What is a voice actor?
Voice actors are a lot like screen actors: they rely on acting skills to play a part, whether that’s to entertain an audience or disseminate information. The big difference is that they don’t appear on screen. Instead of performing for a camera, a voice actor’s performance is done in a recording studio — and their voice is the star of the show.
When you think about voice actors, the first thing that comes to mind might be cartoons and animated characters. But voiceover work covers a wide range of categories and extends far beyond entertainment, including educational content and corporate work. The need for voice actors is on the rise: In 2017, the industry saw a 900% increase in jobs over the previous three years.
What do you need to be a voice actor?
As a voice actor, you will typically need to work on a few skills and have some equipment ready in order to audition and win jobs.
- Enunciation. One of the top skills a voice actor should practice is speaking clearly so that their audience can easily understand what they’re saying.
- Vocal pacing and pausing. Aspiring voice actors should also work on speaking at the right speed for the material — not too fast, not too slow. They should also know how to use pauses and silence to full effect.
- Inflection. Different material requires different inflection. Should your delivery be entertaining, authoritative, or neutral?
- Recording equipment. If you don’t have access to a studio or just want to work from home, you’ll need to set up an in-home recording studio to produce quality audio recordings.
- Demos. Creating a reel of the voice acting work you’ve done — also known as a demo — will help you get your foot in the door for auditions and casting calls. A project producer may even hire you based on your demo alone. Be consistent with taking auditions and regularly update your demo so you can land gigs and broaden your voice acting portfolio.
Types of voice work
Think outside the box when it comes to searching for voiceover jobs. Here’s an overview of what type of projects you could work on.
- Films and TV. Voice actors working in television or on films provide narrative or character voices. Sometimes, characters are voiced by experienced actors who just happen to be great at creating voices (think Mila Kunis, star of That 70s Show and Black Swan but also the voice of Meg in Family Guy), but sometimes they’re played by dedicated voice actors (such as Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart and many other characters on The Simpsons).
- Dubbed foreign-language films. When recording a dub track on a translated film, a voice actor has a lot of work on their hands. Beyond the normal labor of voiceover, this specialization requires the voice actor to deliver accurate timing and inflections to match the on-screen visuals and mouth movements of the actor speaking in a different language.
- Commercials and movie trailers. While film studios are beginning to phase out voiceover for movie trailers, commercials still make extensive use of voice actors. The tone typically depends on the brand and advertisement: some are more upbeat and bright, and others are more serious and inspiring, such as this ad for Delta Air Lines voiced by Viola Davis.
- Video games. Video game voiceover work is a form of acting rather than narrating, similar to voicing cartoon characters for animated shows. However, unlike animated shows, the work here mostly involves recording individual vocal prompts as a character, rather than recording a story or conversation between characters (though there’s plenty of that, too).
- Audiobooks. As a narrator for audiobooks, your delivery must be consistent over the course of many hours. Sometimes, audiobooks require you to develop different voices for the characters in the book, particularly for children’s books. But most important is dramatic pacing and enunciation.
- Corporate training and e-learning. Recording voiceover for corporate training videos could include narrating policies and training sessions or creating audio product guides.
- Transit voiceover. Recording the overhead voices for transit can be exciting since hundreds or even thousands of people will hear your voice every day. There is a lot of work that goes into recording for transit agencies, though, since you may need to make a new recording for every single stop: think “This is First Avenue” and then “This is Second Avenue” all the way into the hundreds. You’ll also likely need to record phrases overheard at stations, such as “Mind the gap” or “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
Benefits of becoming a voice actor
There are a lot of professional and personal benefits that come with voice acting.
- You can work remotely. Starting a career as a voice actor is often possible while working from home. It’s easy to create a home studio with affordable recording software to use on your projects. A basic home recording studio should include a condenser microphone, a pop filter, an audio interface, headphones, and editing software.
- You may connect with top producers. If you’re passionate about a certain facet of the entertainment industry, like translated foreign films, video games, or educational podcasts, you can meet some of the industry leaders and work on projects you’re genuinely interested in. While you might initially take any gig you can get, over time you can work with people you admire in a field you love.
- You get to work in a creative environment. Learning how to get into voice acting lets you make a living in a creative field and potentially come up with new character voices or work with writers you admire. You can focus on topics that are of interest to you, or choose a range of clients and projects so that you’re constantly learning something new.
- You can set your own schedule. As a voiceover artist, you’ll likely work as an independent contractor, which means you can choose your own schedule of when to complete the work — as long as you’re meeting your deadlines.
How to become a voice actor
Follow these voice acting tips to propel your career to the next level.
- Work on your craft. There are two types of voice acting training, both of which can level up your skills: taking acting classes and hiring a voice coach. In class, you’ll learn how to adapt your approach based on the type of performance in order to land a broader variety of roles. With a coach, you’ll get personalized feedback and support that you can apply to your character voice.
- Define your voice. You don't necessarily need a niche as a voice actor, but you should at least define areas of expertise that work well with your voice. For example, character acting and commercial voice acting are completely different skill sets. Can you create different voices to play cartoon characters? Or are you better suited to corporate and commercial work? You might also identify other unique skills you have, such as using an accent or speaking in different languages.
- Record a demo reel. Recording your voice on a demo reel is the first step to actually getting jobs. A demo reel is a compilation of the different voices and tones you can take on that casting directors listen to in order to determine your talent and range. You can also rely on your demo reel in finding an agent to represent you and help you land jobs. Actually creating a demo reel isn’t too difficult as long as you have a good microphone and easy-to-use editing software, such as Descript.
- Audition consistently. There are many different ways to approach the audition process. If you work with an agency, your representative will scout opportunities on your behalf. You can also look on job boards for open casting auditions. There are several websites (such as Voices.com and Backstage.com) where companies post opportunities for voice acting work. Competition may be stiff, which is why it’s crucial to be consistent in looking for work. Set a daily or weekly goal of how many gigs you want to apply for, especially when you’re just getting started. Giving yourself a quota holds you accountable and increases your odds of landing a voiceover job.
- Practice every day. In addition to regularly auditioning for jobs, it’s a good idea to include daily practice as part of your routine. This should be more than reading a script out loud. You also need to record your voice in order to practice using your equipment. Plus, it gives you the chance to listen back and critique your own performance. In doing so, you’ll continue to hone both your voice acting skills and your technical skills. The more professional services you can provide, the more likely you are to land clients and get them to keep coming back to you with future work.
- Network in your industry. Yes, you need the talent to succeed as a voice actor. But you also need to make authentic connections with people in the industry, whether it’s entertainment, corporate marketing, podcasting, or anything else. Use social media platforms to engage and interact with people in your network. Build relationships with other voice actors — as you all grow your careers, you can refer work to each other when your schedules are full. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.