I’m often asked, “What are the odds of ‘making it’ in voiceover?”
The truth be told: you can have all the talent in the world, but it’ll die on the vine without drive and momentum. How and where you promote yourself matters as well.
Certainly, passion and instincts account for a great deal, but neither will get you anywhere unless you dedicate yourself to keeping your skills sharp, while relentlessly pursuing the work. It’s there to be had.
So, let’s assume you have a work ethic that won’t quit, and everyone says you have a remarkable voice. That’s as good a place to begin as any.
I say ‘begin’ because I honestly believe, as did my former Improv/acting coach (and mentor), Paul Sills, everyone has talent. However, we’re all at varying degrees of preparedness and development. But talent, like any muscle, demands continued use and development, or it will atrophy. While skill, on the other hand, can and should be taught. However, both require continued application to remain sharp and useful.
Additionally, whatever you repeatedly do, wherever you focus your attention will ultimately become your greatest skills and assets. So, exposing yourself to a variety of disciplines is essential as a budding talent.
Problem is, we often fool ourselves, after taking a class or two, that we’ve mastered the form, or we’ve done enough. Or, just as bad—we’re no good at it. You may have had some exposure to the genre or style, but it falls to you to continue to develop with further practice and exposure. You’d think it could go without saying, but trying something only a handful of times doesn’t necessarily determine a skill or define you as a talent.
Case in point: most of us have been raised on TV. We’ve spent years becoming fully invested in sitcoms, daytime dramas, commercials and commercial styles. We recognize them for the genres they are, and they’re usually familiar to us, but auditioning and getting cast in them challenges our perceptions of the medium and of our selves within the given context.
You may audition for a commercial and feel like a cat in a dog suit during the process. The whole experience seems strange. You struggle with what is it they want from you, but not because you’ve never seen a commercial or you’ve never auditioned before.
A month passes, the spot airs and the concept that eluded you during the auditioning process suddenly zooms into focus. Why didn’t they tell you that at the audition? You would have done that! Why didn’t they direct you to do that? Now you suddenly see yourself within this reality, this genre, this performance style and why you were even called to audition for the piece. You would have killed on that thing… had you known all that in advance.
The truth is you got all the same info the talent who booked the job received. The difference may simply lie in how the talent who landed the job saw them self, they came to play and ultimately embodied the project, concept and all.
How we see ourselves and the genre we’re attempting to tackle determines much of the outcome: a successful audition, a remarkable callback, a long shot booking, and ultimately how successful the final production plays out. Each aspect challenges and often changes us as actors. Each require we grapple with familiarity versus unchartered territory. Each require calculated risk. Each determine a body of work that ultimately creates a career. It never goes away.
So again, the question begs: Can talent be taught? I wouldn’t rule it out.
Talent can give you confidence when experience is lacking. Skill and technique are what sustain us when the floor falls out from under us during the production, as it almost inevitably does on nearly every project—for you or possibly those you’re working with, requiring you to be sharp, prepared and reliable. After all, this is a team sport, this acting business.
But just because you don’t have an immediate intuitive response to a performance, genre, scene, take, character, or type, doesn’t mean you never will. How you see the story, the style, the format and your self within that context all that play a part in the outcome.
So expose yourself to the styles you honestly intend to master. Be relentless about it. It’s your job.
And consider this: if you’re only on mic 10 to 15 minutes a week during in a workshop—that hardly gives you enough opportunity to work your performance muscle enough to properly develop it.
Remember that old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice”? If you were taking piano lessons instead of voiceover, it would take a decade or more to get there if the only amount of time and attention you honestly dedicated toward developing and mastering your talents was 20 minutes a week, if that.
Granted taking workshops and participating in work out groups certainly helps develop a sense of community. They can feed your perceptions regarding voiceover as a subject, but keep in mind those perceptions may end up being merely assumptions, rather than true insights. Insights may or may not work to your advantage down the line.
Training is a double-edged sword, but a necessary bullet we all must bite. All talent benefit from private instruction to sort out your specific assets, what’s specifically your best course of action offered from a seasoned coach/career counselor who thoroughly understand the industry, what makes you valuable. This is how you build your brand as a professional.
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