s been a submission only, that is, never made it to air.

3.     Marketing

For some, even the word ‘marketing’ is scary.  But don’t worry.  You don’t need a degree to invent, learn about and use some really canny marketing tricks to make sure your talents are known by the right people.

I know this for a fact.  Many voice performers have the talent to get, and do the work…but no matter how talented you are as a voice actor, unless you’re really across all the ways to make sure the industry knows you’re there, you’ll be missing opportunities right, left and centre.

Whether you have an agent or not, you need to be actively creating a presence with studios and radio stations, because the thing is, there is work out there and if you’re not actively marketing yourself then the work will go to someone who’s making sure they’re doing all they can to attract and get the work.

Even if you’ve been doing voiceovers and want more work, having or creating a reason to call or make contact with a studio is a good marketing ploy.  Some studios make demos with voice actors.  You could always call a studio and become a client by asking if they can help you add a couple of tracks to your existing demo.  Work out what’s missing on your current demo, source a couple of great scripts and call a studio you want to work at.  Becoming a paying client is a great way to get inside a studio and begin creating a relationship.  And when you’re there, ask the engineer to be really straight with you.  You want his or her help in making this a great performance.  Engineers are usually pretty good producers, so they’ll love to give you the direction you need.  A little tip.  If you do this, always ask for a senior or experienced engineer.  You don’t want the work experience kid!

If radio stations produce their own work in-house in your area, they can be more difficult to get a response from because they are sooooo busy in their production areas.  If you’ve directed your demo to a sound engineer/producer and you haven’t had a response, you could call the station and ask to speak to a copywriter or someone in production about advertising.

I know that’s a bit naughty because that’s not really why you’re calling but it will get you through.  And, conversely, if you first sent your demo to the production department, ask for the email address of the engineer and send one there.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to speak to an engineer.  I’m telling you, they are flat out.  However, if you’ve been told, or have determined that you are just the right voice for that radio station and you can find another voiceover artist to recommend they listen to your demo, then all the better.

If you have an agent, they’ll probably want to make contacts on your behalf.  This is great and hopefully they have a good relationship with that studio and producers and will do a fabulous job of ‘talking-up’ your talents. But don’t just leave everything up to them.  Ask them to send you a list of studio and contacts as well.

Even if you don’t have a list, create one from researching online or from a phone book or industry handbook, and then call just to make sure.  Once again, a good reason to call! Then, send your demo out!.

4.    Making Sure Your Demo is Working

Sent a demo out and received no response?

When a voice actor tells me that they’re not getting any work and I ask them what they’ve done with their marketing, they often say they sent their demo out but no one has called.

Sometimes, they’ll start to doubt themselves and their abilities.  They will see ‘no response’ as failing or proof that they’re not good enough.  They’ll begin to give up.  But I always say that not getting a response is a reason not to give up.

Whether you’re new to the industry or not, it’s okay to call or email a studio within a couple of weeks of sending your demo and ask for a response.  Tell them you’re looking for an honest appraisal.   This way, you’ll either be prompting them to listen again to your demo or to even listen to it for the first time.  Studios can become extremely busy and sometimes emailed demos are not listened to because of this.

When you get some feedback, use it to refine your demo or even target it differently.  Some studios only do a particular type of work, such as long-form, non broadcast work, or just animation, or just local radio spots, so they could do with a demo that is made just for them and which contains samples of the kind of work they do.

5.    Following Up

Voice actor’s who succeed are those who determine early on that what they are engaged in is a business, a business that, like any other, needs a plan that needs to be implemented and followed up, the revised or refined.  Once you’ve sent your demo out, you need to find some ways to remind them that you’re still there.

Hopefully you’ve had some success with your demos and you’re booking work.  Now you need to start to keep track of the jobs you do.  If you record a commercial that goes to air, you can ask the studio to send it to you on an mp3 file.  Once you have it stored, you can then send it, in an email, to studios or producers you think may like to have it.  Many voiceover artists resist this idea and I really don’t know why.  Remember studios are always looking for new voices and offering clients new choices.   It makes them look good to do this.  So, help them out!

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there’s a fine line between being helpful and a pain in the bum!  Be sure you know that what you’re offering is what they’re looking for.

6.    Following Through

Whether you’re just beginning or are currently working in voiceover, you need to know this.  Regular work is never guaranteed, no matter how great your demo or how cleverly you’re doing your marketing.  But this is another reason not to give up.

One thing you’ll never know about is just how often you’re submitted for a job.  You just need to make sure your demo is regularly updated, and that you make sure studios know that you’re available for work by finding ways to make contact, because at any moment that fantastic regular job could be coming your way.

I want you to let this thought sink in.

It’s paramount to remember that voiceover is your business and it will never be as important to anyone else as it is to you.  You wouldn’t have even embarked on this career it you didn’t love it and when it comes to anything in life, if it’s worth having, it’s worth working hard for.

Wishing you the most wonderful experiences in 2014.