In most people’s thinking, being in a small padded room would not be a good thing. But to voiceover artists, such as the incomparable Mel Blanc of Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes fame, such a room is the best place on earth.
A friend of mine was one of Blanc’s daughter’s childhood friends. She told me how she once had a whole conversation with Bugs Bunny while sitting in the Blancs’ living room. She was one of the few people who would have recognized the man behind the voice known around the world.
Here’s an old American Express card ad with Mel Blanc:
I grew up in Chicago listening to Larry Lujack on WLS and probably would have never recognized him had I run into him on the street. That’s the way voiceover is: People seldom think about who is behind the microphone; they just enjoy what they hear.
Today, that’s true as ever as voiceover, like with other entertainment industries, has moved into digital. While voiceover work has existed for decades, new technologies have enabled voiceover actors to record with more quality and to do so virtually anywhere they happen to be.
Most of us probably take many voiceovers for granted: telephony (such as voice prompts and on-hold messages); animation dialogue; videogame voices; audiobook readings; corporate and training video work; dubbing work; e-learning instruction; webinar speaking; documentary film narration; radio, podcast, promo, trailer (the famous Don LaFontaine) narration, and television voicing.
This growing need for voiceover work, along with the opportunities to work from anywhere, make this profession a great and burgeoning business for voice actors.
The keys to getting started as a voiceover actor are first to find connections and second, get a demo out there.
Being a professional actor, I had always wanted to get into the voiceover world, but no one I approached for help would ever help me. That I was going to be competition seemed to be the worry. I never believed I would be, because just as every actor has a different “look,” every voiceover artist has different “sound.”
A few years ago, I was cast as the lead in a film called, “The Bill Collector,” and there I met the gifted actress, Kera O’Bryon. She happens to be one of the top voiceover talents in the nation. So I asked her if she would help me get started in voiceover, and she graciously did.
Her immediate advice was that I first needed to make a voiceover demo recording, usually in MP3 format. This demo is like an actor’s headshot for opening the doors. These demos can cost a great deal of money; however, I hit up a buddy of mine who owns his own recording studio, Gary Emory at Brightwater Digital Studios.
Once you get started, there are ways to help yourself climb the ladder. Below are five tips and tools to help the voiceover actor succeed in the digital age.
1. Home Studios
One great advantage of the new digital technologies is that you can do a lot of the work at home with your own private recording studio — no special wardrobe, no makeup. I have a little office in my basement that I converted to my home studio. I suggest getting some advice from the pros at East West Audio Body Shop, and get some great gear at Harlan Hogan’s.
2. Portable studios
When a voiceover artist travels she needs to take a portable studio with her to keep up with the voiceover work that comes in. I have Hogan’s great Port-A-Booth and have recently bought an iPad, downloaded the Twisted Wave App, and added an Apogee Digital Microphone that plugs into an iPad or iPhone directly.
I have always made back the money I invest into making my home or portable studio better. So keep on the lookout for more equipment to upgrade your rig.
3. Make voiceover friends
As in acting, it really helps to make friends in the voiceover world. I have local friends like Lisa Biggs with Voxy Ladies who I can go to if I need help or want to run an audition past her before I send it in. Sometimes when your equipment isn’t working or it’s too noisy at your home with your neighbor’s leaf blower going, you need to record somewhere else and a local voiceover friend can really help.
4. Attend voiceover conferences
There are several voiceover get-togethers that a voice artist can attend.
In this picture, I’m the one on the far right, attending That’s Voice Over in New York with my friend Lisa. On the far left is the famous Rob Paulsen, who has voiced Pinky of “Pinky and the Brain” and Carl Wheezer in “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” — just to name a few of his many voiceover gigs.
Here are some other key groups and conferences:
VO2013 in Atlanta (a newer show)
VoiceWorld in Toronto
5. Keep Training
Since my voice is my instrument, I need to be careful taking care of it. Those nasty head colds can really cost me money now.
Recently, I had to get some instruction through Edge Studio when I was hired to do some very long narration. I was finding by the fourth hour of talking my voice was beginning to wane. In this digital age, I was able to Skype with a wonderful voiceover pro who gave me great advice to save my voice in long narrations.
Voiceover artists who do Audiobooks, or other long narration, need special training so they don’t strain their voices talking over long periods of time. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation on occasion provides informative webinars on taking care of your voice. The Vocal Health and Technique Live Streamed Event (see video, below) was especially helpful. SAG also has regular voiceover training at their Don LaFontaine voiceover studio.
Update, Feb. 1, 2013: This story has been updated to include the VoiceWorld conference in Toronto.
Gary Moore grew up in Chicago and now lives in South Carolina. Gary has voiced for companies like Colonial Life, Kraft, Arby’s, Lowes, Nestle, and even major government agencies like The Port Authority of New York City.