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Resistance Is Useless: Why Embracing Change is Essential for Voice Over Success

Are you a go-getter or a stick in the mud? Is your lack of knowledge about technology, computers and social media holding back your voice over career?

You had better change your ways... fast.

When I first started working in television, over thirty years' ago, I was called in to see the Director Of Programmes for a 'chat'. The big cheese was Charles Denton , a powerful telly man even in those days, though later his star was to shine even brighter as the BBC Head Of Drama. 

"Young man" he said, as I wondered what I had done wrong, "what are you doing here?"

I thought he was questioning my employment, even though it was only my second day. I explained I was a trainee continuity announcer  learning to link the station's programming output both on camera and as a voice over.

"Let me tell you" he said with authority "television is changing rapidly and 10 years from now your role will have disappeared, so think about doing something else."

He was both right and wrong. 

Television was changing, but today the demand for announcers and voice overs has never been greater. Back then in 1982 there were just 3 TV channels in the UK (although there were numerous regional opts) and a clutch of radio stations. Fast forward three decades and there are approximately five hundred TV channels and six hundred licensed radio stations, and this figure excludes internet based platforms.... and the thousands of international outlets.

In other words, today there are plenty of broadcasters in need of content and voices actors.

But the metamorphosis hasn't just occurred in broadcasting. Today audiobooks are booming, clients want their explainer videos voiced and app developers often require fresh new vocal talent. All inconceivable back in the good ol' days of analogue tape and UHF.

The important thing is that we recognise change as a fundamental part of the voice over landscape. Even more importantly we need to embrace change in order to keep our careers on track and move forward.

What happens if we stand still? 

This blog post was partly inspired by Woody Allen's comments this week about working for Amazon. The famously neurotic director has signed a deal with their  Prime service to make a groundbreaking TV programme. Interviewed in Cannes by Deadline Hollywood  he is reported to have said

"I don't own a computer or understand what a streaming service is; all I know is,  I regret a deal that has taken me out of my comfort zone"

Is this the same Woody Allen who set a new bar for filmmaking with the sweeping opening for Manhatten in 1977, with its vivid black & white cinematography and evocative Gershwin soundtrack, or the futuristic silliness of Sleeper back in 1973? These movies were pushing the creative boundaries at the time.

His work was fresh and contemporary. So what happened?

Most probably Allen blinked and the world changed overnight. This is what happens to many of us of a certain age. A few years' ago, my agent requested a fresh showreel from me, so I said I would send her my latest cassette montage straight away.

"Cassette?" she enquired incredulously. "Ok" I replied, wanting to show I knew a thing or two about modern media "I'll record a CD"

"CD's are old hat darling. These days everyone's using mp3".

I had no idea what she was on about and so began my journey on a new road of discovery.

Of course Woody Allen will have plenty of highly qualified people to guide him through the technological labyrinth, but you and I do not. We need to do it ourselves.

The good news is that there is plenty of help for the technophobes out there. YouTube videos allow the experts to take us step by step through the complexities of recording software; online shows such as the highly entertaining East West Audio Body Shop  make creating a home studio a lot less daunting and the numerous voice over groups on sites such as Linkedin provide invaluable help and support to voice over newbies.

Scaling the walls

It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the voice over industry. To outsiders it seems like an impenetrable fortress, perhaps even a closed shop.

I can you assure you it isn't. 

Everyday new voices are coming on the scene. Clients are constantly on the look out for the next big thing. Freshness and enthusiasm sometimes trump experience. One of my former students (who came to see me in 2011) has now become a creative voice over manager at E4, Channel 4's youth brand. Not only did she reach the same level as her coach, but she far exceeded it. 

And her humble beginnings? As a worker for the British health service, the NHS.


Keep an open mind and learn, learn, learn. Don't be daunted by change; instead use it as a springboard to develop new skills and open doors. 

Technology is merely a means to an end - reel to reel tape was superseded by CD, which in turn was replaced by mp3 and now streaming is the latest buzzword. But these are merely vehicles for your voice... how you perform and promote your talents is of far greater importance.

The future is bright, so don't be dim. 


Curious about voice overs? Try my online Voice Over Training For Beginners.

 Gary Terzza runs the Voice Over MasterClass VoMasterClass

How On Earth Do You Get A Voice Over Agent?

It's one of the trickiest issues for voice over newbies - how do you secure professional representation?

In this video I take you through a couple examples that should help put you on the path to securing an agent.

Video Transcript:

How on earth do you get a voice-over agent? It's a tricky one. 


Hi, hello. I hope you're well and I hope you're in fine voice. Now, how do you get a voice-over agent? There is the $64,000 question. It is very difficult. It is hard to get a voice-over agent so you have to start with that mindset to begin with. 

I think the first thing is to find something distinctive and different about your voice. 
Is it your regional accent, if you've got one? 
Is it your age? Is it the tonal quality? 
Are you very low pitched or high pitched? 

Have you just got something that is part of you that nobody else has got? 

If you're thinking to yourself, but I haven't got anything distinctive, I can assure you you have. You just have to go to some friends and say, "Please can you note down some differences in my voice or some things you notice about my voice, whatever that is?" and get them to come back with this list that you can then distill into a voice description. That's a very useful tool to have. You can then create something that is you, and you get a bit of an idea of what your voice actually sounds like. It's a very good exercise to go through.

Then you can present that to the agent that this is what I sound like. Don't put down "I am a complete beginner." Don't say that. What you can say is, "I'm a fresh, new talent." It sounds much, much better. It's much more appealing to agents, as well. That's the main thing that you can do.

The other thing really is to get some work first. I know that sounds like I'm putting the cart before the horse, but you can get work through the pay-to-play sites or throughout your own endeavours, through knocking on a few production companies' doors and so on. 

Certainly using the pay-to-play sites and the freelancer sites, you can just build up a body of work. By pay-to-play, I mean sites like Voice123, Voices.com, Voices Pro, Bodalgo, and so on. Getting that body of work, a little bit of a portfolio of work first, is again, much more attractive to a potential agent. 

Those are a couple of things that you can do. Don't give up. That's the other thing I would say. Probably the first agent, when you knock on their door, will say, "No. No thanks," but what they mean is "No, not today." It doesn't mean that three months down the line, six months down the line, they won't have an opening for your kind of voice, so keep knocking on those doors and don't give up. 

Thanks very much for watching. I hope you do get an agent eventually. Take care, look after your voice, and see you next time. 

Your Voice Over Questions Answered

As a voice over coach, I spend most of my time responding to enquiries. I always say there is no such thing as a silly question when it comes to our business. Let's face it the industry can seem opaque and inaccessible to newcomers, so if I can help somebody with their query and point them in the right direction,  I feel I have done my job.

Consequently I thought it would be an interesting exercise to share some of the questions that have come my way recently. They are all genuine, but for reasons of confidentiality I have withheld names. However, I've noted the original source of each discussion.

Hopefully you will find the answers useful too, especially if you are just starting out in voiceovers.

My trainer at the radio station says my voice is sing-song. How can I correct this? (phone conversation)

This takes me back. When I was about 10 or 11, I recall doing a reading in class and received some positive feedback from the teacher and was subsequently selected to do a more substantial performance on stage at the end of term concert. My head got bigger, until another teacher told me my performance was too 'sing-song'. 

The comment did me the world of good (although I was upset at the time) and have since been acutely aware of over-modulating - to give the phenomena its technical name. You can sometimes hear announcers reading the news in a predicable rhythm, almost like there is a melody in their voices with repeated inflections. This is what your trainer has heard and she wants you to develop a more naturalistic style. 

One of the best ways  to remedy this is to record yourself speaking normally and then reading a script. Notice the difference? You are probably switching on your radio persona and need to connect back with the real you. Concentrate not on the sound of your voice, but on the meaning of what you are saying... your voice will follow without you even thinking about it. 

What do you think my rate should be for 1,000 minutes of finished audio for an e-learning job? (email enquiry)

Blimey that's a lot of minutes. Crunching the numbers, this works out at about 17  hours of completed audio, but of course it will take you far longer than this to record, edit and review the project. I recommend you allow 70 to 80 hours of your time. So 2 to 3 weeks of very hard work. Remember you will need to take regular breaks (including eating and, er, going to the toilet!). In terms of fee,  I would say in the region of £1,400 to £1,600 for the whole project (e-learning is not the best payer).You will need gallons of water too.

For someone who is a total novice, is there a site of inclusive sample elements to work from? Or is it a case of listen to one and copy it?  (Linkedin message)

Voice overs are all about finding your own voice and when making a showreel you shouldn't be copying others. However I can understand that you might want to get an idea of the form and structure a typical reel might take, so check out some of the voice actor profiles on agents' websites, or perhaps even on the pay to play sites, such as Voice123.

Can you help with my recording problem? On playback the sound is very quiet, almost as if my voice is not being recorded through the microphone at all. Is it my mic or pre-amp? (email enquiry)

Probably neither.  From your description it would seem you have identified the problem already when you say your voice doesn't sound like it's being recorded through the mic. My theory is that what you are hearing is your computer's inbuilt microphone and not your external mic. Check your computer's audio preferences and make sure you select the pre-amp and de-select the onboard computer mic. 

Looking for some feedback on my website! Tell me! (Twitter conversation)

This is a swish looking place to visit. Interestingly your images are not the usual mic or headphones (which are difficult for voice over artists to get away from) and the site resolves beautifully on my mobile device... Google will be pleased! Of course when it comes to voice over websites, the acid test is what do the demos sound like. Yours are great, but with one major caveat: there is a guy - who isn't you - providing an intro to each of your tracks. GET RID OF HIM. It is your voice clients want to hear, not some voice on a stick.

Also have a think about how you are going to promote your website. Decent SEO, social media plugs, signature on the bottom of emails are all excellent ways to attract visitors.

I don't know much about audiobooks. How can I earn money narrating stories? (Facebook)

I would try ACX. Unlike the p2p sites, they are free and part of Audible and the mighty Amazon, so your work has a higher chance of being found. You may also want to take a look at my article: Five Things Every Audiobook Beginner Should Know where I discuss some of the fundamentals and pitfalls of narrating.

Got a question? I'm all ears....

When not answering questions, I spend my time teaching beginners in the voice over studio. 

©Gary Terzza 2015


Warning! Voice Overs Can Damage Your Health

I want to tell you a sad story.

Back in 2005 when I began voice over coaching, one of the earliest enquiries I received came from an enthusiastic young guy called Leon (not his real name).  We spent 20 minutes on the phone chatting about the VO industry and I explained how I might be able to help him.

He was genuinely fired up and said he would love to come along, but needed to sort out his diary first. He didn't.

Then a year later I took another call from Leon. He wanted to remind himself of the nature of the business - would his voice be suitable? How much effort would he have to put in? Could he combine it with his day job? Again he was keen to start his voice acting career as soon as possible and we discussed possible dates. That was the last I heard from him....

... until 2007.

This time I received a friendly email saying he hadn't forgotten about voice overs and would be signing up soon. The seasons rolled on by and in 2008 I received another phone call from him and on this occasion we actually booked a date. Then about a week before we were due to meet, he emailed saying he was snowed under with work and would have to postpone the session.

Leon was right, he did postpone the training.... by four years!

It was 2012 when I next heard from him and he wondered if I remembered him - "oh yes" I said "I remember you very well and I am pleased to hear from you again". I reminded him about the coaching I provided and gave an outline of the voice over industry. Interestingly, things had changed since our last communication  - there was now a greater choice of affordable microphones for home recording and demand was increasing in areas such as videogames, audiobooks and (from the new kid on the block) explainer videos.

He was suitably excited about the prospect of becoming a voice actor and this time put his money where his mouth was. My man was booked in.

The day of his training session arrived; the studio was hired and I was using leading producer Siggi  (his impressive portfolio includes work with Skepta and Adidas) to ensure Leon achieved the finest quality recordings.

The day before our meeting I tweeted to say we were looking forward to seeing him and provided directions to the studio.

Interestingly Uptown Studios  where we record nestles in deepest Parsons Green, a leafy tranche of west London and is secreted within The Matrix, a creative complex that boasts (amongst other enterprises) the management HQ of pop sensation One Direction. My students are often taken aback when teen fans ambush them outside the gates and ask if they "know Harry?!"

My guy was due at midday and as the time approached, I relayed to Siggi the story of how Leon had had been thinking about voice over training for a number of years and how we had had a series of false starts. By a quarter past twelve, I began to get concerned my student had become lost en route.

I tried to call his mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. I sent a text, an email and phoned again. It was now 12:45 and still no sign. I went outside and noticed the sun was peeping through the clouds, warming up what had been a chilly spring day. I wandered up and down the street trying to spot anyone who looked like they might be lost.

By 1:30pm I was seriously worried. More unanswered phone calls and a half eaten prawn baguette followed, but .... nothing.

Needless to say the end of the booking (3pm) came and went and I tried one final round of calls, texts and emails. I did not hear anything from Leon.

Until two weeks' later.

"Hi Gary" said the sheepish voice on the phone. "I'm so sorry I didn't make our session; I had terrible flu and couldn't get out of bed". I was too taken aback to respond with anything intelligible at first, but blurted out that I had been concerned about his no-show. Again he apologised, but said he would be in touch soon to book another date. That was three years ago and I am still waiting for Leon's phone call.

So what lessons can we learn from this tale?

Firstly, it is ok to take your time before you embark on the voice over path, but bear in mind enthusiasm and action are as important as talent. If you keep stalling, year after year, you have to ask yourself some soul-searching questions:

  • Do I really want to do voice overs?
  • Why do I keep putting off committing?
  • Is the fear just too great?

Of course job, family and budget all influence our decisions, but we should also be honest in assessing our conviction to learning something new.

If you don't know whether you want to do voice overs or not.... you probably don't. 

What do you think Leon's next step should be? Should he give up, or try again? 

Gary Terzza is course director at VoMasterClass

Close Encounters Of The Voice Over Kind: Why Do People Find Our Industry So Alien?

I remember seeing a cartoon in a British newspaper depicting the Queen opening a new fire station. As she proceeds down a line of firefighters in uniform, she shakes one officer's hand and says to him "so what do you do?"

Of course in real life Her Majesty would know exactly what her subjects do for a living, but voice actors often find it difficult to explain their work to the uninitiated. In fact my heart sinks when I meet someone new and they ask about my occupation... and I know it is me that has the problem.

By definition we are voice only and so invisible to the general public. Who can blame a stranger being bemused by someone sitting in a soundproof room talking to themselves all day? It's hardly normal is it? But are we doing ourselves a disservice? Should we flag wave more and raise the profile of the beleaguered voice over artist and how should we respond to that question?

Someone's got to do it

Having had a bracing walk around a beguiling part of North Yorkshire and in need of liquid refreshment, I walked into a homely local pub. As I sat sipping my beer, I was joined by a couple of friendly locals and we got chatting about the usual things - the weather, best places to eat etc. Then the inevitable question came up - "what do you do for a living" asked the younger of the two in a rich, rural accent.

"I do voice overs" I said, expecting the usual follow-up questions such as 'what's that all about then?' and 'does it pay well?' Instead my new friend paused a while and replied 'I s'ppose you don't get yer 'ands mucky doin' that'. He was right; my palms were pristine and embarrassingly smooth. No hard work-induced horny pads for me.

It was a rather refreshing response, I thought, and a couple of hearty ales later we had forgotten all about my unusual occupation. However not every encounter is like that. Sometimes you are left lost for words.

You do what?

Unfortunately we tend to define people by what they do - "she works in computers" or "he's a teacher" and we build up assumptions based on our preconceived ideas about these occupations. In reality it tells us little about the person. The software engineer isn't necessarily a geek, nor is an accountant a crushing bore.

Stereotypes abound - and even in our business we get our fair share of nerds and level-headed folks along with the occasional 'luvvie'.

That said, we live in a society where vocation is important and sadly we have to live with that.
In my own case, explaining what I do to earn a buck has got worse - as a voice over coach I spend seven days a week advising students, helping them negotiate fees, critiquing their auditions etc and yet I've had people say to me "yes, but what do you do for a job?" as if I was playing at it.

You may find the same with your voiceover career - even friends and family may regard all your hard endeavours as being nothing more than a harmless pastime.

The tendency is to become angry at this, but I recommend turning the situation to your advantage.

Loud 'n proud

The key is to present yourself as a professional and help explain what you do intriguingly and with panache. "I use my voice to help businesses increase their bottom line" is a more thought-provoking way to say "I record voice overs for commercials". Similarly "I narrate audiobooks" could sound more exciting if instead you said "I tell stories for a living".

These are alternative ways to draw the interlocutor into your voice over world so you can then explain in detail what you do and how you do it.

Let's face it, at the end of the day, it is not important that someone doesn't understand what you do, but explaining your profession with clarity in an assured manner will help you be more confident about your somewhat idiosyncratic career choice.
Being a voice actor really is out of this world.

What do you say to people who don't understand your love of voice overs? 

Gary Terzza specialises in helping beginners enter the voice over industry. VoMasterClass.com