Selling out right from the start?
June 11, 2012 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Jobs/paying activities that involve specialist use of the voice? (Singing, announcing, etc)

So I'm honestly wondering about dropping out of the university course I'm in and taking up something like music composition instead, as from some reflection I can't really see myself wanting to do much else.

But the stepping block, both going to uni initially and now, is always the lack of money in that sort of thing. It's always been problematic; and now with the collapse of the recording industry I can't see it getting better anytime soon. As a maverick, one might carve out a niche, but it's not like I'd be hopeful.

So if I made this foolhardy decision to work on becoming a vocalist/composer, and given I'm interested in exploring all aspects of the voice, not just singing (though the two bleed into each other, of course) what work might keep me from poverty along such a career path beyond the general singer/songwriter or classical singer lines?

Some basics I've thought of

- Voice acting for animations + etc
- General interstital voiceovers/announcements on TV and radio
- Teaching (eventually)
- Library music composition? (for ads and the like)

Any info on the hopelessness or potential of any of these as well as other ideas would be good. Things that also tacitly require other skills are fine to suggest; things that are unpredictable (like getting in on an advertising campaign) are less wanted due to their inherent instability (which is no fun if you need food that week), but would be taken on board anyway.
posted by solarion to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Voice acting for animations + etc
You need to be a movie star first. Ever noticed that all the big animated films use movie stars, rather than voice actors? There's no work for an unknown, unless you're content to voice stuff on YouTube.

General interstital voiceovers/announcements on TV and radio

Are you in a very big city and do you have an agent, a demo reel, and/or a lot of chutzpah to get yourself out there?

You're in Australia, which is a far smaller market, thus a far smaller demand for this work.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:08 PM on June 11, 2012

I know several people who are very successful music producers, composers, etc. For all of them, there was at least a ten-year ramp-up period where they worked crazy hours for little or no pay on their music careers in a very focused way while also working second and third jobs in such things as boring office jobs, foodservice, and other things to support themselves. And, as I think about it now, I'm pretty sure all of them who I know also had spouses that entire time who were working full-time jobs. And all but one or two of them have at least a Bachelor's degree related to their music career, with some of them having Master's and Doctorates.

Basically, unless you're super lucky, you're going to have to support yourself with something that is not directly music related or that, if it's in the music business, is more the "business" than the music.
posted by The World Famous at 9:24 PM on June 11, 2012

You need to be a movie star first. Ever noticed that all the big animated films use movie stars, rather than voice actors? There's no work for an unknown, unless you're content to voice stuff on YouTube.

Technically, this is flat-out wrong. But realistically, it is not far from correct.

There is indeed a world of professional voice actors who are not also movie stars. These voice actors work on commercials, audio books, domestic and foreign animation, and voiceovers.

Unfortunately for newcomers, this world is both small and insular. To stand a chance, you need to be local (to SoCal), you need to stay visible (from something else performance-based that you do), and you need a well-connected voice coach who will refer you to auditions.
posted by Nomyte at 9:52 PM on June 11, 2012

Voice acting for animations + etc
You need to be a movie star first. Ever noticed that all the big animated films use movie stars, rather than voice actors? There's no work for an unknown, unless you're content to voice stuff on YouTube.

While it's true that lots of the big animated films use movie stars, it simply does not follow that all voice actors are movie stars. Plenty of commercials, cartoons, video games, audiobooks, etc. use working voice actors, not celebrities (I have a couple of friends who are most certainly not stars and they make their livings that way). However, it's true voice acting at that level is extremely competitive and extremely hard to break into at the highest levels.

If you're genuinely interested in giving it a go, I would suggest starting with some voiceover classes to determine if you you even have a knack for it, and also to try to research, realistically, what the local market in Melbourne is (if any). That could at least give you some meaningful information to go on to see if it's something you want to pursue more seriously, which would likely require a not-insignificant investment of time, effort, energy, and money.
posted by scody at 10:08 PM on June 11, 2012


i know none of this is likely to be viable without a lot of work.

i expected that.

i shouldn't have put a list of things onto there; I wanted to see if anybody had anything they could add to that list for potential investigation, rather than discuss what was already looked at. things I might not think of as work involving speaking or voices, whether it's one-off for a couple of hundred dollars or what.

so ignore those.
posted by solarion at 4:00 AM on June 12, 2012

There are many kinds of work that involve vocal performance, including some that you've listed:
- voice actor
- radio DJ
- singer/songwriter
- actor (musical theatre, stage, film, commercial, etc.)
- voice teacher / vocal coach / music professor
- music director
- opera singer

Here are a couple more lists of music related jobs:
- Careers in Music
- Berklee College of Music Career List

You will notice that most of those jobs are not actually performance-related; most of those jobs are supporting, managing, or educating the performers.

I know a lot of folks who are in the beginning stages of a career path in performance. I can tell you quite honestly that all aspects of the field are incredibly competitive. It is absolutely possible to make a living as a performer without being a movie star, but it takes talent, training, experience, and luck -- and a whole lot of hustling.

Among the folks I know who are still working to gain the necessary training & experience, I've seen some of them able to get the occasional paying gig or internship, but mostly, they're working unrelated jobs or living on school loans. The only person I know who can steadily bring in cash for a performance-related skill (even though he's still in training for his ultimate goal) is a very skilled piano player who has trained for 18 years, so he can always find paid work as an accompanist.

It's a bit worrying that you're considering scrapping your university course without having even a basic level of knowledge about the field and how competitive it is. I'd highly, highly recommend that you try to find other people who are already in it and ask some questions, so that you can get a more realistic idea of what it takes. Can you do something -- anything -- to get yourself closer to the industry, so that you have a better chance of meeting knowledgeable people? For instance, can you...
- join a band, community chorus, or a capella group?
- transfer to a university course focusing on voice, music, or performance?
- intern or do a non-performance, entry-level job at a recording studio, theatre, casting agency, etc?
- begin voice lessons with an experienced teacher?

Here's a great FAQ from a voice acting agency in Melbourne:

In a busy voice agency in any major city in the world, probably the biggest problem encountered is the number of people who believe that without any experience they are capable of doing the job...Of course in the larger cities the standard is at its absolute highest and the competition at its toughest. That’s why we usually suggest to anyone with a hint of talent that they should journey to a smaller centre and gain their very important experience in a gentler climate. There, the opposition isn’t usually as professional and there’s a better chance of getting the opportunities for regular work. RMK Voices FAQ

I don't mean to be discouraging -- it is possible to make a living in the arts. But it's a highly competitive, and you need to be savvy to have any chance of success. Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 5:30 AM on June 12, 2012

An acquaintance of mine here in Atlanta does vocal work for elearning software. At one time he was posting to local acting boards for voices pretty frequently, although with the economy in the shape it's in he's probably lucky to get enough work for just himself. He also has several other irons in the fire including being one of the ATL's go-to Santa Clauses.
posted by Infinity_8 at 5:45 AM on June 12, 2012

Oh, Ouroboros, I actually think I have miscommunicated something immensely.

I have no intention of scrapping my uni course to go work in music. My intent with that sentence was to suggest I may transfer to another university course focusing on music instead, and do those things that you suggest to get a much better idea of what to expect. I'm already in a community chorus and have had voice lessons for several years, which are ongoing.

I also do not think I am at a professional performance standard, nosiree; but I would most unavowedly be classified among the people who are still training toward these things.

Furthermore, I would fully expect to work jobs in different non-related areas for a few years to get by while doing this, intern for little or no pay to get a foot in the door, etc. The question is -what- should I be interning at, what opportunities are there after a while? Is there anything that's not well known in this regard?

So I guess my question was more fundamentally if I ever got up to a performance standard what things could utilize skills with the voice other than straight-up performance, so to have less of a day job and more working with the voice (though a day job would likely be inevitable either way.). I wouldn't want to lack an income stream forever.
posted by solarion at 6:12 AM on June 12, 2012

posted by canoehead at 7:56 AM on June 12, 2012

Ok, if I have got the question right, which is a little confusing, you are asking, how do you seek employment/internship that will bring you closer to your career choice?

If that's right, I see you as having two options - you either go for a job that will pay you well enough to finance networking (very important in the music industry) or you go for something that won't, but will do the networking for you.

An example of the former would be, you get bar work or an office job that pays relatively well (as opposed to an internship on a pittance or nothing). You use the money to attend industry events, take training courses on your suggested career options above, and buy lunch for anyone you meet through your course who you think might be able to advise you or help give you a leg up on the ladder.

An example of the latter: get a job as an unpaid runner in a recording studio and wait for the chance to volunteer to stand in for someone who can't do the voiceover that they were booked in for that day. Or volunteer at a community radio station and see if you can get in the back door for jobs they have going there.

One thing's unlikely, and that's the magical combination of something that pays well from the start and also helps you up the ladder.

IMPORTANT NOTE: your course that you are on right now is probably one of the best ways you will ever have to network and make contacts. Join every group you can at Uni, talk to ALL the music lecturers about what you want to do and who they think you should contact about it, don't waste a second you are there!
posted by greenish at 9:20 AM on June 12, 2012

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