Getting Started in Voice-Over: A Primer

clip_image002A few times a month, I’m e-mailed by people who are toying with the idea of getting into voice-over — they may have been told they have a great voice, or have become enamored with the idea of being the next Simpson-scale animation voice.

There’s no question that it’s a great way to earn a living — lots of variety, challenge, and if you reach a certain level — a respectable income. Many voice-over performers come from a radio background; others from the more linear channel with a degree in communications, and yet others — as in my case — come from a theatrical background and approached voice-over as an adjunct to acting (and a great way to pay the bills in-between acting jobs which didn’t involve balancing a tray — ask anyone who knows me; that wouldn’t have been a good fit).

Whatever your background, there are strategies you can adopt to venture into the world of being a voice performer in an informed and prepared fashion.

1. Take workshops

A search of sound studios and talent agencies in your area should reveal who is holding voice-over workshops — many sound studios hold them to broaden their talent banks and they’re frequently taught by working voice-over professionals. It’s a great way to get your feet wet; see how at ease your are in front of the mic; how receptive you are to taking direction; and how open you are to (hopefully well-placed) criticism. Many workshops will keep spots you’ve voiced, which can then be turned into demos.

2. Acting Classes Can’t Hurt Either

I attended a voice-over workshop years ago, and one of the students was quite a well-known DJ, who has his “sweet-spot”; his velvet tones, and the deep timbre that would allow him to read the Yellow Pages out loud and keep everyone hanging on his every word — he was handed copy for a very poignant Cancer Society PSA — a Dad telling his son that he has cancer — and he read it in his classic overblown “on-air”style — right down to the “Gary Owen” hand cupped over his ear. (Am I dating myself? That’s a reference from “Laugh In”!) The host of the workshop and the engineer tried their hardest to get him to just…talk. Imagine himself in that situation. Don’t….”intone”. Just talk. Act the part. He couldn’t do it. Acting lessons are an asset to voice-over for no other reason than it gets you out of your comfort “voice”. Worth looking into if you’re aiming for TV and radio work; essential if animation or gaming voice-over is your goal.

3. HIre a Pro To Put Together a Spectacular Demo For You

If you clicked with the engineer from the workshop, enquire about his rates for putting together a demo for you — demos can be snippets of actual spots you’ve done; they can be a mix of scripts the engineer has selected for you to read — I’ve even found great script “fragments” from magazine print ads. Voice material that you’re comfortable with; which you understand; and which highlight you at your best. Only attempt characters or accents if you are masterful at them. They should be a montage of your best stuff, as opposed to entire spots, and front-load the demo with your most impressive material first — you’d like to think that people are going to take the time to listen to the whole thing in it’s entirety, but that’s sadly not the case — especially when ad execs are trying to zero in on…someone. Wow them right off the top with your best stuff. Here’s a link to my commercial demo, if it helps:

4. Build a Home Studio

It’s not as daunting as it sounds — my first “booth” was inside an actual closet. (I tried to convince my accountant that Armani is — by far — the best soundproofing.) A good friend and colleague of mine had her first “booth” in the cold room of her basement. (Jars of blueberry preserves are great noise baffling!) Select a quiet room away from both household and external noise; separate the mic from the noise from the computer (my hard drive is in the basement; only my monitor and keyboard are in my studio), experiment with mics that suit you, get a good pre-amp, and don’t scrimp on the sound card in your computer. Elaborate sound editing programs such as Pro Tools are frustrating and likely more technology than you need; go for one of the more pro-sumer friendly set-ups like Sony Sound Forge, Adobe Audition or GoldWave. I’m glossing over this section, as there are true authorities on the issue of home studios who can enlighten you: I recommend reading “The Voice Actor’s Guide to Home Recording” by Jeffrey P. Fisher and Harlan Hogan.

5. Get a Website

This is truism for *anyone* — florist or taxidermist; mechanic or tango instructor. Next to word of mouth, I get more “walk-in” traffic from my website ( than from any other source. You can spend thousands on it; you can part with $75 and buy a very slick template and hire a junior designer to figure out the layers of flash. However you do it — you must have a website.

6. Approach On-Line Casting Agencies With Caution

They’re prevalent, and the idea is tempting: for no — or very little– money, these folks will put your demo up on their site, and market you to clients who have the ability to hire you to voice their spots! The only problem is that literally hundreds of other talent are also submitting auditions for the same jobs. It means one of two things: the voice talent who is in the time-zone advantage position (or who have nothing but time on their hands) will be able to submit their audition ahead of anyone; and the person who “bids” the lowest price is likely to land job. Even more insidious are the agencies who charge a “premium” fee to be in their “elite” top level of talent (with the implication that the pool is smaller and of higher-calibre performers, and the jobs themselves are tonier) — I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum (went as a free member for awhile; paid to be in the “elite” group) — I had the same (lousy) batting average. I am now represented by two voice-over agencies — who charged me nothing (and who screened me carefully) — and things seem to be on a more even keel.

I was hoping to shape this article to getting started as a voice talent specifically *in IVR* — the whole mandate of this blog, after all — that’s a whole other article, which I promise to delve into soon.

Are you a voice talent just starting out? Let me know if you found this blog post helpful. Have you had similar experiences with online agencies? I’m particluarly intersted in hearing about your experiences…..just conceal the names of the agencies/agents to keep things friendly.

Next blog: I’ll discuss a recent article I found on Destination CRM entitled: “IVR Hell” — we’ve all been there!

Thanks for reading!


  1. I completely agree with your comments. I also think people need to realize that there are a lot of people in this industry that absolutely LOVE voice over. I hear people at trade shows we attend say people tell them they have a great voice, but that won’t equate to a successful career unless they love it and work hard at it, because most of the people they will be auditioning against love what they do.

    Erica L. Kelly

    • voicegal Said:

      Thanks, Erica — like anything, it takes dedication, but more than that — as you alluded to — a passion for it. I loved theatre, but not enough to endure the numerous sacrifices involved to sustain a career in it. I appreciate you reading my blog and commenting!

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