How did you get into voice acting?
Very, very roundabout-ly.
I already had a stage performance background, but I only did that for fun. I thought I was going to graduate college and be a Very Serious Writer, working office or restaurant jobs during days until I landed a book deal. I did do that (minus the book deal — still working on that part, thank you). But the day job grind beat me down. Every job I landed, I eventually quit, switching jobs as soon as I could. Not only did I hate the “40 hours a week at minimum wage, no benefits to be found” struggle, but also, I felt as though I kept getting stuck playing roles — and never the roles I wanted to play or even felt comfortable playing. After a while, I ran low on jobs. I thought, “Shit, well, there was that time I listened to all those voice actor podcasts… and decided that voice actors were My People — lots like who I actually am when I’m not pretending to be an Account Executive to earn money.”
That was when I decided to attempt VO. It was my literal last resort for a job I could actually keep and thrive in — not because I’d looked down on it, but because I’d just assumed I couldn’t do it… until I ran out of options and had a sobering, sparkling thought: If all those other voice actors could do VO successfully, and were so much like the real me, why couldn’t my place be with them? Do it.
So I started doing research. I signed up for VO workshops. (At that time, I stuck with day jobs to help with expenses for them.) I aimed for commercial VO first, because that slotted in well with the office, sales and corporate roles I had already been playing. Anime? No. I was not gonna aim for that, not even if I was an anime nerd. Anime was my hobby, see; I wasn’t gonna make the only fun thing I had into “work.”
Fast forward a few years to where the large stick exited my ass, I gained self-confidence, experience, and shook off the cynicism that had come with academia… and just look at the stuff I’m doing now. E-learning, YouTube series, anime dubbing, and loving every bit of it. I had no clue I could voice half the stuff I’ve ended up voicing; I just went for it and accepted every helping hand and every due to pay along the way, because the alternative — doing anything else but acting or writing to earn my income — made me feel like barfing. Seriously.
I am so grateful to be here. Trevor Devall used to say on “Voiceprint with Trevor Devall & Guests” that he had a fear his VO career was simply too good to be true — that one day, two guys dressed in black suits would show up at his residence and threaten, “Sir? It’s time for you to go get a REAL job.” I totally relate to that. Is this amazing dream still true? I’m actually a voice actor? When will the men in suits come after me?!
Thank you to the folks that got me here. Please know that I will emote, shriek, and effort into a microphone for you until I drop, if I can only stay here bringing fictional worlds to life with you.
I can do voices. Could I get into voiceover?
Maybe. Voice acting is about more than whether you can put on a different-from-your-natural voice. It is called voice acting because acting training and/or experience is necessary. Can you fully create and then become the character who speaks with that weird voice you do — and say absolutely anything as them, believably? If you can bring a character to life in any scenario thrown at you by a script or a producer, that’s a great start. But there are also other aspects to consider before you might know whether voiceover is for you.
Can you get me into voiceover/can you get me a VO job?
Sometimes people assume that talking to me about their voiceover interests or goals will mean they’re getting “discovered,” and that I will hook them up with VO work. This is a wrong assumption. As much as I wish I could wave a wand and instantly grant people paying gigs, I do not have VO work to give out. I am not a producer or a casting director with projects and therefore with jobs; I’m the talent looking for the jobs. And. Even if I were a producer or a casting director… you don’t land work from them by asking for it, either. (You usually have to submit a reel, audition, etc. — more on that later.)
Can you recommend me to a producer or casting director who has VO work?
Assuming you are skilled, professional, and prepared, I am happy to see what I can do for you. That said, if it makes sense to introduce you around, I will automatically do this without you having to ask; you asking makes it a weird pressure thing. Also important to note — I will only pursue making a connection for you with a director, etc. if I know the person is actively looking for new or specific talent, or is otherwise open to referrals from me. Period. If that prerequisite is not met, I will not push to get you in touch with someone I happen to know — because doing so could compromise my own relationship with that person.
Casting directors/producers/game developers are busy, and are constantly getting mobbed with unwarranted, often unwanted messages or contact from new VAs hoping to “skip to the front of the line,” overeager to “get themselves out there,” because they think it will get them work faster. The patience and goodwill of these casting professionals is therefore precious. Both you and me would look careless if I shilled you at the wrong time, or when it wasn’t warranted. Then that director etc. might never work with either of us again.
I am unlikely to recommend you simply because you want me to. But I will do many other things to help you — because we all start somewhere, and the VO business is a place to build each other up. That’s why I’ve made this document, for starters.
How do I start landing VO work?
By having a demo reel that you can submit to studio talent rosters, agents, etc. or shill around social media to attract potential clients. Without a demo reel to open doors for you, it can be hard to access auditions. Pay-to-play casting websites and indie outlets may have public auditions you can submit to, but many projects are private; you can only access them if your demo is accepted to the relevant talent rosters at the relevant studios.
Once you have unlocked your route to auditions, you audition over and over until you are selected for a role. Then you repeat. And you keep repeating.
Can you help me make a demo reel?
There are parts of the demo-crafting process I can take care of. You can hire me to write spots to fill an animation demo reel. You can hire me to direct your acting during your demo recording session. However, my services are best for experienced VAs — people not making their first reel, people who already know how to get the rest of the reel-making process outside my services finished to a professional standard.
Although I can also help new VAs, I give a word of caution there. If you are getting your first reel made and you have aspirations of landing studio work, then if you have the financial means to pay for demo reel production from a one-stop studio (that will do everything from write the spots, to direct, to engineer and sound design/edit), I highly suggest you do so versus hire me. Because if you’re new, and you hire me for demo writing/directing only, that means you then become responsible for figuring out and handling the rest of your demo production process. I can recommend you freelance engineers, advise you on next steps, yes… but there is something to be said for going the one-stop route for the sake of ease and peace of mind if you’ve never done this before.
Why should I invest in a professionally produced demo reel?
Because it opens doors. Also because you might not know how to make a good one yourself. People complain about the cost of demo production, and I agree it is obscene to pay a studio over $1k to produce a reel that takes 6+ months to reach you so you can finally start submitting with it. I know freelance producer-engineers who can get reels done much faster and have the quality shining for more like $600. I know people who’ve put no money into a reel, because they’ve produced it start-to-finish themselves. If another route outside the expensive, professionally produced route works for you, great! I’m glad you’re beating the system. But trying to beat the system doesn’t work for everyone — and it especially doesn’t work for those going in fresh, without enough experience to know what a reel should include.
Always keep in mind that this industry rarely allows second chances to make a good first impression. A demo reel is your first point of contact, your way to shout, “Listen to what I can do!” If you try to cut too many corners and thereby end up making a subpar reel (say, you failed to set your gain correctly when recording yourself, or you didn’t properly sound treat your room, but didn’t notice due to being green about engineering or acoustic treatment — yes, I have witnessed many newbies making these mistakes), and you send that subpar reel to studios, you will sound unprofessional. That will be tough to recover from. There is simply too much competition; any reel that does not meet quality standards will, to use literary agent lingo, “end up at the bottom of the slush pile.”
Navigating a demo can be a headache. But it’s a headache you can’t avoid if you want a leg up; the industry hasn’t progressed yet into methods of actor evaluation that make needing a demo obsolete. You might as well make sure you have the best reel you can manage with your resources — it’s only gonna help.
When should I make my first demo reel?
Before scheduling its production, ask yourself, “Am I honestly ready and equipped to make a demo reel?” Then be able to answer “Yes” before anything’s on the books. Have you trained enough in acting? Learned mic technique? Found reputable people to work with? Should you wait and save up more money to hire more professionals to help with all or more parts of the process, or can you handle it yourself? Do you know enough audio engineering to record and edit yourself successfully, if you’re doing it yourself?
Do I need a home studio?
If you are in Los Angeles CA, Dallas TX, NYC, Vancouver BC, or London England, you are in a renowned VA hub brimming with A-market companies who either have their own studios, or access to studios — meaning no, you do not need to have your own. You will be expected to record on site with them.
Home studios are for the folks in the middle of nowhere who hustle so they can remote-in to anywhere (which happens to be a ton of us, because many of us cannot manage LA.) They are also for anyone who wants to accept live-directed work from overseas, often scheduled for times outside your own time zone’s daily studio hours. In general, if the main way you’re going to be able to submit for and record work is by having your own home studio, you’d better have a home set-up.
COVID has made home studios even more appealing. When the pandemic first hit and lockdowns were happening, home studios became necessity for almost every voice actor who wanted to keep on working; even actors in A-market areas accustomed to studio recording were only able to work during lockdown if they had spaces of their own at home.
How much does a home studio set-up cost, how do I set one up, what equipment do I need, etc.?
There are all kinds of options for all kinds of budgets. Do your research; it’s all out there. I am working on compiling some resources for you, too. Once I get them up, use them. They’ll be a lot smarter than I am when it comes to technical stuff.
Do I need an agent?
This is a personal decision. Agents, assuming you can get accepted to their agency, will take 20% off everything you make. But they will also siphon private auditions down the pipeline to you. They will negotiate with clients for you. They might gain you access to VO classes. Whether or not you think it’d be beneficial to have a third party handle part of your business is up to you and your circumstances.
Do I really have to do commercial stuff? (Or narrative stuff, or boring e-learning stuff, or anything else that I think is boring?)
I hear this a lot from people who only want to focus on animation. The short answer is, you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to support yourself, expand your career, and win access to much of the coveted animation work, then at some point, learning how to do commercial reads and auditioning for whatever else you think is “boring” can only help you. Commercial is where most of the money is in VO. This means it’s also very competitive — so if an agent can see you’ve successfully landed commercial work, for example, they’ll be able to assume you’re skilled, maybe skilled enough to book more commercial jobs through them, which will make them money, and therefore they might want to sign you. And they might have animation opportunities for you.
How do I become an anime voice actor (get into ADR, dubbing, etc)?
The same way you become any other kind of voice actor. Also, a note — ADR can be some of the toughest VO work out there for the absolute lowest pay out there. I would not recommend setting your career sights on just acting for anime. I would recommend you voraciously pursue every other kind of VO too, while keeping an eye on the anime industry for opportunities. Take classes from professionals who do lots of ADR. Submit to the talent rosters of the studios that dub anime when said rosters are open, or otherwise opened to you. Live in Dallas or LA where anime gets dubbed — or if you’re remote, have a home studio setup that can compete with or otherwise come close to the quality of the on-site recording the dubbing studio is using. Don’t give up.
None of this stuff you are saying is how someone I know got into voiceover. They got in straight from radio/they got in when a video went viral on TikTok and landed them a role on a popular YouTube channel/they got in from doing a DnD podcast/from doing porn/from doing film, so—
Awesome! That is the beauty of the VO world. There is no single way to fall into this field. Sure, there are a plethora of voice acting classes you can take, but every single one of them might have a different approach, or tell you different things about the best way to start voice acting. There are no university degree programs for VO. There is only the prerequisite of acting skill… and being able to fulfill whatever other requirements the companies that have the work want to see you fulfill before they cast you. What I’m telling you is tried and tested stuff that has either worked for me or for other professionals I know — but it’s not the only way to skin the fish. Or the lamb, or the bird, or whatever that old phrase is. Was it a pig?
Since this is the entertainment industry, and some of these shows and commercials rake in the dough, can I expect to make a lot of money?
How much money you make depends on how frequently you book. Note I said “book” here and not “work.” A freelance voice actor is always working — often 24/7, 365. Why? Because a VA never knows when or where from the next audition or opportunity might come. Also because the constant hustle is what enables us to book at all. I’d say maybe 15% of a VA’s total time working is actually spent recording in the booth for pay. The rest of that time is spent on other work that isn’t paid. Self-marketing. Social networking. Cold calling by phone or email. Hunting for opportunities. Following up with existing clients. AUDITIONING. I’ll say that one again — AUDITIONING, recording and sending audio files out into the void that you’ll never hear back about, because it can take hundreds of auditions sometimes before you book a job from one.
Now. Suppose you do manage to book a Thing? Could there be an almost-obscene amount of money to be had from one puny recording hour of that Thing? Indeed. You could record for an hour or less and get paid $500, depending on the job, the terms, blah blah. But consider the fuller picture. Taxes won’t be withheld from that payment (freelance VAs are 1099), so you will have to reserve them yourself… when you finally get your payment (most studios pay on Net 30 or Net 45 terms). Nor will your commuting costs be covered, if you are on-site recording. Don’t forget your agent’s 20% if you’re agented. Also consider that if you do not book any more Things for a week, or a month (very possible, thanks to the up-and-down nature of freelance anything), then that obscene amount of pay for one hour inside the booth will start to look unsubstantial next to everyone else’s 8-5s. It will certainly run out quickly.
What I’m saying is, don’t quit your day job — or even your part-time job — until you are booking frequently or have otherwise got yourself a sugar mommy who can financially support you during slow periods.
If you do have a sugar mommy (or daddy, or person), like a supportive spouse… make sure you thank them every single day of their existence, by the way.
What you hear a lot in this field, too, is, “You have to spend money to make money.” That fact is true — although I myself would word it like, “You have to pay to land work that will pay.” This career begins as an investment, and it regularly requires more investment from you even once you are established. We have to pay for our home equipment and upgrades. For continual licenses to our software. For marketing. File storage. Continuing education. For engineers to make us demo reels. Union dues. Our own benefits if we aren’t Union. On and on — but if we don’t cough up for some of these things, we will get left behind or beaten out in this highly competitive field by someone else who had the cash to give themselves a bigger leg up. Basically, whether we like it or not, if we don’t invest in the materials and education we need to be able to compete for roles, our chances of landing work drops.
TL;DR: The tough part of this business for many interested parties to hear is… this is not an industry you join because you want to make money. This is an industry you join because you can’t not be voice acting. Do VO only if you’re willing to scrape to survive sometimes, and if you can enjoy that scraping.
Will you voice X thing for me as a favor/will you work on X thing for free?
No. I am an experienced professional, and I will not agree to work for no pay. I have nothing against people volunteering their expertises for free on projects like fundraisers, or volunteering to do other free work as a way to market themselves when they’re just starting out**, or free work for very close friends and family — but the key word there is “volunteer.” You will know if I intend to voice something for you for free, because I will tell you. By volunteering. Otherwise, please don’t assume I will ever agree to work without compensation.
**Do not EVER volunteer to work for free when you submit an audition for a role that is paid. You may think announcing that you’d happily work for free might give you a leg up over the audition competition, but it won’t. It will only undercut other actors, and casting directors despise seeing that behavior. You are therefore more likely to get yourself blacklisted than to lift your audition to the top of the pile.
But your compensation will be the exposure!
Again, I will decide whether it’s worth it to me to volunteer my work and get back exposure as pay. If I am blunt, chances are it won’t be worth it; most people who come at me insisting I should work for them for free — for huge or useful exposure — cannot actually give me much exposure. They just want not to pay, in any way they can avoid paying.
I advise VAs to be careful with whom they make work-for-exposure deals. Sometimes we guilt ourselves into free jobs for acquaintances, day-job bosses, people we owe favors, etc. But professional work always deserves pay of a kind that benefits us — whether it is money or something else.
I once agreed to record an audiobook for a debut author I knew (hours upon hours, across days of work). I was genuinely glad to support their project, even though I got paid nothing up front. I was supposed to get some exposure instead… and a share of the sales after the audiobook went live. A few years later, I have made maybe $20 total from those audiobook sales. And not one client has ever come to me from the direction of that audiobook, either. In other words, the sales pitch to me on that book was loftier than the actual sales; the author didn’t do great marketing. I hold no grudges over this (it was a good book!). I simply learned a hard lesson from it. And now that I’ve told you about it… you do not have to go out and learn that same lesson — capeesh?
Can we negotiate your rates?
I am always willing to negotiate rates in situations where I have the power to entertain rate negotiations. I cannot negotiate rates set by agency contracts, etc. When in doubt, just ask me about pricing, or give me your budget when you reach out with your initial project information. I do my rate research and value my work, but I also know when to cut people a break. That is why I have managed to work successfully with so many indie and first-time creators.