What are the odds of ‘making it’ as a voice actor?

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.

However, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’ll die on the vine without drive and momentum. Of course, passion and instincts account for a great deal, but neither will get you anywhere unless you dedicate yourself to sharpening your skills and you relentlessly pursue the work.

As my former Improv/acting coach (and mentor), Paul Sills, stated more than once, everyone has talent. But talent, like any muscle, must be developed and maintained. It demands continued use or it will atrophy. Skill, on the other hand, can and should be taught. Both require continued application to remain sharp and useful.

Therefore, whatever you repeatedly do, wherever you continually focus your attention will ultimately determine your greatest skills and assets. Which is why exposing yourself to a variety of disciplines is essential for all manner of talent in order to remain agile.

Problem is, we often fool ourselves, after taking a class or two at the onset of our careers, that we’ve mastered the form, skill, or technique. Or, just as bad—we’re no good at it, when we’ve barely been challenged. You may have had some exposure to a specific genre, technique, or style, but it falls to you to continue to develop your mastery through further practice and exposure. You’d think it could go without saying but trying something only a few times rarely determines a skill or innate talent. It takes repeated exposure, experience, and effort.

Case in point: most of us, at least in the States, have been exposed to mass media watching television and YouTube. We’ve spent years exposed to sitcoms, daytime dramas, commercials, and their formulaic styles. We recognize them for the archetypes they are, and they’re generally familiar to us. But, auditioning and getting cast challenges our perceptions of the medium and of our selves within that context. You may audition for a commercial and feel like a cat in a dog suit during the process. The whole experience seems foreign and strange. You struggle with what is it they want from you.

A month later the spot airs and the concept that may have initially eluded you during the audition suddenly zooms into focus. Why didn’t they tell you that when you auditioned? You would have done that! Why didn’t they direct you to do that? Now that you see the finished product on TV, you suddenly understand the reality of the spot, the premise. You immediately recognize the familiar context that eluded you when you first auditioned. Now you’re thinking 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, and they confidently 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 challenges and often changes us as actors. Each require we grapple with familiarity versus unchartered territory. Risk versus repetition. And each audition adds up to a body of work that ultimately determines your professional reputation, your mettle, and your career.

So, can talent be taught? I wouldn’t rule it out. It all depends on what you focus your attention on while developing and maintaining your skills, and how willing you are to learn new techniques to further improve your ability and your creative instincts.

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. This is a team sport, this voice acting business.

But just because you don’t have an immediate, intuitive response to a genre, take, character, or what have you, doesn’t mean you never will. Expose yourself to the styles you honestly intend to master. Be relentless about it.

Taking workshops and participating in work-out groups help develop a sense of community, but mastering proper technique training, specifically tailored to you, can only be accomplished in small groups or privately, during one-on-one sessions. It’s where the rubber hits the road, especially from coaches who thoroughly understands you, the industry, and your unique role in it.

This is literally the process to train your instincts—to make excellence second nature. So, to trust your instincts, you literally have to use them.

Copyright © 2024 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.

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