Is it possible to volunteer voice-work?
June 3, 2009 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Getting a job in the voiceover industry is hard, and hardly pays. I get that. But what are some arenas in which I can give it away for free?

I did voice over bumpers for a local PBS TV station in college, did work at an NPR affiliate at the same time. The only acting I've done is for friends' film projects in college and for fun, but it's possible I wasn't terrible at it. Even with a little experience under my belt, I know that the odds of getting work in the field are slim.

Thing is, I'm okay with not getting a dime, but I'd still like to use (and hone) my talent if I could. I just don't know where to offer it--I'm stuck between feeling like a singer who'd be happy finding a place in a small community choir and feeling like an arrogant jerk who thinks he's so pretty he should offer to flex around places because his face is nice.

I have some experience sound engineering and have fairly good equipment. I'd prefer to do something digitally rather than live, and if live, behind a curtain rather than in front of it.

Things I've looked into/tried:
  • Three years ago I contacted Futurismic offering to do audio versions of their short stories for free. Jeremy Lyons was busy, but liked my sample. They were only doing a story a month, so he told me it might take awhile to get match me with something. He never got back to me, and for a time there were audio versions at the site, largely read by the author. (I wasn't bitter, I just assumed that when they started asking, the authors thought, "That's a great idea, but why don't I read my own work instead?" He was also doing this as a hobby, so I don't begrudge the irregular emails).
  • I read some friend's well-written blog posts and attached links to the audio files as comments. They replied positively, but it's hard to feel confident in the responses of those close to you. I didn't want to distract from their writing and I didn't want them to feel uncomfortable asking me to stop, so I only did a couple.
  • I've done the same for a few forums I frequent, but never posted as a thread reply, instead emailing them to the writer. Again, positive response and suggestions to do it more, but I did not want to distract from their work or "Attention Whore".
  • I looked into reading text books for visually impaired students at a couple universities, since the service was free for the recipient, but those positions went to fellow students.
  • I've read some stuff for Librivox. This seems a good resource, but projects move so slowly I've only submitted a few, in fear of over-committing myself and having to renege.
  • Browsing Newgrounds, which I loved 10 years ago. There are a lot of audio projects available, but few seem to come to fruition and the majority deal with requirements I know nothing about (anime, video game characters).
  • Podcasting with a friend. Ironically, I'm not much of a talker, and podcasting hardly seems like something that would help anyone else.
  • Suggestions from my friends to record modern audiobooks or children's books for them seem questionable legality-wise, although I wouldn't be selling it and it would be for a small, personal audience.
  • I've toyed with reading to patients in coma wards or in veteran's spaces, but I have no idea how to approach this, if it is even proper, or if it has all been replaced by podcasts.
  • I've also thought about reading short creative pieces people post for critique on some sites, even if only to send it to them directly. Hearing what you have written aloud, especially by a second party, can be an excellent tool for revision. I'm not sure if this is something that would anger people.
The selfish part of all of this is that I want feedback. I want to get better at it, excellent at it, even if I never even apply for a full-time job remotely tied to it.

Ironically, I work for the National Association of Broadcasters. All day I talk to people from or in TV and Radio, so everyone I talk to has an excellent voice. They notice and compliment my voice, but some of the higher-ups in the company have cornered the voice-over market (for webcasts, PSAs, etc.) in-building.

Is it wrong to want to be excellent at something, but happy toiling away at it in obscurity?
posted by JeremiahBritt to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Project Gutenberg — the out-of-copyright books project — has a free audiobook thing going. I've downloaded a few of them; some are really well-done, totally professional quality. Others are crap. The result is that I suspect people search for books based on the person who reads them (at least, I do), which might help you build up some name recognition.

PG just hosts the books, the actual reading is done over at LibriVox. They have a detailed FAQ. The recordings they produce are public domain, so you don't have to worry about someone locking them up or otherwise pulling a CDDB/Gracenote on you.

It's not quite the same scale as some other free projects, so I bet if you have decent equipment and some talent for reading/VO work, you could really be a huge help.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM on June 3, 2009

Oops, I missed the bullet point where you mentioned LibriVox. Sorry.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:06 PM on June 3, 2009

My suggestion would have been Librivox, since it seems to be everything you want but since you've already considered it my slightly crazy suggestion is:

Pirate radio. Get some equipment and have a nightly radio show where you read stuff (Read that day's issue of the NY times front page, or Lord of the Rings, whatever), advertise it via craigslist or chalk on the sidewalk.
posted by pseudonick at 12:09 PM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: If you're interested in reading textbooks, try Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which has an office in DC. I volunteered there for a while, and it was a lot of fun.
posted by cider at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

On a completely selfish level, I'm currently part of a new visitor information channel in the wonderful tourist town of Branson, Missouri. We have partnered with the local leading broadcast station in the area, and while they are used to having their news people do VOs for most everything, we are attempting to branch out into other voice talent.

Our content is a bit different in that our pieces are often 2-3 minutes instead of 30 seconds, and we try to tell a story about a business rather than the usual "shelves of products, address, and phone number."

While the pay wouldn't be fantastic, and certainly not a regular gig, I'd love to get a sample of some of your work. Drop me a line here on Metafilter, and I'll send you a link to our site (no need for me to spam up this question).
posted by shinynewnick at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: My wife used to volunteer for Seattle's (public) library for the blind. She recorded magazines to tape, not books. I checked DC and it would appear you have a similar library/service. That page doesn't make it clear how you become a "reading" volunteer so you'll probably have to call/email for more info.
posted by O9scar at 12:51 PM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: Find short stories using the Creative Commons license that would allow you to record an audio version of it for non-commercial use. Make a site/blog where you post these stories weekly/daily/whatever. Once you have a regular base of listeners, let them find/vote more CC stories for you to record. Alternately, just record them and send them off to the story author if you don't want to set up a website.
posted by mikepop at 1:06 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.

I do like librivox, and will probably try to become more active in that forum.

Pirate radio is a hilarious idea, considering my employer. My actual house is in the suburbs around DC, so I could broadcast from here, but broadcast equipment costs and laws will probably nix that idea.

The reading for the blind links are great. I ride a commuter bus in, but my wife is a teacher and I may be able to give a couple hours once a week this summer. Save for the week I'm getting PRK, ironically.

I'll be in touch, shinynewnick.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2009

Speech recognition companies use voice talents to record prompts for automated phone systems. Once you have a gig it can be a pretty secure source of income long-term because speech applications need maintenance.

MeMail me a link to your demo, I might be able to use you.
posted by Dragonness at 4:51 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

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