I get a lot of questions from fans on how to become a voice over actor. I’m thinking that the focus of this blog should shift to give all of you out there a perspective on what it takes to make it in this profession. If you have specific questions make sure to contact me on my ASK ME QUESTIONS page.
I recently had someone ask how they could get into voice acting without spending any money. This is a good question because if you want to start your own business, or work freelance, which is what is required to be an actor, you have to market yourself. Unfortunately, there are expenses involved. Most people have an employee mentality and are used to someone just handing them a paycheck. Although we, as actors, get paid W2 income by companies, especially if it is under a union contract, often times we’re 1099’d. That means we work independently.
If you want to be an actor and be successful, you have to get over the starry-eyed part and become educated on what it takes to run a business.
The problem with being an actor is that you have to go from gig to gig. You may make a large amount of money doing a video game, for example, but if you don’t work for a while, and average how much you are making per year, it may come to just pennies per hour. That’s way below minimum wage. In order to sustain yourself, waiting for that million dollar break, you’ll have to build a business around yourself that’s not just dependent on how many sessions you work.
As a union actor, you get residuals. I’m very happy that SAG and AFTRA merged into SAG-AFTRA. It makes us much stronger as a union and perhaps will have an effect on some of the unscrupulous practices that are happening in the voice over industry. One practice that’s emerged in recent years is having to pay to audition on online sites.
When I joined SAG and AFTRA many years ago, I was adamantly told that if you had to pay to audition, or if someone was getting a kickback from referring you to a photographer to run away like the wind. If you have an agent, they don’t get paid until you do, and then they get 10% of what you make on top of what your union scale would be.
The big bummer is that many people do not work under the auspices of the union. Everyone has to survive, right? You have to do what you have to do to eat sometimes. As more and more people are competing for voice over gigs by auditioning online, the rates are lowered and many times actors get taken advantage of by jerky producers because there isn’t an entity, like a union protecting you.
For aspiring actors who live outside markets such as LA, NY or even Texas, auditioning online may be the way to go to get connections and some practice. I don’t believe most professional voice over actors get the majority of their gigs that way. They get their work from networking with other industry professionals directly.
The other thing aspiring actors need to be aware of if they want to be voice over actors is that you have to have a home studio in order to compete. That requires having equipment that delivers decent sound and it can be quite expensive. This has been a challenge for some of us old fogeys because we’re used to going to our agent’s office to audition and never learned how to become sound engineers.
The most important thing if you want to be a voice actor is to get acting training. It seems that everyone and their brother wants to be a voice over actor, but very few have even taken an acting class. If you want to play at being an actor then start doing something like podcasts. You may even make some money doing it if you market yourself correctly. Otherwise get in some plays and take classes from professionals in the field. Sorry, but a good class is not usually free either.
Do you need a great demo reel and do you need to spend $1,000 on it? Probably not these days. If you’re tech-savvy, download Audacity or use Garage Band on a Mac and you can put together a decent reel. You’ll be on your own as far as coaching is concerned, but you can always give it a try.
It’s interesting. When I started in voice overs, we took jobs because we were actors and wanted to pursue our passion. Now, we have voice over actors who have gone into the profession because they were fans of such things as anime and video games. That’s fine if you are an excellent actor, but if you’re not truly interested in developing your acting chops it’s probably just a pipe dream. I don’t mean to be negative, just realistic.
In the beginning, I spoke about creating a business around your career. That requires some business and marketing training. You can get quite a bit of information about that online or in business classes. Don’t overlook this or you will probably starve to death.
There are other aspects of being a professional voice over actor to take into consideration. You need to be reliable, on time and smell good. There is nothing as obnoxious as going into a sound booth after someone has been in there who’s stinky. You know what I mean? You probably won’t get hired again. Just saying.
Good luck out there and remember, if you have a question go to my ASK ME QUESTIONS page. I’d be happy to answer you.