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Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Succeed in Voice Overs (and Why We Fail)

Voice overs can sometimes feel like you are hitting your headphones against a brick wall - you keep auditioning, but it's all in vain. No work, just a string of failed auditions. 

Don't worry, there is hope and you are probably doing something wrong that can easily be rectified.

One of the biggest errors you can make is ploughing a fallow field - by that I mean going for genres where the work is sparse or highly competitive and your chances greatly diminished. Or you could be occupying a niche which isn't a true fit for your voice-type. 

A student of mine has the silkiest of silky voices and her first language is German rather than English. Don't get me wrong her English is outstanding, but as you might expect it comes with an accent. Although she has been getting voice over jobs in her mother tongue, the English ones have been thin on the ground. 

She has been trying to perfect the art of delivering lines in RP (received pronunciation) which is standard British - what used to be called BBC English, or sometimes Oxford English (although strictly speaking Oxford has it's own accent distinct from RP). She has worked tirelessly on this endeavour, only to be told by listeners that they can detect a German accent. 

I am not saying she shouldn't apply for English VO jobs, but self realisation, developing our own voice descriptions and acceptance of our limitations is so important in this industry. 

In this case my recommendation was to concentrate on the German voice work, but in addition promote herself as speaking English with a central European credentials as an hors d'oeuvre

Clients would then know what to expect. 

In many cases voice over genres choose us rather than the other way around and we should not pigeonhole our voices too early on in our careers. Another student of mine has recorded over half a dozen audiobooks since her initial training and is currently narrating a biography about celebrated film and TV actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Authors love her measured delivery and hushed tones. 

However, try as she might, she just can't seem to secure work in other areas. She has auditioned for commercials, online videos and corporates  - all to no avail. My advice to was to stick to the audiobooks and build on her expertise. She could easily become the go-to voice for all sorts of long form narration. 

One of the other main issues when it comes to achieving success is what I call the 'voice over delusion'. This is where talents think they are suited for something just because they love that particular genre. 

Prime examples are videogames and animation. 

Make no mistake, these are fiendishly difficult areas to break into, not least because of the intense competition and formidable voice acting skills required. 

Yet I have some students who steadfastly refuse to accept that being an anime voice over star or becoming a character in Call of Duty is out of reach for most of us. They delude themselves into thinking that because they love these brands, they have some unique route in to fame and fortune. 

Never forget that character acting is about much more than just putting on silly voices, you have to have an amazing range of tones, styles, accents and exemplary acting skills.

My most successful graduates are those who know that the vast majority of voice over work is in more prosaic areas such as narration, explainer videos, industrials and online training. If you don't accept this, then you are living in a dreamworld. 

Of course it is possible to secure video game and cartoon work, but this will tend to be from indie developers or low/no paying fan dubs. I do have a small number of graduates who have gone on to character acting work, but I am sure even these would admit that most of their money is earned in the meat 'n potatoes world of narrative voice overs, using their own natural voices.


  • Stick to what you do best
  • Get some feedback on what your voice sounds like
  • Don't be delusional
  • Appreciate your good voice qualities

What tips do you have for voice over success and what are the best ways to avoid failure? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


Gary Terzza coaches beginners in voice overs via Skype and one-to-one in the recording studio.


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