The recipe for vo success includes:
1 part boundless energy
3 parts thick skin
Equal parts patience & perseverance
1 part sense of humor
4 parts alternative funding
Stir in addiction to performing
Sprinkle with talent to taste
Combine in no particular order.
Bake until this recipe no longer sounds half-baked.
Ask before you assume.
It’s hard to get started— with anything. And depending on your temperament, it may be harder for you than for most. Why? Because how do you climb a mountain when you’ve got no idea what that mountain’s made of? How can you assess its height, how rough the terrain is, what skills and tools you’ll need to climb it and what questions to ask to get started?
How does anyone advance… step forward… take even a baby step with such overwhelming uncertainty? In a word, will. If you have it, there’s a way.
A young woman, 22 years old, trained as an actress in musical theatre, asked if I could help her get started “doing voiceovers” in NYC. She’s a dear friend of the family and I said yes.
Eager-eyed, she said, “So, I guess the first step is to make a demo?”
I sighed, knowing all too well that that’s the farthest thing from the first step.
Getting an agent is usually mentioned as one of the top 3 things to do “to get started”, which is also a fallacy.
Look Before You Leap
Boy did I make a mistake years ago? I had ‘cut’ my first demo and through a friend of a friend, managed to get a 5-minute meeting with one of NYC’s top VO agents. She quickly and politely told me that she had “lots of horses in her stable just like me,” thank you very much. The fact is, I was so green, which she could see- and more importantly, hear— from a mile away. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so even though over the years I tried, by staying in touch and by training with her, sadly she only ever saw me as “that newbie”. So remember, make sure you’re ready for the A team with your A-game.
What most people don’t understand, when they’re exploring the business of voiceovers, is that it’s a business. Even though I came to the VO party later in life, (after having been an actress in NYC, then working in PR at the Guggenheim, then making money as a stockbroker on Wall Street, then leaving for ‘Sesame Street’ when I decided to be a full-time mom and raise a family), with everything I’d learned about myself— rejection, motivation, sales, client services, building a book of business, being self-motivated, juggling many tasks simultaneously, writing, the arts, finance, and the unpredictability of stock markets and children— even I didn’t fully appreciate the complexity of what I’d need to do to make this dream a reality, and furthermore the reality, a success.
So here’s what it takes. Drive. Money. Commitment. Talent. Organization. Follow through. Planning. Structure. Business acumen in marketing, sales, accounting, IT, audio engineering, networking, prospecting, writing, and soft skills that are harder to define…. Like how to present yourself in person (well dressed, prompt, engaged, interested) and online (non-confrontational, brief, grammatically correct, helpful), and how to gracefully interact with colleagues and professionals, (kind, interested, respectful of their time, prepared and asking questions that you couldn’t answer on your own through the internet).
What about handshaking? Eye contact and a smile?
Does anyone teach that? These are simple skills, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t do them well— or at all! And after years of my mom harping on me to “Acknowledge!”
I learned to write thank you notes for gifts I’d received— pen/paper/envelopes/stamps— totally old school. In our digital overload world, our virtual jungle of thousands of connections, friends of friends in networks of networks, these small acts make a big difference. But I digress.
Absorb before you act.
Creating a demo to showcase your voice talent is certainly important, it’s your calling card like your website is your online brochure. Do you want to hire someone who has created the shell but has no experience to back it up? Doctors don’t say, “I’m a surgeon, where do I find some patients?!” In the OR, you want to be sure they’ve learned their craft before they lay a hand on you, and are familiar with the process, the procedure, the tools, the team members, and the best RX for post-operative care.
How can you know if you’re really suited for this career without trying it? That’s a dilemma, I agree. For starters, if none of the above sounds scary, that’s a good sign. Then it’s time to start reading books and blogs (of which there are a plethora and a reference list at the bottom), listening to whatever genre of work is of interest to you, practicing scripts out loud (volunteering at The Lighthouse for The Blind was how I spent a lot of time in my early days), and taking classes (acting, voice, voiceover, improvisation, business). Open your wallet. The funds are going to start flowing— out!
If the lights are still flashing green, it’s time to invest more money in your ability to record and edit yourself. That means a microphone, recording software, a sound-proof or treated space,
and more classes to learn how to be your own engineer, how to ‘work the mic’, how to label audio files and how to listen to your work critically.
This is the point where I recommend that if you’re proceeding full steam ahead, it’s smart to start building the infrastructure of your business—systems for CRM (client relationship management), accounting, and filing for projects, to name a few. These components will be uber helpful to have in place once you start doing business.
Getting a website built and business cards made should be happening too—
(hear the stampede of dollars out the door yet?!)— although you can become a member of the Pay-to-Play websites which will allow you to create a profile there where your work can be shared and you can audition for projects.
So, how long have you been training? If you’re working with a reputable person or company, they won’t let you create a demo until they have confidence that you’re ready to market yourself with solid skills that you’ll be able to reproduce on your own when you step into the booth to audition and/or record a project.
And then, then you are on your way…to climb the next mountain.
Welcome to the world of auditioning— it’s your new career!