I’d Love To Talk For A Living

Naturally, as a voice talent agent, I tend to get more than a few people contacting me by phone, email, tweet or just yelling from rooftops asking how to get into the voice business. I try to respond to all inquiries and the general gist is one needs some training, from a broadcasting program or at the minimum, a workshop from a reputable voice coach. But a friend asked me the other day if I had written on this blog about how to get into the voice business and I realized that in all my posts, I don’t think I’ve directly answered that question.

Now as a preface to this, I remember hearing David Letterman say years ago that the last thing the world needed was another stand-up comedian. I sort of feel that way about the voice over business in 2012 – how many voice talents do we need? But I understand that if you’re reading this and you feel you must try this thing you’ve always wanted to do, then no one should crush your dream until you’ve at least stepped behind a mic and given it a go. Then your dreams can be reduced to sawdust and ashes. Oh c’mon, I kid.

I probably get this question – or some version of it – more than any other from people who are contemplating the leap into the wacky world of voice work. It’s an understandable question but one that is hard to answer and strangely enough, somewhat irrelevant. I mean, there are some voices that stand out in any context and you think, “That guy should do voice work.” Someone sounding like James Earl Jones would get 20 people telling him he has a great voice just ordering a pastrami on rye at the local deli. We all know what a classic radio DJ voice sounds like or a sultry woman but the bulk of the voice work out there is not for these kinds of traditional voices. If you’re thinking about doing voice work, start listening to the voices you hear on radio, television and the web. The variety may surprise you. There are many different types of voices that could be “good” depending on the script.

So, the real question(s) you should ask yourself is:

Voice work is interpretation. You’re lifting words off the page. Hopefully they’re well-written but whatever the script, your job is to sell the idea, the message, the character. So, while having a voice that’s unique and easy on the ears is certainly a part of the equation, it doesn’t do you much good if you can’t go more than a sentence and a half without stumbling, or are unable to “get” what the script writer has intended. This is why in 2012, some of the more accomplished voice actors tend to have some kind of acting/theatrical/improv training. Since voice work is one type of performance, having some performance training makes complete sense. In theatre, actors work from scripts all the time and get experience with the audition process. This translates well in the voice over world.

I’ve talked about voice coaches in other posts on this blog (feel free to browse and share widely) but if you don’t want to actually go to school full-time for broadcasting, you still must get some voice training. There are a number of different voice over courses and workshops around but the common element with almost all of them is you get time behind a microphone and constructive feedback from a professional. And if it’s your first time ever attempting voice work, you get a feel for how much you like it. Maybe it just won’t feel right. It’ll be like an awkward first date where you have only one beer and are in a taxi heading home by 9 pm. I have suddenly drifted into weak metaphor for no reason but you get what I’m saying. A voice workshop allows you to test the waters to see if this really is for you. And if it is, you start to get a sense of your strong suits in the diverse world of voice work. Are you comfortable reading high energy radio commercials, or do you feel more at home with a conversational e-learning script? Maybe characters are your bag, or perhaps corporate narrations arouse you the most.

You can also get mic time by volunteering to read for the visually impaired or perhaps there is a community or college radio station that is open to new voices. These are good places to hone your craft in low pressure environments.

In this day and age, I’ve seen rank amateurs build home studios and spend tons of money on a slick commercial demo when they’re nowhere near ready to call themselves a professional voice talent. As I like to say, I’d love to step on stage tonight and dazzle the crowd with my guitar licks and poignant song writing ability but I don’t know how to play guitar. Why would you “step on stage” without any training, without any industry feedback that says, “we like your voice and we might hire you.” So, do the training first, log the mic time and *then* make the leap into getting a demo produced and hustling for work.

It is true what you’ve heard – the voice over business is fun and entertaining work and quite well-paying once you’re established but there are rarely easy short cuts to anything. Do the work. Train the voice. Learn to interpret and perform. Become a professional. Dress is casual.


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8 Responses to “I’d Love To Talk For A Living”

  1. Ric Rags Says:
    August 27th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I’ve done voice over work for the past 3 years or so mostly just used my acting experience for it. But I would like to take it further. I’m looking for a voice over course in MTL Canada. The one good school I found online looks like it is already closed. Do you know of any good voice coaches in the MTL area?

  2. Greg Says:
    September 21st, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I admit it – I’m one of those people who has had no professional voice training who thinks “I can do that”. But this post makes me feel better; I *have* done theatre and improv before, and I *have* had an industry professional tell me “You should definitely be doing SOMEthing.”

    Once you have a couple of well-produced demo tracks, where’s the best place to showcase them?

  3. Roger King Says:
    November 24th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Ric – I don’t know of any coaches in Montreal at the moment but I’m still looking into it. Google Deb Munro or Elley-Ray Hennessey though, as they have talked about coming to Montreal to do workshops.

    Greg – It’s best to produce a full demo, about 1:00-1:30 in length and then shop around to agencies, recording studios and production companies.

    Sorry for the late reply guys. Your comments were caught briefly in my spam folder.

  4. al Says:
    November 25th, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Roger, you said “It’s best to produce a full demo, about 1:00-1:30” I am presuming you mean minutes, am I correct? Please forgive the anonymous email, for the moment that is a need.

  5. Darren Rebalkin Says:
    December 10th, 2012 at 1:48 am

    I have been selling as an auctioneer for 20+ years have done charities ,4h sales, ducks unlimited sales and been asked to mc many functions due to my ” deep and attention grabbing ” voice. I have experience and have done radio ads as well, I am motivated mature and ready to work. What next??

  6. Carl Says:
    January 1st, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for the taking the time to address this issue Roger. As a small agency we too get the same approach – “I’ve been told I have a great voice…” So much so that we’ve put up an article this week covering something similar – will be pointing others to yours too. Thanks again. Carl

  7. Liisa Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 8:47 am

    I’d also like to thank you for posting this, it makes the thought of wanting to get into the business less daunting. I am in the same boat as Greg; I’m not ashamed to say I am very new at this and definitely want training, are there any courses/coaches in/near Toronto you could recommend for someone so … raw, I guess is the best term?

    I also thought I would ask, if one wants to get more into voiceovers for cartoons or audio books, should they still have their own in-home studio?

    Take Care,

  8. Rene Says:
    May 21st, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Hi, I love what you’re doing with the training. But, I was wondering if you have anything short, like an hour or 2 where a person would get their feet wet a little bit and see if they like it.

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