Recorded voices are all around us. In fact, most people are so accustomed to hearing human voices integrated into their favorite products, spaces, and services that they might never stop to ask the obvious question: whose voice am I hearing? The answer, of course, is that of a voiceover artist. The center of a massive and rapidly expanding industry, voiceover artists are professional actors who use their voices to create characters, tell stories, communicate vital information, and connect with customers. Every day new performers flock to this popular career—attracted by the flexible, work-from-home lifestyle or the dream of voicing the next Disney-Pixar film—and yet demand for voiceover only seems to grow, as new work flows in from successful internet markets like the audiobook, online education, and phone app industries. Some may mourn the tight-knit communities, energetic studio sessions, and slower pace that characterized the pre-internet industry, but for the most part, there's never been a better time to be a voiceover artist.
For voiceover artists, who typically work on projects in a wide variety of genres, every job requires a different skill set and a unique approach.
Voiceover is a form of acting, but that doesn't mean that any actor can work in the voice industry. Many of the things "regular" actors rely on—facial expressions, movements, sets, costumes, props—are not an option in a purely auditory medium. For voiceover artists, who typically work on projects in a wide variety of genres, every job requires a different skill set and a unique approach. Reading an audiobook, for example, necessitates excellent diction and a steady reading voice, while voicing a video game might call for shouts, gasps, and grunts—non-speaking cues delivered under the direction of a dialogue editor. Commercial is the broadest category of voiceover work, as a good commercial performance might be naturalistic, exaggeratedly theatrical, or even cartoonish depending on the material and direction. Some voiceover artists have very particular specialties, such as mimics, who excel at imitating famous actors and characters and are often hired to record ADR for those who are unavailable—a difficult task which requires matching the delivery to the actor's on-screen mouth movements. At times, as when using motion capture technology, the line between voiceover artist and actor can grow blurry.
At a Glance
Voiceover artists come from a range of educational and career backgrounds. Many are experienced actors, singers, radio DJs, podcasters, and other professionals who work with their voices. Others lack significant performance experience but are drawn to the field by the promise of flexible, portable freelance work. At the beginning of the career, voiceover artists are unlikely to find enough work to support themselves solely through voiceover; fortunately, it's easy to combine this career with any number of side gigs. In fact, the voiceover industry is made up of a mix of semi-professionals, who pick up occasional jobs as a source of supplementary income, and successful top professionals, who are in high demand and make all of their living from voice work. Unlike more physically demanding performance careers, there's no age limit on this work, so voiceover artists can continue to be successful well into retirement years.
Voiceover artists are freelancers and might work on a wide range of projects, including audiobooks, commercials, documentaries, educational videos, corporate promotional materials, apps, toys, announcements, and phone prompts, as well as fictional media like animated films, dubbed series, video games, and radio dramas. When it comes to finding work, most use online marketplaces such as Voices.com, VoiceBunny, or Voice123, as well as the many general-purpose freelancer sites. Getting a gig might require the voiceover artist to record an audition specifically for the part as well as to submit their general purpose showreel (also called a voice reel or demo). A good showreel is recorded in a professional studio, cleaned and mixed by a professional engineer, and includes a wide range of content (commercial, documentary, dramatic, etc) while still being tailored to the actor's target market. It should also demonstrate any special skills, such as singing.
At the beginning, voice gigs may be few and far between. Over time, voiceover artists can find additional work by partnering with an agent, setting up a website with a resumé and samples of past work, learning how to market themselves to potential buyers, and networking with major agencies and sources of repeat work. Forming a strong working relationship with a company that's heavily invested in the voice industry—such as an audiobook company, animation studio, or game developer—can lead to frequent repeat work. Recurring gigs, like voicing a character on an animated television show, can help those looking for more security and consistency in their work life.
- Character work
- Vocal technique
- Ability to quickly read and interpret copy
- Breath control
- Microphone technique
- Audio recording and editing software
- Networking and self-marketing
While a unique and ear-catching voice has helped many a voice actor rise to the top, it's all but useless if not aided by a suite of soft skills, the most important of which is versatility. This refers not to vocal flexibility—itself a vital trait—but to the ability to adjust quickly to feedback from a director, dialogue editor, or recording engineer and work well outside of one's comfort zone. Persistence is another key quality in this competitive profession, and will serve voiceover artists well when working to perfect a challenging voice. Professionalism is important; voice actors are expected to be punctual, reliable, and attentive. Finally, because voice actors must be capable of diving into their roles even in empty studio rooms as well as creating fictional worlds and characters solely with their voices, a powerful sense of imagination is vital.
The voiceover industry has been transformed by advancements in technology, and the biggest changes have been in the area of lifestyle. The ability to record, edit, and transmit high-quality audio on any personal computer means that, in most cases, it's no longer necessary for artists to be located in specific cities or travel to take part in expensive studio sessions. Today, most voiceover artists can find, audition for, and complete jobs from anywhere in the world as long as they have a computer, a microphone, and a grade-A voice. They have the ability to choose their own work and set their own schedules.
However, not all changes are for the better. The globalization of the voiceover marketplace has drastically sped up an already fast-paced industry, and competition for jobs has never been higher. Voiceover artists who are aiming to rise to the top must be ready to take on and complete work requests at all hours of the day and night. When not in front of a microphone, voiceover artists might spend their time continuing voice lessons, pursuing new professional skills, or taking care of the many tasks that go into managing a freelance business.