What is Voiceover/VO/Voice Acting?

What is Voiceover?

Well, basically it’s anytime a voice is heard without seeing a person’s lips moving in sync. There are times when a voiceover person’s job is to replace someone else’s voice and they have to end up back in sync, but mostly is being heard and not seen. Radio is the ultimate Voiceover. Voiceovers are used for radio and TV commercials, program announcements, narrations, cartoons, audio tapes, multimedia, training, telephone message services, etc. Use your imagination!

What is the voice talent’s goal and why?

Your job is to read “copy” in a natural, often conversational style-without sounding like you have the words written on a piece of paper in front of you, and to do this quickly-without a lot of preparation or direction. In many cases you are specifically selling a product. In every case you are communicating a specific message to an audience. If you are one of those people who has been told you have a nice voice and should do something with it — or if you are a DJ thinking about doing commercials on a free lance basis — or you are an actor whose agent is suggesting you make an audio demo — you may need to do some critical self-evaluation before leaping into this with credit cards a blazing.

How do you do this?

  • UNDERSTAND what you are reading! Don’t just read the words-read the MEANING!
  • SMILE! Be friendly and w-a-r-m.
  • In everything – think REAL PERSON.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN – Keep the radio on in the car, don’t mute the TV during commercials. Become observant-and critical of the things you hear.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – Learn to enjoy the sound of your voice and what you can make it do.

What the Producer expects

  • Professionalism
    • Know where you are going and don’t be late. (This refers to going to a studio of course. If you are in your home studio, you still need to know what you are doing and don’t be late in delivering!)
    • Be friendly and businesslike.
    • Do the job, exchange cards (or contact information) and then leave (or hang up the phone). Don’t hang around chatting, the producer still has work to do after you finish the voice work.
    • Take direction. Listen to the clues the producer will give you as they respond to a particular read. The bottom line is the producer is always right.
    • Be prepared to do it over again and again with slightly different interpretations.
    • Learn to ADD VALUE to your work by knowing when to embellish the words with reaction sounds, chuckles, etc.
    • If you are self directing, you need to be able to deliver clean, finished, quality checked files in the proper format and at the proper normalization.
  • Know Your Abilities
    • The more versatile you are, the more a producer can count on you to deliver. You must know your abilities. You must know yourself.
    • Practice, practice, practice.
    • Listen, listen, listen.
    • Be honest with yourself about your abilities. Your demo should reflect a true sample of your talents.
    • Take care of your voice. If you have a cold or some other problem that is affecting the way you sound, make sure the producer knows about it BEFORE the session.
  • Know your Tools and Techniques
    • Produce a high quality demo showcasing your best abilities.
    • Get your demo into the producer’s hands. They won’t know what you can do if they don’t have your demo.
    • Remind them that you are there. Send thank you notes, periodic updates and make an occasional phone call.
    • Do a great job in the studio. Show versatility, professionalism and warmth. They will remember what a pleasant experience it was to work with you. (More and more you are doing this on your own, in your own studio. You still need to do a good job! But now you need to add speed of delivery to the equation.)
    • Getting an agent and joining the union (SAG-AFTRA) are other possibilities. Neither one will guarantee that you will get work, but both have merit.

What About the Demo?

A performer’s demo is usually the first way a producer will hear what your voice sounds like. In around a minute (or even less) they should be able to gain a clear picture of your range and versatility.

A demo should contain actual samples of an actor’s BEST and MOST RECENT work. However, many people (beginners and pros alike) will put together a demo that contains some, or possibly all, “faked” spots. Beginners don’t have the samples and many pros find that over the years they become type cast in a style and must create new material to keep their demos fresh.

Some people have several different demos for different markets. If you have a good range and can do commercials, animation, promos and narrations, you may need four separate demos.

Your Demo Should Be:

  • Interesting — short — ear catching!
  • Sound professional — recorded and mixed in a studio with quality equipment, music, sound effects, possibly jingles, etc.
  • Have variety — in pacing, point-of-view, products, attitude, etc.
  • A true representation of your capabilities — and only contain the BEST of what you can do.

Why a Professionally Recorded Demo?

  • Your demo may be your only contact with a potential employer. Especially if they happen across your website – or another website where your demos may be parked. This is an area that is evolving quickly…with more and more custom auditions being delivered by computer algorithm rather than someone prescreening talent. But the traditional model does exist and even the automated sites have producers browsing and listening to generic demos.
  • You are competing with working professionals who have great demos! Yours has to sound just as good.
  • Producers listen to hundreds of demos from “would be” voice talent and they know in just the first few seconds if they want to listen further. Your demo must be of such a quality that the producer will want to listen to the whole thing. A “homemade” demo wastes their time.

Where Do You Make a Demo?

Find a professional audio recording studio that has a music and sound effects library. Do not attempt to make one at home unless you have top notch capabilities in equipment and editing experience. Look in the phone book, network, get recommendations. Post a message on social media (there a lots of voiceover groups on Facebook and LinkedIn these days) as to where to find the best studios in your home town.

How Much Should It Cost?

Hourly rates range from $85 to $150 per hour. You should figure your time in the studio (or with the producer/engineer) in chunks. Planning with the producer/engineer (an hour or less). The actual recording time (an hour, not much more than that). Then the review time (this could be done over the phone). What you don’t see is all the time the engineer/producer will spend putting your tracks together. Try to negotiate a package deal — tell them it is for a demo. Make sure materials, music drops and sound effects are included in the hourly rate or package deal. But demos produced in major markets to compete with major market talent will run over $1,000.

Also, you may have noticed the word “producer” in the previous paragraph – it’s a good idea to have a 3rd ear at the session other than yourself and the engineer – someone who can help “direct” the session. While some engineers are also voice talent, they may not be able to direct you into the variety of reads that you need to shoot for. Some voice over coaches will provide this service as well. Expect to pay around $75 per hour – more or less depending on the kind of package offered.

Duplication – The Easy Part

Well, sort of. This is another area in flux. You will definitely need MP3 demos parked on a website. But you may also decide to have CDs. Don’t get too many made at first. You need to be sure that the demo is hitting the right targets before mass duplication.

You’ve Got Your Demo Done … Now What?

It isn’t enough to have a good demo. You have to get it into the hands of the people who actually do the hiring. You need to do some marketing. In fact, you need to do a LOT of marketing and promotion to get your demo heard…including agent representation, cold calls, snail mail, e-mail, websites, networking, and volunteering.

This is where you start to work. Getting the job means pounding the pavement. Take/send your demo to advertising agency broadcast producers/creative directors, talent agents, production companies, video producers, and even directly to potential clients.

Get listed on websites – the free ones pretty much take any one, so consider how your demo will compete with other people listed on the site. The paid sites are a bit more complicated. Some are discriminating – some will take anyone with a credit card, but if you are solicited to be on a website in exchange for some of your advertising budget, do some research before handing over that credit card number. Explore their system. Is it easy to locate specific kinds of talent, or is everyone in a long alphabetized list? How much traffic does the web site get? What kinds of people are actually using the site to look for talent? Ask some of the other talent on the site how they think it’s working for them?

The pay-to-play casting sites, such as Voice123 and Voices.com are set up to automatically send you auditions that fall into your basic profile parameters. They all work a bit differently, so be sure to study the fine print to understand just what happens when you pay your fee.

Know something about the business climate by reading local trade publications/ columns/special articles. Follow-up with your contacts every couple of months, by phone or post card at least. This is a tough, competitive business and you need to learn the hustle, as well as have the talent.

Get an Agent?

While not a necessity, being represented by a voiceover agent is good for the voice artist. However, in some parts of the country “getting an agent” is easier said than done.

In many larger markets, you’ll need to be “introduced” to the agent by a producer or director. This means the agent gets your demo along with a personal letter touting your abilities. Yes, in these cases it really is whom you know! Agents in smaller markets may be more open to unsolicited demos.

Do your research to find out how each agent takes submissions. They will either have this information posted on their web sites, or they will include the information in their opening phone message. Be sure to follow the directions as explained by each agent. Not doing so will result in your demo ending up in the trash.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the presumption that you have a professionally recorded demo that will compete with the other voice over demos in your market. And a second presumption is that you can easily recreate the delivery of everything that is featured on your demo.

Market, Market, Market

A good agent will do some minimal marketing of their agency’s capabilities – not specifically your capabilities. You will be asked to provide the agent with your demos to be uploaded to the agency website.

The agent’s primary job is to respond to incoming calls for talent and negotiate compensation. They do not make calls on your behalf. You need to be actively involved in your own marketing efforts.

You can be the most talented voice over talent in your neck of the woods, but if no one actually listens to your demo, then you won’t be paying your bills off voice over work. On the other hand, you can be moderately talented and make a living doing voice-overs if the people who sign the checks have your demo in their hands.

Pick up the Phone!

One of the most effective methods of contacting people is on the telephone. “Ick! I hate to make cold calls.” Yes, don’t we all. But take a lesson from Marketing 101, pre-screen your contacts. This way the people you end up talking to will be the ones interested in your services. You don’t want to spend a lot of time or money with people who simply don’t need voice over talent.

Depending on the type of demo(s) you have, your cold call list will vary. For the sake of brevity (and we know that web site content should be brief), we’ll use a Commercial Demo as our example. Your cold call list would include Advertising Agencies, Radio and TV station production departments and Production Companies that make radio and TV spots.

Not all Ad Agencies or Production Companies produce radio and TV spots, so you need to find the groups that would most likely be in a position to actually use your services. A lot of radio and TV stations produce low-end spots that don’t pay well, but if you are just getting started and need to test your skills, this may be a good way to break in. Most large cities have local directories that include long lists of Ad Agencies and Audio/Video Production Companies. If you can’t find a specific directory of creative types, use the Yellow Pages.

Start Smiling and Dialing

The first words out of your mouth, other than a polite hello, should be to ask if the company produces radio or TV spots. If they say no, then thank them and get off the line. If they say yes, then ask for the name of the Creative Director, Producer, or Production Manager. Alternately you might ask for the name of the person who would most likely listen to voice over demos.

Verify the spelling of the person’s name and the correct mailing address. Get an e-mail address if possible for follow up. If you can, try to speak directly to the contact and let them know that you would like to send them a demo. They usually will say sure, go ahead. Think about it. This is a very subjective business, the more options they have — the happier they are!

Your Demo is Your Business Card

Your demo should be at the ready for a wide variety of marketing and networking. Send them out to your pre-screened contacts. But what about when you are not sending things electronically or sending a link to your website. Well, burn a few CD and bring them with you when you attend meetings. Have a couple stuffed under the seat of your car in case you run into someone who needs voice talent. That happens a lot more than you would think. But if you are making CD’s, you will need to create labels.

And both labels and personal websites mean that you need to either have some great graphic design skills and website creation knowledge, or pay someone to help you. And creating a graphic means that you need to have given some thought to your “branding.” Starting to sound like a lot of work, right? Well, it is.

The demand for professional voices is actually increasing as technology advances. While this article is focusing on radio and TV spots, there are more and more non-traditional uses for voice talent. Bear in mind that you need to customize your demo for the different markets, but the general approach to marketing remains the same. Figure out who is in need of your voice style (or styles) and be sure to get the right demos into their hands!

Copyright 2003-2015 by Connie Terwilliger