Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.
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So, you want to be a Voiceover Artist?

Posted by MikeCooper on February 21, 2009

I can’t say I blame you. The hours are good, the money’s great and, if you like the sound of your own voice (who doesn’t?) then what could be better than being paid to talk?! Best of all, you need no formal qualifications, so anyone can do it! All you need is somewhere to record, a bit of kit and a website, before you go right ahead and nail a sign over your door marked “Voiceover Artist – Enquire Within…”

Before we get carried away, let me point out to anyone who’s missed where I’m going with this, that I’m joking. Well, mostly. The truth is that the hours are good, and based on an hourly rate the money could be seen as amazing, but only if you’re working regularly. £200 ($300) or more per hour is, to most people’s way of looking at it, a pretty good hourly rate – and it certainly compares favourably to minimum wage.

But permit me to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, if I may? What if you’re only working two hours a week? Or one? Or if you only get one voiceover job a month? Many people who go out and buy microphones, sound editing software and mixing desks will never book a job. I can’t give you empirical evidence of this, of course, but having heard some of the people on some of the voice directory websites, I’d be surprised if I was wrong in my assertion.

If you’re faint of heart (or weak in the head), then I suggest you stop reading at this point, because I’m not going to be Mr Nice Guy for the rest of this post. I’m going to challenge all of your fluffy notions about the ease of getting into this business we call “Voice”.

First up, the failure rate is very high. I’m not trying to scare you, but lots of people never make it. Period. Sorry to disappoint. 

There are plenty of people out there who have been told they have a “great voice” or that they “should do voiceovers” (do you recognise yourself in this category?) More often than not, they’re told this by people who haven’t the first clue about it and who know nothing about how the business works. If these people tried to give any other sort of career advice, the person on the receiving end would probably either laugh politely, or politely suggest that they mind their own business. The truth is, we all like to be flattered

What’s that? You do have a great voice? Seriously? Congratulations – you’ve just qualified to join the competition! But “competition” is the keyword here, and having a nice-sounding voice is only one part of the puzzle. Do you have the talent to back it up?

If you’re reading this because you want to get into voiceovers and you’ve never, so far, recorded anything and played it back to a jury of your peers for them to critique it, then now would be a really good time. Actually, before you play it to anyone else you’re going to want to critique it yourself. Channel your inner Simon Cowell before you go auditioning for anyone else’s Sharon Osbourne… Take a piece of prose (or poetry), a piece of print copy from a magazine, or whatever gets your juices going, and read it aloud into whatever sound recording device you have to hand – the built-in microphone on your laptop, or that old cassette recorder in the cupboard will do just fine for the purposes of this exercise.

What do you hear when you listen back? Are you ready for Prime Time just yet?

How’s the delivery? Does it keep you interested and hold your attention? (If it doesn’t hold yours then the chances of it holding anyone else’s are negligible at this stage.) If it’s not holding your attention then there are plenty of reasons why that might be (which are probably worthy of another post) but the key thing is to recognise that there’s something missing and accept that you’re going to need some sort of training to put it right. You’re going to want to do this before you start buying any fancy kit, and before you begin touting for business, too. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression, right? The last thing you want to do is approach an agent, a producer or a potential client with anything other than your best foot forward.

Still reading? Phew, that’s a relief. I thought I’d lost you back there when I was laying out the cold, hard facts (most people don’t like that bit).

If you’re going to do this, you need to get serious about it and treat it like you would any other career option. We can’t all be astronauts, or pop singers, after all, so once you’ve practised a little and got some input from others, you’re going to need to be honest about the level of your talent and whether you think you can cut it in the big, wide world. As a marker for comparison, Google something like “British voiceover artist”, or “voiceover artist Los Angeles” or “female voice actor”, or whatever is most appropriate for you, and visit a few people’s websites. Look at the credits and client list to make sure you’ve got someone who’s making a living at it (anyone can have a website, remember?) and then listen to some of their audio samples. There’ll be a gulf in the technical quality compared to your own ad hoc recording (hopefully), but could you seriously imagine yourself delivering copy with the same degree of passion, zest, believability, or whatever other adjectives you can find to ascribe to the talent you’re listening to? Have you got it in you? Is it just waiting to be released? Or are you being unrealistic?

Hard lessons again, I’m afraid. But this post is an exercise in sorting out the wheat from the chaff, and I make no apologies for that. If I can save just one person the (considerable) time and expense of barking up the wrong tree, then I think that’s a good thing, and something that that person might even (reluctantly) thank me for before they move on to find their real inner passion. (I believe unquestioningly that we’ve all got something we’re really good at, by the way – it’s just sometimes a hard lesson to learn that it’s not necessarily the first thing you thought of.)

You’re still reading. Well done! Made of stronger stuff, eh? So, you’ve got the voice, you feel you have the talent – or the potential to harness and refine it – what next? Well, like I said, the voice is only one part of the puzzle. This is a business, after all, and you’re going to need to treat it like one. Next time I’m going to look at what might stop you (you with the talent and all) from making a living in voiceovers. It’ll be less Boot Camp-y (promise) but I’ll start to get you to think a little about application – and what your goals are, now you’ve decided you’re in…


6 Responses to “So, you want to be a Voiceover Artist?”

  1. Trish said

    Good stuff Mike – this certainly tells it like it is. And it’s a tough climate out there these days -even for us ‘gobs’ who’ve been round the block a few times!

  2. Great to “hear it like it is”. Made me take a look at where I’m going (or not) with all this.


  3. mikecooper said

    Hey Tim! Don’t let me put you off, really. I just want people to look properly before they jump in! Thanks for visiting and for your comments. And thanks, Trish – always good to have the input of a seasoned professional!

  4. No, far from it Mike. It’s made me a little more realistic, and grateful for the current “niches” I’m pursuing (Sci-Fi and Self-Help Audiobook narration).

    I’ve realised a) That I don’t have the “push” to compete at a higher level (I’m not driven or competitive – never have been) and b) I can’t just “Turn it on” (i.e. suddenly sound “bubbly” or “exited” as directed), and be convincing (AFAIK!)

  5. mikecooper said

    Hey, nothing wrong with niches. Whatever works! Not everyone can be – or would want to be – the next Don LaFontaine, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Do you have a website, Tim? I’d love to take a listen!

  6. http://timetravelershow.com/2007/04/29/show-notes-tts-17-hg-wells/

    Thanks Mike.

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