It’s totally normal when you’re starting out in voiceover to seek validation, trust me I’ve been there! But it’s a debilitating and wasteful use of your time and energy.
Nobody starts out great. Let me repeat that: Nobody. Starts. Out. Great! If you think it’s possible to be born with every skill needed to do any kind of voiceover session, you’re incorrect. And skills aren’t enough, an arguably more important quality to possess is confidence.
Stop looking for validation that you’re great, because you almost definitely aren’t yet. Constantly looking for that proof is holding you back. So liberate yourself from that fruitless search!
We are not training to be doctors, this isn’t as challenging and arduous, but a combination of developed skills and confidence will be the key to you fulfilling your potential as a voice actor, and there’s very little fast-tracking when it comes to nailing both of those things.
An encouraging comment from a coach, a few likes on Facebook, a pat on the back from a client - these are all nice things to receive, but these micro doses of dopamine subside very quickly. Truly applicable lessons and sustainable confidence is forged over time by training, completing challenging projects, and overcoming the occasional faceplant.
Anyone who has coached with me is familiar with my goal oriented approach to career development in voiceover. Having an end target is key to knowing what to do today, even if that target shifts over time. But why is this the case and how will it help you?
How goals help voice actors.
Even the most free spirited road-tripper has a rough idea of their destination before they set off. Choosing places to stay, eating, budgeting, scheduling etc... all require some basic forward planning, but this needn’t restrict spontaneity and unplanned exploration. The same is true of voiceover.
It’s been said many times that voiceover is an industry of industries, and the learning curve is steep because of this. Commercial VO has little in common with animation, promo is unlike audiobooks, a MOCAP performance barely resembles IVR both stylistically and as a career path.
Avenues of education, investment (both time and money), networking, demos, auditioning… are debilitatingly innumerable. Narrowing your focus, at least at the start of your VO journey, will help you to learn faster and achieve more, even if that’s ruling out genres that don’t work for you.
Deciding on your goals.
What attracted you to voiceover in the first place? What do you enjoy in your regular life? What qualities do people compliment you on? How much time can you initially invest in VO? These are all clues that can help you hone in on one or two initial goals.
How specific should I be?
This is entirely personal. What motivates you? Is it a somewhat vague lifestyle goal, or a very specific role in a project? Maybe it's a financial goal? Any kind of end point allows us to strategically work back and create a roadmap.
These initial goals are not permanently fixed, they will simply serve as a way for you to move out of analysis paralysis and start generating momentum. They will not insulate you from pursuing something that you later discover isn’t right for you, nor is it a guarantee of success, they are a mechanism for forward motion. If you're moving forward you're doing well!
What will happen?
Your goals are likely to change as you learn more about the voiceover industry and as the industry learns about you. New paths will appear, old ones will change or vanish, this is the nature of the somewhat fickle industry that we love.
Spend some time today thinking about your goals. Write them down and pin them on the wall, keep them somewhere visible as a constant reminder of where you want to go and how far you've already come!
I'm not convinced that the standard advice for getting into this industry: training - demo - home studio - launch, is spot on these days. It's well intentioned, but it's being offered by those that succeeded and for whom it was a good match, what about the thousands of people who never progressed and lost a significant amount of money in the process?
With the many sources of free information out there (*COUGH* VO School Podcast *COUGH*), don’t be too eager to drop a wad of cash straight out of the gate.
There are of course fundamentals that you need in place to do this kind of work, much like a baker needs an oven, we need a way to record ourselves in an environment that sounds good. We also need an understanding of our own abilities and basic business principles. But much of this is free to learn, and that which isn’t shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and six months of focused study to attain. At least to get to the point where you can begin, that is.
You will learn more in your first month of auditioning and hustling, than you will in six months of conceptualized study.
Don’t get stuck in the expensive cycle of analysis paralysis, get your hands dirty, make a few mistakes, and commit to professional development when you are sure that this is worth committing to.
Conducting ourselves professionally is the surest way to ensure the smooth running of a project. Keeping communications pleasant, brief and accurate avoids confusion and unnecessary delays.
Prior to commencement of the project each party involved should be clear on the costs, timeframe for delivery and a contingency should an unforeseen delay/issue occur.
Under-promising and over-delivering is a tried and true method that is a core principal of my business.
As talent we should do all that we can to deliver the best possible product. Doing a good job behind the mic is a given, but there is more that we can bring to the table to add additional value. Researching the correct pronunciations of names, offering alternative recordings of lines, offering small pickups without extra charge, or expediting certain projects where possible, all contribute positively to a project.
Outside of union projects (which are tightly controlled), you as the talent should remain flexible in your invoicing and collections. Every company has its own vendor payment process, and respecting that is a sure way of avoiding conflict and a strained client relationship.
There are times where follow-ups and encouragement is needed, but this is rarely the result of malicious intent, so the tone should remain professional at all times.
As an important link in the chain, we can positively affect the outcome of any project that we are involved in. We should stay creative, flexible and productive as a team member. Maintaining great client relationships is an important part of a voice actors day to day life, and is a crucial component in developing a long and consistent career.
I’m going to make a bold proclamation: It’s time to let go of our propensity for cynicism, snarkiness and being overly judgemental.
But Jamie, you’re British!!!??? Let me reassure you, I’m not entirely revoking my hard earned British sarcasm or perma-overcast view on life, I am however choosing in what way and when I turn on the grumpy.
There’s very little to be gained by harshly judging others, or jealously protecting our own ego. In my experience the more I embrace positivity, the more generous I am to others, the more the world becomes a kinder and gentler place to inhabit.
Nowhere is this philosophy more aptly applied than in business, and the longer I continue on this journey in voiceover the more I find it to be the case.
Being kind to yourself, assuming the best in your clients, helping fellow talent, not making assumptions based on level of experience, union status, or societal demographic. Going the extra mile, over delivering, not being shy about offering compliments, staying humble, curious and taking a step back when needed - these make for a much more pleasant working day and will grow your reputation as someone who is great to work with.
But this is not a free pass to overlook wrongdoing or bad behaviour. If you are in a position of advantage and you see someone being taken advantage of, it is incumbent on you to use your privileged position to raise the alarm, and if necessary to intervene.
I see far too many people shy away from this because of a fear that their reputation will be negatively impacted as a result. Enabling or tolerating bad behaviour IS harming your reputation, and people notice, so you might as well do what you perceive to be, to the best of your ability, the right thing.
We all find ourselves in negative places mentally from time to time, and then behaving in a way that we may later come to regret. Forgive yourself, learn from it and strive to become a better person moving forward, it’s truly worth it.
It happens to every voice actor sooner or later, you receive an audition that you really (like, really!) want to book. But these gigs are often the hardest to snag. Why is that?
Desirable jobs tend to be desirable to a lot of people so it stands to reason that these jobs are harder to book because more people audition for them and the competition is greater. But there’s more to it than that.
Can we want it too much?
Let’s suppose you receive your dream audition - a recurring character on an animated TV show or a national TV commercial for a brand that you love. You drop everything and dive into the booth to get it recorded and sent back ASAP. You read through the specs, watch the video and search YouTube for interviews with the reference actors. You. Are. Ready!
Your level of enthusiasm could be ideal for certain genres at specific times, but in the majority of situations it’s going to count against you. The tension in your jaw, your wide-eyed manic joy, the elevated projection in your delivery, barking out the first syllable of the first word - it’s all a bit much. Especially so in 2019 when a friendly, relaxed conversational sound is in vogue.
Uh-oh, you saw how much it pays!
Or how about this situation? You recently quit your job to pursue voiceover full-time. You’ve said goodbye to commuting, office politics and an ever present boss looking over your shoulder. But what you gain in freedom, you now lack in financial security.
Now, every audition that comes your way has the potential to solve a financial problem, and when the big one comes along it can solve a whole slew of issues, so the intensity builds!
The audition, which was once an opportunity to learn, play and demonstrate your acting prowess, has become a life raft, tantalizingly bobbing on the horizon as you wave frantically from the deck of a slowly sinking ship.
So how does this impact your booking ratio? It won’t surprise you to learn that people leaving employment for self-employment often experience a drop in their bookings. This can start a downward spiral of self-doubt, desperation, stress and financial hardship.
So how do you avoid falling into these traps? You must separate the audition from the potential reward. Look at every audition as an opportunity to play, embrace creativity, and to put your unique stamp on a project, irrespective of the compensation.
Will you book them all? Absolutely not. But while you’re in the booth, the audition is enough!
When actors say that auditioning is the job, it is more than a platitude, it is the only way you will reach your potential as a voice talent and book the projects that are right for you.
I'm a British voiceover actor based in the US. I'm host of the VO School podcast and co-chair of VOcation Conference.