Happy New Year! I hope it’s gotten off to a great start so far. Since January is all about new beginnings and fresh energy, I’m dedicating my blog this month to the newcomer. I get so many questions from people wanting to “get into voiceovers”. So, in the spirit of a freshness and resolutions, I crown January the Month of the Newbie. This is my first of a three part series.
Lots of people who ask about vo as a career aren’t necessarily ready to jump right in. Rather, they’re in the “thinking about it” stage. They have an idea in their head, maybe a nagging voice that keeps saying “What about voiceover?” or “I think I could do it” or “Wow, that would be awesome!” I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the traits it helps to posses in order to be a successful VO. I’m not saying without these things you won’t succeed but having these qualities can certainly help. If you’re seriously thinking about voiceover as a career, be honest with yourself when reading this list. How many do you possess? What can you work to cultivate?
1. Are you a self-starter? Voiceover is a freelance lifestyle, and the freelance lifestyle is not for everyone. You need to be good at creating your own goals and deadlines, setting your own hours and sticking to them, motivating yourself to do the work whether or not money is involved. You need to invest time and money into this career with no one calling the shots but yourself. You’ll need to go to classes, workshops and networking events. You will need to practice practice practice and remain energized and focused despite the rejection and inevitable disappointments.
2. Are you a good multitasker? Being a VO requires you to constantly be multitasking – recording and editing, emailing and invoicing, uploading and sharing. The list goes on. The number of things I do in a day are so varied. Often times, I’m working on a project when something comes in from another client who is in a time crunch and needs something right away. I need to be able to prioritize and shift gears if necessary.
3. (On that note) Are you ok with no routine being your routine? My schedule changes on a day to day basis depending on what comes up. Often times auditions come in and need to be turned around right away- the same thing with jobs. I also have to balance going into my agency with working from home and going to outside sessions and castings as well. For some people (like me!) this is actually a good thing – I get bored easily and I felt so trapped and heartsick when I had a 9-5 job. It lasted about two years and broke down my spirit. But some people truly like and thrive on having a routine in their lives. As a VO, you can try to have a plan, but I guarantee you it will change almost every day. It’s the nature of the business.
4. Do you have acting experience? I actually use the term voice actor to describe myself, not voice over person, because that’s exactly what I am. Voiceover is acting, pure and simple. Often times I hear people say, Well, people have told me I have a good voice… It’s not about having a good voice- IT REALLY ISN’T! People often marvel at how quickly I became successful in this career, but honestly I believe it’s because I’ve been doing this for twenty years in one way or another. I went to college for acting. I lived in NYC and went to a two year acting conservatory after that. I did stage and on-camera for 10 years. I came to Los Angeles and did more acting. Then I studied for an entire year before putting myself out there as a VO. If you don’t have any acting experience and you want to be a voice over person, you will definitely be at a disadvantage. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, but taking a basic acting class will help a lot.
5. Are you a risk taker? Are you willing to work really really hard at this and spend lots and lots of money with no guarantees? Most successful VO’s I know are part risk taker, part adventurer, and part eternal optimist. It helps to be someone who is ok with not knowing what’s coming down the pike and rarely knowing where your next job is coming from, while trusting that it’s all going to work out great. I’ve found my connection to spirituality and a Higher Power an integral part of my success in this business. Without it, it would just be too scary. But I always come back to my faith and it helps me to navigate without being able to see around the corners. And when I think about it, I’ve always been kind of a gambler. I like challenges, I believe in the long shot, and I keep my eye on the prize.
6. Do you love it enough that you’d do it for free? To me, this is probably the single most important thing about pursuing a career in this field. My secret marvel whenever I’m leaving a session (my heart totally singing every time) is this: “The funny thing is, they have no idea…I’d do this for free!”. I love it that much. I also love it enough to keep my chops up with regular classes, workshops and workout groups. No one can give you passion, and you can’t make yourself have it. But if you have it, you know it’s there and it keeps a fire lit during the darkest of your days. There’s a difference between liking something (even liking it a lot) and LOVING it. There’s also a difference between wanting to do something, and pure desire. I submit that for VO, wanting it isn’t enough- you have to truly desire it – and the REALITY of the lifestyle and everything that comes along with it. It’s not for everyone. But if you have it, it will get you through. And just a sidebar: please, don’t kid yourself by thinking it’s easy money. Don’t do it for the money. Yes, we make great money. But we work hard to get there and it’s not about the money. If you’re looking to go into vo because you think it will be an easy way to make money you will proabably be disappointed. Love the work.
7. Are you a good business person? This one is huge. It’s such a cliche but it’s so true…it’s show BUSINESS. You have to know how to run yours well. Do you know how to communicate with the people you work with in the business world? Can you under promise and over deliver? Do you have a good affect – being prompt, keeping your word, showing up prepared and being pleasant to work with? Are you persistent? Organized? Do you know how to market yourself effectively (without being annoying)? Do you manage your money well? Some of the most successful voiceover people I know started out in the business world. They know how it works. Being a creative my whole life, it’s something I’ve had to work on – although I do credit that 9-5 job with giving me the basic skills I needed. (See, everything is for a reason!)
8. How’s your self confidence? Do you have a thick skin in terms of rejection? Are you your own best ally or your own worst enemy? If you choose a career in voiceover, you will definitely experience rejection, near wins that ultimately pan out as losses, almosts and might have beens. You will think you nailed it and then never hear back. You will be hired on an amazing project and then replaced. You will not know why. It’s all part of the job. The awesome part is actually getting a job – but the reality is that your career will be mostly auditioning. It’s so important to believe in yourself and know that when a door closes, another one always opens.
9. How about your people skills? Even though we all work from home a lot these days, this is still a people business. Every time you make a connection, whether it’s in person at a session or a casting or online through email or social media, you need to remember that people hire and help people that they LIKE! People who are well rounded, with other interests. Have something to talk about. Be polite. Be fun to work with. Be curious about others. And please remember your manners! I can’t tell you how many times someone has reached out to me to ask for help “breaking in to the biz” and I take the time to write them back or talk to them on the phone…and I never even get a thank you! I’m serious. It’s kind of shocking! This is a very small community and people have good memories. Be kind. Be personable. Be grateful. And if someone helps you, give back to someone else. Pay it forward.
10. Do you have another job/income that will support you on this journey? Do you have space in your life for it? You will need to invest a lot of time, energy and money getting your voiceover career off the ground. When I first started I worked three jobs for a year and a half, to cover expenses like classes and building my home studio. I had a plan with a timeline. Among other things, I worked at the Census for a year and half, which was the perfect job as the hours were flexible and it was a nice steady income. If you try to make voiceover your primary source of income too soon, it will be incredibly stressful. Have a way to support your dream and all it takes to build it. Make sure you have time in your schedule to allow it to work.
I hope these thoughts have helped you in some way to decide if voiceover as a career is for you. Next week I’ll be covering how to actually get started. Join me by subscribing to my blog at the top of this page. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it!