Colleges for Voice Actors: Do You Need a Degree?

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Whether it’s Zaris-Angel Hator giving voice to Maisie Brumble in “The Sea Beast,” or Yuri Lowenthal portraying Peter Parker in multiple Spider-Man video games, voice actors add breadth and depth to cartoons, video games, audiobooks, documentaries, commercials, and more. While earning a degree is one way to get started in the ever-growing field, many aspiring vocal performers find success without attending voice acting school.

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What is a voice acting degree?

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A voice acting degree is earned when a student completes a program that teaches them how to use the power of their voice to represent characters and provide narration in a compelling way. Voice acting degrees may be conferred by traditional colleges and universities, acting schools, or voice acting programs and workshops. The curriculum for these programs usually includes: 

  • Vocal training
  • Microphone technique
  • Script analysis and character development
  • Genre study
  • Voice acting audition advice

Do you need a degree for voice acting?

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While any kind of formal training or education is beneficial to break into the biz, you do not need to earn a degree to become a voice actor. For example, June Foray, who played a variety of animated characters including Rocky the Flying Squirrel, had no formal education beyond high school. Bart Simpson portrayer Nancy Cartwright earned a general theater degree from UCLA, but trained on her own time with voice acting mentor Daws Butler. Keith David, whose voice acting work includes Dr. Facilier in “The Princess and the Frog,” multiple video game roles, and voiceover narration for several Ken Burns films, earned a BFA from the Juilliard School. As demonstrated by these exemplars of the craft, becoming a voice actor can take many paths. 

Many aspiring voice actors choose to work with a voice acting coach to learn the ins and outs of the field, then create their demo reel and start auditioning from there

Here are some of the pros and cons of getting a voice acting degree.

Pros of earning a voice acting degree:

  • Working with professionals: When you attend a voice acting program, you have the opportunity to learn from a variety of people involved in voice acting, including veteran voice actors, casting directors, and vocal coaches.
  • Extensive training: The structured learning environment of voice acting schools means you’ll cover everything from how to best use your tool to marketing yourself as a voice actor.
  • Résumé: Listing a voice acting degree on your acting résumé shows that you’re committed to the craft, which can help you stand out to casting directors.
  • Networking: Voice acting programs introduce you to other people who may be able to help you find jobs.

Cons of earning a voice acting degree:

  • Cost: Acting college tuition costs an average of $34,244. Voice acting workshops are more affordable—usually between $200 and $3,000—but still may present too steep a financial burden to those just getting started.
  • Time: Attending voice acting schools and workshops can be very time-consuming. Although the training directly applies to your desired career, it can also mean less time searching for jobs and auditioning. 
  • Not totally necessary: With enough dedication and innate talent, the voice actor autodidact can carve a route for themselves without needing a degree.

What are the top voice acting colleges and programs?

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Voice acting colleges:

  • Pace University: Pace’s Acting for Film, Television, Voiceovers, and Commercials BFA uses a conservatory-style curriculum that includes two years dedicated to vocal production and speech and one year to voiceover technique. Students graduate with a senior year capstone project and professional demo reel under their belt. Notable alumni from the program include Sam Ashby, Christopher Briney, and Jesse James Keitel.
  • Temple University: Temple’s Theater, Film, and Media Arts offers a four-course, 12-credit Voice and Speech for the Actor certificate that uses the renowned Fitzmaurice Voicework method for vocal training. 
  • Columbia College Chicago: Earning a minor in voiceover introduces students to a wide range of voice work techniques and genres. Faculty in the program include professional voice actors, Sovas Voice Arts Awards judges, and casting directors. 
  • The Juilliard School: The Drama BFA at Juilliard offers robust interdisciplinary training and a network of highly talented voice actors such as Michael Wincott, Kevin Conroy, John Gremillion, and Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning actress Audra McDonald. 

Voice acting programs:

  • The Voice Shop: The Voice Shop has classes ranging from introductory technique to master classes. Students have gone on to showcase their voice acting for the NBA and NFL, Travel Channel, BBC, and a diverse array of commercials.
  • Howard Fine Acting Studio: Vocal coach David Coury leads classes that help students refine their voice acting technique and discover their own unique sound.
  • Herbert Berghof Studio: HB Studio offers classes that teach students how to deliver in commercial, radio, and audiobook performances.
  • Voice One: Voice One was founded by Elaine Clark, who wrote the canonical voiceover book, “There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is.” The school boasts an in-house recording studio, theater, and extensive curriculum.
  • Global Voice Academy: This online voice acting school offers personalized curriculums, individual coaching, and home studio setup instructions and advice.

What are the requirements to become a voice actor?

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The requirements to become a voice actor with or without a voice acting degree include proper vocal technique, a killer demo reel, familiarity with industry jargon, and the right equipment. 

Technique

To be hired for your voice acting, you need to know how to analyze a script, embody a character, and master tone, enunciation, and diction. 

Demo reel

You must also create a voice acting demo reel that highlights your unique talents and range. The demo reel is meant to “encompass your signature sound,” according to demo producer Marc Graue. “A voiceover demo reel should demonstrate your vocal range and show off your unique skill set and personality—what you bring to the table,” adds voiceover actor Steph Lynn Robinson. The industry standard is usually six clips of approximately 10 seconds to create a reel that’s 60 seconds long. Start with your highest-profile samples, then your best samples, and finally samples that show your range within a single medium.

Knowledge of voice acting lingo

You need to talk the talk to get work as a voice actor. Some of the most important terms include:

  • Billboard: emphasizing a certain word or phrase
  • Cold read: reading a new script you haven’t had the chance to study yet
  • Copy: the script you’re using in the voice acting performance
  • Level: reading through lines at your regular, neutral volume to calibrate the audio before you start recording
  • Popping: an undesirable plosive sound caused by sudden bursts of air, usually on words beginning with p
  • Punch: giving extra oomph—or punch—to a word or line
  • VO: this abbreviation for “voiceover” indicates the parts of a script you’re reading as the voice actor

Equipment

If you’re making recordings at home, you’ll need a home studio setup consisting of at least a laptop or tablet, professional-grade microphone, and editing software.

  • Laptop or tablet: This allows you to capture, store, and edit your recorded audio.
  • Microphone: Look for a professional-grade condenser mic with a frequency response range of around 80 to 15,000 Hz.
  • Software: Programs such as Audacity, Adobe Audition, Pro Tools, WavePad, and GarageBand allow you to record, edit, and perfect your voice recordings.

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