By: Carrie Olsen
From: Carrie Olsen VO
Does everyone need a voice over coach?
If you’re familiar at all with my story, you know that my voice over coach, Alyson Steel, was instrumental in my advancing so quickly in the voiceover world. I really can’t imagine how my career would have gone without her. So yes, I always recommend that aspiring voice actors work with a coach. Always.
And I’m not alone. Ask 100 successful voice actors if they’ve had coaching and I bet 99 of them will not only say yes, they will go on and on about how they wouldn’t be as successful without coaching.
That said, there are so many resources available now, that it is possible to start booking work as a voice talent without a personal voice over coach. In fact, there are a few successful voice actors who have never had any coaching at all. This is incredibly rare, but again… it’s possible.
Establishing a successful voiceover career takes time, even with a coach. If you choose to go the non-coaching route, you will need a double dose of discipline, and you will need patience, mountains worth. You’ll need to be okay with learning things the “hard way”. By hard way I mean… Trying things over and over again that don’t work, having very little success, getting frustrated, learning from your mistakes, and trying again and again until you get it right. All things that a good coach will help you avoid or at least move beyond much quicker.
I get asked frequently about how new VOs can get their feet wet without hiring a personal coach first thing. Here are some tips to point you in the right direction. None of these are in any way a substitute for working with a good coach. But you can certainly pick up and work on a few of these ideas on your own while you explore voice over and think about if voice over coaching is something you’ll want to invest in later.
Before we dive in, I’ve got a free resource you’ll want to grab. I call it my Stealthy Study Tips. These are things you can do on your own at home, work, even in the car (listening to ads on the radio, reading billboards out loud) all things that I did in the beginning and still do today!
Stealthy Study Habits
Do these everywhere to help you maintain your momentum
Okay, on to the list…
The most important thing you can do on your mission to break into voiceover is to practice and get to know your voice. To do this, pick up any kind of recording device — your iPhone, your computer’s internal mic, etc. — and just read. Billboards, magazine ads and radio/TV commercials all work great as practice scripts. Record yourself and then listen back. How did that feel? Exciting!? A little strange? Goofy? Fun!? No one has to know you are in your closet reading practice scripts to yourself all alone. Try it. Just have fun with it. No pressure.
Related article: Voiceover practice scripts: Where to find them and how to practice.
Study the pros
The most obvious aspect of voice acting is talking. But to be truly good, you also need to be a good listener. So make a point to start listening to commercials (or whatever kind of work you would like to voice). Fast-forward through TV shows to get to the ads. Change the radio station when the music comes on so you can listen to the commercials. Take note of trends or other things that you notice in the various mediums. How are TV commercials different from radio? Which spots do you relate to most and why?
Here are just a few places you can listen to other voice actors:
See where you fit in
As you’re listening to commercials, e-learning, animation, etc., pay special attention to spots that you feel you can hear yourself doing. You may feel that you know where your voice fits into the VO world, and maybe you do. But I know that for me, and for most voice actors, it took some time to really get a feel for what my “wheel house” was.
Your initial interest might not be the genre you end up working in most. Keep an open mind to other voice over options. (This is another area a good coach will come in handy later for you. A good coach will be able to guide you to the genre of voice acting you will be most likely to find success with.)
Rub shoulders with your peers
It is important for you to stay up to date on the industry, and since you don’t have a personal coach (yet), you’ll want to utilize online groups and forums as much as possible to get advice, recommendations, feedback and answers to any questions you couldn’t find through research. I recommend some voiceover communities and forums here. You might also benefit from my membership program The Voiceover Success Intensive.
Learn from the experts
I have learned so much from voiceover podcasts and books. There are great resources out there, so you should definitely take advantage of them. You can learn everything from mic technique to how to brand yourself to how to deal with agents. Some of my favorite books and podcasts are here.
Get good equipment
I’ve got a great voice over equipment guide that explains everything you’ll need to get started. From mics to software, sound treatments, invoicing solutions and more. Good equipment isn’t needed to start practicing, but it is needed to book the kind of jobs that pay well. And the good news is you don’t have to break the back to get good equipment. I recorded national radio campaigns with a $100 mic in my closet before I upgraded to more professional gear. I made tens of thousands of dollars with that $100 mic. Don’t let the equipment part of the voice acting equation stump you. Check out my list of recommendations, grab some gear and learn, grow, and update along the way.
Get a voice over demo
Even though you made it this far without a coach, this may be the step you want to drop some cash on. It will serve you very well to have a professionally produced demo to shop out to clients and agents. A good sound engineer will be able to make you sound your best, but ideally, your coach would advise you as to which spots to include on your demo, and perhaps even direct you during your demo recording session. Even the order in which the spots appear on the demo matters more than you might think.
If you’re a real DIYer, at least run your demo decisions by a group of trusted voice actors in one of the online groups or forums you joined.
*Note: There are very few situations–perhaps zero–in which I would advocate for a voiceover talent self-producing a demo. You’d have to have first been a VO coach and demo producer before becoming a voice talent for me to advise that. Especially if it’s a demo you’re planning on shopping to agents. So proceed at your own risk here!
Another word of caution: Don’t make your demo too early! I explain why in this post all about voice over demos.
Get out there!
You can always book jobs through your own marketing efforts. I booked hundreds of jobs that I landed through my personal marketing efforts before I started reaching out to agents and eventually joined the Actors Union.
But one of the fastest ways to get a lot of practice and experience fast is to join a pay-to-play site. Note which jobs you’re getting short-listed for, and when you start getting hired, note what kinds of jobs you’re booking so you can begin cultivating your voiceover brand.
Here’s a few recommended pay-to-play sites:
Do your own marketing
I mentioned using your own marketing efforts to get work. Really, this is something every voice actor should be dedicating at least some of their time to, especially in the beginning. There are many ways to reach out to potential clients. You can call up local car dealerships or other companies that you know produce their own commercials. You can call up production companies and media companies. Reach out to e-learning developers. And if you’ve got a killer demo, reach out to agents.
Agents and managers will be more interested in taking you on as a client if you are already booking work on your own. This proves to them that your voice is in demand in the marketplace and that you are willing to work hard.
Also, if you’re just interested in getting experience and are less concerned about making money, there are a lot of places where you can volunteer.
I will caution you not to make a habit of giving away your voiceover services for free. It’s one thing to volunteer for a good cause or to gain experience, but it’s another thing to do free work for a company that should be paying you because you want the job. If you feel tempted to take a job that doesn’t pay because the company doesn’t have a budget or will just find someone else, consider whether they would ever propose such an offer to their other employees. Voiceover is a fun job, but it’s still a job, and it’s still work. Aside from volunteer opportunities, you deserve to be paid for your work.
Voice over training online
Another resource I’ve created for new voice actors is my online membership. It’s called The Voice Over Success Intensive and it’s the perfect place to dip your toes into the world of voice acting. Again, not a substitute for coaching, but a perfect place to learn more about the voice over industry, ask questions, and get support along the way.
Hopefully, I’ve laid out a convincing argument for why you need a coach to be successful in this business. But if you do choose to go rogue and tackle the world of voiceover without a coach, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment to let me know you’re going to go for it so I can follow along with you. If you’re already in the middle of things, let me know how it’s going.