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Starting A Voice Over Career? Here's What
You Don't Want To Hear ... The Dark Side
March 7, 2017

By David Winograd
Voice Actor

This is the first of a two-part series talking about what I wish I knew when I seriously thought about going into voice over. Today, the Dark Side - what you don't want to hear about voice over as more than a hobby. (But stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, when we'll cover why, regardless of the pitfalls, voice over is a wonderful thing to do!)

I have been involved in the voice over business for roughly three years, which is a fairly short amount of time.

I have made countless mistakes.

I do, however,  pride myself in only making the same mistake once, and learning from my errors. This article is meant for ‘newbies’ who are just starting on their voice over journey or those considering taking on VO as a profession.

My intention is to point out the potholes that I have found myself in, and give you a taste of both the light and dark side of the industry. This is meant to be one of those ‘if I knew then what I know now’ sort of pieces, and I will try to present a balanced view of today’s quickly changing voice over market.  


Lately, a massive number of people are exploring and entering the voice over business. Why? There are many reasons. Which of the following applies to you?
  • You have a good voice and everyone tells you that you should be doing voice overs.
  • You’ve always loved reading to your kids.
  • You just got laid off from your radio station.
  • You think VO is pretty easy since all you have to is read and get paid.
  • You believe lots of agents and producers will discover you.
  • Performing is fun.
  • Some USB microphones are really cheap; it won’t cost you much to get started.
  • You think that all you need is an account with a Pay-to-Play (online casting) site for the money to start rolling in.  
In recent years, the voice over business - and I want to stress that voice over is a business - has taken on too many aspects of a Gold Rush mentality.

A quick Google search for "voice over training" will bring up dozens of people and companies claiming that they will train you to become a voice over talent, produce a demo, and turn you into a quick success.  


Yet as Larry Hudson, a wonderful and wise voice talent puts it: "The only ones who made money during the Gold Rush were the guys who sold shovels.” 

There are a lot people out there selling shovels.

Many of those will tell you about their wonderful success, the bags of money that get delivered every day, and that for a fee - most likely a huge one - they will give you all the training you need PLUS record your demo in a very short amount of time (maybe a month or two), and you will be on your way to a lifetime of riches.

And some who advertise voice over coaching services have little or no credentials.

Dave Courvoisier
, a wonderful voice talent and all around nice guy, recently blogged:
"Top audiobook narrator Johnny Heller ... (laments) ... that some audiobook narrators with 10 books under their belt are turning to coaching and holding webinars (shakes head). Ten books is just a start - not a coaching certificate.”  
Personally, I have narrated 34 audiobooks, some are even good, but if I hawked myself as a coach, I would probably arrest myself for false advertising.

There are no academic degrees or certification awarded for voice over, so Caveat Emptor (buyer beware). If anyone promises you an early path to success, run for the door.


Here are 13 things you don’t want to hear about the voice over business:
  1. Hardly anyone makes real money at it.
  2. It takes years to establish yourself.
  3. To be competitive you need constant and consistent ongoing training.
  4. A good voice is probably the least important part of the equation.
  5. Never make a demo until your coach tells you that you are ready to make a demo, and that may take much longer than you bargain for, and cost more than you can imagine.
  6. To be competitive you need a home studio which can cost quite a bit when you take into account items such as: a microphone suited for your voice, a decent computer, recording software, acoustic treatment, and more than this general article will cover.
  7. You’ll need to become an audio engineer.
  8. The majority (I would say well over 75%) of your time will be spent marketing yourself through direct email marketing, cold calling, knocking on doors, whatever.
  9. A voice over talent runs their own business and must be prepared to run it as a business with plans, goals, objectives, budgets and all the stuff you’ve been trying to get away from by becoming a voice over talent.
  10. Pay-to-Play online casting sites put you in competition with hundreds of others who have been doing this longer than you, and, at the start, are better trained than you.
  11. Finding an agent is hard.
  12. If you find an agent and are very good and lucky, only a small part of your income will come from your agent.
  13. Most people give up in a fairly short period of time.  

So, am I saying that you should not pursue your dream since you are doomed to failure and might as well sell real-estate?

Emphatically no!!

What I am saying is that you need to approach voice over from a realistic perspective - and that includes doing a lot of stuff that’s not fun, and winding up working 80 hours a week for yourself so you don't have to work 40 hours for someone else.  

Now, if you’re not totally scared off, you are in a far better position than I was when I started. 

I knew nothing more than that I liked reading to my kids who are now grown, and that voice over is something I always wanted to do.

I knew no one in the voice over business, had no contacts, and was a lamb getting ever closer to the big set of shears.  

See Part 2: The Light Side - Prepare For Your Journey, And Enjoy The Trip To Voice Over Success
David Winograd earned a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from Arizona State University and has taught hundreds of in-service teachers how to systematically create curriculum and deliver it using technology. He has been involved in online communication since the late 70’s and oversaw and moderated Apple and Macintosh-oriented forums on the CompuServe Information service for a decade. His doctoral work focused on Distance Learning, now referred to as e-Learning. "Retiring” to Florida, David is now a voice talent, having recorded over 30 audiobooks and is involved in e-Learning, among other forms of voice over. 



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Comments (3)
Dan Bolivar
3/7/2017 at 10:06 PM
Although it's a nice article, it is also full of "limiting beliefs."

Every person is a universe and everyone's story is different. The best we can do is be honest and truthful with ourselves. One needs to be self-critical and self-correcting. There will always be negatively biased people telling you how hard it is, how difficult it is, how far fetched it is. Yet all they can do is put out a reflection of THEIR story, THEIR experiences, and THEIR universe.

I say, do your best, learn something new EVERY DAY, correct something faulty EVERY DAY, learn from the best, listen to the best, follow the best. Make friends with the best. Push yourself hard, work hard, study hard, LISTEN hard. Apply every drop of muscle, sweat and blood. Have FAITH in the being that gave you life and brought you to the place where you are now. And prepare to take off but also be ready to flap your wings like a MOFO because no one can do fo you what you can do for yourself.

My point is... There's always time to be negative after one is 6 ft under.
For now, I can open any oyster I set my mind to opening.
3/7/2017 at 5:12 PM
Oh I'm not scared - I'm ready to retire if it works good. If it doesn't, at least tried.
Jim Conlan
3/7/2017 at 10:22 AM
And there it is, David: the difference between reality and huckster promises. Very well said.
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