Some general thoughts about Voiceover in 2022. I’ve been getting more questions recently from folks new to the industry or thinking about getting into the business. So instead of sending out the same mail over and over, I’m just putting my thoughts about Voiceover in 2022 here.
Please keep in mind that these are all my opinions, and yours may be different. (I am not an expert, nor do I play one on TV.) This is based on what I’ve seen in the industry over the last 4+ years coupled with my previous 5+ years in voiceover “back in the day”.
In no particular order, stuff I’ve mostly learned along this most recent leg of my VO journey.
1. There is more than one way to grow and prosper in this business. You have to figure out what works for you and ignore everything else. In other words, no one else is going to build your business for you, so you have to figure out how best to do that for yourself.
1a. There are also no real hard and fast rules for how to succeed in VO. Your path is your own, and no one can say that it’s wrong but you. On the flip side, anyone that tells you they have the easy answer to VO success is probably selling you something. And they are probably making most of their money from selling you that thing, and not from actually doing VO.
VO is not a static business. You have to evolve.
2. I was being limited in my opportunities by some of the things that I had been taught earlier in my VO journey. To grow and progress, I had to evolve and make some changes. It’s OK to let things go that aren’t helping you get to where you want to be in the business. To be clear, I’m NOT saying that what I was taught was wrong. On the contrary, it was useful at the time I learned it, and it gave me a base to build on after that. I just had to realize that continuing to stick to those specifics was becoming a limiting force in my progress and growth. So, I let the things go that were no longer serving me.
3. I had to figure out what I really wanted to do in VO, so I wasn’t wasting energy on things that would not get me to where I wanted to be. Everyone needs to find that focus. Once you do, you can approach EVERY single thing you do in VO through the lens of “How is this going to get me where I want to go?”. If the answer is “I have no idea”, then you can walk away from whatever that is with a clear conscience. Don’t waste your time on things that will not get you to where you want to be.
Can’t I just try it all?
3a. There is a natural temptation to want to try a little bit of everything in Voiceover. And while that’s good thought at the beginning, the reality that I see in the industry is that the folks at the top tend to specialize. You need to figure out what your happy place is in VO. Contrary to what others may tell you, you DO need to specialize to get ahead. If you want VO as a hobby, or a way to unwind from your day job, then feel free to dabble in a bunch of different areas. If you want to do VO full time and support your family with it, then you need to figure out what you want to do and put all your energy into that. Look at the folks making good to excellent money in Voiceover and you will soon discover that they all specialize.
I just need direction…
3b. “Testing the waters” to figure out what you want to specialize in is going to be tough if you are looking to avoid using P2P sites. (Cost issues, objections to the business model, etc.)
- Most eLearning is either booked direct, which requires you to do a ton of direct marketing. Or it’s booked via P2P sites.
- Same with online video and explainer videos.
- IVR is mostly on P2P sites now from what I’ve seen. (And that seems to be dwindling as a lot of vendors are using synthetic voices for that as it’s cheaper.)
- Medical and technical narration is much the same as eLearning in that you either need to market directly or pick those up on a p2p site.
- Some commercials run through the p2p sites. I have not seen too much booked directly.
- If you are looking at doing bigger national commercial work, that’s almost all booked through agents. Which means you need a top-notch demo, and the skills to back that up. Most of the “bigger” agencies don’t seem really interested in developing talent from the ground up these days. They want you to have solid skills already because they don’t get paid if you don’t book. Training time is lost money for them.
- Promo and in show narration are much like national commercial work. Almost all of that is done through agencies/management companies.
- Some indie animation and video game titles are booking off of social media. (Twitter mostly from what I see.) So, if you have an interest there you probably want to start following and interacting with some of the indie studios and producers.
- Big time AAA video games, and major studio narration projects are mostly done through agencies still. (See: Commercial, promo, and in show narration.)
But I want to do this, not that.
3c. One thing to keep in mind. Once you start getting out there and doing more in the wider world of VO, the market is going to help guide you into what you are best at. You may think you want to do genre X, but the market may steer you to genre Y. You have to be flexible. If you want to make this a career, you need to follow the money. Go where the market wants to pay you to work.
What about audiobooks?
4. ACX is the 800-pound gorilla in the audiobook world. You may occasionally stumble into a half decent title, but almost without exception, the really GOOD projects are NOT listed on or booked through ACX.
4a. ACX is an opportunity to get better at narrating, as well as an opportunity to get better at editing. In my opinion, it’s a place to sharpen your skills, not make a living. It may have had good paying projects at one time. But that time seems to have passed. There is a reason that publishers are setting up their own platforms for audiobook production. If you go into projects on ACX assuming that most of the royalty share projects are not going to earn out over time then you are in a better place to begin with. It frees you up to experiment more and focus on your craft without stressing so much about the business side of things.
4b. Find yourself royalty share titles that interest you, and audition for them. Start getting those contracts and practice your craft. Once you have a body of work built up, if you decide you still want to focus on audiobooks, you start looking to see what you need to do to be considered for a publisher’s roster. (Or more than one publisher’s roster)
But I really like audiobooks
5. If Audiobooks are your happy place in Voiceover, then you need to commit to it and continue your training with audiobook specific coaches. You need to build the skills that will get you on a roster with a publisher. Because that is where the bulk of the decent jobs are.
6. When you do decide what you want to do in Voiceover, whatever that is, seek out training from folks that are actively DOING that thing. There are some amazing coaches out there. But there are also good coaches that have been coaching for so long they aren’t current on what’s actually booking these days. If someone is making the bulk of their income coaching, then they are a coach, not necessarily a working talent.
It’s not easy being green, with envy.
7. When someone else posts about a booking, or a contract, or a project they just completed, be happy for them, and then let it go. You don’t know the specifics of what they did. It may have been an audiobook in a genre you hate. Or it may have been a booking that didn’t pay much if anything. Or it may have been a project that no one will ever hear. It could have also been the perfect, most amazing job ever. And none of that matters one bit.
7a. Other people doing stuff has zero bearing on your talent, skill, or drive to succeed. It’s ok to be a little jealous if something sounds cool that someone else books, but you need to channel those thoughts into a renewed drive to make YOUR work better. The only person you are competing against is yourself. Give potential clients the most authentic YOU that you can in every audition. Not even a better version of you. You are the only person that can be YOU. THAT is your competitive advantage. Embrace that. Nurture that. Then take anything that is not getting you to where you want to be and LET IT GO.
Suck it up Buttercup.
8. You have to get used to rejection. The job is auditioning. Booking is a rare and wondrous event to be cherished and enjoyed in the briefest of moments when it happens. However, your job is auditioning. That means you find something to audition for, do your best, send it off, and then FORGET about it. If you happen to book it later, it should be a pleasant surprise, and a nice bonus. Doing the awesome audition part is the job. Find the satisfaction in that part, and things will get easier and less stressful for you. I promise.
With friends like these…
9. You want to make sure that you are starting to surround yourself with folks out there in the industry. Find the people that are doing the work that you think that you want to be doing. You don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond. Work to be a small fish in the big pond. The goal is to get those bigger fish to challenge you and force you to step up your game constantly. Start to identify the big names in the genres that interest you. Follow them on social media. See what they are doing. Listen to what they are saying. And interact with them when you can. Just be you. Be authentic, be interested, and be respectful.
10. Find yourself a killer workout group that has a wide cross section of talent in it. People that are specializing in different genres, and people that have both more and less experience than you have. Pay the fees if there are fees, put it on your calendar and make sure you get there EVERY session. Treat the workouts with the importance of a paying gig. Put in the work every session. Practice things that you think you suck at. Pick copy to work that is outside your comfort zone. Make bold choices, and be ready to fail. Then embrace that failure, and then figure out how to do better. If its easy, you aren’t utilizing that time properly. And a good workout group is a safe space to take all the risks. Do the hard things, push yourself, and learn as much as you can from everyone around you.
10a. Also look for a mentor, marketing buddy, or accountability group. This is a solitary business, and it’s nice to have someone around that you can talk to about the business that really gets it. Talk to them. Be honest. And be there when they need you as well. And if you can’t find a group that works for you, start one.
Keep your tools sharp.
11. If you are not working on a job for a client, you should be doing SOMETHING to improve your business every day. Don’t confuse activity for progress. A rocking horse is moving, but it never gets anywhere. Make sure that whatever you are doing is helping you move forward toward your goals. If its not, its most likely wasted time.
- Get more and better coaching.
- Work out with other talent.
- Build up your marketing.
- Research the trends “out in the wild” in your genre of choice.
- Update your website and public profiles.
- Update social media (If that’s part of your marketing plan)
- Learn a new skill to benefit the business side of your business.
Just remember that YOU are the only person that gets to decide if you are good enough. It’s a mindset shift. Present yourself as a professional. You are the expert, and you have the skills to back it up. You also have to own those skills. If you don’t recognize your skills, no one else will either. The more confident you are, the more relaxed you are, and the better your work is.
You are the CEO of You, Inc. Own that. Yes, VO is a creative pursuit. If you want to make VO your primary business, then you have to treat it like a business.