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Friday, May 02, 2014

Want To Get Into Voice Overs? You Could Be Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

By Gary Terzza      

Many contemplate launching themselves into the voice over industry without actually thinking about what it entails. Few realise the sacrifices involved and the long, hard struggle to earn that first pay cheque.

It could be just my imagination, but recently I have noticed an increase in the number of people assuming they can just waltz into the VO industry. They approach the subject something like this: "I need to earn some extra income, so I thought I would do voice overs."  Really? A few weeks ago someone mistook me for a voice over agent and wanted me to take her on even though she hadn't recorded a showreel, just so she could earn "an extra bob or two." 

So can you just pick up a microphone and get a voice over job?

Before I answer (and we all know the answer is 'no'), it's time we asked ourselves what voice over artists actually do. To the casual observer we just open our mouths and the words flow out, whether that is for a commercial, video game or audiobook. That's it; no skill, no talent, no slaving over a hot mic involved.

Of course professional voice actors will baulk at this over simplification. What the pros do is paint pictures with their voices, breathe life into scripts and give a performance that is genuine and believable. They also spend time and effort promoting their voices. Yes you can just talk into a microphone, but it won't get you very far.

Reading a script is easy, doing a voice over is difficult and trying to make money from it is harder still.

The hard work no one wants to do

One of my favourite books is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell where he sets about trying to find out why some people are incredibly successful. One of his theories is the '10,000 hours rule' in which he postulates that putting in that enormous number of hours will make you phenomenally successful. He gives the example of The Beatles who, before they went to Hamburg, were pretty average musicians. 

Once they re-located to the German port they played over 1,200 times, often giving concerts morning noon and night. Gladwell argues that this huge number of hours (he estimates 10,000) turned them into great performers and songwriters. 

But can newcomers to voice overs do that? It would take 10 years if you practiced 20 hours a week, so if you have another job, a mortgage to pay and family to feed that is a long time to wait. But that is not what Gladwell is saying. He asserts that you need 10,000 hours to become phenomenally successful.

My guess is that the late, legendary Don LaFontaine exceeded this number of hours during his long career as he voiced over 5,000 movie trailers and his net worth was estimated at  $80 million* which makes him a voice over phenomenon by anybody's standards.

So if you want to be as successful as Don, get practising.

However what I mean by hard work is the realisation that in order to secure voice over jobs you need to be willing to learn and put in the elbow grease. A few hours a week will do; you will be surprised how much your performance improves even before you reach 10,000!

The Risk/Reward Dilemma

Another aspect wannabes often ignore are the costs involved. I always stress the business side of voice overs, not only in terms of marketing your voice, but also the initial investment required. 

Here are some of the items you will be spending money on:
  • Making a showreel (good studios don't come cheap) 
  • Joining at least one 'pay to play' site (these days this is an essential part of your marketing)
  • Recording equipment (you need to achieve a high professional standard in order to compete)
This list is certainly not exhaustive and doesn't include, for example, optional costs such as employing the services of a voice over coach or any travel expenses incurred.

So although it is not possible to give an accurate figure as everybody's circumstances are different (many amateur musicians often have their own studio, for example) you could spend quite a few quid on just starting out with no guarantee you will get any paid work. 

Is it worth the outlay?

At the end of the day you will only know when and if the work starts coming in, but remember voice overs are a long term investment. If you are looking to make a quick buck forget it, but if you want a long term career that is great fun and will pay dividends over the years then give it a go.

You don't have to spend tens of thousands of hours learning to perfect your art, but you do do need to be aware that voice overs require commitment and strategic planning.


Voice overs can be an attractive way to earn additional income or even become a new full time career, but beware there is a price to pay in terms of commitment and investment. 

Gary Terzza

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