Should I become a voice over artist?
My parents are self-employed so I grew up watching them working in the home office, sending emails and writing up events, it all seemed so fast-paced and exciting. I used to love it when they asked me to 'man the phones Leo!' and I would take notes from amused clients and play secretary. My parents have owned and ran their corporate hospitality company for an impressive 32 years (check out TSC Events). They've had to face credit-crunches and raising four children (I don't know which was more challenging!) all from their home office. Seeing their grit and determination to succeed through hardship had a huge impact on me and it's only now that I too work for myself that I really understand all thats involved in being self-employed. I am so grateful to my parents for instilling such a hard-work ethic in me but before this post gets too Oscar speech-y let's get down the the nitty gritty!
I meet a lot of people who are interested in becoming a voice over artist but are tentative to take the leap as they don't really know what the job entails, let alone where to start. If this sounds like you then then I hope this post can serve as a look through the wardrobe into the world of Narnia.. or as I like to call it: Being a voice-over artist! Like any job there are the great parts and the not-so-great parts, so I have compiled everything in to a handy pros and cons list below. If you feel you can handle the cons then you are already half the way there. If the cons are a total turn off, then maybe it's time to have a good think about if it's the kind of job and lifestyle that you really want. Do bear in mind that the following list is just my opinion and perhaps for you some of my cons are your pros, or vice versa. As I am an eternal optimist let's get started with the...
Being your own boss: Something that all self-employed people get to enjoy is having full control! Now I am not a control freak but it is exciting (and a little scary!) to have full control over my business. From what I put on my website to editing my voice, the decisions are up to me and nobody else. I can choose which direction I want to take my career, I organise my own work day, I have sole authority on work purchases and my business finances. This can of course come with it's own stresses but I also feel that I get greater job satisfaction as I know that any success I make is down to myself (and lots of cups of tea!).
Setting your own timetable: I decide what my day entails. If I feel like I need a day where I connect with new clients and type up a mail out, then I have the freedom to do so. If I want to write a blog post in my dressing gown then only the postman will know about it. Got a dentist appointment that you really can't duck out of? There's nobody stopping you - except yourself!
You can record almost anywhere: Working from home is not just convenient but also cheap. No pricey or stressful commute, no rent-a-desk cost in town and no lunch from Pret every day! Also, if you get together a travel recording set-up, you can keep earning whilst on your holidays - if you've got a big duvet and a wi-fi connection then you're set!
New challenges every day: As a voice over artist every day is different. For example, today is Monday, usually a quiet day for me as I have wrapped up all my projects before the weekend. I normally spend the day sending invoices, doing life admin and writing a blog post. As the week progresses I may get auditions from my agent to work on, a 10,000 word e-learning script to start or a brief where I have to sound like 'a 6-year-old Chimp from Jupiter whose lost her slippers'. You really never know where your day will take you and I absolutely love that.
No qualifications necessary: Anyone can record themselves talking, which is in essence what a voice over is. However I wouldn't say that you don't need any experience to be a voice over artist. There are lots of fantastic courses and training modules out there to help you learn all about voice over and how to find your voice. I'd recommend Gravy For The Brain who have hundreds of expertly written courses on everything voice over related that you can think of!
Family friendly: Being able to spend so much time with my parents when I was growing up is something that I really treasure now. I'm not a parent but many of my VO pals are and they all say that it's an awesome job to have alongside parenting. Having a child-friendly and flexible timetable means that you can record around nap-times, nativity plays and school pick ups.
Inexpensive to set up: When people hear the words 'home studio' they have an image of a Dr Dre worthy set up of glass dividers, a big leather chair and a sound desk with lots of slide-y knobs and buttons. And that is exactly what it's like... not! My set up, all in, cost me less than £750. That's not to say that you can buy the cheapest mic out there, plug it in to the USB port of your computer and hey presto - you're a voice over artist! You want to invest in good equipment that is going to deliver brilliant sound quality, but that's a whole other blog post entirely! Most of the equipment will also hold quite good value, so if you decide that voice over is not for you, you can always sell your stuff on and re-coop your cash.
Lucrative pay: You can get paid very well doing voice overs, usually at least £100 per script, which may only take 20 minutes to record, edit and send. If you're the lucky person that is chosen as the voice of a big brand you can earn tens of thousands of pounds to have your voice broadcast to the nation and beyond. Bare in mind that big buyouts can be few and far between and there's no guarantee that you'll get any work at all.
Being alone: This is the biggest con for me as I am a hugely social person but I have a job which involves me being alone 90% of the time (the other 10% is when the cat comes in). There is light at the end of the tunnel though: there is an amazing community of fellow VOs out there who are out to support each other and talk to when you are sick of the sound of your own voice - literally. The awesome folks at Gravy For The Brain host a great Summer and Christmas knees up where we meet, mingle and have a right ol' laugh. I also look forward to doing VO sessions in a studio in town where I get to meet clients, engineers and other talents face-to-face.
Editing, editing and more editing: Depending on the script length, this isn't always hugely time consuming but it is a part of the job that I do not enjoy much. It is a necessary part of the job though and, with simple software and experience, isn't difficult to get done.
Financing: Like any self-employed person you have to submit your tax return by the end of Jan each year (although I usually do mine in advance). You can, of course, pay an accountant to do it for you but I've always done it myself. It can be very confusing and long winded but I have found it easier and easier each year. Throughout the year you have to keep on top of invoicing and chasing payments, hoarding receipts and keeping your spreadsheets up to date. I use an excel spreadsheet to chart all my incomings and outgoings but there is great software out there to ease the stress.
No financial stability: This is probably the scariest part of the job and something that I do worry about. As hard as I work there is no guarantee that I'll get booked for any work. I have no salary to fall back on and am fully dependant on being the chosen voice for a project, something which is totally out of my hands. Luckily for me, that has not happened yet and I continue to get work, but the thought alone that one day it might stop is enough motivation for me to work my socks off!
Quick turnarounds: Most of the time the client wants the audio yesterday which often means you get the script and you have to record and send it in warp speed, obviously with it sounding perfect without any retakes. The plus side is that if you can do this clients will love you and use you again and again.
No one to bounce ideas off: I feel really lucky to have a partner who is always happy to literally lend an ear to my VO work and give me feedback. However, when my boyfriend is at work I have to trust my own instincts when it comes to my voice, something that becomes a lot easier the more experience you get. I also have to make all the decisions when it comes to designing my website, dealing with tricky clients and recording auditions to name a few situations where I would love to have a colleague to throw ideas around with.
Being sick sucks: Obviously being ill sucks full stop, but it is extra crappy if you are a voice over artist. No client wants to hear your bunged-up version of their script and Phoebe from 'Friends' might think you sound sexy when you are ill but my mic tells a different story! When you are croaky, steaming water is your best friend, as is lots of honey and lemon tea but most of the time resting and little use of your voice is the best elixir. I will do a whole post about this in the weeks to come so look out for it!
Not an overnight success: There's a lot of work out there as a voice over artist but sadly it won't all land on your doorstep the day you set up your mic stand. When I started I probably only did 10 voice overs in the first 6 months, now I have enough repeat clients that I probably voice an average of 2 projects a day, but believe me when I say that it took a lot of hard graft to get to this stage. Which leads me perfectly in to the next point...
Self-motivation: As outlined above, you have to hustle to get to where you want and you have to be entirely self-motivated. The flip side of being your own boss is that there is no pressure from anyone else to get things done and completed to a high standard. Want to sit in your jammies and watch Jezza K all day? Do it! Will that help your career progress? Probably not. However, you can sit in your jammies and email potential production companies with your voice reel, research successful voice over artists to see what they are doing right and practice, practice, practice. You've got a booth so use it.
So there you have it, my pros and cons of being a voice over artist. Scared? Excited? Already ordering your mic?! If you are beginning your journey to becoming a voice over artist I wish you all the luck in the world. I am so, so lucky to have a job where I am looking forward to Monday morning, and it's no lie - I really do! It's such a satisfying feeling knowing that you've nailed a job and receive great feedback from clients, all in the knowledge that you've worked bloody hard to get there.
If you have any requests for future posts or any other questions about the industry, comment below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help.
Keep in good voice.