Becoming a voice actor isn’t about luck. It’s about talent and commitment. Read my steps to get you on the journey. There’s a lot to learn and it’s not “just talking”. There are so many skills that are invisible to the casual observer and pass under the radar.
That said, with time and effort, you can acquire the skills and enjoy a career where you’re charge of what you do.
If you’ve wondered about how you can work in a creative industry doing a job you love, then maybe you’ve thought about becoming a voice actor.
Let’s go through each step!
Step 1 – What Kind Of Voice Actor Do You Want To Be?
The starting point is to ask yourself what kind of voice actor you want to be? It’s a broad term that covers many areas of work.
There are voice actors who work in radio plays, audio books, video games, commercials, e-learning, telephone messaging, live events and corporate narration.
My first question would be, “Is there a particular aspect that has caught your attention?”. It’s easy to say, “all of them” but something probably aroused your curiosity.
If you love reading books, then audiobooks might be a natural choice for you, or if you’re a gamer, then perhaps video games. Choose a sector that inspires you and work towards that niche. After all, they do say that doing what you love doesn’t feel like work.
Step 2 – Assess Your Natural Voice Acting Skills.
Beginners often say that they’ve been told that they have a great voice and that they should be a voice actor. A great voice is an asset, but it’s not necessarily the main or only skill. Today more than ever, directors are looking for voices that sound like “real people”.
For instance, in my own experience and talking to others in the industry, the number one skill that is often stated is the ability to be directed.
Directors and producers want a voice over for a particular project. They know what they are trying to create. They can hear it in their head, but the question is can you deliver it? Ironically, being able to listen is as important as being able to speak.
You should be able to mould your performance to deliver what others require, and probably have a myriad of different possibilities in your repertoire that you can create.
For starters, try recording yourself performing a sample script. Get comfortable listening to your own voice. It is often the first hurdle for many newcomers.
If you’re serious, get a consultation with someone who can give you some direction. It’s very difficult to accurately judge your own work.
Step 3 – Voice Actor Training
Once you’ve had some feedback from a professional, you can begin your voice acting journey.
If you’re starting from zero, you will need some kind of training. Even if you have some of the skills required, there will be gaps that you need to address.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say “Voice Acting Classes” here. That’s because the foundation of voice acting is simply acting. It looks easy, but actually there’s a lot more to it.
If you’ve not seen the famous clip online of Sir Ian McKellan in Ricky Gervais’ “Extras” take a look. It’s a sketch where he talks about how acting is just pretending. It’s hilariously funny, but of course, that’s because it’s just not true. It’s a cliché.
There’s another cliché that voice acting is just talking. From the outside it may appear that way, because the true skill is in making it appear authentic and genuine.
Acting classes, improv and all manner of other training can help you understand what goes into a performance and the skills to do it.
Personally, I’m a fan of the Meisner Technique, based on the teachings of Sanford Meisner. He described acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”. It’s a technique that is driven by accessing and expressing your impulses whilst being in the moment of whatever you are creating. Some of my training was with one of Meisner’s students – Scott Williams.
The goal in acting and voice acting is that people believe what they are see and hear. That takes some training and skill.
The intention behind your performance is often more important than the delivery. Being able to say words written for you without sounding like you’re reading them is also an important skill.
Audio Production Technical Skills.
Increasingly, voice actors work from home studios which means you will also need technical skills.
Even in a normal session at a studio with an audio engineer and a director, you will need to know about how to approach a microphone to get the best out of your performance.
In a home studio you will need to know how to record yourself to a professional standard, how to operate the kit, how to edit audio with software, use remote connections and what to do when something goes wrong.
Voice Over Industry Business Skills.
Showbusiness. Show and Business. That second word is really important if you want to make a living doing it.
Marketing, negotiating, branding, invoicing and accounts are all part of the daily grind. At the heart of it, you’ll be running a business. Of course, an agent is great to handle a lot of this, but when you’re starting out you’ll be on your own.
For instance, you’ll need to know what “usage” is, a “buy-out” and at least the basics of what to check for in a contract. What you sign on day-one of your career could impact you for years to come.
Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice.
Once you’ve committed to the idea of becoming a voice actor, practising and training to build your skills should be the next thing you think of. I often hear beginners asking about how they can get a demo made, which is putting the cart before the horse.
I would strongly dissuade you from taking up one of the many offers out there to spend a few hours in a recording studio, with a demo produced at the end of it. It can be an expensive white elephant. A year later you’ll cringe at what you did before you knew better and how much you paid for it.
Even if you are coached through that demo session, you probably won’t be able to replicate it in the real world. Training beds in your performance. In a real session, you’ll be expected to know what to do without any help and that could make for a short career. People will be polite. It’s just the phone will stop ringing.
In almost any profession, you wouldn’t start touting your services until you had some knowledge and skills. Get those right first and then move on to the demo.
Step 5 – Invest in Studio Kit Appropriately.
Building your skills doesn’t require you to spend a small fortune on recording equipment, although it’s easy to think that the right equipment is the solution.
At a very basic level, you can record and listen to yourself on most modern smartphones. There is also free editing software available to practice with at first.
As your skills progress, you can buy a basic microphone and headphones to plug into a computer. I don’t recommend a USB mic for actual work, but it’s ideal for practising and developing your skills.
The Voice Over Recording Chain
For a basic professional standard recording set-up, you could start with something like:
- Audio Technica NTA1 Microphone. (Not to be confused with the NT1A)
- BeyerDynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones.
- Audient id4 Audio Interface.
Those 3 items would probably set you back about £500. You will also need other accessories like cables, a mic stand, a pop filter and the like. So add a couple of hundred more as a contingency.
The Voice Over Recording Space
Of course to do any work you will need a professional standard recording space. This will be the most expensive of your investments but will potentially last for years. It’s not until you start trying to record without one that you realise how many things make noise… barking dogs, sirens, weather, central heating. The list is endless.
At an advanced level, you might have a purpose-built vocal booth and the daddy of microphones – the Neumann U87. You’ll pay thousands for each.
If you’re clever about what you buy and when, you’ll find that your early kit becomes your standby or travel kit in the future. Many voice actors have a collection of mics and equipment.
I really recommend starting basic and seeing where it goes and investing in stages as you develop. It’s easy to think that by buying an expensive microphone you can somehow magically make a career. The reality is that you upgrade when only your kit is holding you back.
Step 6 – The Demo(s)
If you have coaching as part of your training, then a good one will tell you when you’re ready to make a demo. It’s a little like your driving instructor knows when you’re ready for the driving test.
The current trend is a demand for genre-specific demos, so you may end up needing several.
A good demo, recorded at the right time, could last several years. It’s worth waiting for and better value in the long run.
By now, you’ll have hopefully plugged into the voice acting community which is vast on social media. Get some personal recommendations. Sadly there are some sharks out there. There are also some amazingly talented people who can help you.
Step 7 – Build a Brand and a Business.
Like any business, it’s about being top of mind. This generally means being specific. Your USP is the key to a long career. Standing out for a particular style or in a particular sector will probably get you hired again and again.
Ask a commercial producer who does a good a David Attenborough impression and they’ll probably name you several people off the top of their head. Likewise if you say I need a vulnerable authentic female voice with a US accent. Like it or not, they’ll pigeon-hole you into their contact book.
Being known for a style is to your advantage. Carve out your niche. Use it to build a reputation and get work. Then surprise them with what else you can do in the voice session.
Do it well and you can fly.
Becoming a voice actor is a long-term journey and not a quick fix. It can be incredibly rewarding. It takes time and effort. It can also be expensive, but you can do that in stages. Do it in the right order and you won’t waste time or money.
It’s also hugely competitive. Good training will stand you in good stead to stand out from the crowd.
As a basic guide, I would say you should expect it to take around 3 years to get to a point where you might be successfully making money.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I become a voice actor with no experience?
Start with training. Learn and observe others’ work. Consume content, read books and watch online videos. Build a step-by-step plan and practise. Build your skills and experience over time.
Can I teach myself voice-acting?
Yes, to a point. There are many online resources where you can learn and build skills. Ultimately, you will need another pair of ears to help, but you can definitely start on your own.
How can I practice voice-acting at home?
Start with some basic recording facilities, even a mobile phone. Search online for some sample scripts or write your own. Record and review. Find some training resources.
About The Author
Tony Collins Fogarty is a British Voice-Over Artist, with a background in broadcast and training as an actor. His radio career began in 1988. He began providing voice-overs regularly in 2005; full-time since 2012. Commercially, he is best known as the brand voice of Tripadvisor, on TV in the US, Canada and the UK.