Words to the Wise: 33 Steps
To Voice-Over Career Success
By Bettye Zoller
Note: We learn from talented people who have "been there" and who today can be your model for success. Author Bettye Zoller's entertainment career began as a child actor on the MGM studio lot. Today she's a top voice talent, coach and workshop presenter with years of advice to share ...
1. Refuse to "go away." Voice-overs take persistent effort and hard work to break in. Most people give up too soon (in every field!).
Most successful people (especially successful people in voice-overs and other areas of show business and the arts) say that they "stuck it out when the going got tough." You should do that too!
2. Don’t miss a step. Get trained well, practice constantly. When you are ready and have a producer to help you create it, make a fabulous voice-over demo that will open doors.
Remember: You never have a second chance to make a first impression!
3. Secure agent representation in at least four cities. Getting a “no” does not mean "forever." It just means "right now." Submit again in six months or so if it is an agent you really want to represent you.
If your first agents are not working well for you, give them a one-year trial period and then find new representation. It is a trial and error experience to find the agent that fits you best.
4. Establish an Internet presence, not only on your agents’ web sites and on your own, but also on online marketplaces like Voice123 and Voices.com, and anywhere else on the web, if valuable.
5. Learn from informational sites like VoiceOverXtra.com. Contribute to these sites if you can! Browse these sites for news and resources. Bookmark them to return often.
I suggest surfing at least seven hours per week - one hour per day - (more if possible) - learning about voice-overs and the business on web sites.
6. Network constantly … in your city, in other cities, on the web. It’s the heart of our business.
“Six degrees of separation” means that you never know who someone knows who can help you!
7. Practice constantly by recording voice-over copy of various kinds at home.
8. Read aloud every chance you get. Read for the sight impaired, if you have an organization in your area that provides that service. Read at your local libraries at the children’s hours. Read at your child’s school.
9. Take workshops at least four times per year and whenever one intrigues you.
Be very cautious about spending big bucks on circus conferences in expensive hotels in far away cities, when all that money for a conference atmosphere might be better spent where you get much more personal attention to your individual needs.
Travel expenses are not education! That money might be better spent on other training closer to home!
10. Listen to voice-over demos of all kinds. Surf the web and listen to demos every day, good and bad. Sometimes you learn more from “what not to do” than from “what to do.”
11. Get acquainted with as many voice talents as you can at every stage of your career, in-person and on the web.
Network with them, have fun. You’ll learn amazing things! You’ll make new friends too.
12. Get to know voice-over professionals who are more well-established in their careers. Use these relationships to boost your self-confidence and to increase your knowledge.
Also, if a special relationship develops, the professional just might become a new friend and even a mentor.
A professional in the voice-over field once told me (when I was just beginning) that I should only associate with people who were better and more advanced in order to contribute to my growth. Good advice!
13. Read every book and magazine article you can find on voice-overs. Find voice-over books online. Scout local bookstores, new and used, browse the shelves, skimming titles, doing quick book-checks before you buy. Purchase the books you want to take home.
Some large city libraries may have voice-over books too. It’s a niche subject, but becoming more popular to authors all the time.
Sometimes books on acting of various types will also be valuable (if the information can translate to voice-overs).
14. Invest in self-promotional items like postcards and pens and calendars and bags - and anything else that can get your name "out there."
Obtain your agents’ mailing lists and the lists from any organization you can and do mail-outs at least three times per year saying, “Ask for my new Voice Demo.”
15. You are your own (and perhaps, only) publicity agent. Never expect an agent to take on that role. It won’t happen.
16. Listen to TV commercials constantly and make notes on the vocal style and sound of the voice-overs you hear. This is how to tune in to today’s sounds.
Radio commercials may or may not be useful to you because they often are done by station staff announcers without voice-over savvy. That's not always true, of course.
17. Never shirk spending money on your voice-over career. Look at your budget and ask yourself where you can cut back in order to spend more on your voice-over aspirations.
Ask yourself how you could fund this new business more effectively. This is a business start-up - and that takes money.
One of my students sold a second car to finance his demo. Another got a pizza delivery route two nights per week!
18. Ignore discouraging talk. Surround yourself with positive people!
19. Tell yourself you are going to change from a “wanna-be” to a “professional.”
20. Locate recording studios in your town and surrounding areas and get to know the audio engineers who work in them. Give them your voice-over demo and get to know them as people.
21. Get acquainted with union (AFTRA, SAG) performers in your area. Visit a local union office if there is one near you.
Visit their web sites, too. The unions often present workshops in various cities. Ask for a schedule and attend!
22. Read trade and showbusiness publications such as Backstage, Ad Week, Advertising Age, Create Magazine, and Audiofile Magazine. Visit their web sites.
You may not want to subscribe, although it would be tax deductible. You can access these magazines in most large libraries or newsstands.
23. Become a master of the “cold read” and read cold copy aloud 20 minutes per day.
If you make a mistake while reading, make yourself read the piece again.
24. Invest in private coaching hours with a voice-over coach who can guide you to business success.
Business savvy is often more important than voice acting savvy!
25. Always take your CD voice-over demos with you wherever you go.
You might run into a producer or agent at the supermarket, the gas station, or the beauty salon!
26. Be good at reading fast tags.
27. Get good at playing duo and ensemble roles, not just solo copy.
28. Try voicing accents, dialects, character voices. Don’t say “I can’t” just because you’ve never tried!
It takes training and practice! Enroll in workshops to help you improve.
29. Practice reading copy of all types, from hard sell to audiobooks and everything in-between
30. Get your own computer recording studio set up and learn how to use it!
BUT DO NOT DO THIS before you have trained and are good at doing voice-overs, or before you have a fabulous voice-over demo, or before you have signed with broadcast agents, or before you’ve established a presence on the pay-to-play Internet sites.
Why have an in-home studio finished before you are trained, or before you have any possibility of getting jobs?
31. Delay a home studio set up (a large expenditure) to the second year of activity in the vo biz.
Realize that a laptop is not a studio - it’s a beginning, and may not be enough. Save your money. You may need it for the home recording studio when you make it to the real-deal level as a VO pro.
32. Learn how to be an audio engineer. Take college courses, ask pros to give you private lessons, attend networking events in your area, hang around recording studios and get to know audio engineers.
If you will be recording auditions yourself and doing other audio jobs, you have to know how to operate audio software. Today, for a voice pro, that’s a must!
33. Enroll in every business course or workshop that applies to your voice-over business. Business knowledge is so vital. You are a business owner and your business is YOU!
Know what is tax deductible and what’s not. Keep receipts. Locate a tax preparer skilled in doing returns for various areas of show business and the arts.
Bettye Zoller is one of the U.S.'s best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice-over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds advanced degrees from three universities, has served on university faculties for 30 years, and currently is the Feagin Artist Guest Professor at Tulsa University, presenting workshops in Houston sponsored by Women in Film and Television. In June 2008, she will be a keynote workshop presenter in Nashville at the international conference of the National Teachers of Singing. Her home is Dallas but she teaches, by invitation, worldwide. She is a professional audio engineer producer, owns a recording studio in Dallas, and is a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader.