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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Pick your poison

Posted by MikeCooper on March 4, 2009

Last time I talked a bit about the practicality of balancing a voiceover career with another job, and about one or two things to watch out for if you’re thinking of taking this up full time. This time around I’m going to get you to start thinking about what, specifically, you want out of your career in voiceovers because, as I said before, it’s a very broad church.

Here are some of the different areas of work and types of voice work that you might consider:

  • Commercials
  • TV or radio promotions (“Promos” in the trade)
  • Radio or TV announcing or presenting
  • eLearning or training projects
  • IVR (“Interactive Voice Response” – for those automated telephone systems we all love to hate)
  • Corporates / Industrials
  • Live announcing for events
  • Audiobook narrations
  • Documentaries
  • Character work
  • Spokesperson spots (“I wouldn’t dream of using anything else but Whammo!”)
  • Podcasts

…and the list goes on. Think about it: how many voices do you hear on radio and TV everyday? Once you start listening consciously, you realise just how long this list could get. Rather than trying to do everything, I’m going to suggest that you pick what you’re good at (or have the potential to be good at), and what interests you, rather than trying to do everything. When you come to make your demo, if there’s a huge variety of material – everything from the Voice of God, to cartoon characters and storytelling, via selling carpets and funeral services – there’s a good chance that your listener will be confused about what you’re really trying to offer. As virtually no one can do everything well, there’s also a very good chance that you’ll dilute the good stuff, and people are more likely to remember the dud reads than the better ones.

You might get lucky with a scattergun approach, but there’s an old maxim/cliché from the world of coaching that says “If you aim for nothing in particular, you’ll hit it every time”. There’s a fine line in my book between a cliché and a truism, so trust me when I say you need to think carefully about where you’re going to concentrate your efforts – at least until you’re having success booking jobs, at which point you may find it easier to branch out.

So, what is it that excites you from the above list? Maybe you’re a character specialist who has a dozen or more different voices chattering away in your head, eager to get out? Perhaps you love to tell stories and can keep your audience hooked as you read novels and short stories aloud… Or maybe you’re an actor who wants to be an in-vision announcer or spokesperson.

If none of the above seems to fit for you, don’t worry! For my own part, I’m pretty much a “straight” voice, and there’s plenty of work out there for those of us who aren’t Jim Carrey, thankfully. I spend much of my time as a live announcer on radio and television, I voice TV documentaries and corporate projects, eLearning and training courses, some commercials, and I’ve done a few audiobook titles for foreign learners of English. (Shameless plug: if you’re interested to see what I get up to, check out my voiceover website here – there’s a News page and even an RSS feed, if you’re that keen…) 

It might seem from this that I’ve contradicted what I said above about concentrating on one or two things but there’s a common thread: basically, I’m asked to voice a variety of projects which require a “believable, authoritative but accessible” British voice without affections or discernible accent. (We’ll have a think about how you characterise your own voice in a later post, but it won’t hurt to start thinking a little about this now, either.)

When you’re starting out, you’ll probably find it easier and more productive to concentrate on one or two things from the above list while you hone your craft and start auditioning for work. So pick them out and focus on them, rather than trying to be a Jack of all trades. It will make it easier for you to concentrate your attention; it will give you a better chance of making your first demo a good one; and it will help to define your “brand” to your potential clients.

Next time: Get your billowy kaftan ready and get set with the incense – we’re going to dare to dream…


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