Voice acting is an industry full of exciting opportunities and one that many actors are curious about breaking into. Jobs in the industry can range from voicing characters for animation, providing voice-overs for advertisements and informational voice-overs to the recording of audiobooks. While working as a voice actor requires some of the same skills as acting for film or theatre, it’s still a very different ball game. In film and theatre, you have other actors, sound, lighting and set to get you in the creative zone. But in voice acting, you only have your imagination!
There are a number of ways to become a voice actor. Most voice over artists have receieved some formal acting training. Creating a demo reel, and signing with a voice over agent is the best way to secure voice acting auditions. You can also get involved by finding work at a recording studio.
By the end of this article, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to start building a voice-over career. I interviewed Will Cottle, an Australian actor who recently voiced the role of Ivan in the animated series 100% Wolf: Legend of the Moonstone for ABC. Cottle has worked as an actor since he was a child, and 100% Wolf was his first role as a voice actor. Here are some of Will’s top tips:
What is a Voice Over Actor
A voice over actor is one of the coolest jobs on the planet (in my humble opinion). Whether you are the voice of a new animation, or narrating a new audio book, you make money and tell stories with your voice. Most of the work of a voice over artist is done in a professional recording studio. Normally you are paid really well for a short amount of time in the studio. But though it’s a flexible, fun and well paying gig, don’t be fooled – voice over takes a lot of skill. Fortunately, if you are an actor, you likely already have the relevant skills under your belt.
How to Become a Voice Actor
1. Get Training
As with any form of acting, it is important to train and develop your skills. For voice acting, you want to train your voice so it is clear, resonant and versatile.
In the world of film, you can get away with whispering or mumbling on screen. This means if you have only trained in screen acting it can be difficult to fully unlock your voice. Taking theatre classes or performing in plays can help you to find the level of clarity and resonance necessary for working as a voice actor.
If you can find classes specific to voice, this is even better. When you train your voice, there is a creative component to it as you’ll learn how to do different voices. But there is also a technical component, as you’ll learn about the anatomy of your voice, your pitch, range, control and where to find your resonance.
A pricier, but potentially worthwhile option is to work privately with a voice acting coach. Try to find a coach who has worked recently in the voice industry. Anyone can advertise themselves as a coach, so the challenge is finding the right one.
2. Know Your Instrument
Part of training to become a voice actor is “knowing your instrument”. As an actor, this instrument is your body and specifically your voice.
“You can tell when someone’s got their whole body, their whole diaphragm, into the line and into their performance. Even though you can’t see them, you can just hear them,” Will Cottle said.
To get your “whole body” into a performance, you should learn about breath control, diaphragmatic breathing (breathing while engaging a muscle called the diaphragm) and understand the muscles that create sound.
It will be helpful to find your head voice and chest voice. Your chest voice is your low and full-sounding register that is produced by your vocal cords. If you are using this register, you will usually feel it resonating in your chest. Whereas your head voice is your upper register. This is a brighter sound which you will feel resonating in your head. Learning to access both of these voices can help you to improve your range and create different character voices.
Knowing your instrument is also important as it will protect you from vocal damage. You want to be able to spend a day working in a recording booth without returning home with a sore throat, croaking like a frog.
Learn more about improving your articulation and diction with Andy on our YouTube channel:
3. Invest in Voice-Over Recording Software
If you have a voice agent and are asked to audition for a voice project, you will want to already be familiar with the recording software you’ll be using. To get ahead, learn about this software and practice recording in your own time. Download Adobe Audition or Premiere Pro and get yourself a good quality microphone. This doesn’t mean you need to fork out hundreds on it – Adobe Audition is free and there are some affordable microphones out there.
“There’s a danger when you’re doing voice auditions that you just get too caught up in the actual performance to realise that they’re very hyper-critical about your mic technique and your sound. That can really make or break a take.” Cottle said.
While the performance is important, getting a callback for a voice audition also depends on your recordings being clear and well-edited. “I remember the feedback I got when I got the call back was ‘This is a really professionally made audition,’” Cottle said.
“If you have an audition, be really across polishing and curating the tape you go for, because if you do a million tapes and get a good one, you want to be able to put every bit of polish on it,” Cottle said.
This means learning what good quality audio sounds like. You will learn how to tell when you’re popping (blasting out air on P and B sounds), or when you’re too close to the microphone or too far away, or when the microphone is picking up on background noise. There are some great resources out there on this but you can learn a lot from simply playing around with the software.
4. Create a Voice-Over Demo Reel
This is similar to having a showreel for film acting. A reel is important because your agent can use it to show casting directors what you can do. While it is possible to create a DIY voice reel, it is best to only do this if you are familiar with the recording software and confident enough to create good quality audio. Otherwise, it is best to hire someone to produce it for you professionally. If you’re wanting to produce your own showreel, get inspired by the voice reels of other actors currently working in the industry.
It is important for this reel to be of a good quality creatively – so it shows the range of your voice. But it also needs to be of good technical quality. Also, make sure you’re not using a copyrighted script. You can avoid this by either writing your scripts, or finding scripts that are copyright-free or that exist in the public domain.
“If you’re putting together a show reel, make sure you consider putting down a commercial example, an animation example, an audiobook example, an instructional video – even the seatbelt health and safety video on an aeroplane, because that is a lot of the work,” Cottle said.
Read More: What Makes a Great Voice Demo?
5. Have a Range of Voices Up Your Sleeve
If you’re wanting to break into voice acting – especially for animation, you need to have a range of voices. Even if you do a great Kermit the Frog impression, that won’t be enough to sustain you – and there’s already a voice for Kermit! While learning by imitation is a great way to start, you’ll want to experiment and find the unique voices that only you can do.
“Make sure you have a real repertoire of characters, voices or personalities that you can draw upon. Because there’s a lot of times where you might get bogged down and also, if you are lucky enough to land a few roles, you don’t want to be the guy that’s doing the same thing in every project,” Cottle said.
If you’re narrating an audiobook you need to have good enunciation and the ability to tell stories well. Informational videos are less about creating a character and more about using your voice to get information across clearly, while animation is all about creating high energy, entertaining vocals that the animators can match to a character.
“If you’re flat with a performance, they can’t animate a character to be big, zany and fun to watch, unless your voice is bringing that energy,” Cottle said.
6. Be Ready to Run, Scream, and Cry
That’s not a threat – it’s actually part of the job! In an animation recording studio, they do something called ‘Walla’. Walla refers to the sounds that people make in the background while other characters perform their lines.
“They’ll just have this big bank of you jumping or running or leaping or crying or shouting or getting hit or catching a ball. It’s just all these sound clips that they’ll use to plug in gaps in animation,” Cottle said.
Familiarising yourself with vocal technique and knowing how to protect your voice becomes important here. You want to be able to run and scream in a way that doesn’t hurt your voice so that you can do it again the next day.
7. Get the Right Voice-Over Agent and Start Auditioning
If you’ve trained your voice, gotten your reel together and you’re ready to start auditioning for voice work, you can look at signing with an agent. Some actors who are already signed with acting agencies can request a meeting with their agent to express an interest in being put forward for voice work. It might be the case that your agent represents actors for voice but hasn’t previously put you forward for the roles.
Some agents will represent actors for both their regular acting and their voice work. However, some actors have separate agents for the two types of work. There is no right or wrong way to go about it – just make sure if you already have an acting agent, they’re aware you have a separate one for voice. You don’t want two agents putting you forward for the same brief as it makes a bad impression on casting.
Find an agent who believes in you as a voice artist and will put you forward for projects. Having a demo reel and voice training will help you in these meetings as they show you’re taking the work seriously.
8. Be Cool With “Less Cool” Work
If you’re wanting to break into voice acting, you’ll need to be cool with the fact that not every job is going to be glamorous or exciting – at least not in the beginning. Commercials, video games, E-learning content, health and safety videos and meditation apps all use voice-overs.
“Everyone wants to be a voice artist in a Pixar movie or on The Simpsons but you need to be able to show your chops. The bulk of work is in TVCs, or even audiobooks. Workplace health and safety videos – there’s always a voice that will narrate those. That is the majority of the work, it all pays and it’s all good,” Cottle said.
9. Find Work at a Voice-Over Recording Studio
Actors are often advised to immerse themselves in the environment they want to work in. This means if you’re wanting to work in screen or theatre, you might work as a reader in a casting agency or as an usher at a theatre. This can also be an option to help you break into voice acting.
“Work in the places where they tend to record, like in podcast studios or sound editing. If you can work in those, there’s a lot of times where they might even go ‘Can anyone do a random voice for this background character?’” Cottle said.
If your goal is to break into voice acting, try to look for work or internship opportunities with the companies that produce this content. Find out where specific productions in your area record. You could also look at volunteering or working at a community radio station.
10. Throw Yourself Into Voice-Over Work!
Once you book a job and you arrive in the recording studio, you get to experiment and have fun. This advice applies more specifically to working in animation, but there can be room for it with projects like audiobooks too.
“You’ve got to try to find ways to be fresh, exciting, fun and have a through-line for your character. The actual medium itself is so fun to work with as an actor because you can do a million takes so quickly,” Cottle said.
His advice for voice actors in the booth is to not let your body lock up, and instead feel free to move your arms and gesture in a recording space. Don’t be afraid to let loose!
“You watch old tapes of Robin Williams being the genie and he needs a 10 metre radius around him because he’s swinging his arms, doing squats, jumping around and he’s really putting his whole body into it,” Cottle said.
Voice acting is an exciting industry and if you’re already an actor it can be a natural extension of your work. It’s important to train and learn about the industry if you’re wanting to find work. But it’s equally important to experiment and play. Your voice is uniquely yours, so let people hear it!