If you’ve been pursuing voiceover work on your own in America for the past decade or more, chances are you’ve been following a business model that concentrates almost strictly on securing work all by yourself, or DIY, by procuring jobs primarily through excessively low-paying sites like Fiverr, Upwork and a few Pay-to-Play (P2P) platforms. And while quite a few people have found this “gig work” business model to be an improvement over solely working their dead-end day jobs, most soon discover there’s a rather low financial ceiling that continues to drop significantly with every passing year (if not month).
Nevertheless, voiceover as a career, rather than a pricey side hustle or hobby, has chiefly been in the hands of actors since the onset of recorded audio. Which stands to reason considering, even today, anyone who hires you as a voiceover assumes you’re an actor, even if you don’t think of yourself as one. And, traditionally, to secure work, professional actors enlist the services and expertise of seasoned, accomplished talent agents. In fact, many working actors generally expand their employment opportunities and subsidize their careers by voicing commercials, corporate narrations, documentaries, audiobooks, training videos, tradeshows, animation, and games.
Connecting remotely with potential clients, wherever they may be, is commonly done using Zoom or one of the commonly employed professional digital patch options; so, location is less of an obstacle than ever before. Additionally, pursuing voiceover work through talent agents offers nonunion talent the added opportunity to join the American actor’s union (SAG-AFTRA), which offers greater income, significantly improved working conditions, and the ability to focus almost exclusively on your performance.
These two prominent approaches to voiceover in America today, the DIY Approach and the Actor Approach (as we refer to them here), generally pose a number of stark differences from each other. The one consistent thing they have in common, besides requiring professionally produced voiceover demos, is both approaches require that you offer professional-quality auditions recorded from your home studio.
Production clients today assume the audio quality of your auditions will ultimately be the audio quality they will come to rely on should they hire you to voice their projects. Considering a majority of the jobs you book will be remotely recorded is an imperative regardless of the approach you may follow.
Beyond that, the differences between these two methodologies to secure voiceover work vary dramatically when it comes to:
– Who your target audience truly is
– What (and how) you’re paid, and
– What you’re responsible for once hired
Production demands and budgets define some of the key differences between booking work through talent agents compared to attempting to do every aspect of the production all on your own. To add to this, pursuing voiceover work abroad compared to booking jobs solely here in the States demands you consider a number of added factors that may not prove worth the trouble for the pay. The degree of difficulty connecting with the client and the exchange rate may not be in your favor or worth your while. These elements are relative obstacles, but worth mentioning especially if you’re only just getting started in this field.
Our expertise and concentration as Actors’ SOUND ADVICE is in directing voice talent toward primarily (but not exclusively) booking commercial and corporate narration voice work here in the States. These are the two prominent genres of voiceover, regardless of the approach, and regardless of whether you are in the union or not, because collectively they define the greatest amount of voiceover work available, and potentially the most financially lucrative voice work offered in the U.S.
In fact, there’s greater demand for quality commercial and Co-Ed (i.e., corporate-educational, formerly referred to as Industrial) than any other form of voiceover work according to Variety’s recent industry analysis (November 2021). We generally suggest you first concentrate on establishing and advancing your career through commercial and corporate narration voiceover employment prior to focusing on a specialized area of voice work, such as animation or games, which may be your initial aspiration for getting into this field. Commercial and Co-Ed voiceover work are the low-hanging fruit that will most likely determine whether you have a career in this industry at all.
The DIY Voiceover Approach
Pursuing voiceover on your own, or with the DIY (Do It Yourself) Approach, ultimately demands you assume all the responsibilities of a small crew of production specialists. In fact, a good deal of the gig work to be had from Fiverr, Upwork and the various P2P platforms (that pay an average of about $100 or less per project), typically require you not only voice the job at a dramatically subpar rate, but you’re also expected to include a multitude of production services as well with this approach.
Most of these additional production services are delivered far above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, most talent on these sites perform these added tasks out of a feeling of obligation rather than out of any actual skill. Granted, there are talent who can multi-task as they may have done when they were employed in radio and broadcasting. The problem is that these added services are most often included in the measly voiceover rate primarily out of fear of losing the job, rather than out of expertise. Which is why these sites can be considered predatory, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s hard to say which is which when you’re simply trying to earn a little income while gaining experience as a voiceover.
And that’s not to say there aren’t some exceptional voiceover talent among the online platforms who can seamlessly deliver exceptional voiceover while including elevated recording, editing and overall production options. The real issue is that these individuals typically aren’t being properly compensated for their efforts and skills.
Small business owners in every industry are notorious for short-changing themselves and the inability to delegate. Perhaps these occupational hazards are more evident with freelance voice actors because so few have experience running their own business. Knowing what they’re really worth, how to craft their best possible performance as a vocal brand, when to update and train, as well as who to delegate key responsibilities to all factor into whether your small business will thrive or fail, just like every other small business.
Suffice it to say, the DIY Approach could and should be filed under USER BEWARE. Stop asking people who have never been where you’re going for directions. Instead, surround yourself with people who get it. Advisors who know more about this industry than you do even if you’ve been at it for a while.
Don’t be lulled into thinking this is the only way to get started or how to proceed in voiceover, because, while it’s clearly the most common approach today, it’s far from being the most effective or lucrative. If anything, starting your voiceover career pursuing the DIY Approach will likely become your conditioning out of sheer habit. Voice talent typically remain among the DIY ranks for years largely because it becomes the devil they know rather than it being the most successful approach to securing quality, well-paid voiceover work.
Because it’s not. Far from it. By continually settling for less as so many small business owners do, the result is often a scarcity mindset, rather than one of abundance, and that’s a deal-killer for any small business, not just voiceover. It evolves into mind-numbing frustration, random busy work, and poorly compensated work. For these reasons, and quite a few more, we strongly suggest you avoid the DIY Approach entirely, if you haven’t already come to rely on these sites to book work.
If you’ve been pursuing the work on your own and what you’ve been doing isn’t moving the dial quite like it used to and you can’t quite put your finger on what you need to change, it’s time to consult with industry experts who’ll challenge you and your current process.
You may need a broader perspective. It probably won’t be comfortable at first, but it may be necessary. Old habits die hard. Challenging learned responses is necessary and builds agility, both personally and professionally. As the saying goes, intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. If you rely solely on doing everything yourself to secure work as a voiceover, then you must know this industry is continually changing as well. Adapt or perish.
The Actor Approach to Voiceover
Prior to the DIY Approach, all voice talent were required to concentrate solely on their performance, as so many continue to do, especially with the Actors Approach to voiceover.
Pursuing voiceover by securing representation through credible talent agents in three to five markets across the country can and should be considered an entirely alternative business model especially when compared to attempting to do everything on your own.
Nevertheless, this has generally been considered a somewhat elusive approach, at least to the general public and to voice talent who’ve never effectively achieved appropriate representation in the first place—whether out of unrealistic expectations, lack of training and preparedness, or any number of misguided assumptions regarding the work versus ability.
Perhaps this is so since so many talent initially assume they can walk and talk at the same time. Or since so many mistakenly assume that simply securing representation with a single talent agency is sufficient, and then they fail to take any further responsibility for the direction of their careers beyond achieving that one, basic mission.
Obviously, (spoiler alert) there’s no one-size-fits-all, boilerplate roadmap to succeeding as a voice actor. Yet, achieving access to life-changing opportunities can only be accomplished after securing representation with a handful of seasoned agents. The protocols and expectations as to how to secure representation from credible talent agents anywhere other than the States are as varied as the available opportunities.
Again, our concentration is on securing work in America, not because there aren’t credible jobs to be had in other parts of the world, but because it’s outside our purview and expertise. Plus, the amount of work to be done here in the States alone is far and away more abundant than anywhere else in the world and pays substantially better as well.
Suffice it to say, you’re required to know and understand what’s expected of you as a professional from the start, regardless of your experience level, when you arrive on the talent agent’s doorstep. Talent agents are not managers. Generally speaking, as a voiceover, you are responsible for managing your own career. Agents should never be expected to “mold and shape you” into a professional simply because you show promise. It’s the other way around. You show promise to the agent because you manage yourself well.
That means you’re well-trained and continue to better yourself by taking classes with credible, respected sources. Just as an athlete continues to train and develop through techniques that further assist them in their development. Otherwise, like any muscle, your performance skills will atrophy and falter. It’s always assumed and expected you will continually invest in yourself, rather than complacently assume that you’re “already trained”. As if that were enough. It’s not, to be sure.
All work booked through talent agents are directed sessions, which sends a chill through voice talent accustomed to recording and editing their sessions themselves if they follow the DIY Approach. A directed session is when the client directs you in real time during the recording session, whether you’re physically in the same studio with them or connecting virtually via a digital patch (i.e., Zoom, Source Connect or ipDTL).
This doesn’t necessarily mean the client knows precisely what they want or how they expect you to color every word or phrase, and it doesn’t mean the client can easily articulate what they’re after either. But it does mean, should they give you direction during the session, they expect to hear you apply that change in the very next take or at least within a take or two. You’re expected to accommodate their direction by immediately incorporating the calibration, modification, or however you prefer to phrase it as long as you offer a viable option in your delivery.
Sadly, most talent typically sound like a broken record and repeatedly offer the same robotic delivery again and again out of mere muscle memory. When, in fact, you’re expected to offer options with each take during as few as five takes and as many as 55 or more, and not because you were miscast or doing a poor job, but because professional production clients are interested in hearing viable creative options with every take rather than a cookie-cutter read that doesn’t service the production or make you a valuable team player.
The inability to do so would only serve in poorly impacting your professional reputation. You’re expected to continually create within the context of the project, take after take after take as needed. That kind of creative precision and skill requires training. It’s not immediately intuitive, regardless of how naturally gifted you may be.
Probably the greatest benefit of securing voice work through legitimate talent agents (via the Actor Approach) is averaging of five to 55 times more income than you’d likely ever negotiate for yourself alone. And you’ll only be required to voice the project, instead of acting as the producer, casting director, copywriter, talent agent, and the recording engineer (beyond offering a digital patch and running a back-up from your home studio). Of course, you’d never be appropriately compensated for any of these additional skills while among the ranks of the DIY Approach.
Producers and casting directors typically contact your agents to audition and then hire you as a voiceover, regardless of whether you’re union or not. Leaving you to simply voice the project, not produce it. Stay in your lane. Otherwise, you’ll end up competing with the people most likely to hire you. Producers are your target audience as a voice actor.
And while there’s certainly no shame in gig work initially, transitioning from the DIY Approach to the Actor Approach can prove to be problematic especially if you can’t discern the difference between these two distinctly different business models to securing voiceover work.
It’s doubtful many voice actors consider their approach to accomplishing their career goals as a business model as such, yet achieving a profitable, living wage from your voice work almost certainly demands it.
We build our reputations in this industry with our auditions, first and foremost, regardless of your overall approach to the work, and NOT from your bookings. Yes, bookings matter, but achieving a steady flow of auditions means an ongoing stream of opportunities for you, rather than relying on the false notion you’ll work continuously after “one big break.”
Producers, casting, and talent agents look to rely on you from seeing a body of work defined by your many submissions of quality auditions over time. Certainly, you’ll eventually book work, if nothing else, out of sheer persistence. You make yourself a valued, reliable professional by turning around auditions that consistently exceed expectations.
The best audition doesn’t necessarily book the job, but rather ONE of the many wonderful auditions submitted books the job. Make it your intention to be among them with consistency. Concentrate on consistently crafting the best possible auditions, and you’ll become known for just that.
Make excellence a habit.
Copyright © 2023 by Kate McClanaghan All Rights Reserved.