Written by James Murray, VO Agent at A3 Artists Agency
Every day I get asked “how do I become a voice actor?” Whether it’s from a news anchor looking to transition their career, a grocery store clerk with a particularly resonant sound, or just someone who has always enjoyed animated television shows – it always comes up. “That seems fun, and easy! How do I do it?” Well, truth is – it is fun…but it isn’t easy. It’s hard work, a grind and it will take you a long time. But it is also so very, very worth it.
My follow up question is always the same – are they an actor? Do they have any acting experience?
As a voice-over agent, I don’t look at my job as one of simply trying to find the best voice actors. That is too myopic. What we do (and do well) is finding good stage and on-camera actors, comedians, poets, singers and creators and pair them up with the types of roles and opportunities we think they’re most suited for. Certainly, that’s not to say that we don’t also look for individuals that have studied voice acting their sole focus. On the contrary, we represent many individuals whose number one calling in life is voice acting. But at the end of the day, the craft of acting touches so many different outlets and we are drawn to those who are simply passionate about their craft.
Success in voiceover is equifinal. There are so many different avenues for exploration. Do you want to focus on commercial work? Do fun and quirky animation? Be the hero of a video game? Or perhaps you’ve always and only dreamed of being a narration voice on Shark Week (which is a very excellent dream to have). There are so many avenues of exploration. I’ve always found the areas that people have success in are the ones that are a natural extension of who they are. And here comes the cliché – be yourself! Are you really loud with a large personality? Super awkward and uncomfortable around everyone? Quirky? Embrace all those qualities that make you, you! There are roles out there for you! In a world where authenticity is key, be authentic! Consumers can spot inauthenticity a mile away and casting knows it – and will avoid it like the plague.
You absolutely must put yourself out there. Find a local theater company to participate it. Start going to open mic nights. Produce that short film and share what you’re doing with as many people as possible. Whether you’re in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, or Atlanta – I promise you. We voice agents are out there looking. And so are casting directors. Being a well-rounded performer is important because it allows you to tap into experiences and emotions in a more connected way.
Eventually, you’ll come to a point where you’re truly ready to submit your materials to a voice agent. While many agencies will accept cold submissions – the truth is – we’re swamped. All the time. It’s hard to cut through all the noise, so your best avenue is through a direct personal recommendation. By now, you’ve been putting yourself out there enough that you’ve worked with and alongside other talent in the space and, if you have, ask them if they’d be kind enough to recommend you to their agent! That always carries so much more weight.
Let’s talk about what materials you’re submitting to agents. In my humble opinion, there is a misconception out there that you must have a fully produced commercial demo to submit to agents and only submit that. Truly, for some agents, that might be what they prefer. And yes, a commercial voiceover demo is an important part of the pitch package - but it’s not the only part! I always enjoy receiving material that showcases all the parts of an actor’s career that they are proud of. When we pitch talent, we pitch them holistically! As a real person! With many different parts of their career. So, you should too. Plus, it helps us to get to know who you are – not just what you sound like on a fully produced demo. Include some interesting or unique facts about you. You never know if it’ll be helpful to us. (Were you a Golden Gloves boxer? Could really help with that Gatorade spot. Studied psychology at school? Maybe you’ll really be able to nail that smart, sophisticated sound.)
If you’ve developed a skill set strong enough to get your foot in the door at a few agencies – congratulations! But please – do yourself this favor. Take some time to evaluate and interview the agent the same as they are going to be evaluating and interviewing you! The client-agent relationship is built upon two very important things – trust and communication. It’s only with those two foundational assets can one build a long-lasting and successful relationship with their agent. Get to know them and let them get to know you. We agents don’t want to just know what you can do, but why you’re doing it! The most meaningful bookings aren’t necessarily the most lucrative ones (full disclosure: they are still fantastic). If I know your whole life you’ve always wanted to be on that reboot of the show you love watching as a kid, and we can make that happen – then my day was a very good day.
The journey of voice acting is a long and winding road. But it is fun and can be very rewarding. Plus, you can do it while wearing sweatpants – just not to an in-person appointment, please.