“I’ve been told I have a great voice! How do I get started with voice over work?” I hear this a lot. Which prompted me to write this helpful guide. I love helping newcomers to the industry get paid to use their voice, but there’s a lot to learn and do before your first paid gig as a voice actor.
A few things before you rush into this. I know you are excited to get out there and start auditioning, but just like someone who decides they want to be a surgeon doesn’t simply rush out and start cutting people up right away (okay, sorry for the grotesque imagery!), you can’t just “jump into” being a voice actor. The better prepared you are before you head out and try your to be a voice over actor, the more successful you are going to be and the less frustrating you will find the journey.
You’re going to need proper training, equipment, resources, and yes, some natural talent to make a career as a voice actor. The great news is that even though the voice over industry is competitive, there is plenty of voice over work out there for everyone. This guide will give you a really great idea of where to start.
Things you should know before you begin reading:
- It takes money to get into this industry. Professional recording equipment, training, demos, marketing, etc. all cost money! We will look at starting out with the basics that will help get you established and then add quality as you progress.
- It takes time to launch into this industry. While voice over work is something you can do part-time, keep in mind that clients might often arrive last-minute and will often send revisions and “emergency” projects at all hours of the day.
- You will have lots of fun in this industry. Because of the range and variety of work on offer, your voice acting career will be what you make of it. There are so many different kinds of projects, from audiobooks to cartoons, to medical training videos and phone systems, you will be able to find and focus on the areas of voice over you are good at and enjoy. While it might sound like talking into a mic for a living is all fun all the time, just like any career, if you are not interested in your work as a voice actor, you will burn out quickly.
- Understand why you want to do this. By setting your goals, expectations, and motivations up front, you will be more successful. Planning small achievable goals and placing deadlines on them will make sure you stay on track, even if you only want to do voice over as a hobby instead of a full-time career.
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This article was updated in April 2021
Step 1: Set Up Your Home Studio
Having a basic studio set up means that you can start practicing and everything else will be built on this. As money starts to come in from successful voice over work you will need to invest a percentage of it into improving your studio over time. This will improve the quality of the sound and help you secure bigger and more profitable jobs.
So this is a key focus at the beginning. Ideally, learn from people you know who are already in the industry and might be willing to share some key ideas with you as you begin. But there are also countless blog posts, forums, and discussions in social media all about audio equipment and setting up a home studio. As mentioned, it makes sense to start small and reinvest the money you make into upgrading your equipment and set up. All clients, whether they are Pixar or just a guy who needs a voicemail message, expect decent audio recordings. You absolutely MUST be working towards recording in a professional recording environment with professional equipment. The bigger companies and thus better-paying jobs are NOT going to settle for less than perfection. Does this mean spending thousands of dollars? Maybe, eventually, it does, but not today.
What you’ll need to get started:
- A quiet space to record in, away from traffic noises, appliances running, kids, dogs, etc.
- Professional soundproofing materials
- XLR cable (most mics come with one)
- Firewire cable
- Recording software
Soundproofing is as important as your recording equipment!
Many voice actors ask me for feedback on their audio. On many occasions, I’ve had to tell voice actors that their audio sounds reverberant (imagine the sound of talking in a bathroom), and they proceed to tell me how much they have spent on their microphone, cables, mixer, computer, etc. They are missing the most important part of their setup – the soundproofing.
Microphones are going to pick up ANY noise or echo and amplify it. You might be in what you think is a silent environment, but your microphone works much differently than your ears! Because this is such an important topic, I went straight to the experts at Auralex. Their CEO (and former voice actor himself!), Eric Smith, was happy to share his guide to soundproofing a home voice over studio. He says: “Absorb It. Don’t Diffuse It.”
In music studios, concert halls, and certain other settings, we often use acoustical products called diffusers, which reflect and redirect ambient sound without absorbing it, but these are not appropriate for use in voice over studios because they promote room tone, which is not what voice over work requires.
Broadband absorbers are absorptive panels that affect the whole range of frequencies while bass traps are designed to primarily absorb frequencies below 250Hz. Properly chosen and implemented, these will tame your studio and make it sound fully pro.”
I have set up several home studios and here’s some advice:
- Start small, then upgrade! A walk-in closet can be used as a starting space as the clothes provide an extra layer of sound protection! But for the longer hail, clothes will NOT be enough though.
- Invest in legit soundproofing materials (not the egg crate mattress topper you get at Walmart). I recommend the Auralex Roominator kits they sell on their website. These are designed to keep your voice from bouncing back off the walls.
- Cover everything! For example, if you are using a metal mic stand to hold your script while you record, cover that baby with a piece of carpeting or something to dampen that noise because your voice will reflect off of it.
- Get your computer out of the room. Your microphone will pick up fan noise from your computer. Unless you have a solid-state drive that is completely silent, you will want to set up a monitor in your studio and run cables through your wall to a computer outside the room. You can use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control your recording software. This also cuts down on the heat of your studio. Trust me, once you get a lot of equipment in there, it heats up fast!
Choosing Your Microphone
Choosing a mic is like picking out a pair of jeans. No one can tell you which one fits your voice the best; you’ll just have to jump in and start trying some on! I suggest heading to your local music store and testing out some. A few recommendations:
- Don’t get a USB microphone. I know it is tempting because they simply plug right into your computer, but the sound quality is just not up to par with traditional mics that use an XLR cable.
- You’ll read lots of forums that say the Neumann U87 or others are the “industry standard”, but the truth is that there is no “standard” these days. Use whatever mic makes your voice sound the best!
- I recommend checking out this article for a range of mics that work best for voice over talent.
Getting the sound from your mic to your computer
Since you can’t plug in an XLR cable to your computer, you’re going to need a mixer that you can plug your mic into. This little 5 channel mixer from Behringer is a good starter. Then, you will need a firewire or thunderbolt cable to run from your mixer to your computer (I recommend firewire or ThunderBolt over USB, although USB 3.0 is a contender). What cable you need depends on the computer you are using and the audio interface you purchase.
Next, you’re going to need some recording software.
- Audacity: it’s a very simple program, and it’s free! As mentioned before, once the work starts coming in, you can upgrade to a paid package which will give you a lot of extra bells and whistles, but as you are just starting to find your voice and practice and start building up your repertoire, something like Audacity is more than enough.
As you progress, some of the other recording software options you may want to consider are:
- Twisted Wave: a very easy to use audio editor
- ProTools: this is the most expensive and most robust option on the list. I feel it’s a bit “overkill” for voice actors and really is meant for music production.
- There are many others out there. Use the one that works for you!
I recommend Adobe Audition because it’s a powerful tool that will allow you to get into some serious audio production (such as producing commercials with music beds, radio imaging, adding sound effects, and more) but is still very simple and easy to learn.
You can get into mic processors, fancy sound cards, and much more. For discussions and recommendations on gear or if you have specific questions about your home studio setup, ask our community here in our Help Center I also highly recommend the East-West Audio Body Shop show all about home studios, audio engineering, recording, and much more! You can go back and watch old episodes and catch a new one each week. It’s entertaining and educational!
Step 2: Hone Those Acting Skills!
In the world of on-camera acting, a pretty face doesn’t mean you’re the next Timothée Chalamet or Saoirse Ronan. It’s the same in the world of voice overs. Just because you have an incredible or unique voice doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a voice actor rock star. Before you invest tons of money into home studio equipment and a demo reel, head to your local theater and jump on stage!
In every voice over script you read, whether it’s for a commercial, corporate training video, audiobook, etc., you will be playing a role behind the mic. Getting into your “character” is even harder to do when you are alone, in your padded room, talking to yourself (this is why they say voice actors are crazy)!
I have worked with many people who have a great voice, and usually, one of two things happens when I hand them a script and put them behind the mic for the first time.
- They become “flat.” Suddenly, there’s zero emotion in their voice! All the sentences end on the same inflection and have this monotone, “sing-song” quality.
- They try too hard. They over-enunciate all their words and try to imitate those old-school radio announcers they grew up listening to.
This creates a completely unbelievable voice which is difficult to take seriously.
Here are some first steps you can take to prepare for your new career as a voice actor:
- Take an improv class at your local theater
- Attend an acting meetup in your area (there might even be a voice actor meetup group near you!)
- Volunteer to read to your child’s classroom
- Take some online classes – Online classes are great because you can learn at your pace and you can learn from the best voice actors and coaches in the industry no matter where you live. Our voice actor community is a great place to ask for advice when selecting a coach. Be cautious! If a coach starts asking for lots of money upfront to record a “demo”, get out. A coach should get to know you and your voice for a while before producing a professional demo. More on demos later.
- Volunteer to read for org
- Go to bunnystudio.com and start listening to other voice actors. Use the search feature to put in the keywords and parameters that you think match your voice. Find some demos you like and some that you don’t. Figure out what it is that makes you like or dislike a demo. Also, sort by “popular” so you can hear what clients are finding the most interesting.
All right, now that we have some things in place, let’s get real about finding voice over work.
Step 3: Get Some Feedback and Find Your Voice!
It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know your starting position. Voice acting is a huge industry and just because you are great at doing commercials doesn’t mean you can necessarily do animation or video game characters. It may take a number of years in the industry to figure out where your voice lands in the huge spectrum of work that is out there AND it keeps changing!
First, figure out what you like to do! Some people love doing character voices. Some just want to do commercial, announcer, or presentation style reads. Others enjoy recording phone systems (sometimes called IVR or Interactive Voice Response). Now, you should get some honest, professional feedback on your work.
There are a few options here. By now you will have already spend a lot of time practicing in the home studio you have set up. You might have even tried out for some low-level jobs and started to build your confidence that way. The practice you have already put in will put you in good stead when you find someone who is a professional at this stuff and who can listen to you and start giving you some tips and lessons.
Want to hire pro voice actors? Submit a project at Bunny Studio now!
I suggest finding a voice over coach in your area who will give you some feedback on your voice. Yes, this does cost money, but this investment is much smaller than what you have spent on setting up your home studio plus the feedback and advice you will get just on your first session is priceless. Now, if you already have some decent equipment at home you can jump behind the mic and start practicing. Remember that in this industry it really does take money to make money and so investing in a voice coach now will very likely set you on the path to much better-paying work.
You can find some practice scripts or you can listen to some of your favorite ads online and record them yourself (just don’t try to imitate the voice actor in the ad too much). It’s very hard to judge your own work, though, and your friends and family probably won’t be honest with you. I suggest posting your recordings in our community Feedback Forum to see what other voice actors think. This is a free option, and you will get honest, but constructive professional feedback. A few things to think about:
- Breathing– are your breaths distracting? Do you take big inhalations or exhalations? Do you sound like you are running out of breath mid-sentence?
- Take natural pauses– Just speak at your normal conversational pace. Unless you are voicing a monster truck ad or a fast disclaimer, most clients just want a normal speaking pace.
- Don’t fade out on the ends of your sentences– when we converse in person, we naturally fade our voices out at the end of a sentence to allow the other person a chance to talk. Don’t do this to your microphone! It will not talk back. Maintain the same volume throughout your read.
- Watch out for “P-popping”– plosive sounds are created by air hitting the mic when you say sounds like the ‘p’ or even the ‘wh’ sound. Speaking at an angle on the mic instead of directly in front will help.
- Do your warm-ups! Warm-up your voice, throat, and tongue before beginning a session. There’s a pretty cool mobile app called, “Activate Your Voice” that will coach you through proper diction, breathing, and pronunciation.
Step 4: Get Your Voice Over Demo Produced
Just like styles of music or movies, trends in voice over demos change over the years. Back in the day, people liked flashy demos with sound effects and lots of compression and EQ, but today, all those agents and potential clients want to hear is you. More than a great voice, they are listening for a great personality, and if you are covering it up with tons of effects, you will be costing yourself jobs. Different jobs will require different demos. Therefore it is better to have a selection of different demos as opposed to a “compilation” reel that has several styles on one audio file.
There are several reasons for this. The first being that if a client is looking for a voice actor to read a commercial script, they don’t need to hear your cartoon characters, narrations, etc. They just want to hear commercials. I suggest making a demo in each of the categories of work you want to do. You’ll need a separate demo for each.
Another reason is that many clients will only listen to about ten seconds of an audition or demo before moving on to the next. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. If the “good stuff” is buried 30 or 60 seconds into your demo, the potential client will probably never get to it. Our demo production expert Deb Munro recently wrote a great two-part series on this topic.
All this being said, Bunny Studio works a bit differently. You don’t have to have a “demo reel” to start getting work. All you need is a “sample” in each category. So, if you’ve done a voice over work for a local radio station or even something you’ve recorded for a friend, as long as it is HIGH-QUALITY audio you can post it to your Bunny Studio profile. You should upload a sample in each category (commercial, audiobooks, etc.) that you would like to audition for. Something to keep in mind, when a client hears your sample, they assume that you can deliver that same audio quality when they book you for a gig.
If you have a professionally recorded demo, but no way to deliver high-quality audio for the jobs you do book, there is no point in auditioning or posting those samples. I have spoken to many frustrated Bunny Studio clients who booked a voice actor based solely on their sample and were very disappointed to hear the sub-par quality in the audio that was delivered to them.
Step 5: The Fun Part: Auditioning!
You’ve got your samples, your home studio, you’ve gotten some training, and now, you’re ready to start making money with your voice. How do you find voice over work? I’m going to focus on auditioning online because that’s how I’ve gotten most of my voice over work and that’s where my expertise lies, but I do want to give you a little comparison of working online vs. working offline.
- Usually involves getting a talent agent to represent you (which can be a difficult and expensive process)
- Might involve commuting to audition and callbacks (which you are not compensated for)
- Commission paid to the agent is usually 10%-20%, taken out of your earnings for the job
- You’re expected to audition for all jobs your agent sends your way, so it can be hard to turn down those jobs you just don’t feel comfortable doing.
- Direction is provided by agent/client/casting director
- Payment/contract negotiations done by the agent.
- Most of the time, the studio is provided by the production house/agent/casting director, paid for by the client, which can be stressful due to the pressure to perform and not wanting to “waste their time and money in a studio.”
- There is no commute
- You have no intermediary or middlemen
- There is no commission
- Invited automatically by software or directly by the voice seeker
- Very easy to say ‘No’ to auditions
- Direction is provided by you
- You negotiate your payments/contracts/terms
- Do your voice over work from your home studio
Online auditioning etiquette
The best thing you can do when auditioning for a voice over job online is to think from the client’s point of view.
The most valuable thing to a client (even more so than money) is TIME. When you save the client time, you make them very happy. Here are some tips:
- Follow directions. Sounds simple, right? Make sure you submit your audition in the requested audio format, labeled properly, and slated according to their specifications. Now, with Bunny Studio, you don’t have to worry about this part as this is all done automatically. But, when auditioning via other methods, it shows that you pay attention to detail and may actually help you land a job when you follow all instructions.
- Don’t slate over 5 seconds. A slate is the first part of an audition that usually includes the voice actor saying their name and perhaps the name of the project and number of takes included. DO NOT SLATE AUDITIONS OR READS FOR BUNNY STUDIO! Some voice talents choose not to slate at all. An example of a slate could be, “This is Tara Tyler auditioning for Acme Training Video, 2 takes.” I’ve heard talents that use this space to talk about revision policies or even their resume! NO! At this point, clients just want to hear your read of their script, all that stuff can be talked about later should they consider hiring you as their voice actor. It is far too tempting to just skip to the next audition instead of listening through your slate.
- Not-So-Fun Fact: Clients report listening to about 9 seconds of an audition before moving on to the next one.
- Make sure you meet all project requirements before auditioning. A client may request ISDN or phone patch, production services, etc. in addition to the voice over (this does not apply to voice over work on Bunny Studio). What you must remember is that sometimes you are not auditioning for the end client, but perhaps the ad agency or a production studio who is then relaying the auditions to their client. You could be wasting a lot of people’s time when you audition for jobs that you cannot fulfill.
- Keep remarks short and sweet. There is no place to leave comments or remarks on Bunny Studio, but there is on other casting sites. This is where you could include contact info, revision policy, and clarification of budget. Most importantly, you should thank them for listening and be nice. This is not the place to critique the script or complain about the budget. If you don’t like the budget, don’t audition.
Where to find voice over work.
Of course, since I work for Bunny Studio, I think they are the best and easiest way to find voice over work. In fact, when I started my voice over career years ago, Voice123 was so helpful to me that I begged to work for them! I have used other sites like Elance and Craigslist to get voice over work, so I’ll go over that later on in this article.
How to get voice over work with Bunny Studio
Bunny Studio is a great place to start because there is no fee to join the service. You simply set your rates, and Bunny Studio adds the profit margin on top. You don’t have to deal with paying commissions or anything like that. All payments are done through the platform, so you don’t have to deal with invoicing clients or worry about not getting paid. I did a webinar that covers how to get started with Bunny Studio.
I’ve also written many articles in the Bunny Studio resource center here that will help you get going.
If you want to get work with Bunny Studio, click here!
Getting voice over work on other websites
Early in my voice over career, I scavenged the internet looking for any voice over work I could find – Craigslist, Elance, forums, etc. What I found is that people who post on these kinds of sites have no idea what they should be paying for a voice actor or how the process should work. It was very difficult and time-consuming because I had to educate these clients and then trying to collect payment was a hassle too. Most clients who cast a lot of voice over work use a voice over actor they’ve worked with before (sometimes they are actually “in-house” employees), agents, Bunny Studio or other recognised studios, because they know they will get a professional voice actor every time.
There are many paths that lead to success as a voice actor. Choose the options that are affordable and work for you where you are now and adjust them over time to improve and gain access to more enjoyable and profitable work. There is a lot of great, free information online about working in the voice over industry so make some time to spend doing some research and exploring what is out there. Make sure that you are getting your information from trusted sources. Just like most other careers, you will likely get out of it what you put into it.
You can do voice overs as a part-time hobby or you can pursue it as a more long-term career. Keep in mind that working with clients, finding voice over work, auditioning, training, etc. can be very time-consuming and if you are wanting it to become your main source of income, then it is well worth investing both the time and the money into it.