How to start a voice over career in 2021: a definitive guide
"It's not easy but it's not rocket science either. If you have the time and energy, dedication and desire then you can start a voiceover career. Read on....." - Guy Michaels, Director of Voiceover Kickstart
Start Your Voice Acting Career Today
Do you want to know how to start a voice over career? Perhaps you have been voicing for a while but just not getting enough voiceover work to feel confident to call it a ‘voiceover career’ – maybe it feels more like a hobby?
- Put your purse (or wallet) away
- What qualifications do you need to become a voice actor?
- The skills of a voiceover artist VIDEO
- Voiceover artists needed
- How do I improve my voiceover skills?
- How can Voiceover Kickstart help?
- What does a voiceover artist actually do each day? VIDEO
- What tools do I need to be a successful voiceover artist?
- What about voiceover demos or voicereels?
- Websites for Voiceover Artists
- Recording equipment for voiceover artists
- Recommended hardware for recording voiceover
- Recording software for voiceover work
- Recommended software for recording, editing and processing voiceover
- How do I find voiceover work?
- Next steps to start a voice over career
Find your feet in this exciting but competitive world!
Put your purse (or wallet) away
As a freelancer working in voiceover, remember you are your own ‘Head of Finance’. So don’t be tempted to simply spend money on courses, coaches, equipment, subscriptions or anything until you feel ready. And yes I include my stuff in that. Like a passive gym membership, there is simply no point in becoming a member of any organization unless you are prepared to get as much out of that investment as possible. The same goes for voiceover coaches. Of course, any business requires investment but the biggest investment you will ever make is your time. Besides, as you can see from my free voiceover programme, the script library, the podcast and more, lots of my guidance is freely available. If you want to take your career to the next level and become a full member we are not going to stop you….but do have a word with your ‘Head of Finance’ first!
What qualifications do you need to become a voice actor?
None. Yes that is the simple answer. It’s more about what skills you need. What skills do you already have and what do you need to develop?
It’s a process of identifying your strengths and weaknesses.
The Skills of a Voiceover Artist
Here’s an extract from the free programme on the essential and desirable skills of a professional voice actor:
Voiceover artists needed!
If you were to see an advert declaring ‘voiceover artists or voice actors needed’, would you be confident to apply right now? A 21st-century voiceover career demands a balance of skills in all of the three areas above. You’ll need to be skilled in all three areas to survive, and committed to a professional development plan in all three areas to thrive.
Great voice but weak on marketing?
‘Got business savvy’ but technically challenged?
Love the tech side of VO but not feeling fully in control of your voice?
No matter how you feel reading this, the encouraging thing is that all of these skills can be learnt and developed. With professional guidance you can accelerate this learning and save time and money, pushing your voiceover career to the next level.
How do I improve my voiceover skills?
Nothing beats time spent reading out loud, every day perhaps for just 15 minutes. Take any and every opportunity. Also, ‘listen’. Seek out voiceover performances (commercials, audiobooks etc) and really listen. What are they doing? Can you mimic or model? In time you’ll find your own style but being aware of voiceover all around you and focusing on developing your ears in tandem with your mouth is essential.
Choose some scripts from our voiceover script library to practice with.
Stretch yourself with increasingly difficult tongue twisters.
Record yourself and playback. You don’t need professional voiceover recording equipment for this, your phone, tablet or computer will have a built-in recording app.
There’s lots to learn so that you can achieve really decent results when recording voiceover from home.
Try not to be daunted by the technical side of voiceover. Many Voiceover Kickstart members who didn’t know a thing about microphones, interfaces etc are now experts at running their own home-studio for recording voiceover work. In addition to our regular Home Studio 101 sessions, we have a section in our community for Home Studio Feedback dedicated to refining your recording quality.
Before you even purchase your recording equipment, YouTube is full of tutorials and reviews. But take care as not all advice is good advice or entirely relevant to you at your stage. You may find that you need to wade through hours of rubbish in order to learn practical technical skills that are really relevant to recording voiceover in a home-studio setting.
💡 Starting a voiceover career = starting a business.
You don’t simply become a voiceover artist overnight. Owning a microphone and knowing how to read out loud might be two of the basic requirements but there is SO MUCH MORE TO IT than that. Successful VOs balance their time and energy developing expertise across a very wide range of areas that support their business as a whole. You must do the same.
Although within our membership we have specialist advice on branding, marketing, social media, websites, productivity, launching and sustaining your voiceover business, again YouTube can be a great resource for more general advice on running a successful business.
Working with a voiceover coach
Like every industry, ‘Voiceover’ is full of ‘experts’. There is endless advice out there on microphone technique, equipment to use when recording voiceover, marketing tactics and more. The problem is this:
Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels are rammed with groups where, in the main, it is like ‘the deaf leading the deaf’ when it comes to advice on home-studio quality. At the other end of the spectrum there are the ‘seasoned pros’ who don’t want you in their ‘playpit’….yes that’s an actual thing! I remember reading a quote from a highly successful Canadian VO who stated ‘get the hell out of my playpit’. Essentially what he meant was that although he had enjoyed a very healthy career and the financial gain associated with that, YOU have no place entering the ‘VOICEOVER WORLD’. Preposterous.
My response to the majority of the old-guard of VO who moan endlessly about the ‘new way’ and the very fact that so many ‘newbies’ are entering what they regard as their world is that everyone has a beginning to their career, everyone has to start somewhere. They did not start at their current level of expertise or income. Once, they were just like you. They did not know how to start a voice over career, they learnt as they went along.
Prove them wrong and succeed in VO by having a Continuous Professional Development aspect to your business, improving your skills on a daily basis and your career year on year.
Working with a voiceover coach can sometimes help you to make better career decisions. My advice though is to be careful, at the very early stages, to not spend too much money. Instead, absorb everything you can for free first.
Often it’s better to work with a ‘voice coach’ rather than a ‘voiceover coach’. The reason being is that unless you come from a highly trained and disciplined acting background you’ll need to learn the mechanics of the voice. A voice or vocal coach can help with this. A voiceover coach on the other hand can help you with techniques at the microphone and guide you towards voiceover career success. Just be mindful again to have a chat with your Head of Finance (you) before parting with cash!
How can Voiceover Kickstart help?
Like any training body or community, Voiceover Kickstart can only give guidance. Although this article is focused on how to start a voice over career, the actions suggested both here and within our membership are yours to take. Our full members that are active in the community, keeping themselves accountable and dedicating time to professional development are making major progress. But Voiceover Kickstart or a 121 voiceover coach cannot do the hard work for you. If you want to develop your knowledge and skills across a whole variety of voiceover topics, we can help you to do this. In addition to all of the other free or low-cost resources, we also have The Recorded Voice PODCAST covering the wider world of voiceover.
What does a Voiceover Artist actually do each day?
Another extract from the free voiceover course:
Be ready with the essential tools every voice actor needs!
There are some essential tools for working as a voiceover artist these days but this does not mean that you have to spend loads of money. Voiceover Kickstart gives guidance on how to save money when launching your voiceover career.
What tools do I need to be a successful voiceover artist?
As a pro voiceover talent you’ll need to:
- Provide samples of your voice (voiceover demos)
- Create shop windows where people can hear these (website and social media channels)
- Record your voice to a decent quality for both voiceover auditions and paid voiceover work (recording gear and software)
Voiceover demos or voicereels?
In order to find voiceover work, you’ll need professionally produced voiceover demos. These contain recorded examples of your voiceover skills.
- Animation - British Female Voiceover Kickstart Ltd 1:36
- Gaming - European Male Voiceover Kickstart Ltd 1:29
- Commercial - American Female Voiceover Kickstart Ltd 0:59
- Drama and Narration - American Male Voiceover Kickstart Ltd 1:47
(please note that I produce just a small number of bespoke voicereels each year, it’s not a conveyor-belt service and I’m usually booked way in advance. If you are looking for a voiceover demo producer and want to work quickly then ask around or do a google search for ‘voiceover demo companies’)
When you’re looking to work with a Voiceover demo producer there are a number of things to take into consideration. Will you be working with them remotely or on-site in the studio? What is their experience level? How much will it cost and what help will they give you in terms of sourcing material so that you can create a voice over demo that stands out from the crowd and really truly represents you?
Try to get some recommendations so that you know that the person you’re going be spending your money with is really good at what they do. It’s really important to work with the right demo producer, someone that you click with, connect with, and having listened to their produced work you understand what kind of thing you’ll end up with.
Now if you are at the very early stages of your career and you are yet to develop your ear it can be very difficult to discern the difference between bad quality recording and truly professional recording quality. There are plenty of so-called demo producers out there who will happily produce a demo for you at low cost but remember this is a very important investment for your voice-over career so you might need to save up and wait to work with your chosen producer. You don’t need to spend thousands but you’ll probably be better off avoiding the bargain basement producers.
Websites for Voiceover Artists
It’s essential to think about how you’re going to be representing yourself online. A website created to show off your voice-over skills acts as your shop window. In a similar way to your demos, you want your website to be professional and to leave the potential clients in no doubt as to whether they should book you and pay you for your voice-over skills. Your potential clients don’t need to be experts in web design to be able to spot the difference between one you have thrown together yourself or a professional one.
The client or the potential client rather needs to feel confident in the product, in the service that they will be parting with money for. Also, a website needs to keep ‘breathing’ – it needs to be active and regularly expanded upon and updated. If your site is your shop window and you neglect to keep it alive then your shop gradually retreats down a virtual dark and lonely alley in Google. This might be something as simple as writing a short blog on a monthly basis or updating with samples from work you have recorded.
At Voiceover Kickstart we have a specific programme called Branding for Voiceovers which can help with all of this.
Recording equipment for voiceover artists
The voice-over home studio is a must. The vast majority of voice-over work worldwide has been moving to the home studio model for many years now. Since the beginning of the Covid situation, this need has further increased. You don’t need to spend thousands upon thousands to create a recording studio these days but you will need to invest some money. A voice-over artist needs to be able to record for audition purposes and also to be able to deliver the final product to the client. You can do this from the comfort of your own home. To start off with you’ll need a microphone and interface, a microphone stand, a pop filter, a pair of headphones and probably your existing computer (Mac or PC).
Let’s go through each of those items that you need to create your home studio for voice-over. There is the potential again here to needlessly spend way too much money. Advances in technology have made decent quality microphones really affordable. I’ve made some recommendations for specific voiceover recording equipment below. Microphone models used for voiceover will be subtly different from each other but not necessarily ‘better’. You need to think about your own budget, how much can you afford to spend? There are a number of different types of microphone used for voice-over and we cover this in our Home Studio 101 session.
Two very common styles of microphone used are the side-address condenser microphone which uses an XLR lead plugging into an interface or its USB equivalent which plugs directly into your computer. USB microphones are very convenient because they plug directly into your computer however I would recommend going for the XLR option which would need an interface. Although there are some very decent USB microphones released in recent years from recognised manufacturers, there certainly are advantages of going down the XLR microphone and interface route. In a nutshell, you’ll have greater control over the input of the signal and the output of the signal being recorded.
Here’s a very short extract from Day 5 on the free voiceover programme
Like with microphones, advances in technology have made it far easier to purchase an interface in recent years. In professional studios, it is not unheard of to spend perhaps $5000 or more on the module which will amplify your voice but with the likes of the Scarlet 2i2 from Focusrite or the Audient iD4 and others, you can record decent quality for under $200. Believe it or not, in the right environment you can set up a recording studio for voice-over work for around $600 in total. These interfaces convert the analogue signal (your voice) into a digital signal which can be recognised by the computer.
Recommended hardware for recording voiceover
Here are some basic hardware and software recommendations. No matter what you’ll read on voiceover forums from ‘experts’, as long as you have a decent computer already, it is perfectly possible to keep to a budget of £500/$600 to get started. This will cover the purchase of quality equipment that should last for years.
My personal recommendation for a future-proof mic that will last and do everything you need it to do: sE Electronics X1S
(the box that enables you to plug a microphone in and ‘interface’ with your computer)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo or 2i2
You’ll also need:
- an XLR to XLR microphone cable (a common 3-pin cable)
- a microphone stand
- a pair of closed-cup headphones
- a pop filter
- a decent computer/laptop that is ideally less than 5 years old and runs fast
Recording software for voiceover work
There are many options when it comes to choosing software to record voice-over. A key consideration is that unless you come from a professional music production background you’ll probably want to keep it simple.
When recording voiceover from your home studio you really don’t need the fully-fledged ‘studio in a box’ type software. So what that means, is if your interface came with a free copy of ProTools First (lite) or equivalent just throw it away. Why? Because you’ll likely waste many hours trying to work out how to use it. The big guns of audio recording software often known as Digital Audio Workstations like ProTools, Cubase, Logic and more, have so much functionality that is unnecessary for recording voice-over from a home studio. You are unlikely to ever need to emulate a vintage guitar amplifier or synthesiser and the interfaces on these types of software can be overwhelming.
You simply want to record a single mono track of your voice and do some editing and perhaps gentle processing prior to sending this off as an audition or for a completed project for a client. So keep it simple.
Another thing worth noting here is that the client will not know what software you are using so it really doesn’t matter if you are using free offerings such as Audacity or GarageBand. Other options to look at are Ocenaudio and Twisted Wave. I would recommend looking at Adobe Audition because although you have to pay through their cloud service it certainly offers very useful functionality for recording voice-over from a home studio.
Recommended software for recording, editing and processing voiceover
So if you are using one of the free options or one of the major players in pro-audio, fine, so long as you are comfortable with using it and can edit quickly.
The higher-end software such as Pro Tools, Cubase and Logic have a pretty steep learning curve because, after all, they are really designed for multitrack work (recording full bands etc). My system for recording Voiceover is powerful enough to handle a 48-piece orchestra….which is frankly ridiculous as in most cases I am only ever dealing with a single track – that of the recorded spoken word.
The free software such as Audacity or Ocenaudio are more than capable of producing quality recordings. I am not recommending Audacity though, as in my opinion it is old-fashioned and clunky and has terrible noise reduction processing, which when applied without the ‘developed ear’ can often ruin recordings.
If you can, download a trial version of various software options and get to grips with them before purchasing as everyone has their preference.
All USB microphones are rubbish.
This is quite simply not true. Some recent USB microphones are almost identical to their XLR (3 pin connector) counterparts.
I need to spend $1000 on a microphone.
No. You. Do. Not. Modern-day microphones from reputable manufacturers are capable of capturing very decent recordings of your voice in the right environment.
As mentioned in the video above, Environment and Technique are key to producing quality voiceover recordings.
Create, develop and sustain your voiceover career
You’ve nearly made it to the end of this article! Hopefully, you are now a bit wiser about how to start a voice over career. Do you still want to? Maybe it has put you off? There’s work to do but if you action as many as possible of the voiceover career tips on this page you’ll be a few steps further ahead than someone who doesn’t.
Do you really have a voice for voiceover?
Let’s not forget your number one tool. Whether you want to work as a full-time audiobook narrator, in commercial voiceover or voice acting for games you need to take care of your voice. In our membership, we’ve got a 10-part programme dedicated to just that: Vocal Care for Voiceover Artists
How do I find voiceover work?
Sorry if this is a question you have been asking and searching for the answer to. It is a very vague question! Voiceover is a gigantic industry. You must know what kind of voiceover work you are looking for. To know that, you must be aware of your natural strengths. The Voiceover Kickstart programmes and weekly recording challenges in our community (THE LOUNGE) will help you to define and understand what you are good at and what you might need to work on.
Are you a natural storyteller? Then perhaps you could be an audiobook narrator.
Do you have a professional and educated sounding voice? Maybe you should be targeting professional firms to voice their explainer videos, business narration or technical/pharmaceutical eLearning modules.
Are you brilliant at character voices? Well, have you thought about how you could work in Gaming or Animation?
So, am I a Voice Actor, Voiceover Artist, Voiceover……..what do I call myself?
Even the terminology can be confusing. You’ll see people working in this field that use various titles all pretty much meaning the same thing when it boils down to the actual job:
Finding a voice-over agent
Having a voiceover agent can be useful. But it is far from essential these days. I do not have an agent and yet work consistently. Many of my colleagues who are with a major agent might just do one really nice job every few months but they get most of the work themselves. It’s not that Voice Agents are irrelevant, it’s that their relevance to you as the Voice Artist is diminishing. They know it too. Or at least the more clued up ones do. Having a voice agent is the most passive part of your quest for work. Yes, there are some really good agents who if you are lucky enough to sign with, will be actively seeking work for you. In reality, the mid to low-level agents have the same access to work as you do as a solo voiceover artist. If you do sign with an agent, don’t then take your foot off the gas thinking that you are made and that from herein you’ll be inundated with well-paid and exciting work – that is rarely the case. Having an agent is desirable but not essential. They are an avenue to work that runs in parallel with your own very focused efforts.
Pay 2 Play
The voiceover directories. These function as a matching service between those who can provide voiceover and those who are seeking it – and these days this includes a very wide range of client types and there’s work in most sectors. Purely as a result of improved tech and connectivity, these have come to dominate the industry in recent years and although many pro VOs will turn their nose up at them, they serve a purpose. For example, an eLearning client is rarely going to go through a city-based agency coupled with an expensive studio – these P2P systems mean that clients can find you and you can work with them no matter the geographical differences. You could be in Canada, whilst the client is in South Africa – this happens all the time. As VOs we often have clients throughout the world. Pay to Play sites require you to subscribe to have full access to the work. With more and more high-street names and corporations turning to these for their VO needs it seems silly to ignore them. If you are just starting out it can be confusing; it can feel disconnected; it may even feel awkward setting rates for your VO talent. But you want to work.
Once booked, it is quite common to be asked back by the same client – then you start to build a relationship and potentially regular work. Think long-term here. You may not make a quick return but for a few hundred dollars per year it can open up thousands of dollars of opportunities – but only if you are professional and strategic. So go ahead and Google these sites, read as much as you can. Sign-up for a free profile and consider the investment. You’d probably only need 1 or 2 very small jobs to cover the subscription cost. Oh, and never pay full price as they always run offers!
This is really the golden egg or holy grail of voiceover careers in the long term. It’s all about relationships and you simply doing a fantastic job every time. If they book you once they like you, if they book you twice they love you. We need to start creating connections and building relationships. As the VO you need to do all you can to maintain that professional impression you give at every stage.
RESEARCH and TARGET
Let’s just think about one lucrative area of work and how we may approach creating these connections, building relationships and securing voiceover work. Once we’ve considered this single area we can then apply the same approach to the hundreds of other VO markets.
EXPLAINER VIDEO PRODUCTION COMPANIES
Try this in a moment: Google ‘explainer video production company UK’ (or wherever you are based). You’ll easily find a number of companies that require Voiceover on a daily basis. You want to connect with the person who books the Voiceovers. Before just diving in and ringing them with a “hello I can do your voiceovers” call, think strategically. How can you appear on their radar?
There’s a list of suggested actions below but before you do all of this make sure you have put the required effort into your branding as a professional voiceover artist. When you are contacting them and seeking work you are then giving them directions to your ‘shop window’. Everything about you, your site, your demos, how you write about yourself etc must be as perfect as it can be. Even in your early days, this will help you to feel confident when you do approach. Remember the value of any client relationship goes far beyond the single job itself. Do a great job; be indispensable.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO CREATE AND DEVELOP YOUR VOICEOVER CAREER STRAIGHT AWAY
- Read aloud each and every day. Take any opportunity you can including volunteer work such as Learning Ally
- Use our free voiceover script library to practice
- Increase your intake of water – high levels of hydration are essential for voiceover work. Every time you speak you are losing moisture.
- Learn all you can about the vocal mechanism – look after your voice.
- Enrol on an acting course and take classes in improv and take opportunities for trying your hand at real voiceover script work. We have regular script workout sessions in our membership.
- Get your tools in place: a range of voiceover demos, website, social media accounts etc
- Get organised – using a CRM (a way of notating interactions with clients/leads).
- Consider a session with a voiceover career coach to help you decide upon the next steps specific to you.
- Complete The Recorded Voice programme (it’s free) as this covers lots of business skills.
- Research voiceover directories such as Voices.com , Voice123, Bodalgo, and others…
- Download some recording software (free versions to begin with) and get your head around the basics of audio editing.
- Consider your budget for recording equipment and look at the recommendations above.
- Attend our Home Studio 101 to save time and money in these early days of your voiceover career.
- Listen. Listen to voiceover recordings and aim to develop your ear to be able to tell the difference between great and not-so-great audio.
Voiceover Kickstart doesn’t just cover how to start a voice over career, our content, resources, guidance and community are designed to Supercharge your Voiceover Career from the moment you begin with the free programme.