I’m going to keep this post nice and short. Here are ten things you can do to become a better voice talent. Because let’s face it, we all can be better.
Sounds simple, I know, and it is. But you’d be surprised how many people obsess over which mic to use and completely ignore getting better at copy interpretation and delivery. Don’t be one of those people.
2. Read out loud every day. A little or a lot. Doesn’t matter.
This is the job, so read ad copy, blog posts, articles, whatever. Discover words that give you trouble every time they come up. Mine was “cellular” back in the day. I still can’t say it sometimes, but I at least get it right most of the time now, because I practiced saying it.
3. Build a group of people you trust.
This one’s super important. Teachers, other voice actors, agents, people you can email for technical advice. VO can be a solitary business, but you need a support system. Find folks who understand where you are now and where you want to go in this business, and make them your tribe. As long as they’re competent and know what they’re talking about, your progress will go faster than it would without them. This can’t be a one-sided thing. Make sure you’re contributing something to them in return for their support.
4. Make goals. Write them down. Hold yourself to them.
You can’t possibly get where you’re going without a road map. Have a plan that realistically fits with your life circumstances and schedule. Make goals for the short term (one week or month) and the long term (a year or two). Write them down and hang them somewhere you can see them. If they change, that’s fine, but update your written list. Missing a goal isn’t the end of the world, just re-set it for a later date. But keep at them. If you don’t, no one else will.
5. Don’t compare yourself to other voice actors.
I wrote a post about this for on-camera actors, which you can read here. Do not compete with other voice actors. Voice Over is not a zero sum game. There are plenty of clients. It’s not like if one of us works a lot, that means the rest of us don’t. Most importantly, you are you, you are not that guy or girl you read about who makes a zillion dollars reading audiobooks in Mandarin or whatever. Comparing yourself to other people just pulls focus from what you could be doing to improve yourself.
6. Take an improv class
Early in my VO journey, I took an improvisation class and even though I didn’t do it with the intention of making my reads better, it absolutely did just that. On the improv stage, you find new parts of your brain to flex. And that helps tremendously with copy interpretation since each piece of copy is different. If you live in a large metro area, there’s likely an improv class near you. Try it out. You might find an entirely new thing that you love doing while getting better at VO at the same time.
7. Be ambitious, but know your limits.
Look, I’m never going to do character voices. It’s just not something in my wheelhouse. Knowing this allows me to concentrate on things that are in my wheelhouse. Sure, I could study up and develop those skills, but the other things I do are also marketable, so I’d rather do more of those things. Find a couple of VO niches that work for you and get really good at them before you try to add something else to the mix. No voice actor does everything.
8. Listen critically
There’s a whole chapter in The Voice Over Startup Guide: How to Land Your First VO Job devoted to listening. The reads you hear on TV, online and wherever else you consume media have been approved by someone. If they made it into the final product, it’s worth figuring out why. Listening for the details in the read is a great way to develop an understanding for what works with certain types of commercials, or explainer videos, or whatever project you’re hearing. Listening = learning.
9. Stay away from online VO drama
The Internet is great for learning about VO. But if you haven’t noticed, there are lots of strong opinions out there about a great many subjects: which mics are best, whether agents are good or bad, whether the unions are good or bad, which VO membership sites rip you off and which are good, blah blah blah. It’s a time suck. There are people who are bitter, or claim to know everything, or are just good at creating drama. Stay out of all of it…the arguments, conflicts, and diatribes. You have more important things to do.
10. Treat VO like a job
Because it is. Now, you may already have a job. You might have two or three. If you’d like to add VO into the mix, you’ll have much more success if you devote a set amount of time to it. For some, that may be 4-8 hours a day. For others, that could be an hour on the weekend. Regardless of the amount of time, make it productive and organized. Go back to that list of goals and make sure your VO time is filled with things that can advance your VO goals. You can also sneak in work here and there. Driving your kids to school? Listen to radio spots in the car. In the waiting room at the doctor’s office? Read some print ad copy (quietly) to yourself.