Talking for a living
Right before I graduated college, an acquaintance asked me what my major was. When I told him it was international business, his response was, “Sounds like money.” That would have been nice, but in reality, I could barely afford to live on the salary I made from my first job out of college. Which is why it’s funny to think that I am now making more money than I’ve ever made before in an industry that doesn’t require a degree at all.
I’m a voice actor, which means I record my voice to be used in commercials, audiobooks, training courses, explainer videos, apps, and more. And I love it.
Read the signs
As a kid I would make up stories to entertain my younger brother. These Carrie Originals were full of colorful characters with distinct voices. Twenty+ years later, my brother and I still make the same voices to make each other laugh.
I would have been shocked if you would have told me that I could monetize that silly pastime. And I would have been even more shocked to know that one day I would be making a full time living “doing voices.” I always thought work was something that you had to endure, not something you could actually enjoy.
I’m so grateful that I did stumble upon the voiceover industry, and I feel privileged to be able to be able to do VO from my home studio every day in Kansas City.
Motivation to make a change
After I had my first daughter in 2014, I knew I wanted to be able to spend more time at home with her. Returning to work after staying home for three months of maternity leave wasn’t easy. I liked my job but I missed my little girl and my husband. One fateful morning on my commute to work, I heard an interview of a voice actor on a podcast. At that time, I didn’t even know that voiceover was a legitimate profession. And the interview blew my mind.
Okay, wait… Voice over is a full time thing you can do from home and get paid?!
That night I asked my husband if I could take some voice acting lessons and try this voice over thing for myself. He told me to go for it.
After a few lessons with my new coach I started practicing and auditioning as much as I could on the nights and weekends. My coach, Alyson Steel, was encouraging. She said I had talent and encouraged me to continue my training.
That was all I needed to hear. I was determined. No, I was obsessed! I read everything I could about the industry. I subscribed to all the podcasts, blogs, and YouTube channels. I really worked on developing, honing, and mastering my craft.
After hours and hours of practice, study, and auditioning, I booked my first job. My obsession only grew with the validation of a paying client!
Since then I’ve taken my voice over side hustle into a full time career. Eventually, I replaced my day job income and quit my job. I now work from home and get to spend more time with my daughters and husband.
Of course, this was a gradual process. Like any new venture, it takes time (and a lot of other things I’ll talk about in the rest of this post) to build a successful voiceover business. But it was fun, and totally worth it.
Learning how to talk again
Multiple people have laughed in my face when I mentioned that I have a voiceover coach. “You pay someone to teach you how to talk?” They ask. Well… yes. When you listen to TV and radio commercials, it sounds like the voice actors in the spots are just spit balling. Like they simply are just reading a script without really thinking about trying to make it sound authentic or believable. And that’s what they’re supposed to make you think. The reality is that they are so well trained and have practiced so much, that it seems like they aren’t trying. Compare their reads to the local car salesman who does his own radio commercials, and you’ll hear the difference between a trained voice actor and someone who is just “winging it” right away.
I was fascinated by this newly discovered world of VO and I couldn’t get enough of it. Voice over isn’t really something you can do halfway. You’ve got to go all in, and I did. I read books, blogs, and articles about VO. I joined FB groups dedicated to VO. I subscribed to YouTube channels and podcasts too.
I was determined to make it. With the encouragement of my coach and the validation of booking my first few jobs, there was no stopping my drive and my hunger for VO. Back when I still had my day job and I was doing VO part time I practiced and auditioned at night and on the weekends. VO isn’t something you can fake. It takes a ton of practice to deliver consistenly great takes for your clients.
I took it seriously
I’ve had more fun doing voiceovers than I have doing any other job that I’ve had. But it’s definitely not all fun and games, and don’t let anyone tell you that it is! I took my new career very seriously in the beginning and still do to this day. Fortunately, I love the business side of voiceover (almost) as much as the performance side.
I continued to grow my business
Although I call myself a voice actor, I’m really a business person. Working on my voice acting skills is obviously on the top of my list of activities. But there’s a lot more to it. Early on I would audition for jobs on sites like voices.com, voice123.com and thevoicerealm.com. I quickly saw that spending 60% of my working hours auditioning would only take me so far. One-off jobs and clients are great, but I wanted steady work that paid well. I developed a marketing plan that allowed me to approach production companies that needed VO work done on a consistent basis. My business and marketing efforts paid off. I now work directly with several production houses and companies that keep me busy.
I also was able to get signed with a few national talent agencies. My coach helped me produce a demo reel and helped me shop it around to a few talent agencies. My agents send me auditions every day, and I book work with them occasionally as well.
If you’re interested in starting a voiceover business
If any light bulbs are turning on in your head right now, here’s how you can learn more about the VO industry.
VO is everywhere! The radio, TV, YouTube, cartoons, movies, late night talk show skits, Spotify, Pandora, audiobooks, and e-learning just for starters. The average person hears VO dozens of times everyday. Start paying more attention and study the tone and the delivery of the voice actors you hear. What message are they trying to get across? Is it excitement about a product, a warning against something harmful, or perhaps they are teaching you a new skill as part of a training program.
You can start practicing today, right there at your desk or in your car. I suggest recording yourself and listening back. How does your take compare to the VO you are hearing? You don’t need fancy equipment for this, just start!
If you find yourself paying close attention to the hundreds of VO spots you hear every week and you’ve even recorded yourself a few times in your closet, the next step is to get coaching. A good coach will point you in the right direction and tell you what to do and what not to do. A good coach will help you build up your VO skills to a competitive level before you waste too much time auditioning or recording a mediocre demo reel.
By the time you start paying more attention to the VO around you, practice a little, and have your first coaching session you’ll realize that this VO thing isn’t easy. The professionals make it sound easy, but that’s only because of the hundreds of hours of coaching and practice that they’ve already put in. No one is great at first, it takes practice. VO is a skill that needs to be worked on. Practice and keep practicing. Then get more coaching and listen to the guidance of your coach.
When you (and your coach) feel like you are ready, you can start to audition for jobs! Yay! Here are a few places you can start auditioning (and to get a feel for what kind of work is out there). I’ve booked work from all three of these websites…
Just getting to the point of auditioning for real jobs is a huge accomplishment. Just remember that you are likely competing with people who have been doing VO for years. I’ve heard that the average number of auditions it takes to book your first job is around one hundred. When your VO career doesn’t take off like a rocket on the first day, don’t get discouraged. Keep practicing, keep in touch with your coach, and keep trying.
You will eventually need good equipment to be competitive. Excellent sound quality is obviously very important. I booked over $15,000 of work using a $120 mic and a $100 preamp both of which I already owned at the time I started. Since then I’ve upgraded my mic, bought a better preamp and I’ve even got a legit vocal booth in my home studio. Before I got my booth I worked out of a closet for over a year. Don’t let the equipment stuff intimidate you! (I’ve got some recommendations in my free guide. See below!)
After you’ve established a quality track record and you have a professional sounding commercial demo, you can explore approaching agents. These days I get most of my work from repeat clients, my own marketing efforts, and through my agents. Working with an agency is likely a ways down the road for any beginner. But while an agent is great to have, most voice talents get the majority of their work on their own.
I’ve developed several resources to help you learn more about the VO industry and take the first few steps.
Getting Started in VO Guide (free e-book)
At 31 pages long, think of this guide as a continuation of everything we’ve talked about here. It’s packed full of information to help you take the first few steps into the world of VO. Grab your copy of the guide. You’ll be signed up for my email list too. I send out helpful content and resources every now and then via my email list (including info about my upcoming VO focused podcast The Vocal Booth.)
Voiceover Startup Facebook Group
This FB group is a great place to start learning more about VO. It’s a safe place to ask questions without judgement or snark. I do weekly Q&As in the group using Facebook Live. I also drop helpful tips and resources in the group every now and then too. Join the group!
If you really want to jump in and make a go at this VO thing, my membership site is for you. After being asked about how to get started in voice over (like a million times!) I decided to create a program to answer all the questions. I love all things VO so creating these resources just makes sense, it’s fun for me, and it even helps me learn more and stay focused, too. You don’t need any experience to join the membership site. We start at the beginning and go over everything mentioned here and much more. Check out the membership site.
I love being able to make a living with my voice and from the comfort of my home studio. I don’t think there’s a more perfect job out there for me. It all makes sense when I think about those voices that gave life to the characters in the Carrie Originals all those years ago.
Thanks for letting me talk your ear off about VO! All my best.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to help keep the lights on around here. It’s hard on the eyes to work in the dark.