Having worked for over twenty years as a voice over artist, I've had plenty of time to consider what makes me succeed at this peculiar vocation whilst other might not. In that time, being a voice over artist has gone from a profession open only to those who secure the holy grail of a reputable agent, to something anyone can have a go at from the privacy of their own home. Well, technically....
The tumbling cost of broadcast quality equipment in conjunction with modern broadband capabilities has of course levelled the playing field across the board in media production. It's 8 years now since I invested in a home set up, at a price that would have been unthinkable only a few years before. In line with this, websites have sprung up worldwide that enable anyone fancying themselves as the voice of a breakfast cereal or medical explainer video to pitch for a job. Websites like bodalgo and voice123 allow you to set up a free member page and post demos. Interested clients can then contact you direct, but to actually audition for jobs you need to pay several hundred pounds a year. For many, this is still a tantalizing opportunity: the rates secured by professional voice over artists have long been admired. This is especially true in the UK, where a concerted effort on the part of agents (such as my mighty crew at Yaketyyak) and Equity has maintained respectable fees - particularly for commercial work. Ironically, the gold rush over recent years and influx of people keen to have a go is now chipping away at those professional rates - as are those very same websites. As companies look for ways to cut corners, they start questioning the value of that voice over. Surely someone somewhere will do it for less.....? Indeed - they will! It is true for everything. But just as we all luck out with the odd bargain, it's also usually the case that real dependable quality costs the going rate. I have no qualms at turning down low paid projects - I am not going to undermine business for myself or my colleagues. Importantly, however, I'm finding that reputable clients still seek out experienced pros like myself, and expect to pay the going rate for our services.
So what is it that is central to the skill set of a voice over artist? What ensures you'll earn the going rates (apart from being prepared to turn down low fees, see above)? Well I'm not going to profess some magical insight about who may or may not have potential, but I have come to the conclusion that to be a successful voice over artist, you need to be a 'performer', and have significant performance skills and experience behind you. So I get paid hundreds of pounds for a one hour booking - and I might actually get the job done in ten minutes? That's not a fluke, nor because it's 'easy': it's because I began my voice over career off the back of an already ten year career as a radio and TV host (I started young!). Skills as a presenter meant I could "switch it on" under pressure; in a heartbeat, with lots of people looking on and chipping in and changing the direction of what they wanted. And I've been building on those skills ever since. Live radio in particular gave me the slightly mad ability to shave half a second off a script without batting an eyelid. Having to 'talk up' to on-the-hour news junctions during a three hour radio show every day made this kind of sensitivity to time second nature. And as a performer, you are doing all that, whilst being sensitive to all the other creative factors. A voice over is usually the component that brings all the media within a project together - the picture, music, performance from actors etc. Registering and communicating all of this is a subtle thing - it's the difference between a voice sounding right for a project, or not. Ironically, however, for many projects a voice can be said to be perfect if you don't notice it; because it fits so well.
If that all sounds a little ethereal and vague, it's because it is! But if you are a performer, there's a chance you'll get it, and be able to deliver it. And you'll feel it - and know it - when you do. And that's why I continue to love the challenge of each and every voice over I do - there's always something to learn, there's always another way you can try it. And yes, there are very often times when you might not agree with the direction your client requests. But if you're a performer, there's a very good chance you'll be able to provide them with it nonetheless.