Steve Martin, from his memoir “Born Standing Up“
As the writer of a fairly popular blog, this is the question I get asked the most:
“How do I break into the voice-over business?”
Questions are interesting things.
One can often tell how the person asking the question thinks the world works or should work.
Questions contain spoken or unspoken assumptions that reveal a lot about someone’s beliefs and values.
Most people just answer a question without challenging those hidden assumptions (unless they’re running for president and they’re in the middle of a debate).
QUESTION THE QUESTION
A question like “How do I break into the voice-over business?” has at least three assumptions. Before I attempt to answer it, I need to know more about what is presumed.
Assumption number one: It is a business. Now, I’d be the last person to deny that, but it’s a very superficial statement that doesn’t tell me much. What I really want to know is this:
- What do you mean by business?
- What do you think is involved?
- What makes a voice-over business different from other businesses?
- How would you run such a business on a day-to-day basis?
Asking these questions does two things. First, I get to know how the other person defines “business”. If I don’t do that, it is likely that I will respond using my definition of the word, which could be very different from theirs.
Secondly, if it turns out that the person hasn’t really given it any thought or has a very unrealistic idea, I need to address that. Why? Because many newcomers will never make it -not due to a lack of talent, but because they lack a fundamental understanding of what it takes to run a for-profit business.
Just look at the many voice-over groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. People advertising themselves as professional voice talent ask all kinds of basic questions about marketing, sales, auditioning, setting rates and so on. What’s wrong with that, you ask? I’ll tell you.
If you want to set yourself up for success, you figure those things out in advance, whether you’re’ selling bread, flowers, software or your voice. Otherwise, don’t call yourself a pro.
The last point I usually make is that there is not “one” voice-over business. It’s very diversified. Some of us specialize in audio books, others in video games or animation. Some make most of their money in e-Learning. Which segment would you like to break into?
WHO ARE YOU?
Then there’s the word *I*. That’s the next assumption.
Ninety-five percent of the people asking me “How do *I* break into the voice-over business?” I do not know personally or professionally. I’ve never met them. I’ve never listened to their demos. They might not even have demos. Perhaps all they have is a dream… and I’m supposed to tell these people how to make it in the voice-over business? What I really should be asking is this:
- Who are you, and why would you even contemplate a voice-over career?
- If I don’t know anything about you, how do I even know you’re remotely talented?
- Are you trained? Do you have any experience? Do you have a business plan?
- Do you have a website, decent equipment and can you provide studio quality audio?
- Can you handle daily rejection, financial uncertainty and constant pressure to perform?
- If I were a loan officer at a bank, why would I give you any money so you could start this so-called business of yours?
All these questions might sound harsh and needlessly confrontational, but if you can’t answer them, you live in La-La land.
The truth is, a lot of people asking “How do I break into the voice-over business?” areeither only vaguely interested, they have an inflated sense of self or they want me to hand them the golden formula to instant success.
How do I know? Because when I ask people why they want to be a voice-over, they tell me:
“It seems like a fun thing to do.”
“It’s something I think I can pick up pretty quickly.”
If you’re doing it for fun, why not keep it a hobby? Just because you enjoy taking pictures, doesn’t mean you should become a professional photographer.
If you believe you’re special, I’d like to introduce you to lots of other people who think they’re the next best thing since sliced bread. How do you know you have what the market wants? Did you pay a company to research that for you, or have you been listening to friends and family?
PATIENCE BELONGS TO THE PAST
This brings me to assumption number three. The notion of breaking into something. What exactly does that mean?
Here’s what I’ve noticed.
Years ago, breaking into something simply meant: “to start doing something”. These days, the expression has gained more urgency, as in “to start having success”. It must be something of the “I want it and I want it NOW”-generation. A typical email starts:
“Paul, I’ve been auditioning for a few months without any luck. Tell me, how do I break into this business?”
“I just finished an introduction to voice-overs with company Such-and-so. How do I start getting the jobs that were promised?”
“I spent a few thousand dollars on a home studio and some demos. Agents don’t seem interested. What the heck do I do to begin making some money?”
So, what do I tell these people?
Especially in the creative field, it’s so easy to focus on the end-product and ignore the long road to get there. We see the pianist play. She seems so seamless, and part of us is tricked into believing that we too could play like that. Never mind the many years of practicing eight hours a day, the fierce competitions and all the sacrifices she made to make it to the top.
We admire the downhill skier. His rapid descent looks so gracious and effortless. We don’t even notice his flawless technique, based on years and years of being on the slopes, great coaching and a disciplined lifestyle.
We watch as the actress arrives at the Golden Globes. Her last movie was a box office sensation and we wonder what it must feel like to be her right now. It’s easy to forget how many times she failed to land a part, and how hard it was to stay afloat when no one was interested in hiring her.
We want the glory, but are we willing to pay the price?
We long for recognition, but are we ready to do the work?
We wish to break into the business -preferably yesterday- but do we know what it takes?
How about this:
Ten years of learning.
Four years of refining…
… for years of wild success.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS For more on this topic, you might enjoy my video “The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career“.
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