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Getting Started, Part II: The Nitty and the Gritty


In the first installment, we addressed some general points designed to help the newcomer decide whether to pursue a VO career. If you're still interested, great! We'll now take a look at your next steps, a bit more specifically.

(I'll again throw in a disclaimer: I don't assert that this information is definitive, and exceptions do occur to the "rules" in this Business we call Show. Take this in and weigh it against other articles, as well as your own experiences. Feel free to comment here as well.)

Back to School

As I mentioned before, some degree of training is essential, and it should happen before you begin creating demos and trying to market your services. (It should also happen after those steps as well; as in any other field, VO education is an ongoing process.) If you don't have any acting experience, I highly recommend looking up a local community theatre organization and volunteering; most such outfits are always looking for new faces. You'll likely learn absolutely nothing about microphone technique or how to fit an overwritten piece of ad copy into 30 seconds, but you will gain valuable experience using your body and voice to tell a story and/or sell an idea. 'Informal' or 'Ongoing' education programs are another great way to dip your toes into the acting waters. Many of these programs will even have an introductory-level voiceover class or two, so get to Googling and see what's available in your area.

A recently-developed source of training info comes from voiceover artist DB Cooper (no, not the infamous skyjacker), found at the VO-BB forums. Go there and click the 'Training' link to discover a wealth of terrific VO books and other resources.

In addition to the general acting training referenced above, you need to have plenty of practice reading scripts; you can gain a lot of experience by drawing on exercises found in books like The Art of Voice Acting by James Allburger, as well as several other fine books listed in the VO-BB link. If you've already got a basic voice-recording setup with a microphone and computer, record yourself reading scripts, ad copy from magazines, even stories with different characters. Practice this and listen back until you're hearing a performance that brings the copy to life.

A note: I'm betting that some of you are reading the above and thinking, "look, Dave, I know you mean well, but I've got loads of natural talent and have been 'acting' and creating characters since I was in diapers, so I hope you don't mind if I plan to skip the whole classroom-experience bit."

If so, then please know that I don't mind in the slightest. You can (and certainly should) draw on your natural abilities when performing VO work. My point is that if you haven't had training from a bona fide teacher, it will eventually show in your work. (Again, if you happen to be the exception, and find that you're able to be successful in VO without putting in the work, then more power to you*.)

Momentarily putting aside my earlier point about not being in VO for the money: you're proposing to enter a field wherein, when you're working steadily, you can (potentially) earn as much as a working attorney or physician. The latter two occupations require going to school for eight, ten, twelve years (or more) after high school. There's no real requirement that you attend any sort of formal classes to be a voiceover artist...but you do have to have the same level of commitment as those professionals. If you like the idea of a self-taught accountant doing your taxes, or an untrained mechanic working on your car, then by all means plow ahead in that same vein.

A Seat at the Table

Regardless of how much or how little training you've had, a resumé of acting experience does little when it comes to actually landing VO jobs. You've got to bring something to the table, and that something needs to be your demo. In fact, you'll need several demos in different categories, and each of them needs to stack up against pros who are already working steadily. However, before we put the cart too far in front of the horse...

Don't get too impatient; you need to be ready to perform before you get started creating your first demo. If you've been practicing and absorbing information from VO pros (via the resources and methods listed previously), then you can start putting materials together for the demo.

While you might want to concentrate on completing one demo category at a time, it's important to know what the main ones are: Commercial, Narration, and Character. There are others, such as radio/TV imaging, subcategories of Narration like Medical, Scientific and Corporate, etc., but let's stick to the basics for now.

Finding material for a Commercial demo is easy; while you can contact studios and ad agencies to search for old legitimate advertising copy, you can also find the same material in any magazine or newspaper --- it's simply formatted differently. Look for copy that mirrors the better ads you've heard on radio and TV; by "better", I mean copy that stands apart from the same old advertising clichés, and grabs the listener. (Be honest: Has the phrase "plenty of free parking" ever swayed any of your buying decisions? I didn't think so.)

Narration material is equally easy; go to the website of nearly any large company, and you'll likely find an "About Us" or "Mission Statement" section. It's not uncommon for that same material to be used by the company for training and promotional audio, so take advantage of a ready-made resource.

A Character demo, despite what it may sound like to most ears, is not just an audio clip of you doing funny voices; this is where your acting chops really come into play. Use copy that requires you to get inside the character, and create the voice from within that. (Listen to Pat Fraley's free lessons for more insight on this process.)

Also: the Character demo is something of a "specialty", even within VO work; there are several voice artists who do plenty of fine VO work, without ever pretending to be a frog. If certain types of characters or accents or dialects aren't your strong suit, by all means leave them on the shelf, work on them in the meantime, and let your demo showcase the strengths you do have.

Looking and Leaping

Here's a huge word of caution: unless you're coming to the table with a good amount of experience in audio production, I strongly recommend against recording and producing the demo yourself. Solicit the services of a qualified and experienced producer who specializes in VO demos. If you do decide to record and edit on your own, politely ask for feedback from a VO pro before sending the demo to agents and potential clients. Once again, a friendly evaluation request at the VO-BB Critique forum is a good way to do this. Also, feel free to e-mail me with an evaluation request, and I'll be happy to give you my $0.02.


That's all for now! 


*This is in no way meant to demean or belittle those successful VO artists who have avoided the theatrical acting/voice-training route; they deserve their success and certainly don't need me to tell them how it should be done. However, even those VO folks will tell that you've got to educate yourself  --- or be educated, by a qualified teacher --- about the business and craft of voiceover.


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» Good advice on getting started, part 2 from The Voiceover Boblog
Back in August, I linked to David Houston’s blog and to an excellent post filled with advice for you if you’re thinking about getting into voiceover work. Now, he’s written an even better post as part 2, and I highly recommend you tak... [Read More]

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