Q: How do I get into voice-over?
A: Many people attend my workshops and seminars asking what's the secret to getting into voice-over. The simple answer is you need to be a brilliant actor and have a top notch demo. That's it! Then you just need opportunity!
Q: OK, how do I become a brilliant voice-over actor?
A: A brilliant actor is a brilliant actor, whether it's for voice-over, on camera, stage, etc. Before taking voice-over classes, make sure your acting chops are honed. You'll be wasting a lot of money spinning your wheels in a voice-over class without starting with a solid acting foundation. Also, study improv!! This will teach you to make solid choices and get out of your head. I think if you can only afford one workshop in your career, no matter where you want to end up, make it improv!
Q: Where do I find voice-over classes?
A: The bible for voice-over in Los Angeles is The Voice-over Resource Guide, published by Dave and Dave, Inc. It lists everything voice-over in Los Angeles: teachers, casting services, demo producers, talent agents, and even session fees. If you live outside of LA, check out vouniverse.com. Lots of scoop on workshops throughout the US.
Q: How do I find the right class for me?
A: Ask around. Get recommendations from other actors. Also see if you can audit a class before signing up. Just because someone recommends a class doesn't mean it's right for you. Study with those who cast! It's a great way for them to get to know you and what you can do. And since they cast they know what the industry trends are in today's market.
Q: Will I get a demo from a class?
A: NO!! And stay away from any workshop that offers a demo at the end. A workshop is for education. Not everyone is ready for a demo when they finish a workshop. Those who listen to your demo will give you one shot, so make sure you are ready when you make that demo!
Q: How many classes do I take before making my first demo?
A: There is no set number of classes one needs to take before making a demo. Think of your voice-over education like college. You don't take one or two classes in college and expect to get a degree and a good job. The same goes for your voice-over, and for that matter, your entire acting career. You need to study with a variety of people. Commercial voice-over classes are vital. If you want to get into VO, you MUST do commercials. So start there. Now, if you also do lots of character voices, and want to get into cartoons, you'll need to study animation as well.
Q: This sounds expensive!!
A: IT IS!! Sorry, but that's the truth. Class prices vary. They can run 6 weeks for $350, 1 day for $500, 8 weeks for $800, and everything in between. Demos average $1500.00-$2500. Then there's marketing. But fortunately, the days of sending out thousands of CDs are long gone. You might need to have a few on hand, but most marketing these days is done electronically. That means it's very important today to have a website, which could cost anywhere from $500-$5000. You might spend upwards of $10,000 just to call yourself an out of work actor pursuing your first VO agent and job. And don't forget, you'll also need to join SAG and AFTRA. And there are no guarantees!
Q: WOW!! Why would I spend all that money if there are no guarantees?
A: Because you love it. No one goes into show biz unless they love it. If you have the passion for this, then you just need to go for it!! NOTHING will stop you!
Q: How will I know I'm ready for my demo?
A: You just know. It's a confidence you have that you can read any piece of copy and give a competitive performance, adding that little something extra that nails it. You'll know when you are ready. If you have ANY doubt, then you aren't ready yet.
Q: Where do I find a demo producer?
A: Again, The Voice-over Resource Guide in LA or vouniverse.com outside LA. Also, ask around! Get referrals. Meet with potential producers. You should feel comfortable with them as they will be directing your recording. Listen to a handful of their demos to see if you like their work.
Q: How long should my demo be?
A: The average length these days is one minute, though I think an animation demo can be a minute and a half. But for commercial, promo, trailer, narration, etc., a minute is standard. Though, audio book demos can be up to 5 minutes in length. The buyers need to know you can handle a lot of words! Everyone needs to have a commercial demo. Commercials are the day to day bread and butter in voice-over. That said, the more you do, the more opportunities you'll have. So if you want to do promos, you need a promo demo. If you want to do narration you need a narration demo. To get an idea of working actor's demos, check out voicebank.net. There you can hear every top voice artist in da biz. You can also click on the demos section of my web site to hear my own voice-over demos. Agents and producers know from the first 4 seconds of your demo if you have what it takes. If you can't wow them in the first few seconds you won't wow them in 3 to 5 minutes. The demo should leave the listener asking for more. More could be an audition, a meeting with an agent, a job, etc.
Q: What makes a good commercial demo?
A: A good commercial demo moves fast, and leaves the listener asking for more. Your commercial demo is a montage of different commercial spots. But you don't put the entire spots down. Since commercials are either 30 or 60 seconds this would make for a very long demo. Just put a piece of each spot on your demo. Your demo producer will help you with the order and length of each spot. Try not to have a lot of intro and exit music between spots. It should be voice, attached to voice, attached to voice. Each byte shows off a different side of "you". If you plan to have an animation demo, stay away from character voices on your commercial demo. In a minute, you want to show the listener the different styles of commercial reads you do well. After hearing your commercial demo, the listener should be able to "type" you. That means they should be able to know what "types" of commercials you'd be right for. If you sell cars are you a Jeep or Lincoln Towncar? Are you fast food or upscale restaurants? Are you acne medicine or Dove soap? Are you a mom, dad, son or daughter? Your personality needs to come through. Oh - and unless you are well known, NEVER include your picture in your voice-over marketing. You might have a baby face but a voice like James Earl Jones! Your picture just gives someone a chance to type you the wrong way without ever hearing your voice.
Q: Do I get material for my commercial demo from the demo producer?
A: I wouldn't!! You never know how many other actors have used the same material or copy. Gather your own. You can get copy from magazines, or from TV and radio . You know your style better then any producer. You'll probably use 10-15 pieces of copy for your commercial demo. But you may go through dozens before finding the perfect spots.
Q: What does the demo producer actually do?
A: The demo producer directs your read, then adds the proper music and sound effects and edits down the finished product.
Q: How often do I update my commercial demo?
A: A demo should be refreshed at least once a year. As you work you'll add/remove spots. When starting out, since you've never worked in voice-over, your first demo will consist of spots produced just for the demo. However, they need to sound like real spots. As you work you'll eventually remove the "demo" spots and replace them with real spots you've done. Eventually your demo will just consist of only your real work. Once your demo consists of real work you'll notice a variety in sound quality from spot to spot. This is because they were all recorded in different studios, with different mics, in different sized rooms, etc. Your demo producer should strive for that same variety in sound from your very first demo! This will give the listener the illusion that the spots are real and actually makes the actor sound more versatile. When meeting with potential demo producers, make sure their demos have this variety. If your demo has the same consistent sound from beginning to end, it will have what I call that "demo" sound. Meaning it's over produced, and none of the spots sound real.
Q: What goes on an animation track?
A: Your animation track should sound like a montage of real animation clips cut together into a minute and a half demo. Stay away from telling a story!! Also, never repeat a voice. Once you've established a character move on to the next. Try to have each character DOING something, not just SAYING something, in each byte. Give them some kind of action to be doing. This will show off not just your vocal range, but also your acting range. In cartoons they are looking for actors first, and funny voice people second. Which means if you are a great actor who can only do a few voices, you have a better chance of booking a job over someone who does dozens of voices, but can't act. Your animation track should consist of characters with distinct personalities. Everyone can do a witch. What makes your witch different?? How are your kid voices different from the Rugrats?? Nancy Cartwright, who does Bart Simpson, had been doing kid voices for years before booking The Simpsons. What makes her Bart stand out is her acting. His personality is as memorable as his voice. That's because Nancy is a brilliant actress. She makes the words on the script come to life. Think of the script as a skeleton, and you, the actor have to give it a body. When all of this sounds easy, then and ONLY then are you ready for an animation track for your demo.
Q: OK, I have a demo! Now what?? Do I have to get an agent?? If so, how do you get one?
A: Getting a voice-over agent is the hardest part of the journey. In Los Angeles voice-over agents have recording studios in their offices, which is where most of your auditions will be recorded. Based on what a script is asking for, the agent will call the actors they feel are most appropriate for a part, audition them in their office studio, then email the audition to the buyer. In other areas of the country, agents require their actors to have a home studio to audition and in some cases even work from. The best way to get an agent is to have someone like other actors or voice-over teachers/casting directors recommend you. If you are going to submit yourself, call the agent's office and ask the receptionist if they prefer MP3 or CD submissions. The good agents listen to every submission. They never know when the next brilliant actor might come their way. If you are brilliant, but don't get a meeting, it's probably because they already have people your type. NEVER call an agent and ask if they've heard your demo. They just don't have the time during the day to talk to all the actors out there who've submitted demos. Agents can get 10-50 demos a week!! If they like yours and want to meet you they WILL call you in. But they don't call if they aren't interested. Sometimes it takes a few days for them to listen, sometimes a few weeks. It just depends how busy they are. If you can't stand it, pop them an email rather than calling. Voicebank.net will list an email address for every agency. If you don't get an agent in your first submission, reevaluate your demo. Is it competitive?? Does your personality stand out? Were you ready for this demo????? If you decide to resubmit to the agents, wait about six months. Plus, you might want to freshen up the demo a bit so they don't hear exactly the same demo they passed on before. These days it's pretty common to have more than one agent throughout the country. Although it is very hard to secure an agent in Los Angeles or NYC unless you live there, but it's not unheard of. OH-and if an agent asks you to sign a contract, never sign for more than one year! They may want you for 3! This might make you feel loved, but it also gives the agent more control over you than you want them to have. We actors have very little control in our career. So don't give your agent any more than need be. Incidentally, it is possible to get work without an agent. But you'll take your career further if you are represented.
Q: OK, I have an agent. Now what??
A: Enjoy the ride! You should be auditioning every week. If you aren't that active, you should be in a workshop at least once a week until you are booking regularly. You don't want your auditions to be your workout. If you've attended every class in your area, get into a workout group. This is a group of actors who gather once a week for a minimal fee and just read a ton of copy for practice! It keeps your machine well oiled!! Also, it isn't your agent's job to market you. It's YOUR job to market. Ask your agent for their buyer contact list. Some agents prefer not to give these out, but some will. Don't freak out when you see up to 5000 names!! From commercial producers, to animation houses, to promo companies, there are a lot of people out there to market to. This can get very expensive and time consuming. If you have the time and money, market to everyone!!!! Marketing can consist of snail mailing CDs, postcards, or ecards, which are postcards embedded in an email. Some frown upon this as spam. Your agent might do the ecard mailing for you to their contacts and buyers. Plus, as you collect your own list of contacts and work clients, you'll be more comfortable sending them ecards. Just keep in mind the more people you market to, the more chances you have to get work. And you only need one person who listens to your demo to change your life!! Just one listen could mean a national commercial, or an animated series.
Q: Any last bits of advice?
A: HAVE FUN!!!! Voice-over is a blast! If you have fun in the process, you'll raise your odds of booking. Some of the nicest people in show biz are in voice-over. From the agents, to the talent, to the casting directors. And keep in mind that the casting director is your friend!! They need you!! If they don't find the talent, the producer finds another casting director. So they really are on your side!! I hope this all helps.