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Toss Half-Baked Notions About Voice Over
Career Success. Here's The Real Recipe ...

By Debbie Irwin
Voice Actor & Coach
  • 1 part boundless energy
  • 3 parts thick skin
  • Equal parts patience & perseverance
  • 1 part sense of humor
  • 4 parts alternative funding 
  • Stir in addiction to performing
  • Sprinkle with talent to taste
  • Combine in no particular order.
  • Bake until this recipe no longer sounds half-baked.
Ask before you assume.

It's hard to get started - with anything. And depending on your temperament, it may be harder for you than for most.

Why? Because ...
  • How do you climb a mountain when you've got no idea what that mountain's made of?
  • How can you assess it's height, how rough the terrain is, what skills and tools you'll need to climb it and what questions to ask to get started?
  • How does anyone advance… step forward… take even a baby step with such overwhelming uncertainty?
In a word, will. If you have it, there's a way.


A young woman, 22 years old, trained as an actress in musical theatre, asked if I could help her get started "doing voice overs" in NYC.

She's a dear friend of the family and I said yes.

Eager-eyed, she asked, "So, I guess the first step is to make a demo?"

I sighed, knowing all too well that that's the farthest thing from the first step. Getting an agent is usually mentioned as one of the top 3 things to do "to get started," which is also a fallacy.


Boy, did I make a big mistake years ago.

I had 'cut' my first demo, and through a friend of a friend, managed to get a 5-minute meeting with one of NYC's top VO agents.

The agent quickly and politely told me that she had "lots of horses in her stable just like me," thank you very much.

The fact is, I was so green, which she could see - and more importantly, hear - from a mile away.

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, so even though over the years I tried, by staying in touch and by training with that agent, sadly she only ever saw me as "that newbie."

So remember: make sure you're ready for the A team with your A-game.


What most people don't understand, when they're exploring the business of voice overs, is that it's a business.

Even though I came to the VO party later in lif (after having been an actress in NYC, then working in PR at the Guggenheim, then making money as a stockbroker on Wall Street, then leaving for 'Sesame Street' when I decided to be a full-time mom and raise a family), with everything I'd learned about myself - rejection, motivation, sales, client services, building a book of business, being self-motivated, juggling many tasks simultaneously, writing, the arts, finance, and the unpredictability of stock markets and children - even I didn't fully appreciate the complexity of what I'd need to do to make this dream a reality, and furthermore, the reality a success.

So here's what it takes:
  • Drive
  • Money
  • Commitment
  • Talent.
  • Organization
  • Follow through
  • Planning
  • Structure
Plus, business acumen in marketing, sales, accounting, IT, audio engineering, networking, prospecting, writing, and the soft skills that are harder to define - like:
  • how to present yourself in person (well -dressed, prompt, engaged, interested), and online (non-confrontational, brief, grammatically correct, helpful), and
  • how to gracefully interact with colleagues and professionals (kind, interested, respectful of their time, prepared and asking questions that you couldn't answer on your own through the internet).

What about handshaking? Eye contact and a smile? Does anyone teach that?

These are simple skills, but you'd be surprised by how many people don't do them well - or at all!

And after years of my mom harping on me to "Acknowledge!" I learned to write thank-you notes for gifts I'd received - pen/paper/envelopes/stamps - totally old school.

In our digital overload world, our virtual jungle of thousands of connections, friends of friends in networks of networks, these small acts make a big difference.


Absorb before you act.

Creating a demo to showcase your voice talent is certainly important: it's your calling card, like your website is your online brochure.

When searching for a professional to produce your demo, do you want to hire someone who has created the shell but has no experience to back it up?

Doctors don't say, "I'm a surgeon, where do I find some patients?!" In the OR, you want to be sure they've learned their craft before they lay a hand on you, and are familiar with the process, the procedure, the tools, the team members, and the best RX for post-operative care.


How can you know if you're really suited for a voice over career without trying it?

That's a dilemma, I agree.

For starters, if none of the above sounds scary, that's a good sign. Then start reading books and blogs (of which there are a plethora), listening to whatever genre of work is of interest to you, practicing scripts out loud (volunteering at The Lighthouse for The Blind was how I spent a lot of time in my early days), and taking classes (acting, voice, voice over, improvisation, business).


Open your wallet. The funds are going to start flowing - out!

If the lights are still flashing green, it's time to invest money in your ability to record and edit yourself. That means a microphone, recording software, a soundproofed or treated space, and more classes to learn how to be your own engineer, how to 'work the mic', how to label audio files, and how to listen to your work critically.

At this point it's also smart to start building the infrastructure of your business systems for CRM (client relationship management), and accounting and filing for projects, to name a few.

These components will be uber helpful to have in place once you start doing business.

Getting a website built and business cards made should be happening at this point, too. (Hear the stampede of dollars out the door yet?!)

You can also  become a member of the Pay-to-Play (online casting) websites, which will allow you to create a profile where your work can be shared and you can audition for projects.


So, how long have you been training?

If you're working with a reputable person or company, they won't let you create a demo until they have confidence that you're ready to market yourself with solid skills that you'll be able to reproduce on your own when you step into the booth to audition and/or record a project.

And then you are on your way… to climb the next mountain: welcome to the world of auditioning - it's your new career!
Debbie Irwin's experience as a female voice over artist ranges from highly technical and complicated medical narration to intimate storytelling in documentaries, becoming characters - large and small, young and old, nice and nasty - in video games, to being an engaging teacher for kids' language development, corporate e-learning, and the ubiquitous commercial found on TV, radio, Pandora, the web, in stores, on planes and anywhere else you can imagine. She brings decades of experience as a professional voice over talent and businesswoman into the virtual classroom as well, offering medical narration coaching sessions for talent who would like to hone their voice over skills and learn the ins and outs of medical narration, script analysis, how to market yourself, and more.

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Comments (1)
William Bruce McFadden
11/25/2020 at 9:48 PM

Excellent advice. A clear path for me to follow. I have already done a few of the steps in your article, and it is nice to have you reinforce my efforts so far. I will be following your advice in this article, and checking off the steps as I go. Thank you.

Bruce >
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