As a longtime voiceover talent and VO coach, I get more than my fair share of inquiries from people who want to know about all aspects of the voiceover industry. The most common question by far is people asking me how to get started. It’s a valid question - albeit a complex one, and one not to be taken lightly. I thought I would share some of my insights and best practices to help answer that question, and hopefully create an introductory resource that could be used by anyone looking to enter into this wonderfully creative and amazing industry.
This will be the first in a five-part series of articles:
Before you get started
Successful coaching and training
Creating your home studio
Recording an amazing Demo
Running a Successful Voice Over Business
Before you Get Started - The Preface
Let me start by saying that I absolutely LOVE the voiceover industry, and love doing what I do on a daily basis. I am able to generate a full-time income that allows me to pay the bills and support myself. It's true, I pinch myself every day because I am so grateful. But I did not get to where I am today easily, or for that matter, quickly. It is, without a doubt, a marathon and not a sprint. At its core, Voice Acting is an entrepreneurial undertaking. It's a multifaceted career that combines talent and performance skills with a whole lot of business savvy, including lead generation, marketing, and sales. It's not an undertaking for the faint of heart.
The story I hear from many is similar. Perhaps you’ve been told you have a nice voice. Maybe you're looking for a job that allows you to work from home and make some quick money. Or it's something you wish to pursue during retirement. It could be that you’ve been in broadcasting for a number of years and would like to use your skills to become a voice actor. Or, as an actor during the pandemic, you are looking for ways to supplement your income. Whatever the case, there are a lot of mysteries and myths surrounding success in the Voice Over industry. It is prudent for you to research the industry thoroughly (as you are doing now by reading this blog!) and make educated decisions prior to investing yourself - and a big chunk of your pocketbook - wholeheartedly into this business.
It’s hard to know where to start, how to start, and whether you’re even right for the industry. Questions like: Do I have the ability and talent to be successful? Can I realistically take the risk to start my own business at this point in my life? Will it be everything I think it’s going to be? Let's start by doing some research!
Research + Books = A Great Foundation
I know I am always telling people to Anne "GangGoogle" things :) which is why you are probably here in the first place - and this is wonderful - BUT consider also supplementing your initial online research with a book. Yup - you heard me. One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to get your bearings on what it takes to be a voice actor is through books. Think about it this way - Creating a book on any topic typically requires a lot of extensive experience and research that has already been done by the author. Purchasing a book can be a smart investment! A $20 investment can help you save potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars. Especially if you realize this isn’t the right career choice for you. Books can help you to gain a greater understanding of the bigger picture, see what success actually looks like in this industry, and shine a light on aspects you may not otherwise have thought about.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of one of these books listed below. These are in my personal library right now and I am proud to recommend them as great resources for the industry. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few that I thought would be great for beginners. Feel free to recommend others by commenting below. Full disclosure: The below are paid links, but - I promise you I only recommend things that I personally own, love, and endorse.
1. There’s Money where your mouth is by Elaine Clark
One of the first comprehensive books on the market - oftentimes referred to as the "bible of voiceover", Elaine Clark is a +40 year veteran of the industry and a wonderful friend of mine to boot. This book is jam-packed with great info and exercises to get you started in this career!
2. Voice-Over Voice Actor: The Extended Edition by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt
A wonderfully comprehensive book by long time successful working voice actors who show what it takes to be successful behind the mic, with lots of performance tips and tricks and workbook, as well as home studio setup and marketing advice.
3. The Power of Voice - by Denise Woods
This is literally hot off the press at the time of this writing from world-renowned Hollywood voice coach Denise Woods. I could not be more thrilled for her - she is truly an icon of excellence in this industry. Wonderfully written to help you bring out your most authentic voice.
These books will give you insight into the power of your voice, what it takes to get started, what you can expect early on, and if you have the lifestyle suited to start your own business. They are also great resources as you continue along your VO journey. They are an inexpensive resource that you’ll refer to again and again.
Voice Over Conferences
Another way to immerse yourself in many different aspects of the voiceover industry is to consider attending one of the many Voice Over conferences that are offered throughout the year. Conferences are a phenomenal way to quickly learn about VO in person (or online through video conferences) and get a tactile feel for the VO world. You’ll be able to talk to many different coaches, listen to presentations on the current trends, network with other fresh talent and experienced professionals. Even though a conference might set you back a couple of hundred dollars, you won’t find a more condensed and enlightening window into the industry. It’s a lot to take in over a short period of time. Plan on taking copious notes that you can review later. In a way it can seem overwhelming to attend these conferences, however, the ROI on the information you receive is very high.
Some great conferences to check out include :
1. VO Atlanta
I personally have been a speaker and active participant at VO Atlanta since 2014, and consider it to be one of the most comprehensive conferences out there. The list of offerings is wide and varied and can be overwhelming to a person first entering the industry. But it is also one of the best conferences to get your feet wet and network with other people just entering the industry, sharing ideas and resources, and motivating yourself to really dive in and give voiceover a try!
I have personally presented at this conference multiple times and love its intimate and unique format. The World-Voices Organization, or WOVO's mission, as stated on their website, is to inform and educate members of the voiceover community and other business professionals about best practices, standards for ethical conduct, and professional expertise as it relates to the voiceover industry. If you are new to the industry, there is an option to join as an Associate. One of the most beneficial aspects of membership in addition to the yearly conferences is the Mentorship program . Each year they host conferences with content specifically requested by attendees, which really help members to get the most out of their experiences.
Hosted and founded by the illustrious and very capable team of Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson, The One Voice’s Team's purpose is to give a space for every voice in the industry, whether they’re in front or behind the mic. If you are fortunate enough to attend the conference live in beautiful London (I LOVED my time there when presenting), there will be lots of content and social activities to keep you easily immersed from beginning to end. Their global online conference this year hosted a boatload of content, as well as specific content for the Latin American audience.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and feel free to share your conference experiences in the comments below.
Remember, It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Often when starting a new project or venture, I’m full of energy and gusto. I have a tendency to bolt out of the starting blocks at full speed in the early stages of a new and exciting project. When you start a career in VO you may have the same desire. You’ll want to do everything at once, and you might have the expectation that you’ll see results and income sooner rather than later. The truth is that for a VO business (or any business for that matter), your ROI is more of a marathon rather than a sprint. Voiceover is definitely not a “get rich quick” kind of scenario. Achieving long term, sustainable, consistent results takes perseverance and grit. While it’s possible to have bookings early on, if you’re looking at this as a career, you’ll want to build a business with a strong foundation and long-term strategies to sustain and grow your business.
You’ll be a small business owner, and you’ll have all the needs that go along with that. So, in essence, you need to play the role of both “Talent” and “Business Owner”. You need to be comfortable with risk and be able to be completely self-motivated.
The 80/20 Rule
This is where the 80/20 rule applies. Basically, it means you’ll spend 80% of your time working on building your business outside the booth. You’ll be networking, marketing, training, building your website, and even researching. Marketing will become a large part of how you spend your time. Only 20% of the time, if you’re lucky, will be spent actually recording in the booth. Working to achieve VO success takes long term vision, the ability to adapt and learn, and a daily work ethic.
Reality Check: You are not only a voiceover talent, you are an entrepreneur. The Voice Over business is a business. It’s YOUR business. It comes with all the risks and rewards that come with steering your own ship. You have to ask yourself if you’re cut out for small business ownership.
Budgeting for getting started
Up until now, you’ve been using books and conferences to get a feel for the industry. Compared to a traditional business startup, these costs are relatively inexpensive and are totally appropriate sources of information for getting your feet wet as a newcomer. Like any small business, there are startup costs to conduct yourself professionally in Voiceover. You wouldn’t expect to open a clothing store without buying inventory, a cash register, and mannequins if necessary, right? The same is true for your VO business. If you’re going to move forward you should have an understanding of the costs associated with starting your business.
Startup Costs (approximate)
Here are some typical startup costs and ranges for your voiceover business. Expect from $500 for a starter solution to up to 5-10K in costs for a Pro VO setup.
One on One Coaching - $150-$250 per hour
XLR microphone - $400 - $1200
Audio Interface - $200 -$600
Acoustic treatment - $400 - $600
Various accessories like headphones, cables, mic stands - $300 -$500
Professional Demo $1500 - $2500
Connectivity like Source Connect or ipDTL - $450 - $600 per year
Website Development - $500-$1500
Webhosting - $200 - $400 per year
Casting sites - up to $500 each for basic
VO booth - from using your walk-in closet to up to $13,000 for an isolated prefabricated solution
The Golden Rule - Have a financial reserve to sustain you.
This next part is extremely important. Remember that costs can add up quickly. Couple this with the time it takes to start landing work and earning income, and you can see how it might take a while to turn an actual profit. It’s a good idea to have some money saved up ahead of time. You really want to avoid going in debt if you can help it. It’s going to take a while to see a return on your investment. Consider other forms of revenue while you’re building your business and - make sure to have a plan for health insurance during this time as well.
Reality Check: Expect to invest $5000 to $7000 and upwards to turn Pro. It’s best to have an independent revenue stream while starting your VO career. Typical business plans don’t reflect actual profit until after 5 years (and sometimes more) of being in business. Expect your VO business to be the same.
Begin with the end in mind
It might seem as if I’m asking you to be overly cautious here. It’s important to know exactly what you will be getting yourself into. Do your due diligence and learn as much as you can prior to investing a lot of money to start. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about the voice-over industry from careful research, books, and attending a conference. Understanding the finical requirements ahead of time will help keep you from going into debt and potentially halting your progress. If you are smart about how you prepare and understand how to navigate the voiceover waters, you are more likely to persevere and find success.
Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.