The term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. Accredited colleges maintain a carefully honed curriculum for every field of study they offer. No such curriculum exists for voice acting—though it will likely come about as schools like NYU, Yale, Columbia, and Juilliard continue to slowly introduce voiceover training to their acting students.
However, for the person who simply wants to master voice acting, no legitimate curriculum exists. The world of voiceover training is like something out of the Wild West, where each teacher is the sheriff of his own town with his own rules. The new student finds himself in a trial and error process of trying to find the right teachers and a clear path to success. For that reason, we’ve put together a comprehensive curriculum to guide you in managing your training.
1. Self-assessment. Look before you leap. Examine whether you love it and if you’re up for the challenge. This boils down to whether you have the desire and drive to pursue a complex and competitive field. It can take many months and thousands of dollars to get the necessary experience, and there’s no guarantee you’ll reach the success you imagine.
2. Voiceover training. Training begins with exploring scripts under the direction of a voiceover coach who understands the current trends of the business. This work will focus on understanding different genres and how they communicate to audiences. You will learn to employ basic acting techniques.
3. Speech, diction, and breath work. Accents, bad speech habits, and lack of breathing technique are issues that must be addressed. A few sessions with a speech and diction specialist will provide an overall analysis of where you stand. Join a group class where breath work (Linklater Technique) is taught, along with vocal warmup exercises to build vocal range and dexterity.
4. Script analysis. Scripts are conceptualized for everyday consumers and it is important that voice actors learn to stay connected on the person-to-person consumer level. Don’t get thrown off by notions of becoming an expert marketer. Your biggest asset is that you are already the consumer, and hence your point of view has insight.
5. Script genres. Just as there is comedy, action, drama, etc., in film, so it is in voice acting. TV commercials is the most common sector of employment, and many sub-genres exist within TV commercials. The genres go by names such as spokesperson, real person, announcer, character, and repartee. Most voice actors become better at some genres than others, but it’s vital that you understand them all. Other sectors include promos, audiobooks, video games, film animation, program narration, and e-learning.
6. Proficiency. There are no grade levels to mark your progress. A thoughtful voice teacher will guide you in a manner that allows you to learn and grow while owning your newfound capabilities. Together you will determine when you’re ready to produce a professional demo reel and pursue work.
7. Know the system. Top acting schools require each student to do all the jobs required in a production: stage manager, director, lighting director, etc. The same is true for film schools where the students take a turn at director, producer, camera operator, editor, etc. You grow as a voice actor by practicing writing and directing a voiceover script under the oversight of professionals.
8. Demo reels. The demo reel is a combination of a final exam and a graduation ceremony, and running the gauntlet before being accepted into a college fraternity. It puts you through the paces of an actual job, recording fully produced, broadcast-ready spots. It is itself a growth experience, not a regurgitation of what you’ve learned.
9. Exit strategy. The exit strategy relates to specific steps you can take to get work. There are no voiceover apprenticeships or internships. To understand the business, you want one-on-one contact with agents, casting directors, producers, and directors.
10. Branding, marketing, and PR. It’s important to learn how branding, marketing, and PR can impact your career success. This means meeting marketing and PR experts and learning how they operate. The DIY marketing approach leads to mediocre results at best. Hire an expert.
11. Home studio. You will need a home studio from which to audition and record jobs for clients. You don’t have to become an expert in audio engineering, but there are basics to get under your belt. Find an audio engineer who can set up your system at whatever level of proficiency you can handle.
12. SAG-AFTRA, FiCore, and nonunion. It’s important to hear from all sides and then make up your own mind. It comes down to knowing the facts and choosing what works for you. Meet the insiders who administrate unions and the companies that have chosen to become signatories or remain nonunion. There is much confusion about the topic of unions, but all the information is available to make an informed choice.
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Joan Baker is the author of "Secrets of Voiceover Success," and the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for commercial and documentary voiceover performances. She is an actor, voice actor, and teacher. Baker trains individuals and groups in the craft of voice acting and VO career management. She has written trade articles for Backstage, Adweek, Multichannel and Broadcast & Cable.
Rudy Gaskins, is an Emmy Award-winning creative director and branding expert. He launched Push Creative Advertising in 2001, after holding executive roles at Court TV and Food Network. His accounts span American Express, Tribeca Film Festival, Lexus and BET. Rudy has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, promos, and marketing campaigns and has directed documentaries for PBS.
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of That’s Voiceover!, an annual career expo, and the creators of the newly formed Society of Voice Arts and Sciences and the Voice Arts Awards.
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