How to Become a Voice Actor in the UK

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If you’re known for your dulcet tones, have been complimented on your excellent accents, or know how to out-Alexa Alexa, then voice acting might be for you. Once seen as a bit of a side hustle for ‘proper’ actors, now the sector is booming and attracting serious acting talent. Podcasts, audiobooks, video games, animation, corporates – it seems the outstanding oral talents of voice actors are needed just about everywhere. So how do you make your mark in this thriving market and become a successful voice actor? Let’s break it down.

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What is voice acting?

In short, voice acting is acting using just your voice. That might mean playing a character or giving some aural authority to a nonfiction script. You could be hired to lend your silky vocals to an audio drama, provide narration on a film, or contribute a voiceover for a corporate video. Voice actors’ skills are in great demand, and so are the opportunities for those willing to put the work in.

What skills do I need?

Voice actor

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To be a successful voice actor, you obviously need an exceptional and adaptable voice. But you also need stamina, great timing, and vocal flexibility. You must be able to act while staying relatively still, as any movement gets picked up by the microphones and can be a distraction from what you’re saying.  

Increasingly, there is a demand for more unusual voices. So, if you thought your strong accent, raspy timbre, or even whiney voice should be trained out of you, then think again. Unusual vocal qualities – and, more importantly, authenticity – are both marketable and sought after. Additionally, there’s been a real push in the industry to embrace diversity and take steps to use authentic accents rather than imitations.  

That said, mastering different accents is always a skill worth having. Think about different British regional accents and how they sound. Listen to American, Australian, and other native English-speaking countries, too. Producers also value actors who can age their voices up and down to fit different roles. Demonstrating flexibility with your voice is a definite skill worth having.           

Many actors find that working solely with their voice can complement their other acting work. Gigs are often short-term, freeing you up to concentrate on any other auditions or acting work you might have. Also, learning to communicate emotion and authority using just your voice is a fundamental skill that many actors find enhances their acting more broadly. 

Another plus of voice acting is that, in most instances, you don’t need to learn a script; you just need to read it. If you find learning lines particularly challenging, voice acting might be for you.

Types of voice acting jobs

Many types of work are available for voice actors – in fact, the sector is booming. According to market experts, the global podcasting market alone was worth $18.52bn in 2022 and is expected to grow by over a third again by 2030. In the UK, audiobook revenue is up and there is a thriving radio drama scene featuring big names like Ncuti Gatwa, Sam Mendes, and Nichola Coughlan. 

It’s a very good time to be a voice actor. So, what types of work are available?       

  • Audiobooks 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, audiobooks were popular. But since then, people have been crazy about them. The number of UK audiobook downloads increased by 17% in 2022, according to the Publishers Association. Over the past five years, UK audiobook revenue has doubled, and casts have gotten bigger, offering more work for voice actors. Audible recently announced a new recording of all the Harry Potter books, featuring over 100 as-yet-uncast performers, so get your wizard hat on, pronto.     

  • Animation 

When you think voice actor, animation is probably the No. 1 thing you think of. From Dangermouse to Peppa Pig, The Simpsons to Moana, voice actors are the ones who brought these characters to life. Could you be next?     

  • Film and TV 

There are plenty of opportunities for voice actors in film and TV. For instance, automated dialogue replacement (ADR), or looping, occurs when actors are hired to replace dodgy audio recorded on set. It might be the lines of a particular character or it could be you’ve been signed to be part of the chatty background. Then there are the more prominent voice roles, such as being a TV continuity announcer.      

  • Documentaries and reality shows

Forget the cute big-eyed sloth lazily eating a banana with one hand. We all know the real star of the BBC’s natural history shows is David Attenborough’s narration. Voiceover artists are needed for all types of docs and nonfiction shows. Just ask Craig Cash, the voice of Gogglebox, or Marcus Bentley, whose distinct Geordie tones made Big Brother’s narration instantly iconic.        

  • Audio drama 

Many big-name actors have done audio drama in their time. The BBC’s long-running farming soap The Archers helped launch the career of Felicity Jones. And from Sir John Gielgud to Johnny Flynn to Glenda Jackson, the list of actors who’ve worked on BBC audio dramas is almost endless. The corporation also has a Radio Drama Company, a repertory group of actors who are used in many different roles. Auditions are held every six months, and bursaries are available. There’s also a burgeoning market for radio drama delivered via podcasts.    

  • Advertising 

Most TV ads have voiceovers done by – yep, you guessed it – hard-working, very talented voice actors. Commercials are a lucrative, big business, with radio ads, internet ads, talking billboards, and in-store corporate radio ads among the possibilities.        

  • Video games 

Voice actors Troy Baker, Nolan North, and Jennifer Hale may not be household names to most people, but gamers love them. Their vocal talents bring life and drama to the game space and can make or break a title. The UK is a big player in the games industry. Check out OMUK, one of the bigger British studios, if you’re interested.       

  • Corporate work 

Companies big and small are now expected to have their own video content, much of which needs voiceover and narration. If you don’t have an agent, it’s worth pitching your skills to local businesses and explaining how you could help make their videos sound more professional. It might not be as glam as a radio drama, but there’s lots of scope for paid work in this sector.  

  • Other avenues

Sit down and have a think about less obvious areas where your vocal skills might be used. Audio guides for museums? University course videos? Corporate human resources videos? Wellness apps? Training and educational material? Virtual reality? Telephone hold menus? YouTube explainer videos? Being the new voice for a sweet-sounding GPS system? The opportunities for voice talent are out there, you just have to know where to find them.   

In the UK, you can do voice work without belonging to Equity, but many actors sign up anyway. Equity has a specialist Audio Committee focusing on the work of voice actors and a very handy guide looking at the industry and the types of work you’ll encounter.

Do I need any training?

You don’t need any formal training to work as a voice actor – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A successful voice actor needs to look after their voice, find their niche, know how to market themselves, hone their technique, be a technical wiz, and move listeners using just their voice. It’s hard work, so it might be worth getting some help in the shape of a voice coach.  

If you can afford voice coaching, it’s important you do some research before you start paying for sessions. What is their reputation? Have they worked with anyone you’ve heard of in the industry? Do your friends who are also voice actors have any recommendations? 

You need someone who understands the current industry and can help you find your place in it. Talk to them first to get the lie of the land. Do you trust them? Do they seem knowledgeable about the voice acting scene? Establish very clearly what you are paying for and what you want from the session. Don’t get wooed by too many compliments – you need to hear the truth about your voice, however hard that might be.

The right vocal coach will be experienced, empathetic, and able to guide you through the fundamentals. That might mean talking about maintaining vocal health, delivering lines, effective networking, or creating a sizzling reel. They are there to help you be the best voice actor you can be. 

If you can’t afford a coach, don’t panic – there’s plenty of help online. Backstage is a great resource for deep-diving into all the info you need. Why not start with our guide to must-know voiceover terminology so you can wow with your looper's lingo at your first session?  

There’s also no substitute for good old-fashioned practice. Listen to other voice actors and think about what makes them stand out. Hone your own voice, record it, and listen back to it. Get people you trust, like friends or other voice actors, to listen and give their verdict. If you’re feeling brave, why not go to the local shop or pub using only the accent or voice you’re practising? If you can do it in the real world, you can definitely do it in a recording booth!

How to make your voiceover demo reel

Voiceover

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To get representation and get into auditions, you first need a voice-acting demo reel. Your reel should show what type of voice you have and what it can do. It’s your calling card for future work, and it’s essential to get it right. 

If you’re thinking of working in different types of voice work, think seriously about having bespoke demo reels for each type. That means creating a separate reel for corporates, ads, drama, or narration and a more general montage highlights reel featuring various styles. This shows you’re not a one-trick pony and are ready for anything. 

You should include work you’ve already done or, if you’re beginning your career, the types of voices you soon hope to get booked for. If you’re in doubt, go on to some of the big voice agency websites (see below) and have a listen to the clips they’re using to get their clients hired. 

Each reel should include two or three of your best clips, and the total length should be no more than 90 seconds. The clients listening to these clips are busy and probably stressed out. Put your most high-profile clip first to grab their attention, and make sure the file is small enough to send via email. An MP3 is the best format to use since most people can access it easily. 

Although you can pay a studio to help you create a demo reel, these days you can also do it yourself using straightforward tech (see below). Basic audio editing is relatively easy to learn via YouTube videos like this one.       

When you send your demo reel, make sure your email is brief. Include your contact details or agent's details, a written CV, and maybe a headshot, too. Don’t give them your life story in the email; let your voice do the talking.   

Required equipment for voice acting

Although some actors will visit a professional studio to record their lines, many jobbing voice actors also work from home. To do that, you’ll need a laptop, a professional microphone, and the ability to edit audio using software such as Adobe Audition, Audacity (free!), or GarageBand (also free if you use an Apple computer). Crucially, you’ll also need a good pair of studio-quality headphones.

Obviously, the microphone is key to capturing good audio. You need a condenser mic, which picks up a greater range of sound. There are plenty of good budget options, but it’s worth doing some research and asking other voice actors before you buy. The Røde NT1, for example, is a good brand and retails for around £140. You should also invest in a pop filter, which will stop you sounding like a popcorn machine. 

It’s also important to think about where you record. You can spend a grand on a mic, but if you do your recordings with the window open and the dog snoring on your lap, that isn’t going to work. You need to be somewhere quiet where you can control the environment. 

Under the stairs, a cupboard (with clothes in it to absorb the sound), in the car with the doors shut – all of these places can act as a makeshift recording studio. When the money starts rolling in, you can invest in better equipment or specialist spaces like a home sound booth, but it’s wise not to spend crazy amounts when you’re starting out.

How to get a voiceover agent

You’ve done the prep. Now it’s time to get repped. Most voice actors have a specific voice agent to get them work, negotiate fees, and check contracts. These agents specialise in voice work so should have repeat clients and great contacts. 

Signing to the right agent can help kick-start your career, but remember: they will also keep a cut of any fees. So do your research, ask actor friends who they’d recommend, and make sure your demo reel, CV, and headshot are good to go. Check each agent’s entrance criteria and, when you’re ready, make an approach. Here are a few of the UK’s leading voice agencies to get you started:

  • Calypso Voices: Describing itself as a Soho institution, Calypso has been providing top voices for 40 years. It currently boasts names like Sanjeev Bhaskar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Kerry Godliman on its books.     
  • Hobsons: A big agency representing top names like Martin Freeman and Cush Jumbo, Hobsons has its own West London studio facilities, so offers its clients in-house casting, recording, and delivery.       
  • Soho Voices: This agency reps adults and has an offshoot for kids, too. You might not recognise many of the names on their books, but you will probably have heard their voices. The agency boasts an extensive range of American voices too.  
  • Yakety Yak: This independent 25-year-old agency represents a top tier of talent including Paapa Essiedu and Billie Piper as well as a host of fresh, young talent.     

The big voice jobs usually get booked by an agent, but don’t worry too much if you don’t get signed. There are plenty of other ways into the industry. Backstage regularly lists voice actor work, so make sure you keep checking its jobs pages. Also, think about using social media to promote your demo reel. Use hashtags to get the attention of agencies and brands you’d like to work with. 

Networking is an important skill and reaps dividends when done properly. Check out websites such as VoiceOver Network, Gravy for the Brain, and Voiceover Kickstart for even more voice-based info. Take a further, deeper dive into London’s top voice agencies and find out what you could earn as a voice actor.

The final step: Bagging a job

Voiceover equipment

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Once you’ve created the perfect demo reel and signed with a top agent (or not), it’s time to actually get yourself some work, and that will probably mean smashing it in an audition. 

As with any audition, it’s important to prepare. You may not have seen what you’re going to read, but you can make sure you’re mentally and physically ready. Keep yourself hydrated and do some vocal exercises. Many actors use singers’ vocal warm-ups as part of their audition preparation, but do what makes you feel best. 

If you’re auditioning remotely, make sure you’re not interrupted. If that means plastering every wall with Post-its, do it. Check your internet connection and make your space is as quiet as possible. You only have one shot at this, so make it count.    

If you’re auditioning in person, make sure you get there in good time. As soon as you are given the script sides, study them properly. Consider what is needed from the reading – is it emotional, authoritative, humorous? Follow any instructions you’re given to the letter. Casting directors need to know you can follow directions, so show them you can! 

You’ll often start an audition by being asked to slate. Slating is essentially reading your name and announcing the take (take one, take two, etc.) before you do your read. Take a breath and go for it, then wow their socks off. Your voice acting career has begun. Good luck!