Is Voice Acting Hard? – Show business has always been difficult to build a career in, but voice acting just about takes the cake. It’s one of the industries that have the toughest competition. You will have to compete against some very experienced and skilled artists in the field and thousands of aspiring actors and fresh talent that pours into the industry every day. Landing a good job can be extremely challenging and takes time, commitment – and some amount of pure luck. In addition, voice actors have to be very good at networking and marketing their skills to break into the industry. And then there’s the business of voice acting itself – it’s a job that takes a crazy amount of skill and training. But once you make your big break, it’s as fun as it is rewarding. So if you feel that you’ve got the talent and the dedication, let’s go through the basics of building a career in voice acting and how to hone your skills and make your way into the industry.
Voice Acting – Is Voice Acting Hard?
Before Starting Out
Voice acting is much tougher than acting in front of a camera. The voice actor does not have access to props and cannot use facial expressions. Everything has to be conveyed through the voice. Get as much practice as you can, on stage, before a live audience. It can be stand-up, theatre, elocution, or even singing. The best way to exercise your voice is actually to do it in front of an audience. Practice reading out loud to open up your voice. Watch classic movies, and try to imitate the actors’ voices. This will give you a strong base in acting as well as increase the flexibility of your voice.
Your Voice is a Muscle
Your voice comes from your larynx, or voice box – a sort of mini-speaker in your throat. It consists of two vocal cords stretched over a hollow chamber. When you speak, you push air past the vocal cords, which vibrate and produce a sound. What we call our voice is basically a muscle. If you’re going to exercise your muscles daily, they also need to be taken care of. Voice acting puts a lot of strain on the vocal muscles, and voice actors need to keep their larynx healthy and in good shape, as too much strain can severely damage their voice.
Warmups and vocal exercises are great ways to loosen the vocal cords. You can try with a single note, going “ah” up and down a scale. You can even do this in accompaniment to a piano.
There are mainly three elements to basic voice acting:
- Register Control: This refers to the pitch of the voice you’re delivering. It makes a low, gravelly voice, a high flute-like one, or anything in between.
- Expression: Once you have practiced delivering at a consistent pitch, you need to put some expression into your voice. Read scripts, practice different emotions and contortions of the voice so that your acting becomes top-notch.
- Accent: Finally, you need to master the accent in which your character will be speaking, be it English, Australian, Irish, Scottish, American, and so on.
Use a base voice, and then add your own interpretation to it—experiment with different accents and textures. For example, when you’re playing a grand, godlike character, add a bit of a growly texture to your voice. A nervous character needs a shaky quality to the voice. Physicality, too, comes into play. Put your whole body into acting. A big buff character will sound different from a thin, gangly one, so imitate their postures and stances to help you get into the role.
It’s Acting, Not Impressions
You may be good at doing impressions and different voices, but acting is first and foremost acting. You don’t need to be able to do many different voices to make your way into this career. Rather, practice acting in your natural speaking voice first. A lot of people will say that they can’t stand the sound of their own recorded voice. To be a good voice actor, you need to dispel this. Get used to your natural speaking voice. Listen to it being played to you or as you speak. Understand it – figure out how you can manipulate it into different emotions and expressions. Most importantly, be comfortable acting in your own voice. Once you master your natural voice, other voices will become exponentially easier.
To get into the business of acting, you can use famous voices as a starting point. Impressions can be a good way to start you off, but ultimately, you need to come up with original voices to become good at your job. So, what you need to do is understand and interpret the character you’re playing. For this, you need to use your imagination – really get into the headspace of a character and ask yourself, why does this character have this quirk in their voice? Or, why does this inflection come here? Next, critique yourself. Critique others. Never get complacent – even veteran actors are constantly in the process of actively trying to get better. Listen to your past performances and figure out where you went wrong or how you could have done better. When you’re watching a movie, put your critical skills to the test – try to understand what makes the actors good or where they went wrong. Finally, invite criticism on yourself! Surround yourself with other members in the field, ask them to listen to you, and offer their feedback.
Here are some investments that you’ll need to make if you’re going to step into this field:
- A Good Mic – Studio-quality microphones are available on Amazon or eBay – some of them are quite affordable as well.
- Training – It is incredibly important that you put enough time and investment into training. You can take acting classes, singing classes, join acting workshops, theatre classes… only keep in mind that you will need to do your research first. There are plenty of scams out there that are just looking to take your money but will not really benefit you.
If you’re going to be auditioning online, you also need a home studio (to avoid recording all the background noise). Short of soundproofing an entire room, a closet filled with clothes may actually be your best option.
Getting Into the Career
What are the areas I can explore?
We don’t realize it, but the voice acting is everywhere:
- Video games
- Commercials for Radio, TV, Internet
- Promos for Trailers, TV Program Announcements
- Audiobook Narrations
- Radio Drama
- Voice Over
- Extras for Voices in Films
- Voice Matching
Experiment with different areas and parts. Find your niche. Once you have decided what you want to go for, here are some steps you can consider.
- Step 1: Build connections. Honing your skills might be all for nothing if you don’t get the right opportunities. You’ll need to network extensively so that you can get selected for the right part. The best way to do this, again, is to really put yourself out there – join groups, communities, and projects related to acting and theatre where you can get noticed. Creating original content is another way to build your portfolio. Think YouTube channels, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Use the resources you have handy!
- Step 2: Audition. Before you can audition for big roles, you’ll need to audition for small ones. And before you can do that, you’ll need to audition for free. Yes, it will take commitment. But keep in mind that experience is valuable.
- Step 3: Agents. An agent will find you auditions, they will negotiate your payment, and they will make sure you get paid. For fees, an agent will usually take 10-15% of the fees of the job that you have landed. However, agents should never be asking for payment upfront, so you will need to be cautious.
- Step 4: Work on your demo reel. This is something that directors will ask to see before they consider you for a part. It is important that you do this, however, ONLY when you have gained enough experience. A demo reel should last for a maximum of 1:30. You don’t want to be putting shoddy work into this. Start with your natural speaking voice, and demonstrate your skill; go with the voices you’re most comfortable with and where you feel you can shine the most. Lastly, keep at it! Even professionals sometimes have long dry periods where they struggle to get good opportunities. You must be prepared to handle lots of rejections before you get a good part.
Places To Go
Los Angeles is the big hub for film and television studios, so all aspiring actors naturally gather here. If you’re interested in doing commercials, you may consider New York City; as many big advertising agencies are based here. Finally, Dallas, Texas, being the home of Funimation, is the place to go if you’re looking to get into anime dubbing.
Lastly, there are plenty of resources and opportunities that you can access online, for free, if you know where to look.
- Documentary: I Know That Voice
- Workshops: Voice Acting Mastery with Crispin Freeman