So You Want To / Be a Voice Actor

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(Currently under construction. Any helpful additions are welcome)

Remember, this is meant to be a general overview, not an extensive guide to voice acting. Whether or not you're starting out, doing it as a hobby, and/or aspiring to be a professional, hopefully you'll find this page informative and helpful.

Getting Started

There 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 current advances in technology, voice actors can work online from anywhere in the world.

Microphones

There 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 requires an audio-interface to connect to a computer. The interface, in turn, often requires a paired software driver before it can be properly used.

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 Studio

A 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.

Misconceptions

  • "People told me I have such a nice voice so I should be a voice actor!" You do not need to have a sexy or distinctive voice. Most voice actors have completely normal speaking voices, and there's a place for every kind of voice.
  • "I can do a bunch of different voices and impressions!" Before any of that, you need to know how to act. You do not need to be a Man/Woman of a Thousand Voices or a Voice Changeling. The ability to do different voices is much more common than you think, but 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, audiobooks and commercials. There are dozens of voice-over genres such as e-learning, narration, announcements, interactive tours, etc.
  • "I have better equipment so I'll sound better than everyone else!" No, you don't need to buy over-priced top-of-the-line microphones, interfaces, pre-amps, processors, etc. to make a good recording. Your performance and your recording space comes before any of that.
  • "I have stage fright, but no one can see me when I'm voice-acting!" This reasoning might fly in No Budget projects, but in professional voice-over, you'll often work with clients, voice directors and sound engineers who will be listening and critiquing while you record. Occasionally, you'll be recording alongside other voice actors who'll want to work off your performance.

Warnings

  • 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 see a return on that investment.
    • It is possible to go pro without training, but this approach involves far more trial-and-error and time. A good coach will correct any bad habits early on and refine your natural range.
  • Get used to rejection, and don't expect much positive reinforcement. There are thousands of people getting into voiceover 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 (especially Voices.com), where you pay a subscription fee to audition for paid VO gigs. The majority of these websites often pay insultingly low rates for the work you put in, take a large cut of what you make, and may not allow you to talk with the client. While you can make a good living through through P-2-Ps, you could make much more by directly contacting clients instead of reaching them through these channels.
  • Beware of scams, especially for coaching and demo production. General warning signs are "guaranteed results in [X] lessons" and lacking professional work in their resumé/website (if they even have one). This excellent article covers this in more detail.
  • 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 Showreel)

A demo reel is a sample of what you can do and how you stand out in the voice-over world.
If you're hoping to be competitive in the professional world, DO NOT MAKE IT YOURSELF (explained below).

Most of these guidelines are not strictly mandatory, but highly recommended.
  • Slate: Start by just saying your name in your normal voice. It tells the listener who you are and what you naturally sound like. Nowadays, a slate is unnecessary unless requested, but if you do slate, do it right.
    Common mistakes when Slating are:
    • Not using your normal voice self-explanatory
    • Having someone else, especially of the opposite gender, give the Slate This is your reel, not theirs
    • Saying other things besides your name It wastes time and detracts from the rest of the reel
  • Length: Most professional reels are around 60 seconds long. Any shorter shows a lack of range. Any longer shows a lack of specialties.
    • Your demo must grab the listener's attention within the first few seconds. This is the crucial area where professional directors and agents decide whether to toss it or listen to the rest. (As callous as this sounds, these people go through dozens or even hundreds of auditions and demo reels per day, and do not have time to review poor submissions).
    • Each section must be short and meaningful. Make each section just long enough to establish the scene and character, and immediately move on to the next. It keeps listeners on their feet.
  • Authenticity: 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. Use only your best samples for the demo and don't have any weak spots.
  • Variety: You can do different voices if you want, but the focus should be on your distinct characters and emotions. The adjacent sections should contrast heavily to keep the listener's interest.
  • 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.

Don't Make Your Own Professional Demo

There are specialists who produce professional demo reels for a living. Expect them to charge anywhere between $500 to $2500 for their services. However, they're worth it because:
  • They've been in the industry for years and know the voice-over business inside and out.
  • They provide the scripts and direction to best market your voice according to the current trends of the industry.
  • They have sound mixing skills that many of us lack.
  • Having a professionally-made demo reel shows that you are ready to work with and take direction from others, and that these specialists vouch for your skills.
  • You will rarely have a second chance to make a good impression. Serious directors & agents will immediately recognize a home-made reel and possibly blacklist the person submitting it.
  • A great demo reel will net you more roles (and money) in the long run, and last for years.

Tips for Newcomers

  1. The most vital skill in voice acting is acting. Newcomers often forget this while attempting to do different voices. Other 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 practice, but it can be done.
  2. Warm up your voice before recording, stay well-hydrated and do not act with a sore throat, or you could irreversibly damage your larynx.
  3. Learn how to "cold copy/read" i.e. smoothly read an unrehearsed script, otherwise you'll have to memorize your lines.
    • ...or use a text-to-speech device like the legally-blind voice artist Pete Gustin
  4. Only submit an audition when you're 100% sure of it (and don't have any peaking, plosives or reverb in the recording). 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.
  5. If someone else gets the role, be happy for them; that was their one "Yes" in a sea of "No's".
  6. 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.
  7. Submit your lines before any given deadline.
  8. If you're not sure how to deliver a line, ask the director.
    • Unless asked, do not critique/insult the script; that's the writer's job.note  Your job as the actor is to deliver the lines as written. That being said, feel free to point out any typos and grammatical errors.
  9. 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.
  10. And finally, no matter how skilled you are, what kind of gear you have, how popular you become, or how much money you make, always be humble, polite and professional to everyone.

Resources

Related Tropes

  • 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.
    • Unless you're a well-known actor negotiating high-paying contracts, working exclusively in anime dubs and video games is this, since they're among the lowest-paying jobs in the industry (relative to the time & effort you put in).
  • 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 voice-over artists make their living through commercials 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 get in the closet (at least at first).
  • Determinator: The number of aspiring voice-artists grows every day thanks to the Internet, the increasing affordability of home studios, and the allure of working from home, choosing your own hours, and potentially making lots of money for what seems like fun and relatively little work. You'll have to work really hard to make yourself stand out.
  • 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.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Voice-acting is a freelance job with no hours set in stone (unless you book jobs at an outside studio).
    • Averted in the past. Before the rise of home studios, voice actors had to commute to different recording studios. The late Don LaFontaine was famous back in the day for riding a limo to studios all around Hollywood, day in and day out.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Neumann microphones are handmade in Germany to exacting standards, 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, voice actors are no exception. You'll often be working a second job as a professional voice actor, at least for some years.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/SoYouWantTo/BeAVoiceActor