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OTM Essay 3: The Trajectory of a Voice-actor

I think one of the most important factors to staying with anything that’s difficult is having a love for what you’re doing.

The most important factor when staying with something difficult is to have a love of doing it.

Before I’d even booked my first voice-over job I had a real and deep love, almost an addiction, to doing voices and playing with my voice. I’d do it to see what silly noises I’d make, and would see what things on TV and movies I could mock or imitate. 

Then it got serious.

I was offered to audition for the series leading role in the new CBS animated series Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. 

Yeah, THAT Ace Ventura.

I thought to myself “If I can do the best Jim Carrey impression – they have to give me the role!” I started an 8-hour program to train, including doing the voice 6-hours everyday, buying the movie and watching it on TV, and even recording all of Jim Carrey’s dialogue on a cassette tape so I could listen in my car. I annoyed all my friends and co-workers by doing the voice whenever I could. I recorded myself doing Jim Carrey’s dialogue from the entire movie onto another cassette, playing both tapes back and forth to see how close I was to mastering the voice for every line in the movie.

Next up was the audition, well, I should say auditonS – there were 4 of them. The first round was just the casting director, round two was with the Nevlana production team, the third was with Morgan Creek (who owns the Ave Ventura franchise) and finally – I was auditioning in front of the CBS network.

Two months of finger-biting suspense followed. Finally, I get the call.

“You got the part!”

I’m thrilled, it’s beyond belief! My first voice-over gig, ever, and it’s the lead of a series in an internationally recognized franchise, imitating one of the biggest stars on the planet! 

I’m doing TV guide interviews, trips to LA to do CD ROM games, I’m even doing ADR for Jim Carrey in the 2nd Ace Ventura movie because he was unavailable.

After 41 episodes, 2 CD ROM games, multiple promo jobs, media opportunities, and exposure: Ace Ventura was finished.

The first thing all of this taught me was that I hadn’t created a career in this field yet, I’d just had one job. Sure, it was an excellent job and very lucrative! But, it wasn’t a career. I still had to develop a technique to voice other characters – original ones – because I can’t make a career of impressions. I also had to learn how to voice commercials and narration as well. For a long time I didn’t have any work. Slowly but surely I started to book other animation roles, then it was commercial voice-overs, next thing I know it’s picking up again. It felt like I was playing catch up to what I’d achieved with the Ace Ventura series.

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about voice-over is that once you get one big job; you’re set up for a career, you’re in the inner circle, and now you just get handed bookings. You’ll have an easier time getting bookings, yes, but you still have to be good. Even if you did land in “The Inner-Circle” you’ve got to fight to stay in. To this day, I’m still improving, learning, and finding new ways to work. I’ve been doing narration for 10 years and only around 3 years ago did my understanding of it kick in. That doesn’t mean that I’ve been doing it wrong all my life, but it does mean my understanding has grown deeper.

With a deeper understanding comes more work. I’ve narrated over a 100 hours of broadcast TV, different series, and my voice has been heard in dozens of corporate videos.

As you get into voice-over and continue your training, you need to see it as getting into a new career, something that you can do for the rest of your life. Don’t see it as one-off, or have the attitude of “Ok, I got a good job, I’m successful.”

The trajectory as a voice-actor should/could go like this (Only a basic outline)

Phase 1: Total Beginner – You don’t have much earning potential. You’re just starting out and have a limited access to work and a limited access to help to get you work even if you did get an audition. Your main focus is to get the best possible training from people who are plugged in and understand the business, and have been in your shoes.

Phase 2: Beginner With Some Training – You’ve got the right training and you’re beginning to understand what’s expected of you in the industry. You may be able to work online, but I recommend you wait to seek representation for an agent in your market because you only have one chance to make a first impression. 

Phase 3: Intermediate with Significant Training – You’ve been training for at least 6 months. You practice all the time with your make-shift home studio, and you’re even booking work online from sites like Voice123 and Voices.com. You understand what a great demo needs to sound like, why one is important, and you’re ready to record yours. You also understand the process of a professional recording session.

Phase 4: Advanced with Demo – You record your demo and pursue work in the market where you live. You work with a great demo producer, nail the recording, send it out to agents, and land one. Remember to keep training, and that it’s one thing to impress an agent and get on their roster, but it’s another to impress a studio or casting director who will bring you in for an audition and work (which is the whole point). If you aren’t ready to impress in an audition – they won’t remember you. Always remember that the key is to impress.

Phase 5: Professional Working Voice-Actor – You are auditioning and working on a constant basis. You are always looking for new ways to market yourself and you’re even looking to leverage work in other markets via the internet, your home studio, and your website. Remember to always market yourself in voice-over so studios and casting directors don’t forget you and so that you meet new clients.

Phase 6: International Professional Working Voice-Actor: This is the phase I’m in. Right now I’m getting my 01 Visa so I can work legally in the US. This will allow me to not only do home studio work for my LA and New York representation – but I can also physically go down there and work on various projects I am needed for.

So there you have it: “The Trajectory Of  A Voice-Actor”. I know that won’t be everyone’s path, but it helps give a basic idea of the phases you’ll go through to have a successful career.

I cannot stress enough to get the right training. I’ve been doing this for decades and I am still training. I have a coach in New York and LA who help me on a regular basis. Don’t ever think that your training is done, you can always get better. When Tiger Woods was the No.1 golfer in the world, he still had a team coaching him.

This career will take you on some incredible adventures, and you’ll meet all kinds of amazing people, for example; I got to work with Bob Ezrin – the producer of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ when I was working on the Ace Ventura CD ROM games.

It’s funny to look back at the kid who just booked his first voice-over job. I’m glad I stuck with this, because I easily could’ve been a “one and done” flash in the pan and moved onto another career that wasn’t nearly as fulfilling. It’s worth your time and effort to step on the path and stay there.

Until next time – stay On The Mic.

I’ll see you in class.

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