The Jobs Everyone Wants…
…Narration and Character Work!!!
Before I talk about the specifics of these two very different kinds of voiceover work, I just want to give you a perspective.
One of the things I love most about being a voiceover artist is the variety of work that I get. It wasn’t always that way. For a start, when I first began working as a voice actor there was only television and radio. Now, the type of jobs you can get are amazingly diverse, from a simple on-hold message for a local medical clinic that may pay $100 to a radio spot for a tyre company that may pay $280 to a major TV campaign for Nivea that may pay $1,000’s.
Over the years, as the need grew for voiceover artists to be used on different types of work, I broadened my skills and knowledge of style, to make sure I was ‘in the hat’ when it came to being considered for all those ‘other’ forms of jobs, such as corporate reads – which were once very heavily male dominated – documentary and instructional or informational reads, narration and animation.
As many of you who’ve worked with me know, it’s never necessary to be a voiceover artist who does everything. Being ‘great’ at one thing can be enough to get you a job, as long as you are great at it and that’s what’s represented on your demo…and you can get into a studio and confidently replicate that style or read.
Next point, the most amount of work that’s out there, is for radio. Radio stations churn out ads every day. Almost all radio stations have in-house production and sales departments, who are wooing clients to advertise with them. The higher the station ranks in the ratings, the more advertisers will want to come on board. The material is written in-house and voiced by voiceover artists and actors the radio station likes working with, usually because they understand the nature of making (sometimes) pretty dull copy come to life. They understand how to give the read vibrancy and meaning. This work is the staple income for a voiceover artist.
Then there’s television and those who’ve worked with me in the studio know that voiceover styles for television can be quite diverse. Copy for TV is often much more stylized and non-naturalistic, and TV advertising (apart from retail) relies just as much on visuals and sound design to get the message across, than the disembodied voiceover.
So radio and TV advertising is where the bulk of the work is. However, do you know what the two areas that potential voiceover artist say they want to get into when they first begin to pursue it? Yup, narration and character work!!!
If this is you, then the next couple of paragraphs may disappoint you, but read on. All is not lost. If you love to read, tell stories and have an uncanny ability to shape shift your voice, then you may just have the skills to become a voiceover artist working in the mainstream.
First, let’s talk about narration; book narration for one. It’s true that there’s a market for audio books. I have read for them. I have voiceover artist friends who’ve read for them. We all love doing it. But there are two things going on here. First thing is, the pay to read an audio book is very low. In fact, Vision Australia, who once paid actors per hour to read novels and stories for the sight impaired, now doesn’t pay at all and calls for volunteers to be narrators for their market. Tragic for the many actors for whom this was a valuable source of income.
The very few companies who are producing audio books for commercial consumption use a small handful of people to do their work. I know someone who does this, an expert narrator, a female with a beautiful voice, awarded, aclaimed and known for this kind of work. However, last year, she read two novels. In all, she earned about $4,000, and she’s a top class narrator.
This is work that just doesn’t pay. Not only is it difficult to do. You need to have the energy and voice consistency to read for long periods and engage the listener, and of course, you need to be available for this work, you need to have read and studied the novel before you get into the studio and, if there are other character voices involved, have worked out who they are and what they sound like. You need to be consistent with that as well. So, it’s disappointingly not a burgeoning industry in Australia. The ABC still records plays and short stories, but I did a session last year, where I was asked to read 3 short stories. I was there for 3 hours and was paid $250. Yes, I loved it. Yes, it’s on air. Can I survive on that? Nooooo way!
However, here’s the upside. If you are an excellent reader, a person who can read for long periods and stay engaged with the themes, characters and emotion of a story, then you have great ‘commercial voiceover skills’ To do voiceover, you need to be a cracker site reader. You need to understand how to connect to the listen. You need to understand the magic of the pause. You need to know how to put accent on words and phrases to give them a certain meaning. You need to understand pace. I hear so many people have a go at narration and include it on their demo, but the read it just tooooo fast. For all reads, but especially for narration, you need to meaning to really ‘land’ with the listener, before you move on to the next line or part of the story.
If you are a good site read, then you could be looking to the corporate world for work that is narration. The corporate area is much more lucrative, because companies make material for their employees, clients or customers all the time, to pass on information about a plethora of things, new systems, instructional vids, new products, projects and any amount of narrated material that contains a message they need passed on.
The other area I know you would all love to work in is the world of ‘character voices’, whether it’s for animation series, cartoons or television ads and most of you have a bag of character voices that you do. Some of you just do funny voices. Some, can mimic someone’s actual voice or another cartoon voice. But this is where I’m going to have to disappoint you. If you listen to radio and television and count the amount of times you hear cartoon or character voices, it’s going to be pretty low.
However, don’t despair here either. The fact is the skill, ability or desire to inhabit a character and give it a funny voice is a voiceover skill. It’s the skill of creating a persona, that is, someone who is not you.
So, if you recognize that you have great skills as a narrator, can jump in to anyone’s skin and create a believable character, then you need to make a study of the commercial area of voiceover, that is Television and radio and discover where your talents would fit in.
This, of course, is all about practice, practice, practice. Just make sure those who you practice with, are quality voiceover coaches and can teach you all you’ll need to know to make the best of your talents and your opportunities.