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Reviving a ‘Stalled’ or ‘Going Knowhere’ Voiceover Career

07 February

If you’re one of those voice over artists whose once successful career has stalled for no apparent reason, or you’re feeling like you’ve lost touch with your voice over career, or you’ve made a demo and picked up some work but you’re career just hasn’t gained momentum, then read on.

There are many reasons why a promising voice over career can stall or not take off and I think one of the reasons is that many voice over artists don’t really know all they need to about how the industry works, changes in the way it operates, changes in trends, or where they fit in.  They sit on an old or dated voice demo and hope it’s working for them.  They also stop listening to radio and television ad breaks, and worry about the reasons they’re not getting work.

Often, they also aren’t sure about how to market themselves and what’s acceptable in ‘approach’ terms.  So, faced with uncertainly, they tend to do nothing…or do something, but tentatively.

In my 35 plus years as a voice over artist, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  So many things about our world have changed since that time, and just as we’ve evolved culturally and life-styles have change, so has the landscape of the voice over industry.

In the 70’s there was just radio and television work; and not that much of it either.  Just as well there were only a handful of people working in voice over – that’s when I got my start – but by the 1980’s I watched the nature of voice over begin to shift.   From the early 80’s, the amount of radio and television advertising increased substancially.  Well, the 80’s was the ‘greed is good’ era and consumerism was the ‘new black’.

Those who were already in the industry got busier and more voice over artists joined that small band.   It was a really exciting time to be building the relatively ‘new’ career of a voice over artist.  We were having great fun in the studio due to the advent of stereo radio.  Ads were more like radio plays and the overall creative content of ads was in upswing!  In fact it was a really memorable era of quirky, imaginative and fun advertising.  Some of the ads I recorded in that era are still my favourites.

The corporate sector was growing as well, and training, informational and instructional videos, as well as audio book recording, added narration to the choice of work.  Animation series, mostly for children’s television, were also being made regularly and in-store and event advertising had its humble beginnings.

By the 90’s, the shape of the industry had altered completely.  The amount of advertising produced had climbed and most radio stations now produced commercials in-house.  High-end recording studios catered to advertising’s bigger budget jobs and interactive voice recordings, on-hold messaging, computer games and interactive DVD’s were added to the types of work the voiceover artist was booked for.

By the time 2000 rolled around, the corporate sector had become a great source of income and thanks to the advent of cable television, and their need for content, hundreds of low budget ‘human interest’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘documentary’ programs were created; and another stream of work was open to those whose skills are a narrator were first-class.  Add to that the emerging trend for companies to include audio content on their websites, giving product information, company history, mission and policy, and anyone can see why voice over is such a growing industry…and, thanks to excellent fees and rates of pay negotiate by our Arts Union, Equity (under the banner of the MEAA), it satisfies on many levels.  It is any wonder there are now many people working in voice over.

During those decades I’ve seen people come and go, script styles evolve and voices come in and out of favour.  I’ve seen voice over artists, whose style was right for a period of time, or a certain kind of advertising, become flavour of the month, have their day and then leave the industry.  Mostly, though I’ve watched actors, musicians, singers and voice over naturals come into the industry and build successful careers by re-inventing themselves and adding to their repertoire.

And at times, I’ve witnessed those who’ve been successful voiceover artists gradually get less and less work.  Often they might say to me, ‘I used to work at that studio all the time…I must have said something to offend someone’, or ‘I used to get a lot of voice over work but I just don’t anymore and I don’t know why’.

I often get calls from voice artists who’s career has stalled or those who are not getting enough or any voice over work.   Sometimes, the answer is all in the demo.  It’s just not good enough, sending a message of inexperience or lack of good training.  Sometimes the demo is almost right, the voice is good, the potential is there but the quality and style of the work just doesn’t rise to the occasion, and the phone never rings.

The feeling that you don’t know why you don’t get work, or you’re no longer getting the work you once did, or that a studio you worked at regularly no longer calls with bookings, can lead to a considerable loss of confidence.  For some people, so much so, that when they are called and booked for a job, their anxiety shows in the work, and while they may have been considered the best person for the job, their feelings that they’re ‘not up to it’ will have a result on the end product and their (possibly very noticeable) level of nervousness will worry the engineer and the producer.

Of course, being nervous is not uncommon when you’re in the studio.  The trick is, not to let it show.

But there are many reasons why voice over artists reach a stage where their work drops off or they are overlooked for jobs…and it’s seldom about ‘offending someone’.  It’s almost always about two things.  Firstly, their voice demo and secondly, how well they’re doing their marketing.

So let’s talk about the demo first.  It’s true that it’s the demo that gets you the work, but how?  Well, these days, often the way studios cast is that they’re sent a brief about the job from the ad agency or producer and asked to submit some voices.  The studio casting person will choose reads that match the agency brief, from a selection of demos of people they know will fit the bill and – and this is important – have a sample on their demo that fits the brief in voice type and style of read.  The reason that’s important is that unless you have a read on your demo that is, either a current trend, your very best work or high profile and memorable, it’s likely you won’t be included in the mix.  The casting person wants to satisfy their client.  They need to know, from work on your demo, that you can satisfy the client as well.

What can you do to make sure you’re in the selection?   Constantly review your demo.  Do you have dated reads, average work, or perhaps snippets of voice styles and reads that are just too short?  If you don’t already – and I’m constantly surprised at who doesn’t – listen to radio and television for a set period of the day, just for the ad breaks.  Yes, even on radio stations you wouldn’t normally listen to.  What are you hearing?  Often those who’ve had a voice over career and are faced with a drop in the amount of work they get, have stopped listening to the new styles and trends that are out there. You need to be aware that having a career and maintaining momentum in a career is a constant process of re-inventing yourself.

Next, is the marketing question!  It’s too easy to just send a demo out, pray for work and if none comes, give up…or hand this job over to your agent to do.  And of course, you know it’s not necessary to have an agent to get voice over work.  Creating a career in voice over is up to you whether you have an agent or not.  Of course, you may be lucky enough to have a really active voice over agent, and they are around, but mostly it’s down to you.   It’s important that you build relationships with studios and personnel by finding reasons to remind them that you’re there and wanting work.  That’s why updating, or embellishing your demo is a good way to remind them.  Even going to the studio, booking an hour, recording a couple of tracks and reordering your demo can be money well spent.

Unless you’re aware that you must constantly endeavour to re-invent yourself, look for new styles and ways of working that offer solutions and something unique, you will be overlooked or forgotten altogether.

If you ever need help to understand where you might fit in and make sure your demo is serving you as well as it could, just send me an email.  I love sitting down with a voice artist and a demo, sorting the gold from the dross, creating a plan and reviving a career or a dream.

If you want to do a session with me, we can either do it one-on-one or over the phone. Have a look at my Demo Assessment and Career Consultation page and send me an email.

Have I given you something to think about?

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Abbe Holmes About Abbe Holmes
Find Your Voice As a Voice Over Actor And Artist With The Voice Over Coach. For over 30 years I've had a successful voiceover career. I work in mainstream voice over for radio and television, narration for the corporate sector, website content and documentaries, as well as characters for animation, IVR, ADR, on-hold and foreign film dubbing.

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