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Stumbling Blocks to Becoming a Voice Over Artist

Last time I touched on some of the motivations that led me to become a voice over artist, so it seemed a natural next step to run through some of the stumbling blocks I hit after I finally made the plunge and actually got going.

To be honest, if this is anything like the last blog it’ll turn into a semi rambling stream of thought, but you may at least be able to see the mistakes I made and steer well clear of them!

My first few months as a voice over artist can really be summed up as me not having any idea of what I was doing (Some might argue this is still the case, but hey, gotta block out the haterz and all that).

I basically got a demo recorded and whoosh, off I went under the assumption that the work was all just going to come piling in, because of course, in my head, I just assumed everyone was going to instantly fall in love with my voice and I’d be replacing David Attenborough in no time.

Well, as you might guess this initial over confidence was soon shattered by a wall of silence and rejection (incidentally, that’s still one of the strangest things to get used to in voice over, being rejected for a job but never being told you were rejected or why. I still stare longingly at auditions submitted months or even more than a year ago and wonder “Did they like it? Will they call back?” Oh, why won’t they acknowledge my existence!?)

Anyway, moving on… Having thought about it there were really five key stumbling blocks I hit in my early days of becoming a voice over artist which are all still key learning areas for me. I’ve summarised them below but hope to get a blog on each of these and run through in more detail how I managed to deal with them and link below as I write them.

1) My recording environment at home was shocking

Seriously, I can’t stress the importance of a good recording environment enough. It almost brings me to tears to think back on the awful quality I used to pump out. My initial “studio” consisted of two acoustic foam pads with a cushion on top. Watch out Hollywood.

Not only did this mean my recordings suffered from a terrible amount of background noise, it also meant I was hunched over a table giving me a lovely strained sound to my voice. Not a great start really.

Of course, this also highlighted a major problem with my demos too. The actual recordings I could produce sounded NOTHING like those lovely, smooth, professionally produced recordings I’d had done in a studio. So, when potential clients heard those, followed by my pathetic efforts in my home studio it was no surprise why I would never hear from them again…

This is why I’m actually a proponent of recording your own demos (at least in the early days of your voice over career) as you’re best off showcasing what you can actually do in your home studio rather than what has been produced for you.

2) I was not at all ready for the time commitment

Again, this one came from not doing my research thoroughly before I began. I just had this assumption I’d fire off my demo and people would come running and it took a little while for it to dawn on me that I needed to start treating this as a business.

I’d probably estimate that about 90-95% of my time was then dedicated to researching the industry, trying to find out where to get work, improving my studio, trying to make contacts, studying marketing basics and devouring YouTube videos on the subject of VO.

I dread to think just how many hours I’ve sunk in, but I’ve certainly missed out on more than a fair few episodes of Judge Rinder. A noble but necessary sacrifice.

An artist's rendition of my very early voice over career. Here I am wondering if I've made a terrible mistake.

3) I had no clue how to market myself

This is kind of linked to the time commitment above, I just assumed turning up was half the battle and work would just start to flow in from there. What I didn’t realise was the sheer scale of the competition out there, I was one of many 1000s of voice over artists out there and to most potential clients I was just some bum with a microphone.

Attention spans are getting ever shorter and I’m told when people listen to a demo, read a blog or watch a video if they’re not gripped within the first three seconds then you’re toast, so it was vital to market myself in a niche.

It took a while to focus in on my niche (my Geordie accent) and even now I’m still tweaking the finer selling points of Geordie voice over and I’m making improvements all the time.

4) I had no clue how to look for work

So, I had a shiny new demo, a mid range mic and two acoustic foam pads. The world was my oyster. But where to start looking? I started with pitches to agents (very poorly I might add), stumbled into freelance sites and started a very fumbly email marketing campaign.

The main lesson I learned here though was I lacked focus. I was all over the place, firing off my attempts to find work in a shotgun style attempt to try and hit all the bases at once without ever mastering any of them. This is still something I’m working hard on and you never stop learning how to focus.

5) I undersold myself

When I got my first ever paid gig, I was so shocked and excited that someone was willing to pay for my VO services that I agreed to work for shockingly low rates (I’ll not say what here through fear of embarrassment, but it was low…). I had a kind of imposter syndrome at the beginning, I didn’t believe I was actually doing voice over work, let alone believe that someone would pay me for it.

As a result, I undersold myself for a while, terrified that if I didn’t the clients would go somewhere cheaper. I’ve since gotten a lot more confident and realised there was never a need to under sell myself, clients are always looking for a specific voice and 99 times out of 100 they’re going to pay you fair rates.

Well, there’s my brief tour on some of the main trials and tribulations I encountered in my early days, although I’d still argue I’m still in my early days as I write this, so these problems haven’t been completely overcome yet! Maybe other new voice over artists might see some parallels in their own efforts. I certainly hope so or I’m going to come of looking like a right wally!

Next time I’ll be offering some more practical insight into how I first got my recording environment set up.


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