I am a voice actor. I don’t actually make any money at this yet, but the fact remains if you ask after my professed career I’m going to answer with voice over: cartoons, commercials, book narration, and documentaries.
The funny thing is, over the past year or so mentioning this has prompted several people to exclaim that it sounds like fun and how does one become a professional voice actor? Ah, well see the part where I don’t get paid? When I figure out how to change that I’ll be happy to tell anyone and everyone.
In the meantime, what I can share is the resources I’ve found that have helped me a bunch to get a handle on the industry as well as sharpen my game.
In the first place I should say that in order to be a voice actor I have to set aside all of my other approaches to performance and stagecraft and think of myself as an actor. I have spent a lot of time not doing that. Not just because I’ve spent the last few years stage managing and the occasional dramaturgical turn, but spending the large majority of my 20s not even doing any theatre. However, before that I got a BA in Theatre from USC. Because for the longest time while growing up and pushing my way into adulthood I knew that performing was where it was for me.
Not everyone gets into voice acting with an acting background, but most do. Frankly, I tend to think of voice actors as actors with a focus on voice over. It’s the same with actors who focus on on-screen performance in their professional careers. Studying for these first requires class time in an empty space, working with plays. Counting up all of my schooling, I put in something like 10 years doing that. And I wish I could have gotten a whole, whole lot more.
Anyway, since coming around to look at voice acting I’ve found a few teachers and other resources that have been immeasurably helpful.
Probably first and foremost has been Crispin Freeman’s classes, each of which I’ve taken at least twice. And I may take them some more. Maybe. }:> And I really can’t say enough good things about his podcast, Voice Acting Mastery. All very insightful and, at least for me, coming from a point of view that I can get with.
Crispin has broad background in voice so he can speak to a variety of VO projects, but his classes and podcast are focused on animation, in particular dubbing for anime and video games. Very simply, it’s because these areas are where his fanbase is and his classes are typically made up of fans of his who have an interest in voice acting. (The in-person classes are capped at eight people so the Venn diagram of fans and VO hopefuls only has to be so big.) This is just to say that you don’t have to be an anime fan to get a lot of mileage out of the class, but you might find yourself adrift in language that sort of sounds like English but doesn’t quite seem like it.
Check out the podcast, poke around the various topics and listen in to the interviews. That should reveal a lot about Crispin’s outlook and whether or not his teaching insight could help you as it has helped me.
Everyone else comes in…somewhere after. These are in no particular order.
I’ve started taking some coaching sessions with Juan Carlos Bagnell or Some Audio Guy in the last year. Juan has quite the take-no-prisoners approach to voice acting. Given he is a casting director and audio wiz, soft spots for flawed performances would cost him dearly so keeping that out of his booth is a matter of survival. However, he is also really – really – good at guiding the unwary noob actor to something that a pro should produce. For myself, I don’t relish getting beat up just because my work isn’t up to snuff, but I go back because I get better every time. That’s all there is to it.
Like people are talking to me now, demanding info on how to become a pro voice actor, I once talked to friends who made the mistake of mentioning somewhere near me that they were taking a look at voice acting. And from them I heard about David H Lawrence (XVII), his classes and insights. His blog and newsletter contain all sorts of tidbits of info all up and down the mechanical parts of voice over, from gear to financial considerations to industry details that can be very confusing.
His workshops are absolutely loaded information and are actually presented as a lecture with whatever visuals David can think up to further explain his point. These mechanical aspects are so easy to miss when you’re used to focusing on artistry and acting that it’s essential to have a resource like this. Over and over he has presented information that anticipated a question before I had even thought of it. For me, the down side is a lot of his workshops are repeated by request and so the ones I haven’t gotten to catch get harder and harder to get to as they get requested less and less. Also, and this is really a minor point when it comes to recommending, David’s artistic aesthetic and mine don’t mesh very well. It’s minor especially in David’s case because friends of mine have gotten a LOT out of his direction and on-mic instruction that they’re making money in this crazy VO world. So if money talks, then, hey, listen to them and get thee to a VO2gogo workshop. And even if you have cold feet about being directed by David, the on-mic portion of the class is actually separate from the lecture and admission is priced differently if you’re only auditing (listening) or also participating (going on mic). These days David has bunch of other offerings too, like video classes.
A really fun complement to Crispin’s classes has been the Adventures in Voice Acting workshops and workouts, led by Tony Oliver at one of the Bang Zoom! studios. A workshop is a day long class that goes back and forth between a sort of a lecture and booth time. The information and experience relates heavily to anime dubbing and video game voicing, hence complementing (for me) the lessons from Crispin’s classes. Tony has extensive voice acting credits himself, but he’s also put in a hell of a lot of time in the director’s seat. This has put in him at the perfect position to move a production through the breakneck pace necessary to meet logistical needs and still coax out terrific performances from actors.
If I may, he’s also a dear. Now, I don’t actually know him outside of these classes and workouts (no lecturing, just go-go-go! in the studio) and I don’t mean to say that the other teachers I list here aren’t supportive and warm – quite the opposite or I expect they wouldn’t have taken up teaching! But Tony has surprised me more than once with a hug and a couple of words of praise. An actor who goes around looking for support and praise is just setting herself up to be horribly, horribly disappointed, that’s simply a fact. But still, having Rick Hunter tell you you’ve got some game goes a hell of a long way toward keeping your spirits up!
Over and over I heard that the chops honed by improv would be called into service while in the booth. For that I looked for an improv class and Crispin recommended his teacher, Melanie Chartoff. I actually wrote an blog entry a while ago on my experience in just one class session. It was inspired by having to face exactly those factors that had kept me away from improv for a very long time. A lot about its demands scare the crap out of me. But it’s for that reason that taking the classes was so necessary for me; avoiding weaknesses and fears never helped anyone grow and I’m deeply indebted to Melanie for giving me the tools to handle situations that once would have left me frozen and lost inside my own head.
Melanie runs a regular improv class with games for a group to play in a given space. She also has an occasional on-mic class where we work one at a time on a piece of text to bring out the most heart in it. This has been incredibly instrumental in learning to suss out the emotions of a piece or as Melanie put it, to fall in love with every word.
Other than asking friends who they were studying with I also took to the Internet to hunt down classes. Web searches for coaching etc was pretty overwhelming but I was also poking around at various voice actors’ Web sites and Wikipedia entries. One of my college professors pointed me toward Lynnanne Zager, who was teaching at Kalmenson & Kalmenson. I also found that Steve Staley taught there, which pretty much settled me up for taking a class there. The funny thing is, I didn’t ever get a class with Lynnanne, though I did get to meet her once and we had a nice little chat in the hallway at K&K. Instead I ended up taking their commercial voice acting classes I & II and animation with Melique Berger.
It’s two different things to talk about the K&K curriculum and Melique. The Kalmenson’s are very particular about how they think things ought to be and their instructors are there to make sure their method is implemented without fail. Their method does help to break down a piece of copy very quickly and leads folks new to commercial VO to make decisions quickly and commit to them fully. I think this is the only place I’ve taken classes where it wasn’t assumed that I walked in with at least a minimal appreciation of acting. That is, the K&K method really is a technique that they teach, much like Meisner or Adler technique, that is supposed to open up a performance to truthful expression. It …does and doesn’t help. Again, I can’t argue with numbers and plenty of their alumni have gotten paying work. And in fact, there’s an aspect the helps me the most when I’m tired and distracted that puts my head back where it’s supposed to be. And since it was developed specifically for dealing with commercial copy it helps a lot for those nuggets of advertising that are supposed to be subtle in drawing a listener’s attention but are as gentle as a chainsaw. Anyway, the VA I&II classes I definitely recommend. It’s a great way to learn how to handle material that is much trickier than it looks. Oh, I also took their Demo Prep class. That was where I got to study with Steve Staley. He cracks me up – he’s a total, total actor, and I wish I could take more classes or coaching or whatever with him. Or just get to sit in on a session while he’s in the booth. Jeez, his acting is so clear and amazing I learned more from watching him goof around with copy for a few minutes than I picked up in many hours of other classes.
Now, Melique cracks me up, but it’s intentional on her part. }:> When I first showed up to VO1 I was fighting off a zillion nerves – the same that go nuts anywhere I’m somewhere new. I’m pretty sure she keyed into this pretty fast, she reads most people in about three seconds flat. And I have to say, if there is one antidote to nerves it’s laughing my butt off. Melique made it easy to get along and get right down to brass tacks. It doesn’t take much for voice acting to become nerve racking, getting flustered and loss of confidence are continuous threats. They are most directly combated with experience, a distinct irony for a voice acting greenhorn. So I loved getting to work with Melique because I forgot to be nervous and remembered to kick my game into gear.
I think that’s it for teachers. But I want to make sure I give props to a book & Web site, Voice Over Voice Actor, by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt. The background info, the tips and suggestions are all super useful and it’s written at a really fun and easy pace. (I’ve tried reading a few other VO texts and they’re typically dry as heck.) Just check the blurbs – some of the biggest names in VO are recommending this book, so don’t just take my word for it. There’s also a CD Yuri and Tara developed to lead vocal warm ups and exercises which has also been very helpful to me.
The last item on my list of resources for keeping my drive and chops up is the most enduring: keeping up with classmates and friends in theatre and voice acting spheres. It’s terrific getting to watch my friends’ careers take off. I’m not gonna lie, envy is a real thing, but it’s so easy to turn it into admiration when we have something in common and it feels like someone from my tribe is doing well. When I hear a friend in a voice over spot or see someone I know in a commercial I love getting to post on their facebook or send them a tweet congratulating them. When I can remember working with them it’s really inspiring to me and I mean every word of praise I get to pass on to them. When I get tired or get a bit turned around after spending a lot of time working on something that isn’t voice over, it’s usually catching up with these people that gets me back on the path I’ve set out for myself.
I don’t know how I’ll get there or where there is, but I know I have great company.