I’ve had a lot of questions lately from friends and even people I don’t know asking about voice-overs. I think I’ve written about this before, but figure it’s worth revisiting. I’ve been doing voice work for fifteen years. (I started in college to make extra money.) I’d always wanted to record things, and I had a college boyfriend who was recording commercials. He took me to Sound Post Studios in Grand Rapids. I wrote and recorded a demo…showing off different kinds of reads. At the time, my voice was pretty green. Basically, I could play a young kid, a depressed teenager, and a college student. After I recorded the demo, I was lucky to get hired.
The first commercial I ever recorded was for a restaurant. I think Finley’s. I totally bombed on the take. I couldn’t do it. I was sweating, nervous, and so bad that the art director said he was very sorry but couldn’t use me. I went home crying. After I got it together, I called the studio and begged for a second chance. I drove back, recorded the commercial, and they used it. And the client kept calling me back.
Fifteen years later, I’m still recording and have moved on to audio books. My voice is different now. Some of it is age, and some of it is developing my lower register. My speaking voice is naturally high, sort of Soprano-like (as in singing, not as in mobster). My recording voice dips into the alto range. I’ve practiced all kinds of reads. Sounding sexy, sounding smart, sounding bored, intelligent, excited, young, old, married with kids, single and looking. And I’ve had to develop accents and try to sound like a man, or at least suggest a man when reading a novel. You’d be surprised what you can suggest with just the tone of voice. And now I do character work with audio books.
But how do you bust into the business? How do you get into audio-books?
I’ll be honest. It’s not easy, especially now. When I started, the Internet was just taking off. Now everything is digital and you can have voices from all over the nation competing for a local coffee commercial.
If you want to get started, you’ll need to do a few things:
1) Practice reading out loud.
Seriously. You’ll need to be good at dry reads. That means you don’t get rehearsals with commercials. You get the copy and you perform. So start by practicing. Read aloud. Anything. Everything. From magazines to books. Try to give the words emotion and feeling. And try not to stumble.
2) Record a demo.
You won’t get work without one. Yes. You can record one on your own, but you’ll get a better product if you record one in a studio. Your demo should highlight your voice. Start with commercial voices, then move on to industrial narration. You can also do a demo of character voices, but these don’t get as much work as a commercial demo. Each demo should be about 1-2 minutes long, with voice samples in 10 second clips.
3) If you want to do audio books, you’ll need a demo of that.
Pick several different types of books to read: mystery, romance, classic, young adult. Read it well and with emotion. Choose a scene that is mostly dialogue between a man and a woman. Whatever you do, do not read “Harry Potter”! You’ll be instantly compared to Jim Dale and there’s no way you can compete. Seriously. I can’t compete either. Jim Dale’s narration is brilliant.
4) Send your demo to local recording studios.
You can also post online at Voice 123 or other audio places. Research audio book distributers and find out how to contact them.
5) Make a wish, but don’t hold your breath.
People think that voice over work is easy. It isn’t. It is fun, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes. You need to be really bright and in tune with written copy. You need confidence and acting ability. You need to be able to read aloud while your eye skims a little ahead looking for hints to inflection. You need to get good at reading without stumbling.
It’s also physically exhausting. When I read an audio book, I narrate from 8:30 until about 4:30. I have to be perfectly still. Keep your body still for almost eight hours. Control your breathing, your stomach gurgles. Do it for three days or five for a longer book. It’s tough. Your body will hurt.
There’s no magic code for busting into the industry. It takes talent and a good helping of luck. But like any entertainment industry, you can’t bust in without a sample of your work. So start there.