"Your craft is your weapon," says the Northern California native, who will be speaking at Back Stage's trade show Actorfest NY next month. Baker will show attendees how to use that weapon to break into—and stay in—the voiceover industry.
"I speak to all levels of actors: those that have an interest in voiceover, those that don't know anything about how to move into voiceover, and those that do but don't completely understand the business," Baker says, giving examples from a very interactive talk in which she brings people from the audience up on stage to experience voiceover and be coached on performance and technique.
Baker notes that there is a lot of general information about voiceover available, but she tries to make real-world examples very clear to the budding artist. "I'm very candid and step-by-step," she says. "How do I break in? How do I speak to an agent when I send a demo? How do I analyze a script? I ask the questions the audience wants to ask, and then answer them."
As a child actor, Baker got an agent when very young. But that early success hardly made her complacent. It made her hungry. She tasted success and wanted more. "That search for work and management? I still do that work," she says. "It never ends, even when you get your break."
Describing herself as an actor, dancer, and humanitarian, Baker notes that the events she hosts, the classes she teaches, the coaching she offers, the books, the career counseling—all contribute to the support of the Alzheimer's Association. "In a very large way, it facilitates healing," she says. "And it helped me grieve my father's death."
Baker loves teaching and coaching, and she says she'll get "very specific" at Actorfest NY. "There are internal things you need to pay attention to when trying to break in: what you do with your voice, and how your craft works through you. You don't have to be an actor to have a voiceover career, but you do have to have some acting under your belt."
Baker offers this advice: "If you want to learn the craft, study with a voice actor who does it for a living—no one else. Not a casting director, a producer, no—a working voice actor. Once you learn from someone who does it every day how to work in front of a mic, then take it to a casting director. Let them analyze you at that point, after you have some solid practical experience. Your emotional life? You have to be able to bring it to the table. If you go to someone who doesn't do it for a living, they can critique you, but they can't give you the skill itself."
It amuses her when people tell her they want to do voiceover because everyone has told them they have a great voice. "People are under the assumption that if you have a good voice, you'd be a great voiceover talent," Baker says. "That's like saying if you're good with kids, you'd be a great pediatrician."
Baker offers this final advice to any actor considering becoming a voiceover performer: Don't do it halfway. "I feel that actors sometimes just don't know any better," she says. "They tend to treat voiceover like a side job and not full time. Actually, how you train and pursue voiceover is not on the side. You must treat this as a full-time pursuit. People that are successful treat it that way."
Joan Baker will appear at Actorfest NY on Sunday, Oct. 23, moderating the focus session "Secrets of Voiceover: Breaking In, Staying In." For more information, visit www.actorfest.com.