“One of the primary responsibilities of a voice actor is that of a storyteller, as you have an opportunity to not only just tell the story, but also to be directly involved in how that story is told.” ~David and Stephanie Ciccarelli
Voice performers are called voice actors/actresses, voice artists, or simply voice talent. Voice acting is the art of doing voice-overs or providing character voices for various works. Voice actors are needed for voicing animated features, dubbed foreign language films, cartoons, television shows, documentaries, educational software, e-learning programs, corporate productions, commercials, public service announcements, radio dramas, audiobooks, iPad apps, self-guided walking tours, web-based training courses, Flash presentations, video games, puppet shows, and even amusement park rides.
Although the field of voice acting is growing rapidly and new opportunities abound in interactive media, voice acting is a highly competitive field requiring hard work, determination, and skill. Acting of any kind is a tough business and you must learn to accept rejection. Like regular acting, voice acting can be a difficult career to break into. Just being able to do one silly voice around the dinner table is not enough. You must have an adaptable voice and be a talented actor at the same time.
Although voice acting is perhaps less glamorous than physical acting, the expanding range of roles available can make the job less limiting. However, in some ways voice acting is more difficult than other types of acting because you can’t use facial expressions, hand gestures, or props to aid in your delivery. Sometimes you don’t even have an actor to play off of as you’ll be performing your lines in isolation – just you, the microphone, and your imagination. You will need inflection, emotion, reaction, and at times just sound effects. Voice roles may also involve singing, so musical training is a plus, although a second voice actor is sometimes cast as the character’s singing voice.
It is hard to begin a career in voice acting and very few make it big. Almost all voice-work in major productions goes to experienced actors, comedians, and other performers who do the occasional bit of voice acting to earn a little extra money in between their other roles. You may have your heart set on being a voice actor because of your love of video games or anime, but if you truly want to be a voice actor, keep your options open. Many voice actors never move beyond narrating commercials or corporate training materials. It is essential to begin your career in voice acting with a realistic view of the work you will probably be doing.
Begin with the Basics
Taking acting lessons and attaining a college degree is performance arts will be helpful, since learning the basic techniques of the acting profession can translate into voice acting roles. Aspiring voice actors should attend classes in acting that will train you to master voice mechanics and teach you dialects. In addition, a private voice coach will be able to identify what your voice type is, the kind of work you’re best suited for, and will assist you in developing your vocal range. Be sure to choose an instructor who you can relate to and feel comfortable with, and who can teach you the skills that you want to acquire.
To be a voice actor you must love language. Learn from the masters. Read Shakespeare plays aloud. Recite famous speeches. Listen to old radio shows and watch classic movies. Get inspiration from those around you, imitate the voices of popular actors, and then develop some character voices of your own. Become a people-watcher. Observe how they talk, laugh, cry, and yell at each other. Familiarize yourself with the history of television, movies, and entertainment. Become an active listener and take in all forms of entertainment: plays, musicals, TV shows, movies of every genre, video games, radio dramas, audiobooks, commercials, cartoons and anime. Be familiar with classic movie quotes, and know the archetypes of modern pop culture.
Read books, magazines, and news articles out loud on a regular basis. Write down dialogue that you enjoy and give it your own spin. Record yourself onto a computer through a good microphone. Practice reciting a monologue or reading from a script, and then play it back to hear what you sound like and take note of improvements you can make. Experiment with adjusting the qualities of your voice, its range and tones. This will help in auditions, as the director may ask you to deliver lines in different ways and as different characters. Can you make your voice sound friendly one minute and harsh the next? Can you perform with any foreign accents?
Actual “stage time” will give you real experience for your resume. Perform in school or community theater productions. Get a job as a deejay or radio announcer. Volunteer your services recording books for the blind, or reading aloud to children at the library. Start your own YouTube channel. Try any or all of the following: open mic nights, stand up comedy, puppetry, podcasting – anything that sounds fun that fits your skill set. Take on any voice jobs you can to build a portfolio, the same way other artists build a portfolio.
Breaking into the Business
Once you have knowledge of your vocal range and ability, and have successfully honed your craft, you can begin to promote your talents. Get a head shot, and create a one-page resume that focuses on acting experience and training, as well as any musical experience and training. You will need to have a variety of voices at your disposal to audition for parts. Record yourself in challenging voice roles, comprised of your original work or imitations of existing characters. Make a one- or two-minute demo tape that showcases the range of your talent and vocal versatility. Be sure that your best material is included in the first 30 seconds of your demo reel. Submit your demo reel for potential voice acting jobs. There are some websites made specifically for finding voice-over work, where you can upload your demo.
Voice acting is acting, and most of the traditional rules apply. You will need formal representation to get legitimate work. Hire an agent who has experience with voice actors. Find someone you trust and are comfortable working with, who has confidence in your abilities. Have her set you up with as many auditions as she can, even for roles that aren’t interesting or don’t pay well. Keep auditioning to stay in the casting directors’ minds, who might call you back for a different project. Some agents take a higher commission than others, but beware of so-called talent agencies that charge large fees for representation.
Finally, you may have to relocate to a city with a large voice acting industry to maximize your opportunities. If you limit yourself geographically, you limit your chances at gaining work. Los Angeles is the best location for aspiring actors of all kinds, including voice actors. Other top production companies are located Toronto, Vancouver, and New York. Additional markets include San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Denver, Austin and Dallas.
Voices.com co-founders David and Stephanie Ciccarelli share everything you need to know about getting started in voice-overs in Voice Acting For Dummies. They also have a lot of helpful tips on their blog about training your voice, marketing your talents, auditioning, performing a script, recording your demo, and getting paid. Another excellent book that’s fun to read and gives a peek into the secret world of the voice actor is Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic by Yuri Lowenthal. And finally, veteran voice-over artist Dee Bradley Baker put together a comprehensive website that is a valuable resource for aspiring voice actors: http://iwanttobeavoiceactor.com.