1) Get Paid
Voiceover is a lucrative industry. It is lucrative because there is not one element of it that does not cost a great deal of money to produce. Scripts are agonized over by multiple employees, equipment is expensive and requires mastery to operate, distribution of content is no small cost - and, most importantly, time is money. As a voiceover actor you are worth a lot for your time and talent. If you are providing equipment and editing you are worth a great deal more. The golden rule is that you should always be paid and paid well. The only exception to this rule would be those starting out in the industry. I am a firm believer that no voiceover actor should do more that 2-4 projects for free or for cheap when they are trying to break in. Any more will not help your odds of success but only cheapen your product. 2-4 is enough to show others some work and say you have been hired for your abilities. Early in my career I did a couple of jobs for a bottle of whiskey or a friend picking up a check at dinner - but now I don't get out of bed for under $100 and my career and bank account are much better for it. This website provides a great guide for pricing http://www.globalvoiceacademy.com/resources/voice-over-industry-standard-rate-guide/
2) Don't Stop
Like many careers, breaking into VO can seem like your chipping away at a dam for a long time and not making much progress until you finally break it and the waters really begin to flow. Signing up for legitimate pay-to-play sites (like Voices.com) or getting signed to an agency will help keep you in practice by constantly providing you with auditions and opportunities for work. I spend roughly 20-30 hours a week in my studio on average and about 25%-50% of my time is spent auditioning. Talent is absolutely a key factor in booking jobs, but the other is persistence. Looking up the brand and finding out a clients aesthetic can reveal a lot about how to read copy. If you haven't heard a commercial in a while then you need to find out how to start hearing them again. Which brings me to #3....
3) What's Hot?
Voiceover is an industry of trends - and, arguably, the most immediate form of media that can be mass distributed on the scale that it is on. That is to say, I once recorded copy at 6pm to air nationally at 7:15pm that same night. It helps to know what's hot. In the 90's and early 00's products were often anthropomorphized and given their own voices and character. Now it is more likely that a client will want the voice of a "real sounding consumer" - someone who actually will buy and use the product that the listening customer can relate to and possibly hear themselves in. Deep, smooth "radio" voices are not as trendy today as "natural, genuine and conversational" reads. The key is to pay attention to the specs when auditioning with copy. Many specs will have links to celebrities as references or to popular ad campaigns in the past it wants to mimic. Knowing what is popular in the mainstream can help influence choices in a read and help you book the gig.
4) Your Tools
There is no golden rule for equipment. All voices are different and all equipment has it's subtleties that lend itself to different sounds in different ways. It is good to realize you often get what you pay for with these things. A $1,000 mic may very well sound ten times better than a mic that only costs $100 when used by someone who knows what they are doing. If you do not plan to work from your home-studio, you do not need much. Let's say you are only auditioning for your agents and other larger clients who are willing to supply a studio for the final gig. A nice USB mic, some quick sound-dampening components and almost any free recording software should do the trick since you will only be using your equipment to audition and never to actually provide commercial quality sound. If you ever plan on recording from home you will need a great deal more. I recommend skipping the USB mic entirely and moving on to an XLR Mic you can hook up to an outside interface which you can then connect to your computer and run through an editing program like Protools. A proper studio can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars - there are unlimited factors that can add to the price. What is important to know is that, even though you are competing with other VO actors in these expensive and state-of-the-art home studios, the right sound or the right read will always get the job.
5) What's Next?
The 'Demo' is the headshot and resume of the voiceover industry. It is not impossible to work without one, but I would not recommend trying. And they are quite expensive if you want one that will allow you to be a contender. A demo is a short sample (I like them to be under 60 seconds) of what you bring to the table as a voiceover actor. Most VO actors have at least a "Commercial Demo" to help them get hired. A commercial demo should show off your strengths and skills and versatility as a talent. For example, my commercial demo starts with a powerful spot for a workout supplement that lasts about 6 seconds before seamlessly transitioning into a 8 second clip about making ice-cream. That is followed by an advert for joining the military which goes right into a luxury car commercial. All these clips show off the deep, strong tone but genuine feel that I believe has allowed me to book so many jobs. All of these clips sound finished and professional - like they were pulled straight from TV or radio. The demo is your business card and can sometimes be the only thing a client needs to hear in order to offer a job. So before investing several hundred dollars in one, it is not a bad idea to take a class or hire a coach. Like I said, there is no aspect of this industry that isn't lucrative. You are launching a small business by jumping in the voiceover game and an upfront investment is hardly out of the ordinary for such a venture.
About the guest blogger: Joe Bianco is a Chicago-based entertainer working primarily in voiceover and theatre. For coaching, demos, speaking engagements and any other VO needs you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website www.actorjoebianco.com