April 15th, 2010

Wanna become a voice-over actor? Well then, I hope you like to read.

Dick and JaneIt's not too surprising to me just how many people nowadays are interested in becoming a voice-over actor. I mean, with the allure of being able to work at home and at your own pace coupled with the jaw-dropping amount of money that voice actors appear to make per session, who wouldn't want to hop on the voice actor bandwagon, too? And hey, all you need is a voice, right? And you've got one of those already.

For now, let's put aside the whole "jaw-dropping amount of money" issue for a later post, shall we? It really is a topic that requires a whole series of posts to dispel. And let's put aside the "work at home and at your own pace" topic as well because, as they say: all that glitters is not gold. And the "voice" thingy? Well, if you haven't had it trained professionally, then just having a voice will get you nowhere at a rather rapid clip.

In this post, we'll look at what I believe to be the most important part of becoming a voice actor: truly loving to read.

Voice actors read - A LOT

Let's clarify that a little: voice actors read a lot, out loud. We have to read out loud when we warm up every day. We have to read out loud when we practice every day. We have to read out loud when we do multiple auditions every day just to land a paying gig. (It kinda gives the "work at home and at your own pace" phrase a whole new meaning: Yes, you'll be working at home, just as much as a full-time position at a company. And yes, it will be at your own pace — as long as that pace is unwavering. Not too much time to enjoy daytime TV folks.)

Voice actors enjoy reading - A LOT

To say that we enjoy reading doesn't do it justice. We enjoy the interpretation of the copy. We love the challenge of reaching into ourselves to find that spark of creativity which brings the words to life. We love to find the different ways to read the same sentence to subtly alter its meaning. And a host more.

Voice acting is acting. It's using the whole of your creativity to bring life to someone else's words. And if you don't like doing that, then striving to become a voice actor might not be what's best for you.

But how do you know if you'd like it or not if you've never tried? Good question. So...

Your homework: start reading - A LOT

Just to let you know, when I became interested in voice acting I had never read out loud for any length of time since my elementary school days when my teacher, Mr. Stevens, Fun with Dick and Janeforced us to stand up and read sections from "Dick and Jane" (I admit it. I grew up on Dick and Jane books. "See Dick run. Run, Dick! Run!") But if you want to break into the voice over business, you first have to become an expert at reading out loud. Every book on voice acting, every blog, every podcast, and every coach proclaims this. And now, I do too.

First, choose a good novel (one with lots of unique characters with unique personalities is best.) Start by reading a page out loud. Don't worry if you make mistakes — just plow through until the end of the page. This exercise will help with your cold-reading skills (some voice-over pros can read dozens and dozens of pages without making a single mistake. Can you?) Make sure to read clearly, read at an even pace, and not slur your words together.

Next, go back and read the same page again. But this time if you make a mistake, go back to the beginning of the sentence where the mistake occurred, pause for a second (just like if you were in a booth recording it), and then continue.

Finally, go back and think about how to breath life into the words and then read the page with emotions flowing in the right places. Remember, you are a storyteller, so you have to read just like you were telling a story off the top of your head. It needs to sound fresh and alive. If there are different characters, read each part with an appropriate personality. Don't try to do different voices for each character. Instead, read with a different personality in mind and express that personality using your own voice.

Conclusion

If you're a beginner to voice-over acting then I recommend doing this every day for at least 30 minutes. Really get into the creative process of expressing yourself. Even now, I still do this. Not only for practice, but because I actually enjoy doing it — sometimes for two or three hours a day — purely for fun!

After a few weeks, if you discover that you like doing this, then great! You've proven to yourself that you have the blood of a voice actor flowing in your veins. If you find it to be a boring exercise, well then... maybe voice acting just isn't in you. And that's ok, too. Because in order to be successful in this business you truly need to love doing it.

Check out Part 2: I really hate to scare you but...



30 Responses:

  1. Catherine Marshall

    This is a great article — it takes a lot of *full-time work* to become a successful voice-over actor. Thanks for the reminder that it takes a passion to excel in voice-overs. It’s so cool how when you’re passionate about something, you don’t view it as being as much “work” as it is “fun”.

  2. David Haverty

    This was great. Right after I heard the writer mention how we will need to love to read out loud…I read the rest of the article out loud..I actually hate reading.. :)
    But when I started reading it out loud I understood more of what I was reading and made it to the end wanting to read more… thank you.

  3. David R

    Catherine Marshall and David Haverty:
    Thanks for the compliments about the post!

    Catherine:
    Passion is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? And not just in voice acting. If anyone didn’t pass my little “test” above, then it just means they need to find out what their real passion is. In all honesty, a person will do much better in a profession that he or she is passionate about than in one that they just tolerate to make ends meet.

    David (Hey! That’s my name, too!):
    I’m glad you enjoyed the post and were able to find new enjoyment in reading. :D

    -David

  4. Catherine Marshall

    Absolutely, I agree! It’s definitely no fun to be doing work “just for money,” and I think many of us can identify with doing that at one time in our lives or another. Passion also makes all the little annoyances and set-backs that much more tolerable. ;)

    Great post!

  5. Julie O'Malley

    Very awesome. I was one of the kids that actually volunteered to read aloud in class. And then they couldn’t shut me up. Consequently, I am a VO actor.

    Now you have to explain to the newbies about how for every 100 auditions, you MIGHT get 1-2 calls, at least in the beginning.

  6. Catherine Marshall

    Julie,

    Ha ha! So was I! I’m pretty sure I had ADD when it came to other topics, but I loved reading out loud. And I internally critiqued the way that other people read out loud!

  7. Amy Snively

    Really good stuff! I’m passing it along. :-)

  8. David R

    Amy Snively:
    Thanks for the comment and for passing it along!

    Julie O’Malley and Catherine Marshall:
    In elementary school I was the kid who had to read it the best and would feel crushed if my teacher didn’t praise my performance. Even then, I knew I wanted to get into some kind of creative field (which is why I now do music, graphic design, acting, and voice overs!)

    Julie O’Malley:
    Some websites make it sound so easy to make money doing voice overs. But you nailed it on the head, it takes time to start making even some money in this business. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart.

    -David

  9. Tyler Thompson

    Hello. I am an aspiring voice actor. I am only 15 years old but am eager to start. I have been practicing with my voice for about a year now. I am not your stereo typical wannabe VO. I’m not one of those people that says, ” I love anime! I want to voice the character so and so.” Just had to make that clear. I have been looking for many auditions. I live in San Francisco but have been having trouble. I just can’t seem to find auditions. I know they are being held. However I can’t find them. I know I need an agent. I am working on that but have also been having trouble. Any tips?

  10. Heather

    awesome sause! im 13… ive had an absolutely huge craving to be a voice actor. probably since i knew i had a voice.. [around 7 or 8] perhaps you can e mail me about what you know? thanks, later[maybe]

  11. David R

    Tyler and Heather,

    Thanks for the comments and the questions about becoming a voice actor! The first thing you need to do is get trained by a professional. You will learn so much that I can’t even begin to describe it all here. Voice coaches can also help you with finding agents (although, don’t expect them to do all the work in that area, you are the one who has to do the self-promoting).

    In addition, read books on voice acting and on acting in general, visit other blogs, and listen to TV and radio spots, animation, audiobooks, etc. as much as you can.

    And, of course, practice, practice, practice!

    I hope this can get you started in the right direction! :D
    -David

  12. Rebekah Bernal

    Hi! I really liked this article. It really inspires me to read a book everyday with feelingand passion. I would really love to become a part-time voice actress, or maybe even a part-time actress for that matter. The only problem is I’m not old enough to actually be going out there and look for some type of acting agency. Well, at least I don’t think I’ll be able to. See, the thing is, I’m just a teenager. Nobody would want to hire a juvenile. The reason why I want to act or voice act is because at my school in my English class, we are doing a small play about the Diary Anne Frank. I am Miep, a young Dutchwoman who is a business worker and friend of Otto Frank, Anne’s father. I really REALLY love acting out her voice. It is just sooo much fun!:) That is why I really want to go in the voice acting or acting business. What do you think I should do?

  13. Kimberly

    Hi,
    I just started thinking about becoming a voice actor after years of people complimenting me on my voice. I strarted doing research on it and came across your article and now I really belive it is for me. I love to read will read just about anything I can get my hands on. I was also the kid who love to read out loud in class. I have a couple of questions that I was hoping you could help me with. First is forty to old to get started and how much money does it take to get started? I mean voice coaches,making a demo and not to mention all the books on voice acting. Last question do you recommend coaches or books. I am in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and I would appreciate any help you can give

  14. David Radtke

    Rebekah,

    There are actually quite a few teenage voice talent out there. Now is the best time to start working on acting technique.

    I got my first taste of acting when I was in JHS. Our drama department was doing “The Hobbit”. I got to play Gollum!

    The best part was years later after “The Lord of the Rings” movies came out my JHS friends e-mailed me saying how much my performance was just like the one in the movies. (I guess I was ahead of my time. Shame Peter Jackson didn’t ask me to do the voice for the movies!)

    Anyway,
    Voice acting books are great to get an overview of voice overs and to learn about the basics. Then you MUST get a coach. You will learn so much about your own voice and style from a good coach. Books can never give you that kind of important information, but are a really good starting point.

    Lastly,
    Try contacting Sunday Muse. She was a teenage voice actor and now helps teach teenagers to become voice actors. Here’s her book:
    You can do cartoon voices, too!

  15. David Radtke

    Kimberly,

    It’s never too late to start getting into voice acting. At this age you’ll be able to draw upon 40 years of life experience to put into your performances.

    How much money varies from person to person:

    If you already have a computer then you can get good recording equipment for voice acting for as little as $300 (assuming that you’re going to be starting a VO career and not just playing around).

    Then you’ll need books AND coaching. Voice acting books help fill in the business gaps that would take many lessons of coaching to get. But coaching is must if you are serious about being competitive. I once heard that the amount of money you would need to spend on coaching ranges between $2,000 and $4,000. This is due to the various hourly rates of coaches and to how many lessons you need until your coach thinks you’re ready to make your first demo.

    Don’t forget, all professional voice actors have MORE than one demo. So if you really want to be competitive then you’ll need to make more demos (which cost more money.)

    It’s been said that, compared to starting your own brick-and-mortar business, starting a voice acting career is much cheeper. And it’s true, it is cheeper. But it will still cost money that most people don’t have lying around.

    And the biggest expense?
    That would be TIME. Time spent practicing, practicing, practicing. And then auditioning, auditioning, auditioning. And also marketing, marketing, marketing.

    Being a voice actor is a business. But to me it’s the most fun business I’ve ever been involved in!

    -David :D

  16. Kimberly

    Thank you David for your feedback and indeed I am serious about becoming a voice over actor. The info you provided was great, I am still trying to get info on contacts in the Washington, DC metro area any info would be helpful. Thanks so much!

  17. Rebekah Bernal

    Thank you soooo much Mr.Radtke! I can’t wait to go search for those books on voice acting. I am so stoked right now. I don’t know if you are, but I sure am! Just one quick question- does doing to many different voices ruin your own original voice? My mom told me it does if you do it too often, your voice can get ruined over time. Is this true? Just wonderin’.
    (P.S: How do you do that little smiley face thing? This is how I do mine.:))

  18. David Radtke

    Rebekah,

    Just doing different voices doesn’t ruin your original voice. BUT, doing voices that are outside of your normal range or speaking for long periods of time everyday, can.

    Even though your vocal chords are not muscles, they can fall prey to injuries just like muscles can. They need to be warmed up in order to perform properly and if abused for a long time they will get hurt or damaged. Usually the damage is never permanent and a day or two of rest does the trick.

    Anyone who uses their voice for a long time every day can suffer mild injuries. People in occupations such as teachers, singers, lawyers, actors, cheerleaders, and even the clergy need to be careful. But if you use common sense and treat your voice with care you’ll be fine.

    About the smilies:
    Check this out Smilies list

    Good luck!
    I’m so stoked for you! :wink:
    -David

  19. Rebekah Bernal

    Thanks Mr.Radtke! You are a great help. I can’t wait to get started. I’m so excited because I just love to act out different voices, especially ones with accents. Thanks for everything!

    Check out my smiley (Hope this works…)

    :) … Did it work?

  20. Rebekah Bernal

    …IT WORKS! :eek:

  21. Rebekah Bernal

    Thank you!

  22. Eric

    Thanks for the article. I know I would be great at this! Like one of the earlier commentors, I couldn’t help reading the article aloud.

    I love bringing different “voices” into characterizations – like one might for funny radio ads. But my absolute favorite is to just take a piece and create vivid expression – read it for the sense of it and know I could communicate the meaning clearly and interestingly. I cut a demo a couple years ago and it looked like I was going to be listed with the same company that cut my CD’s for me, but they merged and my opening closed. At the time I was told by several other outfits that I was good but their stable of talent was full. I need advice and help getting off the ground, maybe some training too for polish.

  23. me

    Hi, wonderful article. It was very helpful. Thanks so much.

  24. Darragh

    Read, read, read! Practice, practice, practice! And the research and listen to the advice of other experienced voice over actors where possible. Luckily this industry is full of helpful and insightful people willing to share their advice

  25. Zach H

    This may be quite a bit late, but I will respond, whatever you “adults” think.

    Okay, so I am a fifteen year old mini-man. I am one of those “total freak-shows” that thoroughly enjoys reading out loud during my classes. I jump on every opportunity I get. For instance, in my drivers education course, we had to take turns reading from the little booklet thing. I was one of the only four readers in our class, and people were telling me that my voice was incredible. The instructor said I should look for a career in voice acting.

    So that is how I get here.

    Thank you for writing such an incredible article.

    See (or hear) you in the future!

  26. Tebogo

    I wana become a actor for comedy movie and action

  27. Kaileigh Murphy

    Hi, I am 13 and i really want to become a voice artist/actress. The thing is, i still don’t know where to begin. Should i just practice my voice in school and when i get out of college do my first demo track thing? Oh, and another question, what is a demo track anyway? I love theater and all that and i seriously LOVE to act, but i mean, i think voice overs would be way more fun because, same as acting, i can make the character mine and express it with my overly spazzy emotions. I will definitely keep practicing but do you have any AWESOME books in which i could read out of. I mean in school i was Princess Dragonmirroff in The Murder On The Orient Express. (btw didn’t do very well that that part :P) Also, what do you mean don’t do a whole different voice? i would like to become a Voice actress from animes and cartoons if i could. So i would need a few different people in my pocket to yank out. :) thank you and PLEASE email me back.

  28. Ean Martin

    I decided to flip open my D&D books and give them a dramatic read, since they are adventures. I ended up understanding more of what I read and took in more, and I got into it. :-) Thanks!

  29. Alyssa

    Wow great advice. I always loved reading. I had different thoughts on what I wanted to to for a career but I think voice acting would be perfect. I always get into character when I read. When I was in a small play I had to read a lot of things and it was soooo much fun! I just have to find out about a coaching, but I can’t wait to get to work!

  30. Emily

    Tyler, If you are still interested in doing VO and you still live in the Bay Area, you should look into taking classes. There are a couple of really good schools here that will teach you technique and everything you’d need to know. You’ll even be able to practice on a mic in a real booth with real copy/scripts. It’s smart to start young…you’ll get going faster and be more established by the time you’re an adult. Good Luck :)


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