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

VO Myths

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

1.”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.

2. “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 convincingly 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 might 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 an edited video of my incredible golf putts doesn’t prove I’m a great golfer and doesn’t get me in to the PGA either.

3. “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.” And you gotta earn it.

3a. I just gotta follow my dream! If I up and move to Los Angeles I can make it (even though I’ve never acted before).

Moving to Los Angeles to see if you might be good at acting is like moving to the moon to see if you’d like being an astronaut. I wouldn’t advise doing it without experience, training and resources. I also wouldn’t advise moving to a larger market before giving acting a good try to see if you really like it and are good at it in a smaller market.

4. “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 a voice acting angle in your already up and running on-camera career is like opening up a new front in a war campaign. You will have to devote substantial and sustained resources and focus in order to grain or maintain ground.

Casual pursuit of a voice acting career will rarely yield meaningful results.

5. “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, or competing in a big market, 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 naive 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.

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

In my opinion, good acting ability and improv abilities are the most important skills with versatility a close second.

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. Rick 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 end up resenting their past success and their inability to break free of it.

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

7. “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 “thinking about becoming 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. And you’ve got to do a lot of convincing of other people along the way.

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. And it’s not something you are doing just by thinking about it. Forging a professional acting career might be fun and rewarding for the right kind of actor, but it is in no way easy.

8. “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. Being “established” can actually sometimes work against you!

9. “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 behind 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. Most voice actors have done or currently do on-camera acting. Whether you do stage, screen, or voice over– it’s all acting.

10. “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. There is no one path. If you are suited to it, you will find your own unique path to it.

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 most voice acting 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.

CLICK HERE for further discussion of this.

11. “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.

12. “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 regular disruption, failure, rejection and irregular periods of work, you might want to consider a less volatile profession. An actor may have a bright patch of work this year or so, but in a rapidly evolving industry, and luck can change quickly.

Those who are able to adapt and find fresh avenues of opportunity that can lead to work are the ones that survive and endure many years. Such sustained success is statistically the exception, as most professional (union) actors at any given time are unemployed, but there are those who are able to find it.

13. “If I pay a voice training company a few thousand dollars (or more) for “all inclusive” VO training offering online learning, “web hosting” and a “professional demo,” etc. upon completion, I’ll be ready to start earning money in voice acting.”

You can make a lot of money selling dreams, kiddo.

I strongly believe that acting (or specifically, voice acting) isn’t something everyone has a talent for or can be trained to do professionally and I’m suspicious of any company or acting guru that advertises otherwise. I’ve no prob with an “intro” or overview VO course or refining your already developed abilities. But from beginner to pro for anyone who plunks down the dough? Yeah, I dunno…

A few thousand dollars is a TON of money. You could take five or six top level voice acting classes in LA for that chunk of change. Webhosting is easy and cheap on your own. Remote training may work for other things, but I’m not sure how it pays off training good acting. 

I’m not saying it can’t work or be a benefit, I’ve just never met anyone working who learned the substance of their acting craft remotely- or in a class. I my opinion, you learn the most while paying your dues and with on the job experience.

I personally would only pay big money to learn from someone who will only take the money of those students who are ready and able. Same goes for those who will charge anyone a ton of money to produce a VO demo.

And like wine- just because it’s expensive with a nice label doesn’t mean it’s any good.

I note elsewhere on my site that a program or instructor (be it acting training, improv or VO) can take credit for the success of one of its students who may well have succeeded with or without attending the program/instructor. 

If I had a few thousand dollars sitting around early in my career and I wanted to refine my voice acting skills, I’d buy a plane ticket to go learn in person from working pros who are selective in who’s money they will take. Or maybe take improv classes at a decent improv school.

But ultimately, I gotta say, I personally learned the most about acting and performing not with expensive classes or workshops or private lessons- I learned for free- by doing plays, stand up, improv and other live performing. That was fun and free and I got to learn about collaboration while seeing how those further ahead of me wielded their super powers.  That cost me time and energy and gas money. Did I take a few VO classes? Eventually, yes. Did I benefit from them? Mostly, yes. Were they the key to my growth as a confidence voice actor? No. 

Your path to voice acting will be your own. Developing your skills and confidence  doesn’t necessarily require expensive classes— more important are time, patience and persistence. 

Look, if you feel you’re ready and have no illusions about it and the program is upfront about what they appear to promise, and you trust the signs and recommendations, then knock yourself out. I would just hate for you to throw away a large sum of money just to lose a few misconceptions.

That’s one expensive lesson.

P.S. I’m not a fan of paying an agency or website for the “privilege” of them facilitating auditions. It smacks of predatory grift, taking advantage of the naive and desperate. Charging actors to audition is a scam, in my book.

13a. If I take a class or two I can be a professional voice actor. All I need is a bit of “training.”

Voice acting is kinda like karate- you can learn some moves in a class room and it can be a good workout, but that probably won’t necessarily help you prevail or even survive in a real world bar fight. A lot of karate schools maintain their business model by perpetually training students who imagine they are acquiring ninja skills. 

As I detail extensively, becoming a voice actor isn’t merely a kind of “training,” that anyone can quickly acquire. It’s more than wanting it or even having talent. Voice acting as a job relies on talent, improv chops and confidence as well as other abilities that may not be teachable in the protected and supportive environment of a classroom. It entails both “show” and “business.”

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

I always say: 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. This may be a let down, but an honest perspective is all tolled a good thing.

And there’s nothing wrong with having a good hobby.

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117 Responses »

  1. 1. [Should I} include voice impressions [of people or characters] in a [demo]?

    2.[I do a great} Donald Duck […] Should I put it on a Demo reel or not?
    How many are wanted/hired for that voice already?

    3. Is it worth to include [my] legit french accent [on a demo]?

    4. Do you happen to know if services like Covoco,VO-market or entertainers Worldwide jobs trustworthy?

    • 1. A demo should be targeted to a specific market with specific kinds of shows and even show runners and networks in mind. An impressions generally isn’t about acting, it’s a heightened sketch of a known famous person. Impressions (e.g. Ronald Reagan or Nicholas Cage?) are used rarely. An animation demo is about showcasing your acting. Commercials, promos, audio books, ADR and trailers don’t use impressions either- it’s asking for a law suit. You can flavor a demo with known characters (alive or dead) but it’s about your acting, not a recognizable voice (where the actual person could be hired or someone is already employed to be that character). Why audition for a job that doesn’t exist?

      2. If you do a “fantastic” iconic character and can act it beautifully, riff and improv it -not just do a “voice” – I’d make that a separate demo for the company that owns it. But it’s usually already cast with a back up or two. Still, time may change that and if your acting nuance matches a dead-on vocal match, the studio may take notice- but no one else will care to hear it. It would need to get to the specific part of the company that oversees such casting.

      2a. As I say, “voice matching” is a bit different. Also more about acting, with the facility of a very good impressionist. Might be useful for ADR work in television and movies. If that’s your mojo, then it deserves a separate demo with recognizable star voices that show your acting in a way that is recognizable. One could perhaps get that to the leader of a “loop troupe,” who may occasionally cast such specialists, though really, it should be paid as a separate “day player” through a legit agent. ADR is a great way to pay the least amount of money for top tier voice actors, often less than they probably should.

      3. Any accent or character can be good for a demo, depending on the market you are targeting, that is, if there is a need for such a thing. A “foreign accent” (or even, really local dialects) are only occasionally needed in union animation, but most top voice actors have a ready toolbelt of accents and dialects to augment their usefulness. Acting range is most important.

      4. No idea. If it’s non-union, I’d expect to be fleeced, but paying such dues can be a useful stepping stone to better pay and conditions with union work at some point. Of course, it’s fine if paying the bills with voice acting isn’t your goal.

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