When you talk about breaking into voice acting, you may as well be talking about becoming a perpetual motion machine. Anyone who is truly succeeding in voice acting is doing so by continually breaking new ground. It’s not like joining a fraternity where once you’re in you’re in. It’s more like making first string on a sports team, where every game is a fight to keep your spot and not end up on the bench. No sooner than you dive into voice acting you will find you have to swim deeper and farther to sustain a living, coming up for air as needed.
What is most consistent and plentiful in the realm of voice acting work is product advertising and content. Content refers to the news and entertainment (video games, TV shows, movies, audiobooks) that we consume on our myriad devices. Content, of course, must be advertised so there’s a symbiotic relationship in which the voice actor enjoys working both sides of the equation. The ongoing success of content, however, depends heavily on discovering “the next big thing.” In fact, the commercial voice actor will often find herself employed to say things like, “new and improved,” “introducing the all new,” “on an all new episode of,” and other similar phrases. Furthermore, how things are advertised takes on new approaches as well. Advertisers work hard to innovate against the new content being produced and the changing ways consumers relate to advertising.
With all this focus on feeding society’s need for new stuff, it’s only logical for content creators to actively seek out new voices. In fact, it’s something of a feather in the producer’s hat to discover a new voice that brings unique value to a show, game, commercial, etc. New is simply the natural order of things. That said, the longer the voice actor has a particular client, the more likely she is to be replaced by someone new. It’s nothing to fear. It’s something to understand and prepare for.
The one thing the voice actor has gotta get right is establishing a practice of finding fertile ground in which to plant seeds for future growth, or the art of career longevity. As with farming, planting seeds requires careful attention to timing, cultivation, weather conditions, and smartly responding to the unexpected. For the voice actors, planting seeds shows up as research and networking. Research enables you to unearth new sources of work and to understand the people who drive the work. Networking is the way. Networking happens inside of what was once coined the “six degrees of separation.” The suggestion is that anyone, through the people we know, is only six connections away from everyone else. It really is about who you know! More importantly, it’s about how you connect and relate to the people you know.
What this all comes down to is practicing the art of career longevity. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s Tai Chi, not a street brawl. It’s a very thoughtful practice of understanding the voiceover industry in the way meteorologists understand the weather, as a living breathing, moving system that is always changing. Weather is predictable up to a point, but can be catastrophically unpredictable too. A voiceover career takes a similar kind of daily, weekly seasonal monitoring. (Ironically, a lot of voiceover work is directly tied to the seasons.)
As human beings, we are forever students of life. The same is true for voice acting or any other pursuit. However much natural intuition you may have, unexpected events will take place over your career. The TV show for which you did all the promos suddenly gets cancelled. The TV network for which you were the announcer, decides to use multiple voices, thereby cutting your check by 80 percent. A new ad agency takes over the brand for which you were the voice and hires a new voice. Your talent agent stops sending you auditions or retires. The list goes on. Your awareness of new opportunities (research) and your ability to connect with buyers (networking) is where you have the power to influence outcomes.
Getting it right does not happen in a vacuum. Hire teachers and engage mentors to help avoid some of the pitfalls. Mentoring is not just a proposition where elder experts pass down knowledge to the youth. There is also a process we call “mentoring up.” Youth, who are generally more tuned in to the innovations that are shaping the future, pass knowledge up. Whatever your age, mentoring works both ways. A mentor and the practice of engaging mentors will enhance your career longevity.
Sitting at home with the greatest voice talent in the world is not enough. Waiting for your agent or manager to call is not enough. The one thing you gotta get right is the art of career longevity. Yes, it is an art. You can be an artist at anything, depending upon the devotion, practice and thoughtfulness you put into it. Now, step into the next exciting chapter of your voiceover career and do it artfully.
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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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