Last month in this column, we focused on voiceover categories that are more agent-driven. This month, we’ll focus on voiceover possibilities that are driven by you. More often than not, these are auditions and jobs that do not come through agents, so it’s a chance for you to build a portfolio and make some money.
Let’s recap the main genres within voiceover. You can check out the one’s we covered last month, and I’ll cover the rest of them here. These are the main types:
AUDIO BOOKS: You primarily can find this work on your own, and it usually goes through publishers. This is a whole genre unto itself, and some refer to it as the ‘Shakespeare of Voiceover,’ because the skills for audio books include acting, dialogue, characterization, interaction, and narration, and it’s a long form medium. Fiction requires more characterization and acting skills. Non-fiction also requires acting skills because sometimes what you’re reading is considered rather dry and requires you to find a way to make it interesting. You’re painting a picture that a reader would see in his or her mind when reading it, as well as voicing the vision the author intended.
Audio books are more labor intensive because they’re read in ‘real time.’ Audio books require the time you need as an actor to read the book completely, and you have to break it down like a script before you start recording. You’ll also need to engineer, record, edit, and do the tech side of the audio book, or outsource that to someone who knows audio books. That is why when they quote you a price or you negotiate one for yourself, everyone will refer to it as per finished hour. If you want to pursue this, build this cost in for your time and fee.
You can outsource the technical aspects of recording and editing, but they often cost as much as you’ll get paid. Be careful to weigh all the aspects of this genre when voicing an audio book. And you might want to start with a shorter one.
This also applies for articles you may read in v/o for, say, the New York Times or any major publication that needs a digital presence. Articles are another area for voiceover, and they are becoming more and more prevalent.
INDUSTRIAL & CO-EDUCATIONAL: A lot of things can fall under this category. It has often been referred to as industrials in the past, and it can include everything from voicing the internal training and explainer videos to external marketing, sales, or informational PR videos. The pay is mostly non-union so you’ll have to negotiate whatever rate you can. Another part of this genre is voicing jobs for websites. Many are starting to go from all text to voiceover, and once again, it’s something most agents won’t handle. You just need to be there at the right time and ask for the work. And again, negotiate your own rate. A simple rule of thumb is this: figure out what you are worth per hour. Estimate about how long it will take you to do the job, then pad it by a couple of hours, or more if it’s a longer project. You can always come down on your rate a bit if they wince, but you can never go up. You also need to consider the technical aspects of a job in this genre, so build that into your price.
IVR: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is a sub-genre of corporate or industrials for phone answering prompts and menus. Say you call a bank or company, and you hear, “Thank you for calling, press 1 for…” It’s a message and/or a process of creating the little prompts that are strung together in little sentences. Someone has to record all of these. The voiceover actor who you heard for AOL recorded over 38,000 prompts over a number of years. Ask around with office managers, executive assistants and other business functionary types to find out who hires for these jobs and send them your demo (or reel) so they can hear your voice.
LOOPING, DUBBING, or ADR: ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. It can be called all three, but it’s the process of taking a group of VO actors and re-recording, re-doing, or adding dialogue to footage while watching it on a screen. The actors have to match their voices and sounds to the mouth movements and physical gestures they see onscreen. If an actor in the project isn’t available or is unwilling to provide additional dialogue, the producers bring in voiceover actors to do replacement dialogue, or just juice up the sound of a scene.
It’s possible the sound effects filmed didn’t allow for the dialogue to come through cleanly, or there was an unexpected horn honking in the background or plane flying overhead. If so, actors come into the soundstage, sometimes even as ‘sound-alikes’.
As a sound-alike, your job as an actor is to sound like the actor in the movie flawlessly, so that no one would even suspect it’s not said actor—every word, breath, kiss. One of my first big jobs in town was performing as the voice-double for Nicole Kidman in Batman Forever. It was a great job and one I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to audition for. I personally think all my years of music helped with that skillset. I do sound-alikes, and this does tend to come through agents since it is so specific, however, it sometimes will go through the loop group.
What’s a loop group? It’s a group of actors hired to do an entire session of ADR for television or movies. As an actor in a loop group, or if you are brought in individually, you will usually preview it on a big screen in an ADR studio so you get an idea of the timing and/or have to come up with short improvs or sound effects such as kissing, screaming, airport noise, restaurant ambiance, a reporter for a political drama, or voicing patients and doctors in an ER room where everyone has food poisoning. You may laugh, but I’ve actually done this in a loop group!
After you have a brief view of the scene—and I do mean brief—they roll the scene, and you start chattering. The folks who do this are pros and are able to jump right in. You usually get a series of beeps, and you come in with dialogue or mouth sound effects. Actors match their voices and sounds to the mouth movements and physical gestures they see onscreen.
Anime and foreign language dubbing use a lot of the same principles and some of the same skills.
As you can see, voiceover is an exciting field with lots of categories to explore. Don’t feel like you have to master all at once. Try them out. Take classes. See where you fit in best, and what you are passionate about. We often encourage starting out in a basic commercial class, and by the way, I’ve dubbed voices for some of those lovely folks in commercials, whose voice doesn’t always match how they look.
Kathy Grable is an L.A. voice-over prototype with a warmth and sincerity that reminds listeners of a close friend. You’ve heard her in animated shows like Tom & Jerry, Rocket Power, and Futurama and commercials for Pepsi, Disney, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and as the Baskin-Robbins “Talking Spoon.” Kathy was also the voice double for Nicole Kidman in the hit film Batman Forever. On-camera, she’s been seen in Mike & Molly, Harry’s Law, Last Man Standing, and The Wedding Band on TBS. She’s a sought-after V/O coach, director, and demo producer. When not performing, Kathy co-owns and operates a company that distributes e-books, comics, audio dramas, and her own podcast, In My Voice, with guests from all aspects of the voiceover world. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify, or go to https://anchor.fm/kathy-grable0 for all the episodes.