Some of you won’t like what I am about to reveal, but it needs to be said.
Yes, I will be the Debbie Downer of the voice over community and the rain on your parade. If you’re a seasoned VO Pro, my message should come as no surprise. But I realize that blogs like these are also read by aspiring voice over artists, and it’s about time that they should know the truth (or at least my version of it). Even if it hurts.
In times of recession, desperate people cling to desperate things. For many, a new career as a voice over artist seems to be the next best thing. Let me tell you point blank that it is not. Far from it. Yet, every day, hundreds of hopefuls plunge into the pool of voice-over talent without even knowing how to swim. Why? Because they’re holding on to ideas that have no basis in reality.
Take your pick and allow me to burst your bubble:
1. “I LOVE YOUR VOICE”
Tons of people have told you that you have a great voice. “You’d do so much better than that woman announcing the Tony Awards,” they said. And you’ve heard it so many times that you start believing it yourself. Could this be a new career; the golden key to fame and fortune?
Without realizing it, you just made mistake number one. Thinking that having a good voice is all it takes, is like saying that, in order to be a successful actor, all you need are great looks. As far as I can tell, only Tom Cruise pulled that one off.
Owning a Steinway doesn’t automatically make you a great pianist. Having a Viking range in your kitchen doesn’t make you a phenomenal chef. Having a good set of vocal chords definitely helps, but it’s a very small piece of a big puzzle. Knowing how to use that voice is a different matter!
Friends have said that you do a mean Morgan Freeman impression. In fact, they like it so much that you’re asked to perform your little trick at parties and high school reunions. It got you thinking: “Mr. Freeman must make lots of money reading a few words off a page. If he can do it, why can’t I? The world loves impersonators, right?”
Wake up, pal! We already have one Morgan Freeman. We do not need a clone. Your impression might be dead-on, but if you’re hoping to ride on the back of Freeman’s success, you’ll always be someone you’re not. Making money impersonating a celebrity could get you in all kinds of legal trouble too. More importantly, you’re betraying yourself by forsaking what makes you truly unique: your very own sound.
3. RADIO GA-GA
You read the news for a local station. The latest membership drive didn’t go so well, and all of a sudden you’re as relevant as yesterday’s paper. What’s worse: you’re out the door. Thank goodness for your radio training. You can always become a voice over artist, right? After all, it’s basically the same thing.
Next, you join one of those voice over casting sites, and you record your first audition: a paragraph from a book about bachelor cardiac surgeons, voluptuous nurses and broken hearts.
Luckily, your membership came with a free voice evaluation and your coach gave your first demo…. a firm thumbs down. What hurt you the most was the fact that she said that you sounded “like a news reader”. Wasn’t that supposed to be a good thing?
Having a radio voice is rarely a plus if you want to have success as a voice actor.
4. EASY MONEY
Even though your financial advisor warned you not to do it, you decide to tap into your nest egg and spend part of your IRA on a decent home studio and on premium memberships of voices.com, voice123.com and a few other online casting sites. If you’re gonna do something, you might as well do it right! These sites will no doubt open the door to big companies offering big bucks to have you do a 20 second commercial or a 2-minute narration. Just wait and see… A few auditions a day will make the recession fade away!
I guess no one ever told you that almost 40% of professional voice overs makes less than $25,000 per year, even after having been in the business for 10-25 years. Over one quarter of those surveyed make less than $10,000 per year. (Source: VoiceOver Insider magazine). If that’s not living large…. I don’t know what is!
Veteran voice actor Ed Victor shared that over the past four weeks, he had submitted 50 auditions on Pay to Play sites. The net result: zero jobs. Mind you: Ed is known as “The Big Gun” of the business. In my opinion, he is the cream of the crop. But even if your last name happens to be Victor, it doesn’t automatically make you a winner.
5. OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
Would you ever pick up a violin and after a few weeks of practice and no lessons, record your first CD? Of course not.
No one would walk into a sports store and get the best tennis gear money can buy, and expect to be playing Wimbledon the week after.
Now explain to me why some wannabe voice actors dig deep into their pockets and invest in top of the line equipment without any formal training or experience, expecting instant return on investment?
It takes great skill and practice to breathe life into a text, as well as technical expertise. It’s very similar to mastering a musical instrument. It usually takes many years to become an overnight success. And as we’ve seen, even respected talents find that the pickings are becoming increasingly slim. So, if you’re still thinking of pursuing a voice-over career, think again…. and then some more.
In a way, it’s like that picture on the box of your microwave dinner. It makes you hungry, but the meal usually doesn’t taste half as good as it looks. What’s even worse: it doesn’t have enough nutritional value to sustain you! Yet, millions are falling for it…. and are left hungry and feeling ripped-off.
Well, there’s your reality check. I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty. Feel free to disagree with me. After all, everything is a matter of perception. That’s why I’m really interested in your assessment of the voice over business. Is it a goldmine or a minefield?
What advice would you give to a newbie? Have you seen talented people fail? What went wrong? Have you made it against all odds? If so, what’s been the secret of your success? What voice over myths would you like to bust?