Dee Bradley Baker's "Basics of Going Pro in V.O."

VO Myths

LET’S DISPENSE WITH SOME COMMON VOICE OVER MYTH-UNDERSTANDINGS:

 

“Because a (friend/ stranger/ family member/ person in the mirror) tells me that I have a great voice and should be a voice actor, I suspect (or am convinced) I am destined to become a voice actor!”

Okay, having a friend/family member/stranger say “You have a great voice, you should try voice acting,” is like having a friend/family member/stranger say, “You have great legs, you should try running in the Olympics.” You may indeed have “the right stuff,” but you will need to eventually seek more objective and reliable confirmation of your talent, such as an actual paying audience or a casting director or someone who will hire you to use your voice. The path to this is the subject of my site.

 

“Because a (friend/ stranger/ family member/ person in the mirror) likes my (incredible impressions/ weird voices/ hilarious characterizations), I suspect (or am convinced) I am destined to become a voice actor.”

A variation of my first point. Again, accept the enthusiasm of a non-pro, but with a grain of salt. Even though you have a few wacky voices or “killer” impressions of all the characters from “Family Guy,” it doesn’t necessarily make you voice actor material. I’m not saying their encouragement is misplaced, you just need more to be sure.

The ability to do impressions or accents at a competitive professional level is a terrific skill to possess. Some voice actors (e.g. James Arnold Taylor, Jim Meskimen) are incredible at this and they get a lot of work with this speciality in movies and television.

Realize that professional voice matching in voice acting goes beyond merely “copying” a couple recognizable celebrity catch phrases. A voice matching voice actor must sustain an accurate three dimensional character that can take direction, vary reads in multiple takes, even improvise as that character. It can be very challenging to shoehorn an exact voice match line of dialog over the screen’s lip flaps when looping a movie as well. Voice matching requires an actor not a mere photocopy machine. There’s a big difference.

When I booked Daffy Duck in the movie “Space Jam” it was because I could improvise and riff accurately as Daffy, not just because I could accurately say “tttthat’s dethhhpicable!” as Daffy. I had to do better than just read a script as written in a voice. I had to become that character in a session (many of the Looney Tunes characters’ punch lines were improvised in that movie, BTW).

Some non-voice actor entertainers can earn a living as impressionists (sort of a variation of stand up). They can copy phrases, punchlines and physical mannerisms of celebrities– usually painted in broad strokes that aren’t necessarily subtle enough to be accurate in a voice matching sense.  Their characterization may be fantastic for a live audience, but an impressionist may well not have the acting chops to do a voice match or even a sound alike character for a movie or cartoon in a studio record.

Some self-posted youtube memes floating around of amateurs doing accents or impressions are pretty cool and show talent– but as I say elsewhere, talent is baseline and you need a lot more than that to approach a career. Me posting a video of my incredible golf putt doesn’t prove I’m a good golfer and doesn’t get me in to the PGA either.

 

“I want to be a voice actor so bad. It’s all I want, all I’ve ever wanted, etc. And if I want it enough I know I can make it!”

Oh, yes, you gotta want it, but wanting a voice over career is not nearly enough. In addition you need battle-tested talent, confidence, persistence, and business smarts to have a shot at “making it.”

 

“I’m thinking about getting into voice overs as a quick way to supplement my on-camera acting income.”

I occasionally hear this from some on-camera actors who already have some on-screen credits. “Getting a voice career going” won’t be quick or easy or necessarily all that lucrative (at least for a while). Whether you are already an established actor or not, pursuing voice acting is like opening up a new front in a war campaign. You will have to devote sustained resources and focus to winning and maintaining ground. Casual pursuit of a voice acting career will rarely yield any results.

 

“I’ve got loads of talent, so I’m ready to make it!”

Yes, you need a lot of talent, but talent is baseline. Once you’re in a big city, most have that already in spades. Talent isn’t enough to stand out and sustain a career. It’s not a scarce commodity, especially in a larger market. Certain competition-based TV talent shows perpetuate the myth that “talent” is all it takes to “be discovered” and then instantly “hit it big.” That is basically a fantasy. In reality, you gotta have a long game, not just a short game to be a career actor. The factors you need beyond mere “talent” is the subject of this site.

 

“I need to do a ton of voices and accents to make it in voice acting.”

In my opinion, good acting is more important than versatility.

Still, versatility is one of the keys to ongoing employment for many voice actors, especially in television animation. Many voice actors are hired not just for their acting skill, but also for the range of characters and tone they can portray– sort of like session players in music who are hired to play all sorts of music day in and day out.  In cable animation, for instance, actors are essentially paid per voice.  But the union cable animation contract allows the producers to ask for three voices for just slightly more than the price of a single voiced character, so it’s more cost effective to hire versatility. In movies, a voice actor is typically paid per voice, but that is typically voiced mostly by celebrities and ADR groups.

There are a few voice actors who are mostly brought in to perform in their one voice, their “default” if you will, and they get plenty of work doing essentially that one thing.  These are typically celebrities (e.g. Eddy Deezen, Edie McClurg, Ron Perlman) who have established a sort of archetype on-camera and who mostly get cast to do something very close to their well-established persona. It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t versatile (often a good actor’s range is wider than you think!), it’s that others’ view of them is fixed. (e.g. Rich Moranis, few may realize, was a gifted mimic/comic and had a much wider range than his later career would have you believe). On-camera success can be confining in this way and some I can think of sort of end up resenting their past success and their inability to break free of it.

Also, the “one voice” read is more common in promos and trailers, where versatility is more a function of flavoring the read than of changing the pitch/tone/accent, etc. of a voice.

 

“Getting into voice overs is easy.”

I love the casualness of some that some consider “getting into voice overs.” Like they are thinking of getting into being a dog walker or making quilts. No biggie.

But, “thinking about getting into voice-overs” is like “thinking about becoming an Olympic athlete,” or even a mayor of a city. There is a path to it for those few who are right for it, but it’s much more involved and difficult than most think. It is a sustained project that demands considerable focus, resources and time to build connections– in addition to having real talent for it. Voice acting is not merely a skill.

 

“It’s nearly impossible to break into the “inner circle” of those who work constantly.”

Fortunately, not necessarily true. The voice over industry is always open to a fresh voice who is ready to deliver the goods and hold their own. It may take time to establish your presence, but a new talent who is ready has a decent shot at eventually “finding their way in.” Sometimes being an unknown hotshot can be an advantage when a creator or network wants to cast fresh new voices. Seniority can actually sometimes work against you!

 

“Voice actors aren’t real actors.”

Oh, boy… hold up there. Whether you soliloquize on a stage in a fancy shirt, or perform in front of a camera or speak in front of a microphone– you are an actor. And a good actor is what you must first become in order to have a shot in voice overs. While you don’t need to look far to find “on-camera” performers who aren’t particularly good actors, you’ll be hard pressed to find bad actors with voice acting careers. The exception to this might be certain “famous people” who are hired to lend their voice to animated projects (with mixed results). And please don’t ask a voice-actor if they would ever consider going into a career as a “real actor.” You probably mean “on-camera actor.” I hope.

 

“I have to be a trained/experienced ‘stage actor’ to do voice acting.”

It can’t hurt, but no. While many voice actors have stage experience, many come from other backgrounds. Some are also established singers, or have done professional stand up or improv. They might have started as musicians, sounds engineers, animators or writers. Most all career voice actors have had professional (paid) live performing experience before turning to voice overs.

Theater school can actually work against you.  A formally trained stage actor voicing a role in a cartoon for the first time might be comparable to a classically trained musician attempting to play jazz for the first time.  There is a give-and-take looseness needed in a VO read that a trained performer may find a bit elusive at first.  The read may come off as stiff or formal or too proper, not relaxed and natural.

 

“Once I get my big break, I’ll not need to work so hard at auditioning.”

Not exactly. It may be easier to get auditions and work when you are a trusted “known quantity” to those who cast and create, but you’ll still have to continually earn your momentum from the “gate keepers” of employment. There is a constant influx of creators who are new or young and may not be familiar with your resumé or reputation, so you never stop having to prove yourself in the audition arena.

 

“Once my career starts up, it will be smooth sailing from there.”

Rarely ever true. An actor’s life is freelance. Your employment term lasts as long as your gig (maybe a couple hours) and rarely do you actually get the relative security of a contract. You are what we call a “day player–” hired to work for one day and that’s technically the end of it. An actor’s life isn’t about stability. If you have a problem with failure, rejection and irregular periods of work, you might want to consider a less volatile profession.

 

A final tip: Don’t mistake what should be your hobby for what want to be your career:

Find your career at an intersection of what you love and what you’re good at (so good that people will actually pay you money to do it). You may not yet know what this is and finding it may take years of trial and error.

The intersection of what you love and what you’re not that good at is properly called “your hobby.”  It could be that after a few years of exploration you find out you are not destined to earn your living as a voice actor, an actor or even an artist.

35 Responses »

  1. How much voice acting is done from memory versus a script?

  2. OK, I was an on-air radio personality for 14 years[…] I just completed a one day seminar and got a lot of great info and feedback from the instructor who happens to be an actor/casting director/coach. I’ve got my Yeti Pro, Audacity downloaded, DRIVE, PASSION and I’m starting to cut spot after spot to get enough material down to create a top-notched demo. My question: since I have never taken an acting class, I only channel whatever natural acting ability I may have, do I really need this in order to be successful? Or how about working with a vocal coach?

    • Sounds like you are on your way! As far as instruction goes, I say “whatever works for you.” Instruction can help or hurt depending on the teacher, so I can’t make a call on that. Not everyone needs it and it may not be helpful in the areas you are focusing on. I’ve known a terrific actor who was just a natural, didn’t really need instruction. Others need a lot of help unlocking their ability. Do whatever makes you feel stronger, and better about your skills.

  3. Can someone who is not a native English speaker become a voice actor in English?

  4. I have been a ventriloquist and comedian for forty years and have acting under my belt as well. Is it possible or impossible for me to seek a career in voice acting? Do you think I am wasting my time?

  5. […]I’m 18…I’m not entirely sure what I wanna do or what I wanna be, it’s actually rather agonizing. It seems like everyone else know what they’re gonna do but me. I’m changing what I wanna be when I grow up every few weeks and months. Right now I’m interested in learning programming and becoming a game designer. Is it possible to have a job in voice acting while still making your main career something else? […]

    • I didn’t know what I was going to be even after college! I say, try everything that looks interesting or fun and see what takes hold. I know some who have other jobs (in music or in animation, for instance) while also doing voice acting in cartoons.

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