A voice-over artist (also known as a voice actor) provides vocal work for a variety of mediums:
- Film / Television
- Video Games
As with any job in the entertainment industry, the competition is steep and the career opportunities are scarce. In hopes of gaining more insight as to what a voice over artist does, and how one gets work, I spoke with Greg Finley, a man who has done just about every type of voice acting imaginable.
Make Friends / Make Contacts:
Although Finley attended Beverly Hills High and befriended such comic icons such as Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks, he had very little interest in the entertainment business when he was a teen. "Everyone wanted to be an actor," he explained. "I wanted to be a pro-football player." He played semi-pro for a few years - "I still hurt from that!" - and then enlisted in the military, joining the elite Green Berets. After fighting in the Vietnam War, Greg returned to California, and began to search for a new career. His first voice-over work came about because a friend was making a low-budget movie. He supplied the opening narration.
At first, he did not consider acting or voice over work to be a serious possibility. Still, he maintained various friendships and contacts with people in the industry. By the time took his voice acting seriously, he had already established positive business/personal relationships that would help provide opportunities.
Finley recommends that aspiring voice-over artists work with film students as much as possible, not just to make potential contacts, but to gain valuable experience.
Voice Over Training:
After securing a few "low budget" jobs, Finley decided to take his craft to the next level. He began taking voice-over classes. Based upon his experience, he believes that professional training is essential to a successful career. However, he emphasizes that the most expensive classes are by no means the best. He recommends "shopping around" to find the right match before investing a considerable amount of money on voice lessons.
Working with a professional will not only provide one-on-one instruction, but will give students access to ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) and other expensive recording equipment. Los Angeles and New York City are teeming with voice-over teachers; however, these high quality instructors/facilities might be hard to come by in smaller communities.
In Finley's day, he made a "demo tape," an actual audio cassette, that featured his voice work: commercial narration, announcement, animated voice-over work, etc. He then traveled to a variety of talent agents, walking in cold and introducing himself.
A similar strategy might be utilized today; however many agents and casting directors expect either digital files or CDs. Most agencies discourage walk-ins. In spite of this, depending upon one's charisma and luck, getting demo CDs into the right person's hands might be what lands an agent (and then hopefully, a paying gig!).
In addition to the quality demo, a professional-looking website is helpful. Make certain it is easy to access, features the most outstanding samples of your talent, and contains reliable contact information.
Keep up with agency and casting director websites, as well as websites that feature voice over samples of professional artists. That way you can stay on top of current trends.
Right Place / Right Time:
Finley's big break happened mainly because he was actively making contacts, seeking agents, and constantly developing his range of various characters and voices. A colleague was just starting work on dubbing a Japanese cartoon and he needed someone creative and reliable, with a flare for character voice work. Greg Finley got the job, and he worked on the animated series Robotech throughout much of the 80s. From that point on, Finley began receiving many other jobs.
Voice Over in Films:
When you think of voice over work in movies, you might think of the famous "In A World…" voice over legend Don LaFontaine (the man who narrated hundreds of movie trailers). However, there are many other opportunities for voice actors in film - just not as high profile.
Much of Finley's film career consists of creating the background dialogue for movies. He explained, "The principals the stars are mic'ed in a scene, everyone around them is being very quietly. Everyone is doing activities, but no one is making a sound, so they get clean dialogue from the principals. Then, in a studio afterward they put in all of the sounds of the airport, and the people that you would hear in the airport, and the pages that you would hear." Just about any crowd scene, any broadcast (police radios, hospital pages, etc) and any ambient talking (such as in a restaurant scene) features voice over work.
Practice and Perservere:
Greg Finley's final advice is simple but true. Pursue a career in voice acting because you love the creative process. "I love acting. I love creating characters. And if you love something, then it's not work."
His final words of wisdom:
"Once you get something, success breeds success. The momentum will grow. It's all about persistence. You just have to believe that someday you'll make it. If you can put up with hearing 'no and no and no,' and you want to do it badly enough and work hard enough at it and learn the craft eventually you'll make it."
Learn more about Greg Finley and his voice-over work at GregFinley.com.