Breaking into the voice-over industry: Your experiences
June 3, 2008 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm posting this question on behalf of my brother. He is looking to start doing some part-time work in the voice-over field. I'll be his technical advisor and producer. We'd like to get some advice on how to get started; like, places to find sample scripts for a demo, what equipment would truly be necessary, your experience with accepting payment, and/or any other items you wish you had known when starting out in the voice-over field. I've done the requisite Internet research and reading of past Ask Metafilter posts, but would really like to get personal experiences about the specific items mentioned in the expanded question area.

So, "everyone" is always saying my brother has a great voice, and should do something with it professionally. We'd now like to make a serious push into the voice-over field.

1. Demo: We attended a voice-over seminar a few months back. We understand a 60 second commercial demo and 60 second narration demo are needed. The instructor emphasized over and over that a professional demo is a must. The problem is those cost several thousand dollars to get produced. We have a friend that has a studio we can use. Would it be a bad idea to try to create the demo ourselves? If not, where can sample demo scripts be found? My Internet searching has come up dry. If we go the professional demo direction, any advice for a producer in Lexington, KY or Louisville, KY?
2.a Equipment - Microphone: Looking for a reasonably priced mic. The seminar instructor recommended the Shure KSM27. Any reason not to use it, or is there a better choice?
2.b. Equipment - Hardware: Do we really need to go the whole Pro Tools and Mbox route (like an Mbox 2 Mini)? Would Sonar or Cubase be okay for the limited amount of work we'll be doing? Any reason not to buy the items used off eBay?
3. Software - The computer used to produce the pieces will be running Windows Vista Home Premium. Do we really need one of the high level, professional audio editors? Would something like Audacity be sufficient?
4. What's the best way to accept payment from clients? A check? There, of course, is PayPal, but we would prefer to avoid losing the revenue with the percentage that they charge for transactions.
5. How to actually get work: Are any of the various voice-over marketplace websites (e.g. useful for little fish like us? Would we need to get an agent?

If location matters, the plan would be to remotely record the pieces from one of our homes (in Louisville, KY and Lexington, KY). We would make the files available to clients from my brother's website (I'll be creating a simple site with a custom domain), or through FTP, etc.
posted by disguise to Work & Money (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
They aren't thousands of dollars. My aunt (who is a professional) put packages together for around a thousand (including lessons, coaching, scripts, etc.). I did the editing in cubase (cheap version) along with some royality-free backing music.

For sample demo scripts, transcribe commercials you hear on the radio. That's all we ever did.

For equipment, we had an mBox. I would imagine that any audio interface with a preamp would be acceptable. The editing involved does NOT require much beyond a basic multi-track editor.

There are voice-over marketplace sites, but you do need an agent to get onto the ones I have used.

Location matters. Producers look for specific accents in particular markets.

Do NOT rely on website and FTP downloads alone. Make a semi-decent CD cover design and send physical artifacts to people. It's easier to stand out that way. It's just like printing your resume on fancy paper instead of regular old inkjet paper.
posted by mkb at 8:44 AM on June 3, 2008

You might find this site helpful. He has several demos posted as well as his equipment list and delivery specs.
posted by lunaazul at 9:03 AM on June 3, 2008

I have worked in the post-production industry here in Chicago and supervised many VO sessions for commercial spots. While it can't hurt to have a home-based recording booth, I should add that remote sessions are normally reserved for more established voice talent. If you are just starting out I hesitate to think that most agencies working on large national spot packages are going to agree to work remotely with an unknown talent. Remote sessions are usually avoided if possible for the simple reason that they are harder to manage and cost more for the agencies. When a remote session is unavoidable it is usually scheduled between two post-houses, with home-based sessions a further last resort, normally reserved for quick pick-up lines.

My advice to you would be to shop a demo around to local post-production facilities and ad agencies. Once you get some work going then expand to larger markets like Chicago, LA, and New York. As far as the demo is concerned, make it short and show range. I've sat in on quite a few voice audition sessions with agency people and I can say that basically most demos get around :15 sec before someone says yay or nay. As far as payment is concerned, every agency is going to have their quirks. In my experience, most talent discuss this with the agency producer at the time of the session, and of course, nothing happens until the contract is signed, which also normally happens at the time of the session.

If you'd like some further (more specific) information I can give you the e-mail of our audio producer here in Chicago.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 9:24 AM on June 3, 2008

As for scripts: Feel free to use scripts from commercials from TV and radio. You can pick the ones that suit him best, and you know it's professional material (this is a standard practice; obviously don't represent on your resume that these were actually paid gigs).
posted by crickets at 9:42 AM on June 3, 2008

If you can afford a Neuman, get one. Rent one. Not a magical panacea by any means but an excellent sound for VO, especially male VO. Okay, maybe not the gorgeous U87 but the TLM 103 is well regarded. You need a decent mic pre-amp + phantom power, too.

If the Neuman is just too expensive, the AKG414 is also quite good.
posted by bz at 12:53 PM on June 3, 2008

Here's a response from my aunt. turns out some of my advice is out of date!
Just wanted to respond to you with regard to the voice over question.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that the guys wanting to start out are not in a major area like NY or LA so the approach will be a bit different. Of course they are not "known" talent and that is the whole reason they are interested in "breaking in" If they were "breaking in" in NY or LA an agent would be the way to go. In smaller markets they do not always have agents. If they do great but you would still ultimately have to get work yourself as well.

I am going to keep it simple.

1) Professional sounding copy: A couple of ways to go about this...A) listen to commercials on the radio, watch on TV, learn to understand style and different types of reads. It can sound very unprofessional if you do not understand this... B) Use magazine ad's as a template to write copy. Usually ad people would be writing your copy anyway so you will get a good understanding of structure from magazine ads.

2) Professional sounding recording: A) Pro-tools is ok, there are other software programs out there as well that will be just fine.
B) A recording microphone that is capable of creating a clear intimate clean sound. If you go to a place like the Guitar Center they
usually have pretty savvy guys that have had recording experience that can help you find a decent mic. (Keep in mind you are not going to be creating any fancy sound effects so clarity and intimacy of the sound are the most important features you will need. I got one for 400.00 about 5 years ago that was just fine) C) The recording itself should be very simple not a lot of production, only enhancement of the voice that support the storyline...less is more. You need to feature the "voice"

3) Marketing: Google your local sound studios get a list and call to find out who hires for voice talent and send your demo to them. Ad agencies need recording studios to market there products. There is a book called the "Red Book" It is very expensive but the local library will usually let you use it as a reference for free. You can make a list and call the ad agencies and ask for the person who hires voice talent and send your demo to be hired and/or you can market yourself as a commercial production studio and create commercials for the agencies. You can also start with small businesses in your area as well. You may even have to do some pro bono work (work for free) at first just to get yourselves known. That way you can hire your brother as your voice talent as well.

One more thing...demos are great but you should also have an mp3 file to back it up so you can send it to clients as well. Most people are working online now...A website is appropriate to market yourself as well.
posted by mkb at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2008

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