Seven Reasons You Shouldn’t Be a Voice Over Actor

February 15, 2012

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This is a post I started writing once a very long time ago, when I was feeling embittered about something I no longer remember, and I never took the time to finish or publish it. Based on the reception the voice over community has given my recent opinions on hot-button issues, I figured this was something worth exploring. It might get a little nihilistic, and for that I apologize, but I still think it’s healthy food for thought.

To anyone considering a career in voice over, I encourage you to think about some things first. A lot of these apply to entertainers and performers of all kinds, so just substitute “voice over actor” for whatever entertainment profession you’re considering, and if it doesn’t make sense, skip to the next bullet point.

  • A voice actor is never away from work, yet in today’s world, a voice actor never leaves home, either. If you have difficulties with focus, working from home may not be a possibility for you, because you’ll never get anything done. If you have the focus required for a successful career in voice over, you’ll never leave your home again. I find almost no time for any social activity in my life that doesn’t involve the use of a computer. I live and breathe voice over, and I think you have to if you intend to make a living at it. If you want to spend any meaningful amount time with your friends, voice over is not for you.

  • It’s expensive. A subscription to Voice123 costs $295 per year, all up-front. A subscription to Voices.com costs either $299 per year or $39.95 per month. A professional quality voice over reel, a really good one, costs at least $800, depending on who you go to, and I’ve heard of some that cost $1500 or more. Not to mention classes and workshops you’ll want, nay, need, to take to become proficient both behind the mic and marketing yourself. It takes a lot of investment capital just to get started, with absolutely no guarantee of any success to follow thereafter. Don’t get into voice over if you’re doing it for the money.

  • A voice over actor is always looking for more work. If you’ve had to do job hunting in any field over the past three or four years, you know how much looking for a job sucks. As a voice over actor, you are always looking for a job. Every time you book one, you get a little bit of an ego boost, and a little bit of money in your pocket, but then you immediately start working on booking the next one. If you don’t want to spend time job hunting, voice over is definitely not for you.

  • A voice over actor is always competing, and the competition is really good. As you develop your career in voice over, you’ll be getting to know others who work in the field, and you’ll probably make some good friends. But for every potential gig you audition for, there are plenty of other people auditioning, too. You’ll be competing against your friends in the industry constantly. And there’s no shortage of people out there that are really good at this stuff, either. If you want to book a job, you have to prove that you’re a better fit for it than everybody else, and a lot of those people have been doing it for years. If you’re not a competitive person by nature, you’ll have a tough time finding success in voice over.

  • Voice over actors are overworked and underpaid. This is less true for people that work union gigs full-time. But the majority of the voice over market today, especially for those who work from home and those just starting out, is non-union. It is possible to get in with an agent and start booking union gigs right from the get-go, but it takes knowing the right people at the right time, and a whole lot of luck. If you’re looking to make a career out of voice over, it’s much easier to start with the non-union gigs. A lot of these non-union gigs are extremely low pay. It will help if you can set boundaries for yourself and promise that you won’t work for less than a certain amount, but it’s very hard to stick to your guns when someone’s offering to hand you a crisp new $50 bill. This is why there’s so much disgustingly low paying work available out there: people are actually accepting it. You’ll have to get used to the fact that you won’t be paid as much as you’re worth, and if you really want voice over as a career, you’ll have to assert yourself and prove that you deserve to be paid more. Again, if you’re in it for the money, voice over is not for you.

  • Voice over actors will starve. Ebbs and flows happen to everybody, but they happen to voice over actors a lot more frequently and with greater gusto. When you first get started in this career, it could take weeks, months, or even years for you to book your first gig. That means that if you still hope to stay clothed, fed, and sheltered, you’ll have to get a day job. But if you’re serious about voice over, you still have to treat it like it’s a full-time job, regardless of whether or not you’re making any money. Now you’re working two jobs, unless you’re lucky enough to get some financial support from friends or family. Even after you’ve started booking work, you’re still living from one booking to the next, and dry spells will happen. Be prepared for the times when you’re not getting work. Once again, if you’re in it for the money, voice over is not for you.

  • A voice over actor is criticised by everyone. That includes friends, family, potential clients, and peers within the voice over community. Some of the criticism you receive from within the community will come from people that are much, much better than you, because there is always a bigger fish. Some of it will come from people that are much worse. People can be ruthless, especially on the internet, and they may take out some of their frustration on you. You cannot be a voice over actor if you don’t have a very, very thick skin. Even comments that are intended to help you can sting a little, and you have to learn to deal with the pain. Furthermore, not every comment, no matter its intention, will help you, so you have to be able to recognize what feedback is useful, and what feedback is not. If you can’t deal with rejection, voice over is absolutely not for you.

    Quite frankly, there are probably thirty more reasons not to start a career in voice over, but start with these for now. If you look at the above list and think you still want to be a voice over actor, don’t do it just yet. First, ask yourself the question, “Can I see myself doing absolutely anything else with my life?” If the answer is yes, get out now. Save yourself and take that other option. If the answer is no, then you don’t really have a choice. So, strap yourself in for a very bumpy ride, take the wheel, and put the pedal through the metal. Otherwise, you really have no hope.
  • Filed under: Opinions

    2 Comments Leave a Comment

    • 1. Paul Strikwerda  |  February 26, 2012 at 5:08 am

      Another winner, Kyle! It’s in line with my video “The Troublesome Truth About Voice Overs.” (http://wp.me/pBTtY-1qo)

      Thanks for educating wannabe’s and dreamers about our profession. It’s gradually turning into a survival of the cheapest, and many get crushed in this race to the bottom.

      I love my work with all my heart and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. However, I would encourage every idealist hoping to break into the business to find a real job.

    • 2. Helen Lloyd  |  February 26, 2012 at 10:19 am

      Tell it like it is Kyle – absolutely right!

      There are too many people peddling false hope and impossible dreams. You need a tough skin to survive – plus excellent business sense and the ability to really KNOW what your strong point and weaknesses are. That way you might just be able to earn some money… but probably not that much!

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    About Me

    Hi! I'm Kyle McCarley: a voice over actor living in Los Angeles. I'm a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Theatre, and I've been behind the microphone for podcasts, radio plays, video games, audiobooks, and more since 2005.

    My most notable professional voice-over works have included the audiobook for Bunmi Laditan's hilariously funny "parenting" book, The Honest Toddler, with Tantor Audio, numerous major roles in video games such as UnEpic, Dragon Nest, Vindictus, and MapleStory, the voice of the main hero in the web cartoon Space Heroes Universe, and several commercial spots on the online radio network, Pandora, including a national campaign for Kroger. For more information on my previous work, check out my resume.

    I started my adventures in voice-over as part of an internet radio station known as WoW Radio, a fansite for World of Warcraft, where I co-created a radio play series called The Chalice of Silvermoon. I wrote, directed, and contributed several voices to the series, which concluded after three seasons; a total of 51 episodes that averaged at 15 minutes in length each.

    Past Blog Posts