VO Coach – Ten Voice-Over Commandments

me in front of a microphone with a cute dog on my lap

My first VO Coaching client is off and running, getting jobs and making his clients happy, Once in a while, I’ll devote a blog post to VO coaching tips. Even if you’re not in voice-over I hope these posts will lend a little insight into the VO world.

  1. Thou shalt not leap with no training. You wouldn’t enter a marathon without working out or warming up. The ability to speak and read isn’t enough to qualify to compete in the world of voice-over. There are subtleties and nuances. Techniques and technical know-how. Etiquette and protocols. A ‘great voice’ means very little in the overall scheme of things. You need to know how to adjust it to the project, and listen back to it with a critical ear. Find someone whose work you admire, who is currently in the business, and who you can afford. This job requires a vast collection of skills.
  2. Thou shalt not spend a mint on software/hardware/studio – at first. You can start in voice-over with little investment in a recording space. That’s one of its most attractive qualities. There’s free recording software (Audacity) and inexpensive microphones (Blue Yeti). Some people find recording under a comforter or in a closet full of clothing gives them enough sound-proofing for now. You can, and should, upgrade later. But make some money at it first.
  3. Thou shalt have a good commercial demo. Ideally, you ought to have several demos. (Narration, eLearning, animation, etc.) But you can start with a commercial demo that showcases different delivery styles. You can put one together yourself, but at least ask an honest VO talent friend to critique it. You’re too close to it. Outside ears can pick up on something you missed. Maybe you’re not demonstrating enough of a range. Or there are mouth noises you need to edit out. Criticism is never easy to hear but if you can’t or won’t seek it, you’re not in the right business.
  4. Thou shalt not crowd-source advice. When new talents ask Facebook forums general, wide-ranging questions, I wonder how they’ll ever decide whose advice to follow. They attract opposite opinions from people who love to hear themselves talk – or type! Asking “how do I get started” or “where do I find jobs” is simply lazy and avoiding training or research. Most of these new talents will give up in a short while because they’re not putting in the work. They expect it to be easy and it’s not. Find a mentor. Research reviews. Otherwise, how can you possibly choose between bits of polarized feedback from total strangers?
  5. Thou shalt listen to the competition. My husband, also a successful VO artist and I might be the only people you know who turn up the volume when a commercial comes on. We also analyze voice-overs on documentaries and discuss them. It’s for our work, but it’s also fun. If someone tweets about a voice-over job they’ve completed, I always go to the link. It helps to know every type of delivery clients are hiring. All of this knowledge goes into the soup that becomes the meal you’ll serve your clients.

6. Thou shalt not entirely avoid pay-to-play websites (nor shalt thou rely on them). Some VO talents are vehemently against using any pay-to-play websites (Voices.com, Voice 123, etc.) and will go so far as to insult those who do use them. That’s foolish. In many cases, you can put up a free listing. Clients have contacted me through my website to hire me after finding me on one of those sites. The pay-to-play site gave the client an opportunity to hear a lot of talent in one place. Without the pay-to-play listing, I wouldn’t have been considered for those jobs. You can also share those listings on social media. All for free!

However, attempting to build a voice-over business on these websites and social media shares alone is not enough. These sites – in general – change their rules at will, raise their rates, favor some talents over others, and that can all affect your bottom line. In short, relying on them puts your career out of your control. You must build a client base of your own. Coach and VO pro Marc Scott teaches marketing for voice actors. He also offers a free eBook download to get you started and take some of the scariness out of it. Visit him HERE.

7. Thou shalt not take auditions personally. A coach once told me: Concentrate on the people who hire you, not the ones who don’t. It’s over once you submit the audition. Don’t torture yourself by trying to figure out why you weren’t hired. Jobs get canceled. Priorities change. I was once hired by The Onion and was over the moon about voicing a comedy bit for them. Then, a production team member was fired and a new manager canceled all projects in progress. It was out of my hands. You can’t possibly guess what happened behind the scenes. Just move on.

A hire rate between 2-5% is excellent. That’s 95-98 jobs per 100 that you won’t get! I have a little sign in my booth that reads: AUDITIONING IS THE JOB! You’ll do a lot of it. Think of it as practice. Clients do not owe you feedback on why you didn’t get the job. They’re going through dozens and possibly hundreds of auditions. If they don’t hire you, move on.

8. Thou shalt be patient and helpful. Many people who hire voice-over artists have never done it before. They might not know how to explain what they want. Clients use all sorts of descriptors they’ve heard, but they don’t mean the same things to all people. Conversational, not salesy, non-announcery, energetic, etc. Example: an energetic car commercial for radio is a world away from an energetic delivery for a company explainer video.

If you the direction isn’t clear, ask them for an audio reference. Maybe there’s a segment of your demo that they want it to sound like. I got a series of jobs after a client explained they wanted their project to come off like Allison Janney. That didn’t mean an imitation. It meant her voice tone and delivery style. Easy peasy. I looked her up on YouTube and analyzed how she speaks.

Help make the job a good experience for both of you. Repeat business is key to becoming successful.

9. Thou shalt find thy sweet spot. You might have an idea of type of voice-over you do best. I always thought video voice-overs would be my “thing”, but they’re just a part of what I do. It turns out that my high-school theater training is coming in handy for frequent acting roles. E-learning is another genre that I do a lot of. Don’t limit yourself because you don’t think you can do a certain type of job. Everything comes more easily with practice. Do the audition and the market will decide. The exception to this is a required accent that you can’t do flawlessly. If that’s the case, skip it!

10. Thou shalt trust thy gut. As you sift through relevant information, including this list, don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right for you. You are unique. You know yourself and – hopefully – your expectations from this work. Nothing you learn will be a waste of time. If your gut reaction rejects it, that’s fine. Professional coaches will offer you what they’ve learned works for them. It’s up to you to take it from there and decide what’s right for you.

Bonus 11th Commandment. Be grateful. No one owes me or you a gig. People are busy and doing their best. Mistakes will happen. It’s not all about you, it’s about the project. Stay humble, hungry and thankful that you get to play in this wonderful sandbox of voice-overs!

My coaching services are specifically designed for beginners to voice-over. For more experienced VO talent, I suggest these coaches I’ve worked with: Carol Monda, and J. Michael Collins. And I’m a big fan of coach/talent Bill DeWees.

3 thoughts on “VO Coach – Ten Voice-Over Commandments”

  1. I’d add: Thou Shalt Just Say No.
    There is a tendancy in the beginning to take every job regardless of the money.
    It takes confidence to know your value, and the sooner you recognize your value the better.
    When a client says “Someone else can do the job for less.”
    Remember that client does not see your value.

    1. Excellent point! And it’s difficult to do when starting out, for sure, but it’s the right thing to do, for all of us. Thanks, Ken.

  2. Wow – what incredibly insightful, valuable and honest advice. And GENEROUS. There truly is “bounty enough for all” and in sharing your experiences and wisdom, you are confidently showing that while you may be helping someone else get good enough to land a gig you also went for, a high tide raises all boats. Amen to Ken’s wisdom, too – if people do work for $5 soon everyone thinks they should get good talent for a pittance. Sure, if you desperately need that five bucks, do it – but it can keep rates insultingly and ridiculously low (see: widespread minimum wage radio salaries). Thank you for sharing this, Lisa. I learned a lot.

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