Last week, I shared the story of Rick, a voice actor and producer with over 30 years of experience. In spite of his talent and time in the business, Rick isn’t doing so well. What’s even worse: he has pretty much given up hope that things will change for the better.
His story struck a chord. Colleagues reacted privately and publicly, telling me that the voice-over Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a crowded place. Is it possible to get stuck there? Of course it is, but with the right mindset, skill set, and marketing strategy, your chances at success will improve dramatically.
I asked my commentators what kind of advice they had for Rick. Here’s what they had to say.
1. DON’T DWELL ON THE PAST
“The bottom line is this: get rid of all the negativity in your life, believe in yourself, and thank the powers that be for all the good fortune in your life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow doesn’t exist, so that leaves today! Working on today is what I do very well!”
“Be in the right mindset. We can often be our own worst enemy with what we unconsciously BELIEVE to be “true,” and can sabotage our own best efforts, because deep down, we really think we don’t deserve success, or some other faulty belief that we keep living out and finding evidence to support.”
2. CHOOSE HAPPINESS OVER MONEY
“After working as a Part-time VO for 20 years, I only just went full time 3 years ago, and I am in the midst of my best year ever. I am tracking to make 30K this year. Still only a third of what I used to make as a multimedia developer. But I am much happier.
I realize I may not ever hit the “Big-Time,” but it doesn’t deter me from continuing in this industry because I am happy. I know the pitfalls, and in my opinion, they are less stressful and more rewarding than any company I worked for all my life. It’s not all peaches and cream. It’s perspective, and I appreciate honesty above all. Less surprises that way.”
3. FIND YOUR NICHE
“If you can find a mid-sized market where you can be the “only” at something, I think you can have a real shot. I entered a mid-sized market when there was no one else who sounded like me. This mattered because there were tons of women with deep, sexy voices in the Philly market.
I was a recent college grad with a high-pitched, very young sounding voice. I even had engineers say to me “We finally have someone to call to play a high school or college student!” At that time, there was a lot of character parts in radio VO, and I played the daughter, the valley girl (that was a “thing” at the time), the high school or college student, etc. I wasn’t the best voice talent, but I did have acting skills and I was essentially the “only.”
4. BE CLOSE & BE READY
“People will tell you that because of the internet, Source-Connect, ISDN, etc. you can do this from “wherever.” Don’t believe it. I mean, you can…sort of… but with limited success. I have had the success I’ve had because I can be at studios in Burbank/Los Angeles/Hollywood at the drop of a hat. It’s not because I’m better than anyone else – I’m sure I’m not.
I have a dear friend in Des Moines who works at a car dealership. He has an amazing home studio with everything you could ever need or want, and he’s a lot better than I am. He would beat me at every read. But, I book 200% more work than he does because of WHERE he is, and because opportunities come when he’s working his other job. I get auditions that need to be done in the next 4 hours and so does he. You can’t do those if you’re working another job. I get work, not because I beat guys on the read, but because I beat them to the punch.
Treat VO like a part-time job or a sideline, and that’s all it will ever be.”
5. BE OPEN & EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
“Stay up with the times. Just because you’ve been doing something for 30 years, if you’re working from an old paradigm, then perhaps you need to expand into a new way of thinking… not only with copywriting, but vocal delivery, music mix, and message.
Diversify. Don’t only focus on commercial work. How about being open to niches in narration, explainers, phone messaging, audio books, video games? The VO world has expanded so much from 30 years ago, with niches opening up that didn’t even exist before.”
“Hire other professionals to help you in areas where you’re not an expert (website building, branding, marketing, SEO, social media management, blog writing, etc.) and also coaches, to keep fresh in your vocal delivery. Hire demo producers to cut new and cutting edge demos – they seem to constantly need to be refreshed.
Get copies of your work to upload onto many different playlists on YouTube, and then keyword those to attract potential clients. These are just a few practices that can make a big difference. Outsource, where you can, and this includes housekeeping, yard maintenance, etc.”
I want to thank my colleagues for chiming in with these words of wisdom. They illustrate the final point I’d like to make:
7. DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: LEARN FROM THE BEST
As they say: “Experience is the slowest teacher,” particularly bad experience. Cut your learning curve by working with pros who are where you want to be. That way, you don’t have to make the mistakes they had to make.
Remember that even the best athletes work with coaches on a regular basis. The success of a single player is a team effort.
Surround yourself with people who support your goals, and who have the expertise to get you there.
Be patient. Be persistent. Be a Pro.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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photo credit: ota_photos Road to Success via photopin (license)
Dave Steele says
I love this article. I love the inspiration. The only thing I would add is that location SHOULD NOT be a factor.
I voice over 52 radio stations, have narrated some tv shows, done a ton of commercial work and I can hit 200k plus every year.
Don’t let geography stop you.
I worked in radio for over 20 years. One of the above statements that rings true is this… If you treat the vo job as part time, that is the reward you reap.
I really took off when I quit radio and made this a full time job. In the studio a 8am and I don’t leave until 5pm. Need me after hours? Ok. I will do that. Weekends? I will be there.
Make it a priority and you will be more successful.
Also – SO FREAKIN TRUE – Yesterday happened… Tomorrow will come… TODAY is what counts. Own it.
GREAT article Jeff. Truly inspirational.
Paul Strikwerda says
Hi Dave, it’s Paul, not Jeff… Glad you enjoyed this particular post. I guess the importance of location depends on the type of VO work you do. Voice actors in animation almost always tell me that they need to be close to LA. I -on the other hand- work for clients all over the world from my studio in Easton, Pennsylvania. In the past, studios wanted me to come in and audition in NYC. Now it has become much easier to just submit an mp3. Things are shifting.
The determining factor is: are you available when the client needs you, regardless of where you are located. That’s why those treating VO as a hobby, have such a hard time making it more than that.
Ted Mcaleer says
I’d even add one, credited to the wonderfully talented Rodger Leopardi… EWABS number 8b I think. He said in essence to cut your own path. Don’t be a lemming following a long line, find your own way, be creative and resourceful. Look for local opportunities and grow your reputation. Of course with all the Nethervoice business advice, success is what you make. Great blog Paul
Paul Strikwerda says
Thanks Ted. Roger’s advice mirrors Jeannie Stith’s words, as well as my experience. You’ve got find your own nice, without reinventing the wheel.
At the beginning of my US VO-career, someone suggested I take an accent neutralization course because it would make me more marketable in the USA. I’m so glad I never did that, because it would make me sound like every other average voice-over. Instead, I built my business on my European, neutral accent, and I’m glad I did. That’s how I carved my path.
Jonathan Hanst says
Really enjoy your blog, Paul! Thanks for doing it and putting out all the positive energy and advice.
Paul Strikwerda says
You’re very welcome, Jonathan. Thanks for taking the time to read my musings, as well as the advice of my colleagues.
Brent Abdulla says
Great blog Paul! All awesome advice. Simply suiting up and showing up is a major part of the task. Bringing an attitude of positive and upbeat enthusiasm with you is another. Having a clear, realistic and detailed vision and plan to make any goal a reality is essential. Not only in voice over, but also to living a life that is fulfilling. “If it is to be…it is up to me!”
Paul Strikwerda says
Absolutely. So many principles we apply in our business, can be applied to life in general. However, let’s remember that it’s very hard for a depressed person to dig him or herself out of a hole. I’m not saying that Rick is depressed, but I know a few colleagues who are. On a bright, sunny day, all they see is darkness. It’s obvious that these people need more than a plan for the future, and an encouraging pat on the back. But that’s a topic for a different time, and a different blog.
Craig Davis says
Not sure how long this will be up for commenting, so I will take shot. I randomly came across your interview on DirectVoice from a link on ACX about your VO history. I really appreciated your colleagues and their comments. You have a great story yourself. Best part that struck me in this article are the ‘lessons learned’ through the seven tips. I was also in the radio industry, parted ways from the industry ‘for a real job’ and came back to VO when a friend asked me to voice a training video. It’s a part time hobby, but have grown each year…oh, and increasing the revenue as well. Thanks again for sharing.
Paul Strikwerda says
You’re very welcome, Craig. Voice-Overs are the modern incarnation of an ancient tribe: the guild of storytellers. And we even get paid for opening our mouths, isn’t that something?!