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 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), 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 say “tttthat’s dethhhpicable!” 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– but they may well not have the acting chops to do a voice match for a movie or cartoon.

“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’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. 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.

“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 established character.

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.”

“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 talent.

“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, but a new talent who is ready has a decent shot at “finding their way in.” Sometimes being an unknown hotshot can be an advantage when a creator wants to cast a fresh new voice.

“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.

“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.

“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 could 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.

23 Responses »

  1. Mr. Baker I need your help in the construction of my website so I can finally market my voice over skills online.

  2. Wow. Utterly amazing that one of the major talents from Hollywood was willing to put up an informative website like this. Thanks! :) One quick question, though: Does someone have to be “extraverted” in order to succeed as a voice actor? I mean, obviously, you will need to talk a lot,(obviously) reading the scripts, but is it a requirement to be outgoing, eager to talk with lots of people, that sort of thing?

    • I know some voice actors who are seemingly “always on.” Most aren’t, but you might guess that they are actors by how they interact and present themselves. One of the very best I can think of, in fact, you’d never guess he could act at all– until he opens his mouth at the mic. Most that I can think of are rather outgoing and social, but there is an aspect to a voice actor’s life that allows for more privacy or an even more “invisible” appearance.

  3. I wanted to say… thanks. Thanks for being one of those people who wants others to succeed instead of fearing potential competition. It shows confidence in your skills, sure, but it also shows that you decided to devote your time to helping other people. That. Is. Awesome.

    My one question- does one have to move to LA to get work on an episodic show or movie, or would you characterize it on the scale of “extremely helpful?”

    (Btw, my site has nothing to do with VO, just photography)

  4. This is pretty awesome… That you are willing to share helpful tips and advise to people interested in the VO industry. It is rare, I’m sure. My one question is where would you recommend a completely inexperienced beginner to start? Acting classes, vocal training, both? Thank you in advance!

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