This week I decided to do something different.
Instead of telling you a story, or giving you some kind of Top Ten, I will answer three seemingly simple questions I get asked a lot.
I’ll start off with some career advice, then I’ll talk about gear, and I will finish with my most embarrassing moment in this business.
Why not save the best for last?
As a voice over coach, I work with experienced people and absolute beginners. This is what many want to know:
How do I become a top-earning voice talent?
This is actually easy to answer:
By NOT becoming a full-time voice actor.
Just look at the evidence. I’m sure you’ve seen a few lists of the best paid voice overs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are usually on those lists. They are the creators of South Park, and they wrote The Book of Mormon musical. Matt and Trey are screenwriters, producers. directors…. and they do voices for the cartoons they created.
Seth MacFarlane, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria are also on that list. All three are multi-talented multimillionaires. Hank is a stage actor, director and comedian. Seth created Family Guy and co-created American Dad. He’s a writer, a producer, actor, and singer. Shearer hosts his own weekly radio show, and stars in many movies.
In 2015, the movie Minions hit American theaters. The voices of these cute yellow fellows didn’t come from a professional voice actor, but from French animator Pierre-Louis Padang Coffi. In the Despicable Me movies, fellow director Chris Renaud voiced a few minions too.
One last exhibit.
Have you seen the list of Primetime Emmy’s Nominees For Outstanding VO Character Performance & Outstanding Narrator that just came out? On that list are people like Maya Rudolph, Leslie Odom Jr., Wanda Sykes, Angela Basset, Lupita Nyong’o, and Sir David Attenborough. Now tell me: how many of them are actual voice actors as opposed to screen actors doing VO as a side hustle?
So, if your goal is to make a ton of money doing voice overs, the sure-fire road to making a fortune does not lead to the VO studio, but to a film set, a Broadway stage, or to a comedy club. Unless your name is David Attenborough. There are exceptions, but the people for whom voice acting is just something they do on the side (among many other things), tend to be the highest earners.
My advice: get famous doing something in the entertainment industry first. Once you’re a household name, the voice over offers will start pouring in.
What equipment do you recommend for the voice over studio?
First off, even the best gear sounds crappy in a bad environment. I strongly urge you to spend most of your money on creating a semi-soundproof and acoustically treated recording space before you blow it all on a Neumann mic.
When it comes to selecting equipment, I find that a lot of people go for familiar brand names without looking any further, and they spend way too much money.
A while ago I wrote a story entitled: Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks. In it I recommend the RØDE NT1 microphone as a great starter microphone. The surprisingly excellent NEAT King Bee microphone is a more affordable alternative. Ever since NEAT separated itself from the failing mother company Gibson, they have discounted their microphones significantly.
Now, it takes a good preamp to make a microphone shine. Audient might not be the first brand you think of when it comes to voice-over gear. Yet, this British company is known throughout the recording industry for their pristine preamps. If you’re looking for a pre with top-of-the-line AD/DA converters, a monitor controller, and lots of connectivity, the iD22 is an excellent choice.
The iD22 has a little brother: the iD4. It’s a compact, robust, portable plug and play solution. At two hundred bucks, this stylish all-metal powerhouse is hard to beat in the studio and on the road.
What was the most embarrassing moment of your voice over career?
Let me preframe my answer by saying that I firmly believe that people make decisions based on the information that is available at the deciding moment. This information is always insufficient, and it is colored by many factors such as our emotions. Looking back, some of the decisions you and I have made may seem silly or stupid now, but had we known better, we would have made better choices.
Here’s one decision I came to deeply regret.
Back in 2009 I was launching my voice-over career in the United States, and I signed up for voices.com. That turned out to be a pretty good move, because straight away I started booking a handful of lucrative jobs.
A few months later, Voices held a contest called “The Ultimate Success Story,” asking their members to write a few words about how well they did using the online voice casting service. The grand prize was a $500 gift certificate to pro audio retailer Sweetwater.
I think you can guess what happened next: my glowing testimonial turned out to be the top pick. Last time I checked, it is still used for promotional purposes.
Why was winning the grand prize so embarrassing?
Well, right after claiming my reward, my luck on Voices ran out, and after a few years I started to dislike the whole Pay-to-Play model. As I wrote in my book Making Money In Your PJs:
“In 2013 I had a five-star rating, 5445 listens on voices.com (more than any other Dutch talent), and I landed a total of… (are you ready?) TEN jobs, earning me a whopping $2,740.89. God only knows how many auditions I have had to submit before being selected.
This can only mean one of two things. Either, I stink at playing the Pay-to-Play game, or I’m a talentless, misguided soul who should be doing something useful with his life.”
That year I left voices.com, and I never looked back. I no longer believe that a site like Voices benefits my career or my community. As I wrote in my article Leaving Voices.com:
“Today, I’d rather work for agents who have an incentive to send me quality leads with decent rates. There are no upfront fees. When I get paid, they get paid. When they negotiate a better deal, they make more money too. That’s only fair. I only pay when I actually get to play.”
Every now and then I still run into people who have read my prize-winning VDC endorsement. They also know of my overall disenchantment with online casting mills. And when they bring up my old testimonial, I get very uncomfortable.
It is the unfortunate price I pay for my Sweetwater shopping spree!
But don’t feel sorry for me.
I may not make as much as Trey, Matt, Hank or Harry, but I’m doing quite alright.
Paul Strikwerda, ©nethervoice
REMEMBER: The One Voice Conference USA 2020 is held from August 13 @ 6:00 pm – August 16 @ 1:00 pm. Click here to buy your ticket. A little over $187 US dollars will get you in the door, and you don’t even have to leave your house. On Saturday, August 15th at 1:00 PM EST I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called “Blogging your way to voice over success.” Join me!
photo credit: Happy Meal Minion Toys via photopin (license)
Katie mccollow says
This reminds me of Steve Martin’s answer to a kid who asked him how to be a successful banjo player- “Already be famous.” : )
Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says
Sadly, I know enough that I could have predicted that last one.
Because I’m a very slow writer, and don’t depend on it to live, I’ve had the luxury of reading blogs on self-publishing for many years now.
Kris Rusch and many of the better sites warn about the perils of giving up control of your IP – which is a condition of many contests and all traditional publishers.
Your story is all too common: for a paltry one-time sum, they get to use your words forever (if not actually forever, I’m sure it feels like that!). For that contest, a lot of writers invested a lot of time, and your entry was best – but you get no residual benefits from them using it, and they get the bonus of you being now very well known.
I see those lines in every contest submission form I check out – but I was warned by the best: nope!