I get this question all the time, so I thought I’d write a blog post about it that will have helpful links and things so I can give betters answers whenever people ask.
I want to start this post by saying I’m still very new to VO. I’ve been very fortunate to have some great success, so people are asking for advice, but I just started my fourth year of doing any VO work at all. I’m going to share how I got into VO, the steps I took, the people I talked to, the classes I attended, but the real answer is there is no specific way to get into VO. There are many avenues. The way I did it may not work for you. But I hope this helps give you some direction on what steps you could take next. Or maybe you’re not an actor and just reading because you’re curious. Welcome to you guys as well.
Also, this is going to be exceptionally long. I’ll try number the main points if you just want to skim those.
- I was an actor first.
When I had my very first Funimation audition, I had been acting for about 14 years straight. Not on and off. Not occasionally. I essentially lived in a theater for 14 years. I went to school for musical theater. My degree is in musical theater. Unbeknownst to me, I had been working on my voice over career for 14 years through my work in the theater.
I have met many aspiring voice actors that have never once stepped foot in a theater or acted on camera, or sung in a choir, and that’s totally ok! But I think it’s important to remember that Voice Acting is just that – it’s acting. There is definitely a difference between loving anime and loving the work of voicing an anime. I don’t say that to discourage anyone, but I want to encourage those of you who have never acted to go audition for a play. Take a stage acting class. Film is also good, but truly, the stage is where you learn the craft of acting. You can spend all the time you want working through each detail of a scene onstage.
Most of the time, especially at Funimation, they don’t have time to teach you how to act. They expect you to know what you’re doing when you get in there so that you can create the character and scene together. It’s a job. That doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes and get direction; everyone does that. But you need to be an actor when you go into that booth, not just a fan.
2. I had to network
I am not a natural networker. I despise talking about myself. I’m trying to get better about this. Fortunately, I’m interested in other people, so I like asking what people do. This came in very handy when I was singing a Christmas Caroling gig with Jad Saxton and I asked her about voice acting, which I had seen on her Facebook. This first connection was what made me even look into working at Funimation. So be curious. Ask people what they do. Don’t just talk about yourself (although do that too!). You literally never know when some crazy connection might come up. It happens to me all the time.
3. I had to do research
This one sounds obvious to me, because I’m a natural researcher, but so many people don’t think of this right off the bat. I was not, in fact, invited to some secret Funimation audition after working with Jad as a caroler. I scoured the Column (Dallas/Fort Worth’s audition compilation) that came out every two weeks for audition notices. I was already checking it for theater notices, so I just made sure to pay extra attention to if Funimation’s name happened to come up. We have a couple of these compilation pages in DFW, and if you’re interested in performing of any kind, you definitely need to be aware of them. If you live in an area that has a bit of theater or performance opportunities, it’s likely there will be on there as well.
I was fortunate, because Funimation posted an open call in the Column that year, which I promptly signed up for. Sadly, this doesn’t really happen anymore. Now you have to email them to get on a wait list, and then you get invited to their open call. The demand is just that high right now.
4. I had to be brave
Picture this: a convention center ballroom filled with over 100 strangers who can give you a job. There are 39 other actors in your group sitting off to the side, giving you side eye, hoping you won’t take their job (there’s like, 20 groups over 4ish days, btw), and you have 90 seconds to get up on a little stage and convince these 100 strangers to give you a job by singing a cut of a song, and performing about 40 seconds of a monologue. If you go over 90 seconds, someone with a little stop watch calls out “TIME” and you have to stop your performance and thank everyone while walking back down the stairs in total silence. Sound terrifying? It is. Then imagine you’ve gone to this same audition four years in a row, and while maybe you’ve gotten some callbacks, you haven’t been hired yet. Once.
Being an actor can be incredibly challenging. You have to be absolutely ridiculously breathtakingly brave to be an artist. That’s why a lot of people don’t even try. Or they give up.
I walked into Funimation having never once done Voice Over. I had done exactly one audition in a studio, and it was for singing. I had never been recorded in my entire life. I remember being so nervous that I was going to make an absolute fool of myself. Then I took a deep breath and remembered I was an actor, and I could adjust to the medium with direction. So I did the audition.
I remember how I felt afterwards much more clearly the nerves before. I was ecstatic. I had never had so much fun in an audition in my entire life. I loved everything about what I had just done. I didn’t think they were going to hire me, but I was ready to work on this new thing to see if I could get hired the next time.
5. I had to be patient
So, a year goes by, and I am busy doing stage shows. I did a lot of shows that year, which was amazing. But I hadn’t heard anything from Funimation. Nada. Zip. Which was fine. I was planning on auditioning again with renewed excitement. And then, literally a year after that initial audition, I get an email from the Funi talent coordinator, asking if I was available to come in to audition for a new show they were dubbing: Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA, which was being directed by Kyle Phillips. I literally couldn’t believe it.
To be honest, I don’t remember that audition at all. I don’t remember meeting Kyle (SORRY KYLE), I don’t remember what I read, I don’t remember how I felt about it. I do remember I was so excited to be going back and getting another chance.
Kyle brought me in for my first ever session for that show. I remember he tried to get me to do a little girl voice, and I immediately was like “THIS IS THE END. I CAN’T DO IT”. But I must have done something right, because my next session, I was recording Nene Odagiri for “Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches”.
Now that I was truly in this thing, I knew I needed to take some classes. I had some very early success, but I wanted to feel confident going into the booth, not just like I was floundering around getting lucky with my reads. So I took the following classes over the next two years:
Chris Rager’s Sessions – I haven’t seen this one recently, but it was a fun class! We got a ton of booth time, with a bunch of guests teachers from Funi, and we talked about dubbing for anime and video games. Definitely a fun class to get you acclimated to working in the booth with a director.
Sonny Strait’s Dubbing Workshop – this is an excellent way to spend a weekend. Sonny really focuses on the acting side, and you don’t even get into the booth until the last day. You get a character demo out of this class, which can be a helpful starting point if you’re starting from scratch. He also has other classes listed on his site that I’m very interested in, so there’s a lot of opportunities here!
Kyle Phillips’ Workshop – this is my favorite class I’ve taken. I feel like it gives a really good overview of what you need when you’re starting out. You’ll learn a bit about how to use Protools (which honestly, if you’re going to do VO you’ll be doing stuff in your home studio, even if it’s just auditions), participate in a simulated audition, and then dub a scene. He gives you a “report card” at the end with honest and helpful comments on what you need to work on.
There are plenty of others that I haven’t gotten to yet; usually they’ll post on Twitter about their classes!
Early 2019, I decided I wanted to start doing audiobooks. I was in a show with a woman who had been talking about recording, and I asked her how to get going (see, there’s that pesky networking point again). The great thing about audiobooks is that Amazon has this awesome site called ACX which allows audiobook producers (you) to narrate for authors who maybe don’t want to go through a traditional studio. This is both fantastic and complicated. It’s fantastic because you don’t have to have any experience. In fact, my first full length book I narrated, I didn’t even audition for. I had posted a snippet of me reading the opening pages of Jane Austen’s “Emma” and the author loved my sound for their historical romance novel set in England. ACX keeps things organized with uploads, and they require the client to pay you the contracted amount before releasing the book to the author. These books go straight to audible, which is awesome!
ACX is complicated in the fact that many of the authors looking for narrators are self published, and are therefore only able to pay much lower than industry standard rates. Another complicated factor is that you have to produce the entire book. You are not only reading, you are also engineering all the audio files, and making sure everything is up to ACX’s standard. This took some trial and error for me the first few times. I had to watch a zillion YouTube videos on how to use ProTools.
In the end, ACX is a great way to jump in to audiobook narrating, if you’re willing to be your own engineer.
8. Commercial Demo
So after a few years of going it alone at Funimation, I decided it was time to get an agent. I wanted to expand into other areas of VO, as I was feeling like this was what I really wanted to do and really enjoyed doing, and everyone kept saying “Commercials are where you’ll make your money!”
Going back to the networking point: my mom went to high school with a guy who is now the voice of essentially every movie trailer announcer you’ve ever heard. So we called him and asked what I should do next. See? Networking. That’s a common theme here. He said I needed to get a commercial demo done, and he recommended Chuck Duran at Demos that Rock.
I cannot stress enough how important your commercial demo is if you’re interested in a career in VO. I booked a national TV commercial last year because the client listened to my demo on my agent’s website and then called me in for a callback. If there’s one thing I can encourage not to scrimp on, it’s your demo. If someone is charging less than $500, it’s not gonna be good. And even that is really low. Now, you have to be ready with your skills. Chuck is a wizard, but he can’t make you something you’re not. I did a coaching session with Mary Lynn Wissner of Voices Voicecasting before I recorded my demo. We discussed each spot I would be recording (which were all written specifically for my demo, btw) and I got coached on how to differentiate each one based on the industry standard in LA.
Once I got the demo made, it was time to get an agent.
Another awesome thing that Chuck Duran does is he offers a marketing package that takes all the questioning out of trying to get an agent. He tells you who to talk to, when to email people, exactly what to say, how to format your CV…it’s fantastic. He gives recommendations for website designers, coaches, what agents to email. It takes 95% of the stress out of the process.
Remember that networking point? My dad sings with a guy who has been in VO for years. He happened to sit next to my mom at an event, and they started talking. She naturally talked about me trying to get an agent, and he very kindly offered to listen to my demo and send it to his agent if he thought she would like it. She did. I signed with The Campbell Agency a week later. The day I signed I had my first audition, and a week after that I had booked my first commercial job. A week after that I had booked a national TV commercial.
This isn’t everyone’s story. In fact, when I first met with my agent, she told me “Some people don’t book anything for the first year. It can take time.” Remember point #5? Be patient. It’s not clear how to break into this industry. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate at Funimation, and I’ve been there for over three years now. I’ve recorded seven commercial spots since August (still blows my mind, btw) and the second I step out of the booth, I have to stop myself from thinking “what if that’s the last time?”
If you’re still reading, thanks! This is just the beginning of my story, and I hope this time next year, I’ll have a brand new post filled with exciting new things to share. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments! I’m always happy to help if I can!