Do You Have The Pipes to Become a Voice Over Star?

voiceoverIf you've been told you have a great voice and would like to explore how you could make thousands of dollars working a just few hours, a couple of days a week, in your pajamas -- join the club. Millions of people would like to be self-employed in the voice over industry doing just that, especially now that employment is hard to come by.

"I get hundreds of calls per week from people from all over the country who want to get into voice over," says James Mandell, owner of VoiceOver LA, a popular voice over agency, casting company and production studio. "Maybe one in a thousand really has the pipes and can get work," he observes.

You can't deny it, it sounds like the ideal gig. To secure voice over work, you don't have to shave, put on makeup or even clothes. With technology what it is these days, it's not necessary to leave home to audition. All you need is a computer, a microphone and the right software. Those who believe they have a "face for radio" or live miles from an urban hub have a chance, albeit a remote one.


It's not as easy as it sounds

"It involves so much more than just having a pleasing voice," Mandell says. You have to be able to read lines and make them sound as if they're natural conversation. You have to know what to emphasize, and how to enunciate without sounding affected. One of Mandell's favorite examples of a tricky pronunciation is the word "ask." He says that most people don't even realize they drop the k at the end of the word and say "ass," as in "ass your doctor." Then there are those who pronounce it, "axe," as in "Let me axe you something." The vast majority of people don't even realize they're mispronouncing it.

There's a reason that some of Hollywood's most talented actors get the best gigs, and it's not just that clients want to associate their brands with a famous name. You'll note that most commercials don't identify the voice. Professional actors get the best gigs because they're consummate acting pros, and they know how to sell a line -- they've dedicated their lives to perfecting this fine art.

But some of the stars who make more than six figures in voice over are not the most prominent. They include Keifer and Donald Sutherland, Richard Thomas of 'The Waltons' fame, John Corbett (Aiden on 'Sex and the City'), Morgan Freeman, Alison Janney, Linda Hunt and Holland Taylor.

Then there are the character actors -- the ones who voice Sponge Bob Square Pants, The Simpsons and Pixar films. Some of them are known actors, but others you wouldn't recognize if they sat next to you at Applebee's. Even if your friends tell you you do great character voices, your chances of getting a role on a show or in a film are extremely slim. "Unless you're an A-List actor, you have to be based in New York or L.A. to get those kinds of roles," Mandell says, adding that your chances are a little better for voicing video games.

Those who think they can do great ethnic accents -- British, Southern, Indian, Russian, whatever -- are not necessarily a shoo-in either. It's true you hear a lot of those accents on the air; but most of them are done by natives of the intended region. One of Mandell's worst nightmares is when he's out in a social setting, a new acquaintance finds out what he does for a living, and says, "I can do great voices! Here's my British accent... here's my old man voice... now I do teenager... and listen -- this one's my best! Indian convenience store guy!" Those voices might amuse your friends, but there's little chance of getting a professional gig with them -- unless you come from the actual country you're mimicking.


The much-coveted Golden Voices

There are, however, two types of voices that are in hot demand. If you have one of these voices, don't be surprised if an agent stops you on the street and hands you his or her business card.

  • The Voice of God: That deep, resonant voice that sounds like authority from on high. "But it has to be natural, it can't be forced or feigned," Mandell says. "If people stop you mid-conversation and tell you, 'Wow! You sound like James Earl Jones,' you're in. If you stop people and say, "Wanna hear me do James Earl Jones?" you're out.

  • The Sultry Sex Kitten: Women who speak in a velvety-voiced purr are also in demand. But this, too, has to be natural. "You have to sound like a woman in her 30s with a smokey voice, not like an unhealthy chain smoker," Mandell notes.


If you have one of these voices and can act, or you just sound like a regular, friendly, reliable everyday person, you still might have a chance -- and you don't even have to live in a major city. J. Lawrence is a successful voice over artist; he's a regular sounding guy who has a full time job with a media company and lives in New Hampshire. He built himself a home studio and used voice over websites like Voice123.com and Voices.com to establish himself in the industry.

These sites are great resources for budding voice over talent. Not only do they tell you how to get started and how to make the necessary demo, or sample of your voice, but companies that need voice over work list their needs on the site, and if you have the type of voice they're looking for, you can record an audition for them and bid on the job. Mandell refers most of the inquiries he gets to a "Getting Started" article on Voices.com, which explains the industry from start to finish.

"A lot of people get really excited about this, and invest a lot of money in classes, equipment and a professionally recorded demo," says Lawrence. "But few ever earn enough money to cover their expenses. Less than 2 percent of all voice over artists make more than $5,000 per year." Lawrence is one of the lucky few who does, but it's nowhere near enough to support his family of four, so he wouldn't dare quit his day job. Still, the supplemental income is nice.


How to get started

If you want to get started the right way, it could cost you several thousand dollars. You'll probably find yourself spending money on:

  • Voice over classes: You can get individual instruction for about $100 to $150 per hour, or take weekly group classes that run from around $495-$800 per series. Some companies, like Talk Shop, offer classes for as little as $49, live via phone or Skype, so you can take them at home no matter where you live.

  • Equipment: This is the least of your worries. You can get a usable USB microphone for about $50. Your computer probably already has the software, and if not, you can get recording packages for anywhere from $100 to $300.

  • Professional Demo: This is the most expensive part. A professional production company can lay in music and sound effects so that you sound as if you've already made commercials, but it's going to cost you between $1,000 and $3,000.

The amount can be intimidating to most who are not serious about it, which is not a bad thing. Money is not the only expense involved. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to become good enough to start booking lucrative gigs. Auditioning on the two sites mentioned is a great way to practice, says Lawrence, although they've become so competitive, it's hard to make money off them these days. People bid extremely low just to get work, and if you're not one of the first 30 auditioning, they probably won't listen to you. Still, Lawrence was able to cultivate steady clients after booking gigs on these two sites.

So if the thought of entering into the voice over fray still sounds viable after learning about all that is required, you just might be one of those people with the "Money Voice." If you've decided against it, you can still have fun with it by trying to identify which star's voice you hear on that orange juice commercial.

Next: What Your Voice Says About You


Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Editor

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want.  Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets.  Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.

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aussieken69

There are some people who post of the negativity of reality posted here. In the real world that's simply the truth. Their not saying your not good at a voice over, simply that there are some many, many people with very similar voice sounds and only so many jobs to be filled. I did a calendar shoot years ago and we had many babes come and do a photo interview shoot with me. But when push comes to shove, there are only 12 months in a year and we where not doing the Hooter calendar with tons of mini pix on each month with one girl. After all, it WAS a street rod calendar with the cars as the feature, the babes where just icing on the cake. And they would ask, am I not pretty, am I not shaped nice. The fact that she was just as hot as a dozen more blondes and we where looking for diversity didn't matter, people take it personally when turned down. I have judged two pageants and the mothers of the losing girls look at you like you said their daughter was ugly, no, just NOT the cutest, etc.
So back to the voice overs, its the same, unless you have something that really separates you from others, your just another cool voice of the 2,000 that sound like you and if you have no personal friends needing the voice over....good luck.
So, find a local radio station that has a call in segment and do that, but like I did, block your number so they don't recognize you from the other times you call in, and do different characters like I did. The favorite was always my Australian dude. They like the hick, the Irish, the angry Limey London dude, but the Aussie was what I got known for. I probably could have gotten into the radio but that's not my thing, I just use it for humor. What's funny is if you need directions and ask as yourself, girls act like your hitting on them, but.....ask as the Aussie guy and they almost take you by the hand and lead you to your destination, lmao
So, local radios and TV seems to be the best break in. Good luck and don't forget you tubes also....free postings there!!!

March 09 2014 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sharky

Whoever wrote this article should hang themself. Very negative. Just what we need to boost our economy.

February 04 2014 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jovan

Hello to all. My name is Jovan and i'm from Macedonia i need job urgently if anyone can help please write me on my mail ... stojanoski.j@gmail.com ... thank you and again if you can help i'll be greatful cause i desperate to work something case here in Macedonia there is no job...

January 29 2014 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Zindler

I'm just a 56-yr. old disabled guy, divorced, usually in pain, really needing a psychological break more than anything else. I think it will be downright fun to send out a few demo tapes ... let's see what happens! "Are you ready for some ... voice-ball"?!!

Tom Zindler :)

January 22 2014 at 4:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Loopylou

More thoughts...why would ANY VO person use a USB microphone? Also, one size does NOT fit all. Everyone is looking for something different.

January 08 2014 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Loopylou

How serious can a person take ANYONE that says a 50 dollar microphone is all you need. They pretty all much sound like crap. Also, you don't need THE VOICE OF GOD or a gal that sounds like an F'ing cat. I have worked numerous radio stations, in many large markets, and can tell you that at least a weekend job on air is not that hard to land. I have a mid to lower voice and some credentials. Texas Girl is right, this is a discouraging article that borders on negativity. The author is a moral buster. Shame on the pathetic reach this lame article-and it is off target!

January 08 2014 at 6:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Texas Girl

Wow I've never read an article that actually tries to discourage people so much, what negativity. I had my first audition for voice work a few years ago and I got the job. I recorded for the same client for over a year before the company went out of business. I did commercials for them and also their voice mail system.

October 24 2013 at 10:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Texas Girl's comment
BIGMEECH

It went into one ear and out the other for me lol

December 27 2013 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Darryl

David, I am interested in doing voice overs. I have worked in Sales in the music and print advertising business for the past 25 years. Weekly I get comments on my voice ( The DJ voice or the Morgan Freeman comments) / I too live in the Chicago area. I am on Linked In under Darryl A. Cotton. Any points you suggest thats the direction I go!

September 30 2013 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rworksga

The problem with Voice 123 and other talent pools is that the talent will "take their pants down" just to get a project. I've been doing VO work for almost 40 years, the last 20 or so full time from my home studio. I have commercials running in Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, to Norfolk, Va and many points in between. A few years back I spent the $200 (for Voice 123) and over 2 years I got just enough work to cover the $200. From the agency side of things, they seem to go back to their favorite VO artists and I get that. Those folks become comfortable working with the same VO artist. Building relationships is the key. Its a great gig if you can get it, but you can also go broke doing auditions.

July 10 2013 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

As a VO talent and engineer in Chicago for almost 25 years I have to say I disagree with about 90% of the opening comments in this article. The people booking jobs over the last 5 years adhere to none of the rules you have stated. Those with the least experience and know-how seem to be winning plenty of jobs. I record people every day who "cannot" or "will not" take direction. They are as clueless as the creatives giving no direction at all and expecting the talent to know what they mean. VO Students are spending thousands of dollars on classes and demos and the people booking the jobs sound like people who took NO classes and made NO demo. My brother works for a post-production facility that now has 15 assistant editors who have joined the union because their voice ended up on a scratch track and the client loved it. Those who pursue VO professionally are losing Thousands of dollars a day from people who sound "Good enough". If you should choose to do valuable research into voiceover you would find that less rules apply. I would prefer to hear those that you speak of, that know how to deliver a message, but with uneducated clients and fear of not sounding as homogenized as everything else on the air, I fear that more advertising clients will spend wasted dollars on missed messages that have no effect other than a cool laid-back voice saying it, And that's not being bitter. That's being informed.

June 25 2013 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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