The practice of doing voice-over work can be a lonely business.
Generally speaking, you are in a booth (or your own, private studio) by yourself. You face the microphone with just the script, your own ability to bring it to life (if possible) and nothing more. You deliver the reading as best as you can, after which either a technician- or you- bundles it up electronically and sends it out into the ether for the potential client to have a listen and decide whether or not you are the person for the job.
And usually, that’s where it ends. You never hear another word. After all, for every VO job, there are a countless other guys out there, each with their own microphone and script, vying for the same job. You are one of a hundred, if not many, many more. It’s the industry equivalent of buying a lottery ticket; your chances of getting a voice over job- any job at all- are infinitesimal.
But the rewards? Good gravy.
The best job I’ve ever had- and I’m obviously just speaking monetarily here- was a commercial for Corona that I booked about four years ago. I hadn’t even auditioned for the spot- I got hired off my demo reel, which is just as nice as it is rare.
The bad news: I was doing “Richard III” at the time and my voice, I remember clearly, was shot. I was a full octave below my normal speaking voice and it sounded as if I’d sandpapered my vocal chords.
I had no idea what type of character I would be playing in the commercial, either. They didn’t even describe the spots to me when I got hired. I was just told where to be and when. On my way to the studio, I desperately prayed that they didn’t want some cheerful, young-dad type for the commercial. They would have been none too pleased with my performance.
Turned out, nope: they wanted a TV sports announcer. Low in timbre and gruff sounding. Perfect. Within an hour, I had taped three separate spots. (You can watch one of them here. Listen for the rumbly voice on the TV in the background.)
Doing three spots in an hour, by the way? That’s a terrific payday. Because you get a separate fee for each spot and, since these were national commercials, I got paid at the top rate.
How much? Try $450 each. So…for all three spots? $1,350. For an hour’s work. Pretty nice.
But that was just for the session fee. When the spots actually aired? That’s when the money really started rolling in. The first check was about $5,000. So were the two after that. By the end of the season, I had collected almost twenty grand.
For one. Hour. Of. Work.
Next football season? I made about a third of that again. From the same spot. That I had recorded over a year earlier. Crazy.
Every year since, I’ve gotten a holding check at the beginning of each football season for about five hundred bucks. Just in case they want to run the spot again. And every time I get that check, I cackle in disbelief and joy.
It is the only job I’ve ever booked, before or since, that has been such a bonanza.
And that, my friends, is why the voice-over business is so crowded. Not because there are enough opportunities for everyone. There are absolutely not.
It is the fact that when you do get paid, the fees can be outrageous.
Plus it takes the least amount of effort than anything else in the industry.
Plus you can audition from home. In your pajamas. Or less, if that’s your thing.
Needless to say, because of atypical paydays like this (and they are as rare as sparkly unicorns or thoughtful Fox News anchors), the voice over industry is…what’s the expression? Ah yes:
Bigger than huge.
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So, as you may know, in my second week in Los Angeles, I was fortunate enough to land a voice-over agent. And, thankfully, they have been sending me auditions. Usually a single piece of copy to read every day or so, sometimes more often. I don’t think two days have gone by without at least one script landing in my in-box.
These are in addition to the spots that my beloved Chicago agency has been sending me during my time here. Because despite my distance from home, there are still many radio and TV ads I can record that don’t need me to physically be in Chicago if I booked them. I can always find a studio in L.A. if it comes to that.
Every spot I record, I buy another lotto ticket. And as everyone in the industry knows, it isn’t necessarily a reflection on your talent if you do or don’t get booked. Truly, almost any one of us can do almost any spot we try out for.
I’ve sat in a room waiting to read with a dozen or so other actors at my agency in Chicago and thought, “They could choose any one of our names out of a hat and they’d be happy with the resulting commercial.” Which is, essentially, what they do. So you keep buying that ticket, hoping for that elusive bonanza payday.
Since I’ve gotten to L.A., I’ve submitted about twenty or so auditions and received…no bookings. Which is typical. I could spent the next two months here recording spot after spot, shooting it out there into the nothingness and get absolute bupkis for my effort and no one would be surprised. That’s the way the industry goes.
The trick, by the way, to auditioning successfully from home or on the road is to have a nice amateur studio set up. It doesn’t take much: a laptop, a good microphone and a decent space to record. Hell, sometimes you don’t even need much more than an iPhone and a quiet space. You’d be stunned if I told you how many people book spots off auditions they whispered into their cell phones.
Finding that quiet space can be difficult, though. For example, think about where you are right now. Are you at home? Okay. Is it quiet? I mean really quiet? No radio or television in the background? No neighborhood kids running around or dogs barking? Is there a low hum coming from the computer, refrigerator or other appliance?
Try the bathroom. Yeesh. The acoustics are terrible. If you have a basement (and many do not) you can set up a studio down there, but that means a real investment of time, energy and supplies.
You want to know a great place to record voice over auditions? Your car. The upholstery soaks up the sound- not unlike the baffling in a studio- and most of the ambient sounds are muffled by the car’s exterior (assuming you live on a quiet street or have a garage).
Knowing this, I went down to Paul‘s garage to record a few spots the other day. It’s one of those underground, multi-car garages that many apartment buildings have on the bottom floor and I clambered into the back seat of his Mazda with my laptop, my microphone and a few scripts.
A minute or so after I got started, a lady- one of Paul’s neighbors- pulled in to the spot next to me. She shut off the car, got out, started to get her groceries from the back seat…and then spotted me in the back of Paul’s car.
I kind of feebly waved at her, but she looked away pretty quickly, grabbed her things and skedaddled. I cannot imagine what she thought I was up to. Or…perhaps I can.
I record everything in the apartment now. I don’t want to get arrested.
And that has become my typical day here in Los Angeles. Now that I have the every-elusive agents, my hustling-to-find-an-agent days have obviously come to an end so…figuring out how to be useful and active during the day is the new day job.
So, I wake up, go to the gym or head out for a long run. I do some writing. I record some voice overs. I shoot them out into the world and hope they boomerang back. I do some more writing. I monitor and submit myself for jobs on Actors Access or Casting Networks. I visit with friends and see the sights of L.A. I go to see theatre. I work on new monologues. I wait for my first commercial/TV/film audition. I look for more open mics to try out some new stand up. I talk to my family back home.
And I wait for the one thing that has, so far, eluded me on this trip.
A actual, paying job.