How does one break into a "voice over" career?

As someone who has a face for radio, I was wondering how I’d go about getting into doing voice-overs. Perhaps commercials or, if really lucky, an animated series like The Simpsons.

I’m sure it would help, but do you need acting experience? Do you just need to know someone, or is the process similar to a real acting job? (i.e. auditions, agents, managers, etc.)

Is there anyone out there that could shed some light?


I’ve hired and directed voice talent but I’m not a voice actor myself.

Yes, it’s very similar to regular acting. All of the voice actors I’ve worked with came out of a traditional theater background and almost none were exclusively voice actors – they still did regular TV and theater work in addition to their voice acting gigs. Everyone I worked with was a member of SAG and all of our contracts were negotiated under SAG rules.

Most of them seemed to have fallen into it after discovering they had a particular talent for it. It requires a different skill set than other types of acting. For one thing you usually work alone on the ADR stage so you don’t have the feedback you get playing off of other actors. You also need to be able to create a distinctive voice for each character and hold that voice consistently over the course of the production. That’s much more difficult than you’d think. It’s hard to talk in a voice that’s not your own for hours at a time and harder still to deliver a good performance while you’re doing it.

Oh, and the competition for voice work is really cut-throat. At least out here in L.A. We’ve put out casting calls and gotten 60 audition tapes back – for a minor role in a videogame. The best voice people work consistently at just voice – Cree Summer, Grey DesLisle, Fred Tatasciore, Maurice LeMarche, people like that – but for most actors voice work is something they do on the side to get some extra money.

If you want to be an actor, go ahead and be an actor. There are lots of character roles out there for people who don’t have the looks to be a leading man or woman.

Holy crap! She’s been a busy girl since “A Different World”.

I will second that: I have done some voice work in the past, and it is damn difficult. I found it much harder than traditional acting, and I was not particularly good at it.

My aunt owns a small advertising agency and I have done a few commercials when a deep baritone voice is needed, they have all been local radio commercials. Through these I was offered a bit part in a national commercial that never aired in the Seattle area where I live. I never heard the final results of that one but I was paid a bunch of money for very little work. To continue I would have had to join AFTRA but I felt the dues would far exceed the amount of work I could have gotten. When I was in high school I was considering work in radio broadcasting but the need of a steady job instead of going to school for the proper training got in the way.

When my daughter was acting, she went to a voice over audition. She got the call from her manager who got a call from an agent, like any other audition. So I suspect the best thing to do is call an agent, and ask what they’re looking for. I suspect a head shot would not be too helpful - ask if they have open auditions, or would like a tape or CD.

Get some sample scripts representative of the type of voice-over work you want to do, eg acting roles or commercials or audio documentaries or character voices for games or cartoons.

Go to a sound studio that you know has handled this kind of work professionally. work with them to put together a sample of your work. This needs to be short and sweet. If you end up with three 20 second samples, showing a little versatility, that’s probably enough.

Take your CD to the sorts of agencies that supply voice-over artists for the kind of work you want. Introduce yourself, say you’re a new voice talent and that you have a professionally-recorded demo, and that you’d like them to listen and possibly represent you. If it’s possible to get a face-to-face meeting, even for 5 minutes, take that meeting. If they like you, they’ll be more likely to work with you. If they don’t, they won’t.

Aim to spend six months sending your demo to every single person or company that might possibly want your services or agree to represent your services. Take the view that there’s no good for reason why every single man and woman in the world wouldn’t want to hear your wonderful vocal talents. Tell everyone you know to tell everyone they know that you’re aiming to become the best voice-over artist in the world and that, to get started, you will take ANY paid work.

Work at this until you have your first actual paid-for piece of work. This is the hardest part. Once you have this, you have some credibility. The fact that you have done this first job is marketing collateral, you can use it to impress people and it increases your chances that you’ll be taken seriously and people will actually want to work with you or represent you.

Three pieces of paid work and you have a career. After that, it’s pretty much down to word of mouth. If people like you, and think you do a good job and do it in a professional, reliable way, your name will get passed around and you will get more work. Otherwise, you won’t.

Good luck. But remember, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.

Thanks all, for the great responses!

Some follow-up questions… for my sample scripts, can I just pull a couple of commercials (tweaking of course for copywrite reasons) and use those, or are there standard things that someone like Pochacco would be looking for?

Also, if I get the demo together, what are the odds that someone would actually listen to it? Is it similar to sending a novel into a publishing house? As I have no contacts, I’d be starting from scratch, so I think the legwork described by ianzin is probably accurate.

Finally, I have minimal acting experience (high school and college), but nothing professional or paid. I’ve been told I have a good voice, but from no one that is in the industry. Personally, I don’t think my voice is that great (and I hate hearing it on tape), but I have been curious as to what steps I’d need to take to try this.

I appreciate the guidance and points of view here. I absolutely agree it’s harder than people think. Audio books is another area of interest of mine, but I don’t know if someone would want to listen to my voice for 11 cd’s. Someone else would have to make that call. But it would be my job to deliver tone, characters, etc with my voice to convey the story properly. Easier said than done.

Use anything you like, so long as it’s representative of the type of work you want. Be honest - make it clear that you are reading the XYZ Pizza Advert as a demo of your voice, and that you’re not pretending you were actually paid to do that advert professionally. E.g. “These samples were recorded for demo purposes only and are not examples of professionally paid work”.

The odds are not as low as sending material to a publisher, but then again very things in life are that low. But that’s a whole iother subject.

The chances that someone will listen to your demo are directly proprotional to two factors: how much effort you put into marketing yourself, and how worthwhile you are to listen to. I can’t help you with the second part, but for the first part there’s a simple formulas to follow. Nobody ever follows it, but I’ll tell it to you anyway.

  1. Call Agency X (or any suitable recipient for your demo CD). Tell them you are a good new voice talent and you’d like to send them your details in case they can use you. If you can, find out the NAME of the person who makes the decision about whether you’re good enough to use or not. Make sure you get the SPELLING right.

  2. Send in your demo CD with your nice, short, neat covering letter to the NAME person. Do this early in the week (this is so that the next stage happens without an intervening weekend… you want to do it in the same working week).

  3. Wait 2 working days, phone Agency X and ask to speak to NAME. Whether you get through or not, make it clear the purpose of the call is not to be a nuisance or a pain in the neck, but just to check they received what you sent. The chances aren’t good that you’ll get to speak to NAME, but be as persistent as you can while being likeable, pleasant, charming and NOT a pain in the neck. Be VERY nice and considerate to all of the intermediate people you talk to - receptionist, secretary, assistant etc, as these people could be very important to your success.

  4. If you get to speak to NAME, take up two minutes of their time maximum, check they got what you sent, and say you’ll be happy to hear from them if they have any work for you, and that you’ll check back in 3 months.

  5. Check back in 3 months. And every 3 months thereafter.

That’s it. That’s the formula. Except you have to do it for EVERY conceivable recipient of your demo. A good rate would be to send out 10 demos every Monday of every week for 10 weeks. Expect one success (ie something that leads to someone giving you a trial run) for every 101 attempts you make.

This is a guaranteed formula and it applies to many things - getting a job, getting work as an actor etc. It will definitely pay off before you get to 101 failures. You would think that with it being a ‘guaranteed, can’t fail’ formula that people would use it more, but very few do. That’s people.

At Step (1) of the above, you will often get some ‘negative’ noises along the lines of ‘We’re not hiring any new talent right now’ or ‘Our books are full’ or ‘We already have a large rota of voice-over artists thank you’. Ignore all this. Send your stuff in anyway. If you’re good, you will get work, and if you’re not, you won’t, and nothing else matters. Never be discouraged by anything. Be cheerful and positive, as if your campaign will definitely pay off, just so long as you stick at it long enough. The ‘negative’ noises are nothing personal, it’s just some [del]schmuck[/del] worker in an office saying whatever he or she is paid to say. Remember, every apparent knock back or ‘failure’ is just another stepping stone on your way to your 101, and you will hit success before you reach 101.

Of course, all this effort only wins someone, somewhere giving you a trial, a shot, an opportunity… this is when you have to deliver the goods. I can’t help you there. You can either do something people think is worth paying you for, or you can’t. Only experience will tell.

We all start from scratch! And when you think about it, that’s a darn good place to start from, now isn’t it?

My cable company (Comcast) periodically runs ads for voice-over work. Local advertisers who do the cheesiest of commercials (for the local tile store or realtor) use them.