Getting Started As A Voice Actor
Christopher Tester offers his advice for actors looking to take on the voice over industry
In celebration of Spotlight now accepting voice over credits as part of its joining process, Christopher Tester takes us through his experience as a full time voice over actor working from his own home studio...
I’ve always been interested in voiceover work. You don’t need to learn the lines, and there is a huge variety of work out there - from commercials to audiobooks to video games. But beyond recording a voice demo and petitioning a list of agents, I didn’t really know where to start.
This situation changed for me when I did Guy Michaels’ Voiceover Kickstart course. Through that, I learnt that the industry was evolving alongside technology at a rapid pace. As businesses find it more affordable to set up their own websites and advertise online, so there is an ever-growing market for voice talent. Explainer videos, promos, company introductions - the demand has only expanded with people expecting video media as a standard.
But where to start?
Like a headshot, your demos are a calling card for yourself as a professional, so if you think a selfie on your iPhone will suffice, by all means record these yourself!
I know this may not be what you want to hear, especially if you’ve already spent thousands of pounds on drama school, but working with a coach is crucial to knowing what is demanded of different reads, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and what you need to do to address them. Yes, we all know people who are booked ‘just’ for their voice, but some sessions with an experienced, knowledgeable coach will make your successes conscious ones, rather than simply fortuitous. Also, you’ll get to know what type of work best suits you. When I started out, I never dreamt (if anyone ever does) that corporate explainer videos would be one of my biggest sources of work - but once I did, it became a key focus as an income stream.
Record a Demo
Don’t record your own. Like a headshot, your demos are a calling card for yourself as a professional, so if you think a selfie on your iPhone will suffice, by all means record these yourself! But for the actual professional, talk to as many people as you can about who they would recommend - listen to demos on agency websites, and work out what works and what doesn’t - and only then book a session. This also goes hand in hand with training: don’t walk before you can run. I recorded my first demo straight out of drama school, and listening back, there are some tracks that are absolutely horrific. This is why it’s important to do some training first - the person recording your demo will give you direction on the day, but they won’t have the time to teach you the fundamentals. Take a look at Contacts for help with voicereel services.
There are several brilliant organisations that offer resources, webinars and workshops for voiceover actors at all levels of experience. These are vital places to learn about the industry, meet and talk with like-minded people, enter into conversations on everything from rates to performance techniques to equipment and so much more. Even today, I find the services offered by The VoiceOver Network, Gravy for the Brain and Voiceover Kickstart truly invaluable.
I know the more energy and time I spend learning, practising and marketing, the greater the level of success. And that this can be in a sector that compliments my acting work (both in terms of practise and flexibility) means that I certainly don’t regret trying.
Build a Home Studio
This is where it gets a little less romantic. Thanks to technology, people are now able to record at home. You need to be the artist AND the engineer as a result. An improvised set-up including a mic, pre-amp and editing software will set you back a few hundred pounds to get started. But you need to educate yourself in using them and how to soundproof and acoustically treat your recording space. I was a complete novice at all of this to begin with, desperately experimenting with my duvet propped up by a random oar (don’t ask) a flatmate had found on a night out. But I booked my first job with it. Thanks to a host of online resources and a lot of trial and error, I started to learn what I was doing. If you’re really serious, in the medium to long term you also need to plan on building or buying some form of vocal booth that gives you a professional, consistent sound.
Look for Work
One of the most well-trodden paths is pay-to-play (or P2P) sites, where you pay a subscription to have access to auditions. As the gig mentality grows, a whole host of freelancing sites have also come to the fore, where you simply create a profile and let the work (hopefully) come to you. But perhaps the most important way is by direct marketing. Fundamentally, this involves creating a brand, an online presence for your voiceover services, which you can then draw traffic to by cold-calling, emailing and networking with potential clients. Basically, it means you need to learn how to hustle, to cultivate a list of clients which you can start to build relationships with. If that’s something you simply can’t face the idea of, then call it quits now - success at home voiceover is dependent on you putting those hours in.
I got my first TV commercial from a cold call to a company. I’m about to do my first mo-cap session for a virtual reality game through a studio that a colleague recommended to me. I know the more energy and time I spend learning, practising and marketing, the greater the level of success. And that this can be in a sector that compliments my acting work (both in terms of practise and flexibility) means that I certainly don’t regret trying. It’s not easy and it is essential to educate yourself about the industry - but if you make the effort, it can really work.
Christopher graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2008. Since then, he has performed in a wide variety of theatre work both in the UK and internationally. This year he was nominated for an Off West End Award, and he also works full-time as a voice over artist from home. See more of what he’s up to on his website.