The World of Voice Over
The time of covid-19 quarantine has plummeted people into unemployment nationwide.
As an actor, all theatre, film and TV productions have been put on hold.
The world had come to a near complete halt.
I say near because some jobs clearly kept going, grocery stores, medical jobs, remote telecommunication jobs, remote teaching, and very lucky for me, voice over work.
After a few IG posts of working in my home-made voice over recording studio, I had a few people reach out to me inquiring about the amazing world of voice over.
So here we are!
The world of Voice Over is vast, and in this blog post I will touch on the 3 realms that I have experience with: Dubbing, Audiobooks, & Commercials.
Each section will have my backstory followed by some tips.
It's important to note that I didn't jump into
voice over work upon the arrival of stay-at-home orders. This has been a looong journey and will be for you as well should you embark on this adventure yourself. It is not easy, but boy is it fun!
While I've been training since 2011 and working professionally with a steady income since 2017, I am still very much just dipping my toes into this world.
What do I mean by that?
One day back in January of 2017, I called The Kitchen studios in Miami, FL. and asked to schedule a dubbing audition.
DUBBING - also known as Language Replacement, substitutes a target language with each person appearing on screen. Dubbing services are recorded by professional voice actors who mimic the expression, tone and lip sync of the actor on screen but in a different language. Source: https://www.future-trans.com/dubbing/two-sides-same-coin-dubbing-vs-voice-over/
I went in with my sister to audition in Spanish & English with one director, and French with another director.
We had never dubbed a day in our lives.
We had a general idea how dubbing worked, but didn't really know what we were getting into.
Let me start off by saying...
Dubbing. is hard. AF.
Especially when you've never done it before.
You somehow have to split your eyes to read the script and look at the video at the same time in order to match the timing, and also get the feel for the character to also match the tone and energy of the original actor.
When we walked into the booth, the Spanish/English director explained everything that was on the screen in front of us.
The karaoke-like colors on the text.
It was incredibly overwhelming.
We get to see the video once or twice prior to recording, then action.
Needless to say, we bombed that audition.
Bombed as in... it was bad.
I felt it because the director said something like, "ok... great... thank you so much for coming in."
However, I've bombed enough auditions in my life (or at least felt like I did) that I was still in high spirits. Just happy for the opportunities.
So now came time for my French audition with artistic director Cedric Boyer.
This time I wasn't seeing the overwhelming screen for the first time.
The audition was still very hard, and compared to how I dub today, it probably wasn't all that good.
Cedric saw something in my sister and me.
He saw potential, and he saw a great vibe.
So after our audition he explained that while he is the French artistic director, there's not all that much French work so he does mostly English work.
And then he said...
He started us off with teeeeeny tiny little parts which were exactly what we needed to start getting used to the feel and science of dubbing.
We were driving 45min one way to record sighs, giggles, reactions, and we did it with a big smile on our face and a tremendous sense of gratitude.
Little by little, we started getting bigger roles, and bigger roles. Until we finally started landing lead roles in shows & indie movies, like my sister booking the role of Betty in "Betty in NY."
We worked consistently in The Kitchen for 2.5 years until we packed our bags and moved to LA.
And in LA... it was back to square 1 of the dubbing world.
In LA everything is way more competitive, especially because most of the work is Union.
That means the pay is WAAAAAY better than Miami's non-union world.
Any who, after some time our VO agency, CESD, got us a few dubbing auditions.
At one big studio, their system was down so we had to wait a LONG time to audition (almost 2 hours). We took advantage of this situation by getting to know the casting director and crew, laughing and telling them we wouldn't mind hanging out with them all day (and meaning it) when they would apologize about the wait.
We didn't book the roles of sisters, however, we did get the following email:
(Incidentals are those sighs, giggles, reactions, oohs and ahhs that The Kitchen trained us so well for.)
WE WERE ECSTATIC.
That's exactly how our journey began at The Kitchen.
And that's what this journey is all about. Being someone that everyone wants to work with, even if you have to work your way up from the very bottom.
An audition for one studio also landed me a Netflix dubbing role at another studio! (same producer) So I'm sloooowly but surely climbing the dubbing ladder here in L.A.
All that to say... there's really no way to technically train for dubbing in particular - at least that I'm aware of. Different studios use different softwares to show you the video and script, so many times there's a learning curve with new studios.
However, I strongly believe in training to hone your craft. So some classes of "voice and speech" would definitely come in handy to master your instrument. Know what vocal and body warm-ups work best for you prior to stepping into the studio.
Also, the best way to learn, is by doing it.
The best way to do it, is to start small, with little roles.
The best way to book small roles, is to go in to your audition with a bright positive attitude and show that you're ready to work really really hard.
If you don't have an agent to get you auditions, reach out to the studios yourself.
I understand this isn't easy. There's this one big-deal dubbing studio that I've been emailing constantly since I got to LA to no avail... but I won't stop. They don't know what they're missing out on. ;-)
Through my time at The Kitchen, I worked with a director who mentioned that outside The Kitchen, he works on Audio Books from his home-built recording studio.
Since I was in grade school, I always loved reading out loud.
So I mentioned to this director that I'd love to get into the Audio Book world.
He instructed me to pick 2 books, find a small chunk (2/3 min), and record a sample.
A few weeks later, he called me to go in for an audition for a book in Spanish.
I did the audition, and BOOKED the gig!
It was for the Spanish edition of "The Help."
My journey into the audio book world began in December of 2018.
Since then, I have recorded 20 books for Audible.
However, they have all been in Spanish and breaking into the English world is not easy!
I'm hopeful that my first English audio book is just around the corner.
Now, some tips on audio books...
They are NOT a walk in the park.
First, you not only have to absolutely LOVE reading, but you have to enjoy reading out loud.
Most of my daily sessions are about 2 to 4 hours.
That's 2-4 hours of sitting upright, reading out loud, for 2-3 weeks.
That's a lot.
This is an actual picture that my sister took after I spent 4 weeks recording 2 audio books from home with really tight deadlines:
Then, while recording an audiobook a month (if I'm lucky) pays my rent, the pay is really not all that great for the amount of work: ie, I'll work for 3 weeks recording an audiobook and get paid the same rate to record a voice over commercial in one hour.
But if you're up for the challenge, the Audio Publisher's Association has this great Narrator's Guide PDF for people wanting to start narrating.
And lastly, start reading out loud about 30min a day. It's great practice.
COMMERCIAL VOICE OVERS
Speaking of commercial work...
Commercial voice over is one of the most competitive and lucrative voice work out there.
For good reason, it pays very very well.
This field is so competitive that you're really going to want to make sure that your instrument is at the top of its game.
There are many classes out there so be sure to do your research before going to the first class you find.
Also, when looking for an agent to represent you, or even if you want to go ahead and reach out directly to studios (although your best bet in landing a VO audition is through an agent), they're going to want to see your training and most importantly, a...
Voice Over Demo Reel
There are two ways to go about getting a voice over reel:
You can hire a studio to get a professionally made reel. This will be an investment in terms of money, but will DEFINITELY save you on time.
My sister, Arami, invested in her reel and it's honestly pretty amazing, check it out:
Yeah, pretty freakin amazing if you ask me.
Now I wasn't exactly in the financial position to invest in a Voice Over Demo Reel, so I took some notes from my sister's reel and made my own.
Mind you - I had already invested in a good microphone with a pop filter, so I figured I'd put my investment to good use.
I used the Google to look up some short commercial scripts (5-10 sec each script, you don't want your reel to be over a minute.)
I used the YouTube to find some royalty free music that went with the vibe of each script.
And lastly I used the FREE audio software, Audacity, to record and edit my reel.
After a whole bunch of procrastination, I present you my home-made voice over demo:
There's a number of pros and cons to investing money in a pro VO demo reel, or investing time into making your own.
If you're going to invest in a professional reel, do your research and listen to different samples from studios in your area. Ask your fellow actors who did their reel and compare prices.
If you're going to make your own, make sure you have a decent microphone and set deadlines for your-self so you don't procrastinate. If you need a hand putting together your reel for the low, don't hesitate to reach out.
Which ever route you choose, make it happen!
Also, make a free account on Voice123.com! They have voice over work posted all the time. A lot of the jobs posted however, leave the payment part as "Quoted by Actor." If you don't know how much to charge, check out this handy-dandy rate guide by the Global Voice Academy.
Above I only talked about the 3 realms in which I'm currently working.
There's a lot more voice over fields out there that I REALLY want to get into and have been auditioning for since I got to LA, mainly: Video Games through Motion Capture, and my dream: animation.
I've done a number of auditions for those fields and sooner or later, I will book that role!
Patience is a virtue. So is hard work. :-)
FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM
In another post I'll talk about building your own home studio, but meanwhile, in case you missed the 2 links throughout the post, here is the link again where I show you the equipment I'm currently using at my home studio.
And don't forget to download Audacity for free!
Don't get overwhelmed when you first open Audacity. There's a few YouTube videos out there teaching you the basics. Audacity will be your stepping stone to the big league: Pro Tools.
LASTLY, depending when you're reading this post, if it's still 2020 and we're still going through a pandemic, keep in mind that everyone is trying to get a voice over agent right now. I assume that they are pretty overwhelmed with submissions so if you're going to reach out to one for representation, you should have state-of-the-art home recording capabilities with Source Connect & Pro Tools. If we're back to somewhat normal life where we can record on-site and not at home, make sure you stand out from every other actor out there trying to get rep, whether that means lots of training, a great demo reel, the best vibe in the voice over world, or better yet, all three combined.