The voice you hear when you call your bank before they put you through to an operator, the voice you hear on television adverts, the voice that reads out your audiobook. People actually pay for these professional voices and it’s called voice over work.
If you are looking for a new career then maybe the future lies with using your voice. This doesn’t mean that you have to try and impress Tom Jones with your warbling, but it does mean that you could do something completely different.
Companies all over the world look for people to carry out their voice over work and who is going to do it for them? You. That’s who (well only if you want to, of course).
Yet, some people enter this industry with completely the wrong idea about what it involves. Therefore, we want to prepare you for some cold, hard truths. Pro tip: always have a comfortable chair ready when getting prepared for shocking truths.
A great voice is not enough
Lots of people have made a wonderful career out of having a great, versatile voice. Mel Blanc. Dan Castellaneta. Mike Judge. Nancy Cartwright. The guy that did Mr Blobby’s voice. Each of them is a hero to our ears but you probably wouldn’t recognise any of them if you bumped into them in the street.
Yet, a fantastic voice alone is not enough to forge a career in this industry. Even if you have a voice like dark chocolate melting over velvet sheets of vanilla ice cream you won’t have people falling over themselves to get in touch with you.
You also need to understand the – yawn! – business side of things. Even if you hate the idea of marketing yourself and all of that stuff, it is simply impossible to get a good career in voice acting without this.
With a bit of luck, you will end up enjoying the business aspect of this career, or at least seeing it as a necessary evil that you can handle.
It’s a cut-throat world
Do you imagine that the world of voice acting is all about people slapping your back and David Attenborough offering you scones and clotted cream for brunch? This sounds great but the harsh truth is that this is a tough business that can be very hard work.
Perhaps the story of Adriana Caselotti should prove to be a cautionary tale for us in this respect. You might never have heard of her before but you have definitely heard her voice.
Adriana was widely regarded as the world’s first famous female voice over star. She be-friended some small, simple-minded mine-workers before falling foul of a strange medical condition. Yes, she was the voice of Snow White in the classic Disney version.
The sad aspect of this story is not just that she was paid a relative pittance for this iconic role ($970). She also had a clause in her contract with Disney that prohibited her from taking on other acting work, to maintain the illusion of Snow White among viewers. This meant that her career was pretty much over as soon as the – spoiler alert! – Prince fell in love with Snow White.
This is obviously an extreme example of the hazards to avoid but it is clear that it is a jungle out there in this very competitive marketplace. It is now pretty easy and affordable for anyone to set up a home studio, meaning that more people than ever before are giving this interesting career a try. Therefore, you need to work hard to stay ahead of the competition.
The best voices aren’t always the winners
It is easy to think that the best voices always end up as winners. If you have an unusual voice that grabs attention then it seems sensible to assume that people will pay to have this instantly recognisable sound associated with their brand.
Yet, many companies now look for “normal” voices these days. This means that sounding natural can be your greatest advantage. If you have a voice like Louis Armstrong gargling sand or like Bette Midler on helium then this might not be the advantage you believe it to be.
On the other hand, if your voice emanates trustworthiness and security then people will probably be interested in your services.
Certain accents also have certain connotations which might be the deciding factor on winning or losing a job.
This Welsh accent is often associated with warm and friendly feelings.
Setting the right rate can be tough
Ah, the comfortable life of a millionaire UK voice artist awaits once you get some regular work. Specially prepared lozenges from the rare honey of Mongolian killer bees will keep your voice in tip-top condition while your personal assistant massages your throat and Quentin Tarantino waves blank cheques at you. That clotted cream might even finally make an appearance, right?
Well, yeah, that might happen. However, voice acting isn’t the gateway to fame and fortune that you may think it is. Also, I’m not sure that Mongolian killer bees even exist. Sorry.
Instead, this can be an enjoyable career that brings you a decent level of income while you do something that you love. The secret to doing this well is in setting your rates at the right level.
Voice artists are generally free to set their own rate and if the client likes them enough they will pay for them. But with so much competition the truth is that very few voice actors make it far enough to earn fortunes. The most effective strategy is to charge rates that allow you to earn enough for a good lifestyle and have some fun when you walk away from the microphone.
If you approach voice acting in the right way then it could be the best move that you ever make. Just don’t place unrealistic expectations on what you do and you stand far less chance of being disappointed.
If you are interested in becoming a voice over actor or simply want to learn more industry secrets from an experienced professional then check out our monthly Voice Over Workshops.