“I’ve been told I have a great voice. Now what?”
I get this message daily. I get these calls daily. I have to be very honest: it becomes a little annoying after a while, especially when strangers call me at 9pm on a Saturday to solicit my valuable VO advice. It’s not that I’m unhelpful, but I do have a family and my own career to fit into a mere 24 hours every day.
What annoys me most is that, the vast majority of the times that I have started giving advice, the listener would soon stop me with something to the tune of: “Oh no, I don’t want to study anything or build a business! I just think I have a great voice. Where do I sign up?”
*Le sigh. *
Listen up, my people. I am not a coach or an agent. Please don’t call me unless you need me to record a voice over for you, because I can’t help you. It took me eight years AFTER TRAINING to establish myself in the South African industry. Doctors study for that long!
I say this with love and good vibes: I am not your ticket to easy money. I am, however, very happy to give you as much real advice from my own experience, as I can think of. Hopefully with this input and some Google magic, you too can find the connections you seek and be on your way to loving the Voice Artist Life.
Firstly, it all depends on your demographics. In South Africa the voice over industry behaves somewhat differently to the current trend in say, the UK and United States, and in my opinion, we have it way easier than our overseas counterparts, who have to do EVERY SINGLE THING, from sourcing the work to final mix, all by themselves. Our overseas counterparts audition for Every. Single. Job.
Here, we still get cast (most of the time) from our online voice demos and existing client and agent relationships. The majority of us have an agency who administrates on our behalf, but you don’t have to go that route. It does free you up to do more of what you love, however.
Here’s the truth: It takes so much more than just a good voice to be a successful voice over. It’s about tenacity, technical know-how, business savvy, personal accountability, customer relations, marketing, personal investment, and a whole bunch of other things.
So, should you make a go of it?
- Do you possess amazing reading skills, as in, 99% accurate even when you’re reading complex technical words faster and more clearly than you normally would in conversation?
- Do your on-the-spot performance skills match that amazing demo of yours? In other words, once you’re hired, can you match the quality of what you did there in one or two tries?
- Can you sound relaxed, enthused and friendly even under sometimes stressful circumstances?
- Can you be consistently on time for recording sessions or with job delivery, and keep a friendly and helpful attitude around producers, engineers and clients?
- Do you genuinely want to help make your client’s advert or product AMAZING, or are you just here to make money?
- Are you willing to spend large amounts of time and cash on marketing, improving your skills, networking and promoting yourself and your business?
- Do you have a good business ops plan, and a great bookkeeping and accounting system? (Many small jobs make for heaps of admin work, and sometimes a fist fight or two with the taxman).
- Are you willing to patiently work and learn for years before you have a somewhat dependable income from voice work?
- Are you prepared for the lean times – can you be disciplined with your spending and saving so that you have enough saved up for when your business is quiet, or when you want to go on a holiday? Remember, if you don’t work, you don’t earn.
- And naturally, being self-employed and a freelancer to boot, you’ll have to take care of your own retirement fund, medical aid etc. On top of that, banks glare suspiciously or outright laugh at you should you approach them for a home loan or the likes. Are you okay with being viewed as a financial pariah, no matter how much you earn?
I could go on, but if you’re still even reading this then I guess Voice Over is for you. If you’re in this to win this, you’ll serve yourself well by having patience with and consistently working at it. Yes, to the outsider voice over work seems like easy money, just as Novak Djokovic makes serving an ace in the Wimbledon finals seem so natural and easy. The ease comes with huge amounts of work behind the scenes!
Meanwhile, here are some tips:
- Educate yourself: Read books on voice over, watch the multitude of YouTube videos about vocal technique, studio setup, the VO business etc. Read aloud and record yourself doing so. Listen to the adverts on radio and TV, or the audio books, or whatever you’d like to specialize in. Then try to recreate that quality of delivery with your own voice.
- Find a professional vocal coach or mentor with years of experience in the industry (watch out for fly-by-nights), and perhaps look into finding an agent to represent you, though most respectable agents won’t touch you unless you already have some experience or training. Walk away FAST from agents who promise the world and ask a “joining fee” – a good agent earns a commission from the work they already got you.
- Get great demos, as varied and many as you can afford, and get them to the right people. In South Africa we have www.voicebank.co.za as a casting platform, with a few others in the works. There are many international online casting services, be sure to do your homework though on which are worth the effort. Market your business extensively and regularly.
- When you do get a foot in the door, and I sincerely hope you will, by all means negotiate your price. But don’t undersell yourself or undercut the industry standards. This WILL COME BACK TO HAUNT YOU. If you lower your rate to miniscule peanuts in order to beat a way in, we all have to follow suit, in order to survive. And then, by the time you’re experienced and in demand, peanuts will be the new average wage for experienced VOs, and you’ll be working eight times harder to earn the same amount we ‘pros’ do now. DON’T DO IT! Research the standard industry rates and respect your own hard work and talent enough to name a fair price for your excellent service. You don’t see plumbers and doctors and engineers and supermarkets charge an eighth of what their competitors charge. And if they did, do you think you’d trust their expertise? I wouldn’t. Be flexible, negotiate, but ALWAYS charge what you’re worth. Sure, hearing your own voice on the radio is always great, but the novelty does wear off, and then you’d want to have something left to work for OTHER than bragging rights.
- Treat your relationship with your clients as a sacred entity. Show some appreciation for the opportunities; give them what they want – not what you think they should want; be on time and ready to deliver excellent work every time, and if there happens to be a glitch like traffic or illness, be honest and let people know ASAP that you’re experiencing some difficulties in delivering the product. Be amazing to work with!
- Respect your sound engineer. These guys are magicians! They are there to help you sound amazing, unless you’re being an utter douchebag. They also have the ears of the producers, and often suggest voices they think are fitting for specific jobs.
That’s it then, folks! My two cents on “I’ve been told I have a good voice.” There are probably a hundred more tips that will come to mind after I publish this post, but I think the ones above could keep you busy for a while. I wish you all the best in your endeavor and hope to see you around the studios some time! Here’s to a great career filled with joy, satisfaction, joy and prosperity.
Oh, and don’t call me after hours. I mean it.