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Your Guide To Today's Voice-Over
Genres For Art, Fame And Money
August 21, 2018

By J. Michael Collins
Voice Actor, Coach, Producer

Voice-over talent and those aspiring to join their ranks are motivated by many different drivers. Ultimately, though, most talent can define their motivation down to one (or a combination) of three different things:
  • The Art of Performing,
  • Fame and Recognition, and
  • Money.
Where you find your motivation is directly relevant to the kind of work you will want to do, and I often find today's talent unsure of the best direction for their careers based on their motivation.

So, let's have a look at which of the different voice-over genres fit into each motivation category.

For Art, Fame and Money

ART: Commercials in the modern VO world require proper acting chops, and what's hot is constantly shifting with consumer tastes. This gives talent the opportunity to constantly hone their craft and learn new techniques, and commercial VO lets the voice actor play, with ad-libbing and getting playfully lost in the copy encouraged.

FAME: While most commercial VO actors don't become famous for their work, opportunities do come along to voice an iconic campaign or character, and the actors who book those roles do often achieve some level of name recognition within the industry, and sometimes even in pop culture.

MONEY: Outside of celebrity-level animation, high end commercial work still offers the biggest paydays, especially at the union level. While commercial rates are under more pressure today than ever before, a major national campaign can still pay for a nice car, if not a house. Moreover, local and regional work (though less lucrative on a job per job basis) is abundant, and compensation for lower-level and non-union work is stable if not amazing.

For Art, Fame and Money

ART: Animation VO is as close as most voice talent will ever come to being an on-camera actor. Bringing a character to life on TV or in a movie requires pure acting chops and a gleeful attitude towards the work. It's no surprise that most animation actors find other genres of voice-over comparatively easy, as they have mastered the most challenging skills already.

FAME: Today's most recognized voice actors (with a few exceptions) are animation actors. These roles are prized for their visibility and career-defining nature, and are sought after by most VOs who are in it for the recognition.

MONEY: At the high end, no one earns more than top animation VOs. Get a recurring role on a show like The Simpsons or Family Guy and you are, quite simply, set for life. Everyday animation can still pay very well, which adds to its allure. Though very much an LA animal, making it in animation is a great way to hit the VO trifecta.

For Money

ART: While Corporate Narration is not to be sneezed at in terms of talent, a good voice and solid reading ability will take you farther in this genre than they will in acting-heavy genres like Commercials and Animation. Ultimately, Corporate Narration lives within a fairly definable range, and once mastered is not a tremendous outlet for artistic exploration due to the dry nature of most of the content.

FAME: Corporate Narration rarely offers the ability to gain publicity or recognition from your work. With many projects under NDA, and most simply not of great interest to the general public, this genre is the height of VO anonymity.

MONEY: Corporate Narration is the blue collar lifeblood of many voice-over careers. Accounting for up to 50% of all actual VO jobs, this genre is no get-rich-quick enterprise, but with average rates between $300-$750 for what amounts to maybe 20 minutes of total work, and the possibility to negotiate limited-license buys, it can add up quickly. There are talent out there doing this work almost exclusively who are earning deep into six figures, and many more for whom it is a strong supplement.

For Art and Money

ART: As E-Learning evolves with the learning styles of younger generations, it is moving in a more interactive and character-driven direction. Gamified E-Learning is hot, and many of today's instructional modules are based around voice talent who can bring acting chops to the table. While much of the work in this genre is still dry, serious, and polished in tone, good actors have a leg up here. Heavy legal scrutiny of copy means you may not be able to go off script and ad-lib much, however.

FAME: Like Corporate and Industrial Narration, E-Learning is highly anonymous work. This genre is not for those driven by recognition.

MONEY: Like Corporate Narration, E-Learning is under-appreciated as a source of stable income. There is tons of this work out there, and not enough quality talent to do it. Moreover, E-Learning is highly lucrative. Top narrators can earn between $1,200 and $3,600 per finished hour of work. Like Corporate Narration, there are talent making a six figure living from E-Learning alone. There probably aren't enough hours in the day to make millions annually in E-Learning, but you can do very well if you have the focus and endurance to handle volumes of copy every day.

For Art and Fame

ART: Like animation, videogames are the pinnacle of VO acting. Heavily taxing on the voice, videogame sessions can be marathons of non-stop performance action, and require total commitment to a character. If you love the art of VO, this genre is for you.

FAME: Today's videogame actors are increasingly recognized in the gaming community, and many are becoming celebrities in their own right. Success in this field can lead to doors opening in animation and other genres, and can create opportunities to build a personal brand that offers the chance to become an icon.

MONEY: While top gaming actors often find financial success from the opportunities growing a following creates, pay for videogames is fairly lousy considering the time and vocal strain involved, as well as the piles of money game companies earn. Recent union negotiations failed to move the needle very far in the direction of fair compensation, so if you play in this field, expect moderate financial returns at best until you become a household name.

For Fame

ART: Yes, imaging and affiliate work is trending conversational in major markets just like everything else, but let's be honest, the vast majority of work in these genres is still dominated by announcer voices, and that's unlikely to change dramatically. Perfect the art of being 'real,' because you'll get those specs, but imaging and affiliate work remain the land of best-pipes-win in many cases.

FAME: While imaging and affiliate voices certainly won't be as recognized as major animation, videogame, and even commercial actors, some do become local celebrities in the markets they work in, and there remains a cool factor involved in regularly hearing yourself on the air, or being heard by friends and relatives.

MONEY: Imaging and affiliate work is a slog. Individual jobs pay fairly little, so getting work on a contract basis and becoming "the voice of" is the route to gaining some real income here. With a lot of this work being done on a swap basis between stations using on-air talent, those opportunities continue to decrease, but becoming a sought-after imaging or affiliate voice and inking a solid handful of contracts can add up to respectable numbers.

For Art, Fame and Money

ART: Though certainly not as acting-heavy as commercials and character work, TV Narration requires a sense of timing and storytelling that is an art form of its own. Think of great narrators like David Attenborough and Peter Coyote, and how you hang on their every word. Being able to create that level of interest among an audience requires verbal and vocal mastery that few possess.

FAME: Narrating a popular show is a quick way to move up the VO pecking order, and in many cases to become a celebrity in your own right. Few genres are more consistently visible, and success as a TV narrator will bring lots of recognition.

MONEY: This is a great trifecta genre. While local and cable shows often pay as little as a few hundred dollars per episode, major regional and national level TV Narration can pay big league money, especially once a show catches on. Six figures annually from one show is not unheard of, and many of these programs pay thousands per episode. This is one reason that the very best of this work is still channeled almost exclusively through major union agencies in LA and New York.

For Art and Money

ART: Like normal commercials, political commercials often require legit acting chops and the ability to get into character. While announcers are still very welcome in this genre, real voices get hired more and more each year, so the opportunity to hone your acting skills exists here.

FAME: With the exception of the occasional Hal Riney, political voice-over actors don't usually take the spotlight. Moreover, political VO actors don't always want to publicize their work if they are voicing for both sides.

MONEY: Pay is the upside to political VO. Rates are roughly equivalent to similar retail commercials, and in many cases can be a as much as 50-100% higher, especially when dealing with national-level or major state races where campaigns can be flush with cash. Bid these jobs aggressively.

For Art and Money

ART: While many automotive spots are still classic announcers and screamers, just like all other commercial genres the conversational read is becoming more prominent. This is not the most dynamic space in VO, but you'll still get a chance to play.

FAME: Every now and then an automotive VO becomes a local celebrity as the voice of a well-liked dealership, but that's pretty rare. This work tends to be fairly anonymous, and the highest-end national level work often goes to Hollywood celebs.

MONEY: With a lot of the top-market work going to the Jon Hamms and Matthew McConaugheys of the world, that tends to leave local and regional work for the rest of us. Like imaging or affiliate work, individual jobs tend not to pay much, so getting contract-basis work to be the voice of a dealership or group of dealerships is essential to building steady income here. Once you get those contracts, the income can add up.

There you have it. A look at the main genres of voice-over and where they fit into your motivations for getting into this business.

Which ones do you think are right for you?
With over 20 years as a professional voice actor, J. Michael Collins has worked with some of the biggest companies, brands, sports leagues and organizations on the planet. In addition to his work in the classic, agency-based world of VO, J. Michael has established himself as a leading authority in the online casting marketplace and has become recognized as an industry leading talent coach and demo producer as well.He is a 10-time Voice Arts® Award winner as a voice actor, demo producer, script writer, and casting director.

Note: Learn more from J. Michael Collins in instant download webinar recordings, detailing how to succeed in a variety of voice-over genres discussed here. See the TRAINING column on the left side of the home page.

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Comments (6)
J. Michael Collins
1/26/2021 at 1:58 PM
Hi Justin,

These are all still broadly accurate. Good luck getting into the game!

1/21/2021 at 12:01 PM
It is now 2021, have any of these points changed much? I’m just now getting into the game. Thank you for talking about the rates and what’s worth my time and effort.
Michael B Lawson
2/7/2020 at 1:41 PM
This was an extremely valuable read full of insight into the VO biz. Very helpful in helping me focus on a niche or (trifecta). Going to the studio this evening to do my first demo reel.

Thank you so much.
William Cline
8/21/2018 at 5:12 PM
Great article J. Michael. Don't think this has been covered in such depth before.

James Conlan
8/21/2018 at 10:52 AM
This is very good, very thorough information that summarizes a lot about the industry today. I must take exception, though, to your perception of the "abundance" of local and regional commercial opportunities. Outside of perhaps the major markets (New York, Chicago, L.A.), local market advertising is controlled by local radio and TV stations. The vast majority of commercial production at this level is written, voiced, and produced at the stations. I would very much like to hear from various parts of the country to see if this condition is as pervasive as I have experienced. Thanks!
Memo Sauceda
8/21/2018 at 9:56 AM
Great article! Well researched and to the point. Can't wait for your next one.
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