Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

Today I’m going to jump right into the topic of this blog.

No teasers. 

No anecdotes.

No mysterious introductions.

Right now I want to take a few minutes to talk about the pitfalls of a voice-over career. Now matter how many times you’ve dreamed about becoming the next Tom Kenny or Nancy Cartwright, you should never jump into the ocean if you don’t know how to swim. Too many hopefuls are drowning, and I don’t want you to be one of them. 

Here’s what you need to know.

NUMBER ONE

Most people tend to underestimate what it takes to become a full-time, for-profit voice-over. Why is that? Because the job of a true pro is to make it sound easy, spontaneous, and seamless. The best actors distinguish themselves by their ability to fool everyone into thinking that they’re not acting. Just because it sounds easy or looks easy, doesn’t mean it IS easy. 

So, pitfall number one is underestimating the difficulty of having to be natural in an unnatural situation. It requires a special ability to sound authentic even if you don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, as well as the skill to sound sincere, conversational, and real, as someone else is putting weird words into your mouth. To be honest: most people can’t do it.

NUMBER TWO

Pitfall number two is the technical aspect of this business. The number one reason most auditions get rejected is bad audio. You may have the perfect pipes for the job, but if you’re talking into a cheap microphone with a lot of self-noise, you lack basic microphone technique, and your recording space is not isolated and acoustically treated, you’re wasting your time. 

That expensive demo you just recorded in this great recording studio is worth nothing if you have no way of producing clean and professional audio recorded in your home. 

NUMBER THREE

Let’s boil it down to one word: professionalism. It’s easy to do this as a hobby, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a voice-over professional, things get serious. That label creates expectations, and rightly so. Clients hate it when they need to hold your hand. That’s not what they’re paying you for. 

As a pro you have to know how to run a freelance business with you being the CEO, the CFO, the head of marketing, advertising, and sales. You run the bookkeeping department, and you’re the audio engineer, as well as the featured talent. Plus, if you’re online, you’re running a global business!

Too many beginners are trying to figure things out on the fly, without any preparation or training. Why on earth would they do that? It’s asking for trouble. 

NUMBER FOUR

The next pitfall is a big one: money. You’ve got to spend money to make money, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

While it is possible to get started as a VO with a simple recording set-up, please remember that you’re competing with people who have been doing this for years. These are people with a soundproof studio, a really nice microphone and preamp, and a website that attracts clients. It all adds up. On top of that, you have to stay afloat financially, while you are building your business. Your bank wants you to continue to pay your mortgage, and you do want to keep your health insurance, don’t you?

Secondly, while the cost of living goes up every year, voice-over rates have been going down at a dramatic degree. If you want to do this for a living, you can’t rely on doing the odd job here and there, unless you have a partner who can help you out, financially. You need to make sure that you have a consistent flow of projects coming your way, and that’s easier said than done – even for voice-overs. My advice: have a cash cushion that will help you stay afloat for… a few years.

Lastly, too many newbies quote or accept a job, even when they have no idea what to charge. Can you imagine a baker or a florist running her store that way? Clients love getting a bargain, but do you really want to contribute to the problem of sliding rates?

NUMBER FIVE

This is another big one: time. We live in an impatient world. Very few people experience overnight success. You can’t buy your way into a voice-over career. It needs to be earned. Slowly. The people who are at the top of their game are not the people that just started doing voice-overs. Most of them have been at it for years. 

VO is not a get rich quick – I can do this part-time scheme. The only people who can do this on the side are A-list actors who don’t depend on VO for a living. Ironically, they are the ones collecting all the awards.

Again, most people underestimate how long it may take before their voice can be the main source of revenue. For many, it will never happen. That’s not me being mean. That’s me warning you based on decades of experience, and on input from people like you. 

NUMBER SIX

Next on the list is increased competition. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only one who thinks he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression, or talk like a movie trailer man. We have plenty of those folks in our ranks, and the role of Morgan Freeman is already taken by… Morgan Freeman. 

If you don’t have a specialty or a niche, it’s going to be tough to make your mark because you’re basically redundant. Technology has made it a lot cheaper an easier to get started. You don’t need to be close to a studio to do your work. That means that every frustrated teacher, every burned-out retail clerk, and every unemployed actor (which happens to be the majority) is now your competition.

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

NUMBER SEVEN

If you want to hear a number other things you should look out for, I invite you to listen to Jamie Muffett’s VO School Podcast

You’ll find it on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and a few other platforms. Jamie is producing and hosting this podcast in collaboration with Backstage Magazine

In the latest episode, agent Erik Sheppard and I talk candidly about the many schemes you shouldn’t fall for when starting in this business. 

Please join us, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs.”

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Money Matters, Studio

24 Responses to Voice-Over Newbies: You Have Been Warned!

  1. Sean

    Listening to this is a great reality check and helps to avoid complacency..!

    Thanks 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for checking in, Sean! Complacency is a self-inflicted wound that kills careers.

    If you just read Sean’s comment and my response, check out his website: http://seangray.nl

    [Reply]

  2. Ed Helvey

    You nailed it, Paul. I’ve been watching this exact trend for a couple decades, at least, but it has been accelerating exponentially during the last decade. Being somewhat retired at this time of life (after 50+ years of a fantastic, self-employed career), I’m basically not in the competitive market for voice work, audio or video production any longer. But, declining rates are a fact of life in audio, video, voice, writing, editing, book publishing, photography, etc. Thanks to Sam Walton & Jeff Besos, we live in a Walmart – Amazon mentality world. Niemann-Marcus & Nordstroms are still in business, but only represent a tiny portion of the overall market. I believe, besides what you mentioned, committed, high-quality voice talent needs to not only focus on getting coaching but also becoming master marketers and professional salespeople if they want to maintain an edge and rank up there attracting the Niemann-Marcus & Nordstrom, high-paying type voice clients.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally agree with you, Ed. Quite often, good marketing trumps talent!

    [Reply]

  3. Allen Logue

    Thanks for the info Paul. Your comments are thoughtful and sobering.

    Before anyone begins a foray into VO (or any small business for that matter), digesting the wisdom in “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber should be a prerequisite. Germane to what you wrote, Gerber explains why 90+% of small businesses fail (people with talent/skills are too often poor at conducting business) and addresses ways to avoid becoming part of that dismal statistic.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Gerber is the author who made the distinction between working on your business and working in your business, if I’m not mistaken. I have added a link to his book to your comment, because it should be required reading for solopreneurs. Thanks, Allen!

    [Reply]

  4. Patricia Corkum

    Thanks (again) Paul – and to everyone who provided the insightful/experienced perspectives and realistic comments! Kind regards, Patricia

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My pleasure, Patricia. This topic will continue to be debated. Some believe I am overly pessimistic, and think this is my strategy to scare anyone interested in becoming a voice-over. Others feel that I’m actually challenging newcomers to be better prepared and more professional. As I said in my story, I’d rather not see people drown in this ocean that thrives on hyped up hopes and dreams.

    [Reply]

  5. monk schane-lydon

    My mentor gave me the best advice. Tenacity. Keep doing a good job and you’ll get more good jobs, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to keep working on it, and if you stick with it, keep improving and get a better and better reputation… you’ll get there.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I totally get that persistence could pay off, but of you keep on doing what you shouldn’t do, you only get better at what you’re not good at.

    [Reply]

  6. Dave Courvoisier

    Perfect advice, Paul…

    I think Erik Sheppard said it all in one of his recent “The Outspoken” episodes: (paraphrased) “It’s irresponsible for coaches to be bringing in more VO hopefuls these days.”

    Not to dash the dream, but so often “coaches” (or voice actors for whom work has dried up), DON’T say enough of what you just said, ’cause they need the coaching income!

    [trying not to get too cynical here] 🙂

    Dave Courvoisier

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I have the same urge, Dave… the urge to be a bit cynical. Let me also say that we’re lucky to have a number of stellar coaches in our community, and members of the World Voice Organization who are willing to mentor colleagues.

    Funny that you should mention Erik Sheppard’s quote. I started last week’s blog post “Calling it Quits,” with that line.

    [Reply]

  7. paMela

    A great read and a reality check for all the people who hear the w word “Voiceover” and say hey air can do that but have not a clue what ignited Akers to run a business.

    [Reply]

    paMela Reply:

    I need to read before posting because this is not exactly what I said. Darn smart phone and all its smartness …. trying to read my mind again.

    [Reply]

  8. Kevin T. Cunningham

    Truth can hurt. It can also liberate.

    “Faith are the wounds of a friend” comes to mind.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The truth will set us free!

    PS This blog is nothing but a collection of thoughts and ideas that are personal and subjective.

    [Reply]

  9. Dave Johnston

    Greetings from the heartland Paul.Once again you nailed it. All I can say about this Wow the power of awareness, save save many steps.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Dave, if we could bottle the Power of Awareness, and sell it to the masses, we’d do good business, and this planet of ours would be better off.

    [Reply]

  10. Kate Angus

    Hey Paul,

    Everything you both say in Jamie’s podcast applies to any “gig” industry in today’s world. I am a translator, as well as a voiceover talent, and I have witnessed the encroachment of machine translation, CAT tools, P2P translation sites, poor quality training offered by people making unrealistic promises — the lot. However, just to counteract some of the pessimism, I would say that in these two industries (and presumably in many others in today’s economy), if you work hard, research well, find an excellent coach, are uncompromising about the quality of your tools and working environment, and are passionate about delivering a polished final product to your client, then you can make a decent and rewarding living (and here I mean rewarding in the sense of fulfilment), even as a newbie. Everyone has to start somewhere, after all. Learn from the best, work as hard as you can and be the best you can, and you have a future in voiceover, as in any other industry. I believe there will always be a niche for quality, even in this world of “immediate turnover” and “competitive rates”. Just my two cents.

    All the best,

    Kate

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    When seasoned professionals are getting paid 50 – 60% less for the same jobs compared to five – seven years ago, it’s no longer a matter of quality. It’s a matter of the market. Telling people to get proper training, buy solid equipment, get an isolated home studio, learn how to run a freelance business like a business, have enough money and patience to make it through the first years, and to be aware of scam artists… that isn’t being pessimistic. That’s based on experience, realism, and compassion.

    [Reply]

    Kate Angus Reply:

    Paul, you are right of course, and perhaps my choice of the word “pessimism” was ill-advised. My response wasn’t meant to contradict your advice, all of which I actually agree with, and much of which I believe applies to many businesses nowadays, sadly. I was merely trying to say that not all the obstacles are insurmountable. Perhaps my view on quality is naive, but I like to think there will always be a small niche of clients who know what quality is and are willing to pay for it.
    All the best again!
    Kate

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m all for quality, Kate. I’m with you. My stories of warning are not meant to discourage people, but to encourage them to become the best they can be. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a time where good enough is good enough, and rates and standards are slipping.

  11. Paul Garner

    Another good one, Paul. Information we all need to be aware of. To paraphrase my dear mother-in-law: “This business isn’t for sissies!”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s right. Being self-employed isn’t for the faint of heart. An added problem for us is that there’s no voice-over accredited academy, and there are no universally accepted standards. Anyone can call him or herself a voice-over professional, and start advertising.

    [Reply]

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