Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Newly Signed and Worried

“After months of auditioning at my agency I’m still not booking, I worry- is my agent going to drop me? Should I stop paying for audition coaching and instead just wing my auditions? Are the low odds an actor faces even worth the money and effort of getting coached? Will anyone ever even listen to this?”

Let’s unpack these concerns and hopefully locate some practical reassurance and perspective:

I’ve recently signed but haven’t yet booked anything. Will my agent drop me?

An agent’s talent pool isn’t a dog race or a row of slot machines. It’s a group of creatives whose careers stop and start, zig and zag, fly and flop, no matter the client’s experience or seniority. Some talent may appear to be a flash in the pan that later reignites, some may blaze bright and long, some are slowed by life or bad luck and some just take time to develop and blossom. Each is unique and a good agent will see their stable with this in mind.

Booking can be infrequent even for talented, established voice actors. But a good voice over agent won’t be running some tally board of “who’s booking” vs. “who isn’t booking”. Economics are but one aspect of your creative engine.

Don’t let your worry of a slow period get you down. That you are signed with an agency indicates a level of trust on the part of your agent- enough to enter into a contract with you.

If things feel “slow,” one way to push back is by enlisting expert guidance on your auditions. And why not let your agent know you’re making the effort? It’s a proactive way to affirm your seriousness, ambition and commitment to improving your craft. Not all actors are willing (or able) to do this. It’s easier to fret or complain.

Some actors are happy to kick along just doing what they do and that’s what ya get. No particular prep or thought, just throw it out there and see if something happens, like a fisherman grabbing any bait in the tackle box and randomly casting it. At best, that kind of attitude is set to coast, not grow or ascend. And it may well not be enough to instill confidence in an agent when one’s contract is up for renewal.

In other words, a good agent doesn’t just look at who is booking. Commitment, consistency of effort and dedication also matter, as those point to longer term viability of a career. A good agent would have patience for their client’s dry spells and for a newly developing talent.

Allow yourself this patience with yourself as well.

The hardest thing about voice acting

Voice acting isn’t easy. Auditioning isn’t easy either.

Auditioning well on your own is a separate skill from being a good, directable voice actor. With home auditioning, the actor is left without director or audience, where they must diagnose the script, self-direct and then edit isolated from any guidance or feedback. This can be a lonely one-man-show. Such is the contemporary state of auditioning from home.

Auditioning solo with no other ears or realtime direction or feedback is probably a voice actor’s greatest challenge. Without solo auditioning chops, in the long term, you won’t work.

As I say elsewhere, some are very good at auditioning but mediocre (yet capable) in a session. Some are brilliant in a session but mediocre (or worse) at auditioning. Though both are important, I believe work will always favor good auditioning over good in-studio performance.

The better you are at both, the more an actor will work. If coaching brings you quicker improvement, do that. Yet there are many ways to up your acting, your analysis, your instincts, your technique.

Two big questions for the fretting auditioner

Some actors work all the time and they do so for good reasons. Others don’t work (yet?), also for good reasons.

Ask yourself- “Why am I not booking- what needs to change here?” When you have an accurate answer to that, much will change for the better.

Seek feedback and guidance on this key aspect of your voice acting. Let’s start with your acting:

Am I…

Lacking confidence? Not thinking this through? Unclear on the context or purpose of the scene? Not seeing it? Distracted? Reading words not playing the scene? Lacking a specific take on this material? Off on pace or tone that works best? Stumbling through some words? Only half understanding the stakes here? Ignoring my (unspoken) scene partner? Unfocused today?

As your acting strengthens, these matters shift from conscious effort to instinct. That process of discovery and refinement takes time for all actors.

Another question is to ask, “Why does s/he book all the time?” That’s another very, very helpful question, if you can get the real answer to it. (Hint: The answer isn’t: “Because s/he’s already in “the club”- once you’re in, you’re in.” Nope- you always gotta earn your spot on the bench!)

You can also investigate broader questions that may feed into your performing:

How full is my creative well of ideas? Am I connected with my body? How is my social and emotional wellness? Am I innerly full or working at a deficit? What does acting bring to my life- and what does my current life bring to my acting? What needs to change in order for me to bring more of myself to my work? What kind of “energy” do I bring to my work? Do I act because of neediness to compensate for some issue or because I overflow with joy that is my own? Why do I pursue acting- or why does it torment me? Do I enjoy this and why?

For some, this “actor’s therapy” angle can be helpful. For others, it may feel self-indulgent or beside the point.

A consistent best effort is never a wasted effort.

An agent may not expect you to book all the time, but they do expect your best effort every time. It should be what you expect of yourself. That’s the kind of client/business partner you would want, right? You wouldn’t give a paid session less than your best. Same for an audition. Your work is your work. Your approach to auditioning should match your approach to an actual gig.

“Just” an audition? Remember- a single good audition can impress an ear that calls you in on other auditions, just as a single gig can lead to much future work. From the humble walnut grows the tree, as they say.

Consistently good auditioning is as memorable to a casting director as consistently mediocre. If your reads are solid then it’s just a matter of time. If you have the talent and are working to strengthen your abilities then it’s just a matter of time. If your auditions are inconsistent or weak- and stay that way- that can be a problem.

Audition Coaching?

As I say elsewhere on my site, there are many ways to become a better artist and voice actor. Pick anything that works: Live performing, reading out loud, creative collaboration, digging into yourself with journaling, following your passions and curiosity outside of acting, private classes or coaching, and so on. I’m partial to stage time in front of a live audience and good improv training, but whatever works for you is what you go for.

A good acting coach or teacher can only do so much in coaxing out and refining an actor’s abilities, but their help can be transformational. Seek out someone with infectious enthusiasm, constructive insight and ultimately, a mentor whose influence brings you tangible results.

But don’t get too attached to instruction as a cure-all. You must eventually leave it behind. In fact, the goal of any acting class is to not need it- to leave it behind!

One teacher/coach’s method may offer better fitting insight than another for you. You may also find epiphany in a group class or from a booth director at your agency that gives you an adjustment.

Even if you don’t book yet, it’s possible that you are progressing incrementally, gaining in creative power and actor’s intuition- which is still progress.

Is a coach helping you? Try this:

Unable to gauge the benefit of an audition coach? Record your own best version of an audition before working with your coach, then after you are finished with being coached, listen to both of your reads.

Can you hear/feel a difference or improvement? If yes, then the investment in this audition coach may be helping your acting instincts and VO technique grow until you land work. If you’re unsure that it’s an improvement (or you like your initial un-tutored take better), then perhaps other sources of improvement and feedback might be in order (a different coach or class, etc.).

Who Cares?

It sounds trite but isn’t: A good actor cares about what they are doing. They care enough to create, to change, throw out, defend and lovingly polish what they make. A good actor cares enough to to engage, assert and push back.

As you strengthen your skills and push for progress, mention it to your. Not to flaunt it, but to show that you care and are doing what you can to get better and better. That’s the kind of client an agent would want. Too many just call to complain or ask “what more can you do for me?”Few call to say “here’s how I’m progressing, here’s what I’m doing.”

With these odds, why try?

100 auditioners and one books it? Sheesh!

Focusing on the seemingly crappy odds of auditioning is a misdirect for the naive or the self-pityingly ignorant. It unfairly and inaccurately devalues the good work of those that book while excusing those that don’t.

I’ve seen many a talent approach auditions too casually or cavalierly, apparently on the false assumption that “you book just from personality” or “it’s just a numbers game”. Or maybe they cast themselves as the doomed actor, a leaf in the wind, powerless. This disempowering framing of the audition game is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who buy into it become their own obstacle.

Any auditioning actor’s real competition isn’t the entire crowd but rather those few actors who are focused on crafting their own unique answer to the riddle each audition poses. This is beyond being talented. These are actors who consider the material, who concoct smart choices before they open their mouths, who engage, who have agency in their work. And after they record their first take- they listen back then set about refining an irresistible performance.

They drill down into it because they care. Because they believe in themselves. Because it is fun to do good work.

There is a generosity to this attitude: A good audition is a gift given, no matter the recipient’s reply.

Many actors won’t take this time and effort, either because they’ve convinced themselves it doesn’t matter or there’s too much competition or booking is some kind of random process. Perhaps they’re afraid. Or maybe they think down deep they aren’t good enough or don’t deserve to shine. Who knows?

But those who book and book again don’t think this way and don’t approach an audition or their careers this way. It may take years to find this, but once you have, your auditioning becomes strong and you can’t be hurt by an audition that doesn’t book- or even a run of them.

It takes more of you, more of your time, trust and effort (okay, sometimes money) to bring yourself up to compete on this level, but this is what pros do. That’s you, right? It’s a mindset and manner of handling the effort in front of you at today’s audition as well as your career. You commit your best effort and you keep climbing. If you do that, the bookings will come, though almost as an afterthought.

Make every swing at the ball count

That baseball is rarely knocked out of the park with a blind swing and no assessment of the pitcher. A shrug never precedes applause. Those who work work for good reasons, not from random effort, luck or some unfair advantage.

And if you want to not just hit one ball, but to play game after game, you must time and again consistently look the pitcher in the eye, size up the moment and take your very best swing. And then resolve that your next swing will connect even better.

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© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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