Voiceover artists provide the voice for animated films and television shows, narrate documentaries, and do voiceovers in television and radio commercials.
Voiceover artists provide voices for animated characters including those in feature films, television programmes, animated short films and video games. They also use their talents to do voiceovers in radio and television commercials, audio dramas, dubbed foreign language films and even amusement rides that require voices for animatronic characters. These roles may also involve singing, although it is not uncommon for a second voice actor to be cast as the character’s singing voice if the actor performing the speaking role cannot sing.
Voiceover artists also record individual sample fragments played back by a computer in an automated announcement. This can include messages for an automated phone directory system as well as voice messages on public transportation systems, including the famous “Mind the gap” message on the London Underground.
Regardless of your talent, it will probably take a few years before you are established in the voiceover industry to the point where your work as a voiceover artist can be your sole means of income. Along the way you will need to invest in voiceover workshops, demo tape production and duplication, and marketing expenses to get your voiceover career off the ground.
Again, it can take many years of perfecting your talent and marketing yourself before you reach a notable level of success. You will not be eligible to join a union at the very start of your career, and non-union jobs pay anywhere from £30 to £200 per commercial, depending on market size and whether your commercial runs on TV or radio. Farther down the road, however, well-established, top voiceover talent have the potential to make six and even seven figure incomes.
- practise different voices and constantly expand your range of voice characters and qualities
- keep your voice healthy by staying properly hydrated and not smoking
- make the script sound believable and sincere
Prior experience and training are not required to work in this field. However, the first thing you will need before you can land your first job is a professionally recorded demo reel. To a voiceover artist, your demo reel is your business card. The demo reel is the way you showcase your voiceover talent when looking for work. Remember that you only have a short period of time to catch a potential employer’s interest so be sure that your best material is included in the first 30 seconds of your demo reel.
Your demo reel can be comprised of original work read in your own voice or quick samples of voices that showcases your range of characters. As with pursuing any career in the arts, you will need a combination of desire, preparation and persistence to finally make it.
- voice characters
- singing ability
- clear pronunciation
- acting ability
The first thing you should do when receiving a script is read it through and make sure you understand the message that the client is trying to convey. Look for unfamiliar words and make sure you get the pronunciation correct for each one. If there are any words you are not sure about, contact the client. Spell them phonetically on the script if you need to. Continue to edit the script as you read through by placing pauses where needed to take breaths so the read sounds natural.
Make sure you are reading with the right tone. The client may have something specific in mind so don’t assume. Ask if they would like the reading to have more of a corporate sound, over-the-fence friendly, enthusiastic and bubbly or sympathetic and understanding. Also, what tempo is required? Radio scripts may have a lot to say in a short space of time. If a client requires a 28 second voiceover, then time it exactly to 28 seconds – not a second more or less.
If you are working with a director, they may have you repeat the same line quite a few times in different styles to give the editors in post-production a few options when they are putting the final recording together.
At the start of your career, the recording will probably take place at a production company’s recording studio. After you have been in the business for a while, you might want to invest in your own studio setup in your home. If you are recording from home and want to be taken seriously by clients, then you will need a professional setup and a reasonable investment. The room you choose needs to be sound-proofed with acoustic foam to eliminate unwanted noise and ambient sound.
The competition for voice acting is fierce and it is beneficial to have a unique voice and be a versatile and talented actor. Prior experience and training is not required to begin your career, but the amount you can learn about the industry in just a few short classes can be invaluable. Most successful voiceover artists continue their training long after their career has taken off.
In the beginning you will be working as a non-union talent; you will be on your own. You negotiate your rate with the client and you are responsible for collecting your talent payment. Residuals are generally not paid for non-union work (a residual payment for a performer is a small amount of money which that person makes every time the TV show has a re-run or, if the film is a major blockbuster, they might get a small bonus based on the amount of sales).
Unless you negotiate your own contract, the client has the right to use your recording any way he likes without paying you another penny beyond the amount you received initially.
Once you have completed the required number of professional jobs, you may have the qualifications to join an actors’ union. In the UK the union representing voiceover artists is Equity and in the United States there are two unions which govern voiceover work, AFTRA (American Federation of TV and Radio Artists) and SAG (the Screen Actors Guild). The talent unions offer many benefits which members fought long and hard to gain. For instance, the client must pay you scale and residuals and contribute to a pension and welfare fund on your behalf. Should a client not pay the talent for work done under a union contract, the union will sue for collection on your behalf.
Generally, union work is the only work that pays residuals so your earning potential is tremendous. Without a special waiver, union talent is not allowed to do non-union work. There is a separate union scale rate for voiceovers on TV, radio, cartoons, and non-broadcast usage which differs by market size.
Radio stations and production studios are where most of the work will come from. You can find production studios in almost every country through international industry directories including Production Paradise and KFTV.
Also known as…
- Voice actors
- Voice artists
- Voice talent
- Radio announcer
What’s it really like?
Jennifer Cody is an actress with multiple Broadway musical credits. As a voiceover artist Jennifer has had leading roles in both feature films and animated TV series and has also lent her voice talents to numerous radio commercials. For her work as the voice of Charlotte in the Disney animated classic ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Jennifer received the Annie Award (aka the ‘Voice Oscar’) for Outstanding Voice Actor in a Motion Picture.
What jobs did you have before you became a voiceover artist and how did they help you prepare for voiceover work?
I have been performing on Broadway since 1994 and although the medium is different, acting is acting. The years of experience I have gained on stage has definitely been an asset as I began to explore my voiceover career.
What influenced you to focus on becoming a voiceover artist?
Over the years I had many people in the industry comment that they thought I had a unique voice, so eventually, while I was performing in the Broadway musical Urinetown, I invested some money and time in classes and made a demo. I sent the demo out to a couple of agencies and ended signing with a rather large one and through them I began to audition and book commercial and animation voiceovers.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
At the moment I have a weekly cartoon that I record for Nickelodeon called Winx Club. Once a week, I record an episode in a sound booth here in New York while the director/producer directs me from Los Angeles. I have been doing Winx since 2011 so I can usually finish an episode in an hour. If I am recording a commercial VO, depending on the length and amount of people, it can take me from one to two and a half hours.
What are the key responsibilities?
When you are working on a film or TV series, you first read the script that is sent to you and you go in to the recording with ideas for your character already thought out. You present these ideas, and at that point you need to take the direction of the producer/director and change your reading to create the specific sound and feel that they are looking for. Sometimes if the animation is already done you will have to do a ‘lip dub’, which is basically watching the mouth on film and syncing your reading with the lip movements as they have been drawn. This is a skill that you just get better at the longer you do it. I’ve had to lip dub English while watching an animated character speak in Italian.
What do you think are some of the best character traits a person considering becoming an voiceover artist could have?
I think that like any actor, you must be able to change direction and vocal qualities at the drop of a hat. There are different types of ‘reads’ that one should be familiar with. Listening to different qualities of various voiceovers on TV is a great lesson. I want to say that it’s an equal playing field with men and women. Men sell sports stuff. Women sell cosmetics. I’ve auditioned for many VO’s where there are both men and women trying for the same part, and the producers are just looking for the best voice for the client, regardless of the sex.
What do you like about being a voiceover artist?
I love making animation come to life. I love using my voice to tell a story. It’s nice to go to work with my hair in a ponytail and not have to worry about being on camera. I also like when people meet me, they may recognise my voice, but they are not really be sure where they heard it before.
Are there things about the job that sometimes you might not like?
It’s a bit lonely. Unlike stage work, you are usually alone in a booth without a lot of interaction. That is not true for all work though and I love when I record for Robot and Monster and the entire cast is in the booth. I also just recorded a cracker commercial and there were six of us all in the booth. Those sessions can be a lot of fun.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a voiceover artist?
Listen to commercials. Listen to books on tape. Find where you fit in. There is an endless variety of work available to voiceover artists. While I work a lot in animation, there is a whole career to be made on audio books and demo DVDs. Learn another language. There is such a market for Spanish/French/Italian speaking VO artists who can do both an English campaign and the alternate version as well.
What are some of the best schools that you would suggest for becoming a voiceover artist?
I suggest finding a school that specifically focuses on voiceover training. But there are also scam artists out there, so research the school and find out what their reputation is before you invest too much money.
What would be an average salary progression for someone starting out in this field?
It varies according to the specific job you get hired for. My work falls under the SAG/AFTRA union and there is a scale that is set for commercials, radio, TV, film, books, etc. As you are starting out, non-union though, you may have to take some very low paying jobs just to gain experience. The more you do, the better you get and the more people who know you.
How long must someone work and train in this field before their money increases?
The money is based on the job not on the years in the biz…unfortunately. My first big job was a Disney film and that is probably something people never achieve no matter how long they are in the business. Like all jobs in the arts, it’s a bit of luck, hard work and perseverance.
Is there any specific technology (websites, software, applications, devices) that helps you with your job?
I do a lot of VOs from my home and have become very familiar with the garage band app on MAC. My snowball microphone is my best friend.