Getting StartedThere is no "best way" to get started. Voice actors can come from all walks of life, but having a background in theatre (especially improv) or music is recommended. To become a professional voice actor, it is strongly recommended to take voice acting lessons. (Steve Blum is commonly cited as never having taken an acting lesson, but he is an exception, not the norm). Thanks to the Internet and advances in technology, voice actors can work online from anywhere in the world.
MicrophonesThere are thousands of recording microphones* but there is no single microphone that fits all voices. Some are more versatile than others, and each one has its share of supporters and detractors. USB microphones are popular for amateur work because of their simplicity and low cost, but are derided by professionals for their relatively low quality. The majority of professional microphones use a traditional 3-pin XLR cable, which require a USB audio-interface to connect to a computer. The industry standard microphone for recording voices in cartoons & video games is the Neumann U87 Ai. Other common industry standards include the Neumann TLM 103 and the Sennheiser MKH 416.
Your Home StudioA sound-treated recording environment is an understated, yet crucial component of professional recording. Even the best microphones will not sound good in a poorly treated, echo-ey environment. The most popular option is a walk-in closet because the clothes inside provide natural sound-insulation. Many professionals choose to sound-treat their closet rather than spend thousands on a commercially-made soundproof booth.
Sound Insulation vs. Sound Proofing
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. To put it briefly:
- Sound Insulation is about minimizing echoes and can be as simple as recording while under a heavy blanket.
- Sound Proofing reduces/blocks sound from coming in or out of the environment and is much more expensive.
- You may have been told "You have such a nice voice! You should be a voice actor!" You do not need to have a sexy or distinctive voice. Most voice actors have completely normal speaking voices. In fact, normal everyday-sounding voices are more relatable and marketable.
- You do not need to be a Man/Woman of a Thousand Voices or a Voice Changeling. While the ability to do different voices is a nice skill (and much more common than you think), the most important voice to master is your own.
- On a similar note, don't rely on your ability to do impressions. Even if your impressions are spot-on, companies will simply hire the original instead of a sound-alike (unless the original is dead, retired or otherwise unavailable).
- Voice acting is easy money... except it isn't. Voice-acting gigs come infrequently for most at the start of their careers and much of their time is spent auditioning, marketing themselves and making connections, i.e. "working to get work".
- Voice over isn't just characters, commercials and audiobooks. There are dozens of voice-over genres such as e-learning, narration, announcements, interactive tours, etc.
- "I have stage fright, but no one can see me when I'm voice-acting!" This reasoning might fly in amateur or No Budget work, but in professional voiceover, you'll often work with clients, voice directors and sound engineers who will be listening and critiquing while you record. Sometimes, you'll be recording alongside other voice actors who'll want to work off your performance.
- Voice-acting is very competitive.
- If you intend to be a professional voice actor, you may have to invest several years and several thousand dollars in equipment & training before you finally land your first professional gig and see a return on that investment.
- Get used to rejection, and don't expect much positive reinforcement. There are thousands of us and only so many roles and gigs. In the professional world, a 1-2% booking ratio* is actually a good standard to reach.
- Be wary of using pay-to-play websites, where you pay a subscription fee to audition for paid VO gigs, especially Voices.com. Such websites take a large cut of what you make and may not let you talk with the paying client. While you can make a good living through through P-2-P websites, you could make much more by directly contacting clients instead of reaching them through these channels.
- When you become eligible for SAG-AFTRA (first off, congrats), don't join right away. Once you do, you'll be competing against the best in the business and you'll have an even harder time finding work thanks to Global Rule One* , not to mention the fees involved.
- This applies to all artistic and creative pursuits, but it cannot be re-iterated enough: if you want to be a voice actor, your main reason must be for the sake of it. Not money. Not fame. You want to voice act because YOU LOVE IT. Most professional voice-actors* are obscure to the general public and are lucky to make between $10,000-40,000 per year.
Demo Reel (aka Show Reel)If you're hoping to become competitive in the professional world, DO NOT MAKE IT YOURSELF (will explain later). Most of the guidelines below are not strictly mandatory, but highly recommended.
- Slate: start by just saying your name in your normal voice. This tells the listener who you are and what you naturally sound like.
- Length: Most professional reels are 60-80 seconds long. Too short means you have no range. Too long shows you don't have any specialties.
- Each section has to be short and meaningful. Make each section just long enough to establish the scene and character, then immediately move to the next. It keeps listeners on their feet.
- Your lines have to sound like they come from an actual script. You can use scripts from projects you've done or create your own.
- You can do different voices if you want, but the focus should be the different characters and emotions.
- Do not have any weak spots in your demo
- NO IMPRESSIONS: Your demo is a showcase of your characters, not someone else's. It doesn't matter how good your impressions are because companies will always hire the original as long as that person is still alive.
Tips for Newcomers
- The most vital skill in voice acting is acting. Many newcomers often forget this while attempting to do different voices. The two most common beginner problems are:
- Not being able to scream on cue, usually out of embarrassment (To be fair, how often do you find yourself screaming in Real Life?). If you don't have your own house and/or you don't have a soundproofed space, you should politely warn your neighbors.
- Talking normally in front of the microphone (no, really). Speaking often sounds forced and unnatural when not talking directly to other people. Growing out of this habit takes time and experience, but it can be done.
- Warm up your voice before recording, stay well-hydrated and do not act with a sore throat, or you could irreversibly damage your larynx.
- Learn how to "cold copy/read" i.e. smoothly read an unrehearsed script, otherwise you'll have to memorize your lines.
- Only submit an audition when you're 100% sure of it. If you're not fully proud of your audition, why should anyone else be? Not to mention, having too many weak auditions on your profile makes a bad first impression for prospective clients.
- If someone else gets the role, be happy for them; that was their one "Yes" in a sea of "No's".
- When you are offered a role, say "Yes" as often as possible, unless you have other commitments. It's a good way to gain experience and expand your range.
- Submit your lines before any given deadline.
- If you're not sure how to deliver a line, ask the director.
- Unless asked, do not critique/insult the script; that's the scriptwriter's job.note Your job as the actor is to deliver the lines as written.
- Recording gear can get expensive, so keep your eyes open for good prices on used equipment.
- Also, remember to treat your recording space before you treat yourself to new equipment. Higher-end microphones record more detailed sound and will pick up any weaknesses in your recording environment.
- And finally, no matter how skilled you are, how popular you become, or how much money you make, always be humble, polite and professional to everyone.
- A Complete Beginners Guide To: Voice Acting Online - A straightforward, step-by-step guide for people with little-to-no voice acting experience.
- How to Be An Online Voice Actor - A blunt, condescending instructional to professional recording and voice-over.
- I Want To Be A Voice Actor - Dee Bradley Baker's website with a comprehensive overview of voice acting.
- Voice Acting Mastery - A podcast by Crispin Freeman offering insight and advice in voiceover.
- Voice Acting Tropes
- Where to buy used equipment online: B&H Used Department, Craigslist* , eBay, Guitar Center, Pixel Pro Audio, Reverb, Sweetwater Trading Post
- Awesome, but Impractical: The more you spend on a microphone, the less improvement you'll hear. The average listener cannot hear the difference between microphones that cost hundreds and ones that cost thousands. Despite this, comparing these subtle differences is Serious Business for professional voice actors, musicians and sound engineers.
- Complete soundproofing is overkill for most home studios, plus having too 'dry' of a recording is undesirable.
- Industry-standard equipment in general. Most voice actors don't own/need them since the equipment is provided for them when they work in a professional recording studio.
- Awesome, Dear Boy / Promoted Fanboy: Many newcomers start with dreams of starring in cartoons or video games. However...
- Boring, but Practical: While animated characters are more prominent and exciting, most voiceover artists make their living through commercials, audiobooks and narration.
- Audiobook jobs fall under this, since they take a long time to finish and tend not to pay well, but they are very steady work.
- Crack Is Cheaper: The most venerated recording brands cost thousands and you're mostly paying for the brand itself (Neumann, Telefunken, Bock, Manley, Schoeps, etc). Vintage microphones can cost tens of thousands.
- Commercially-made soundproof booths. The cheapest (and smallest) ones will run you at least $2000-3000 before shipping, which is also expensive due to how large and heavy these booths are. There's a reason why most voice-over artists just get in the closet.
- Doing It for the Art / Starving Artist: Like many creative pursuits, voice acting is typically not a lucrative career and does not pay consistently. Many voice actors will say that they spend 90% of the job trying to get the job.
- Germanic Efficiency: Neumann microphones are handmade in Germany and are considered to be the industry-standard for voice-over. When you're hearing character voices in animations and video games, they were likely recorded on a Neumann microphone.
- Waiting for a Break: Yeah, you'll be doing this a lot, at least for a few years while you build your client base.