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

Interview

From a post:

Hello. I’m a student currently at NWTC (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College), and I’d like to ask you some questions as part of an assignment for a career planning class. Here they are:

1. When and why did you choose this career?

I never aimed to be an actor, though I liked all kinds of performing. I graduated college with a B.A. in Philosophy and nearly a minor in German Language. Upon graduation, I had no career goals at all and considered performing nothing but a hobby. I liked performing and creating performances, but I liked a lot of other things too. I kept following my interests and curiosity in an open and experimental manner.

Upon graduating college, I proceeded to try all sorts of acting- stage, commercials, VO, stand up, improv, puppetry, open mic, radio, singing telegrams and television. Most of this paid nothing and was only done for fun. After about a decade of trying everything that looked fun, I decided to focus on being a voice actor exclusively. I was in my early thirties. 

I chose to be a voice actor because it appeared to be the best mix of what I loved doing and what I was good at, plus I was good with the freelance lifestyle and variety of work. VO was the most fun and seemed a good fit for me and my temperament. I committed to it solely when I was able to earn a living at it.

2. What’s a typical day of work like for you?

Each day is different. My work consists of reading scripts ahead of time (if I have time and if required), auditioning (mostly from home) and driving to various recording studios in the area to record either solo or with a cast. Hours are irregular. Some days I work multiple gigs, somedays none. A top level voice actor in animation may average three or four different shows per day.  Somedays more, some less.

The specifics of auditioning and working a gig I detail on my In Studio Basics page.

3. What do you like most about your job?

Creative variety and flexible hours. Plus it’s just fun to voice act. I really like the people I get to work with. Lots of laughs. Everyday is different.

4. Is there anything about your job that you don’t like?

Hmm…The air in Los Angeles could be cleaner, I guess. When starting out, it can be quite frustrating to get rejected so much, year after year. There are ups and downs even when things are going well and you feel you’re getting your footing.

You feel very low status everywhere as an actor, and feel you are dime-a-dozen. You can spend years paying for workshops, marketing materials and gas money and not see any payoff. Not easy if your expectations are high and your patience is low.

It can take many years to get any traction even if you are good at it. You’ve got to be okay with that timeline.

There’s the potential downside of the gypsy actor lifestyle.

5. What parts of this job do you find the most satisfying?

Where to begin? Creative collaboration and problem solving odd characters or sounds that the show creators aren’t sure of is great fun. It’s satisfying to help tell a story well and fulfill or exceed the creator’s vision.

It’s great to see how much people love a show or movie or game you’ve worked on. It’s surprising the impact a particular show or character can have on a life, a family, a sick person recovering, a soldier, parents, anyone really.

If you join the union, there are residuals in perpetuity that can provide a sustainable future as well as health insurance. That’s pretty awesome!

6. What parts of this job do you find the most challenging, if there are any challenges?

It takes years of patience and rejection for an actor to get to where the work flows, but you can never take it for granted. An acting career is never secure.

Also, actors are called upon to have big unfiltered emotions “on tap” for their work. When they come home to a family, it may be difficult throttling back the full force of their inner demons, which may be part of why many successful actors self-destruct.

7. What are the working conditions like?

You sit or stand in an air conditioned recording studio and read your script into a microphone. You might be alone or with a group. There is a minimum of waiting around, in contrast to on-camera, where you may be sitting in a trailer all week for a single scene.

For most actors, “working conditions” are non-existent because most actors are unemployed.

8. Are there any particular qualifications needed for this job?

I cover this extensively on my site. You must be a good actor. You need good acting ability, improv skills, vocal control, a sense of humor, inventiveness, an ability to diagnose a script and take directions.

Luck and a positive outlook in the face of uncertainty and rejection also helps. 

9. For this line of work, is there a salary range? 

By far, most professional actors are unemployed at any given time. For years, even a good performer may make no money, then make some for a stretch, then make none again. Some actors are able to eventually pay their bills with acting, but even that may be intermittent. A lucky few earn a steady comfortable living and some do very, very well.

A voice actor may be able to sustain a longer career than an on-camera acting because age and appearance matter so much less in voice casting a role.

To earn a living, an actor probably will need to move to an area with lots of work, like Los Angeles or New York. Many smaller markets also have paid acting or performing gigs (Orlando and Atlanta, for instance).  

Acting should start out for fun before becoming a career goal. For the vast majority who try it, it will remain a hobby.

10. Is there any advice you would give to someone wanting to enter this field?

My advice to an aspiring voice actor (or any actor) is to follow acting because you love it not for money or fame. You should first off get a lot of live performing experience to see if you like acting and get a more objective gauge of your abilities and your ability to compete.

Talent isn’t a guarantee of work or a career. Wanting it isn’t enough either. Not everyone can become a professional actor or a voice actor- it’s not a skill you can take a few classes to learn. Most can probably have fun with it as a hobby, though. 

Don’t just move to a big city like L.A. or New York to “follow your dream” of acting if you haven’t first tried it and determined you are good at it and love the life of an actor. It is an art, but you must also think of it as a business and a lifestyle. All the rest of my advice is on my site: iwanttobeavoiceactor.com

© Dee Bradley Baker 2018

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