My ability to turn all that seeking into a lucrative career was realized in Voice Over.
‘Making it’ as an actor can mean something different to most everyone that pursues it. For me, my definition was always that I would be able to call my craft my full-time job, and choose the work I was doing.
My background as an actor started with a BA in Theater, on-camera film and television training, on-camera commercial work, improv training, performing, and dabbling in screenwriting. My ability to turn all that seeking into a lucrative career was realized in Voice Over. The majority of my success has come from doing VO for commercials and I am incredibly grateful to have been able to turn my passion into a full-time job through them. Commercials aren’t always the sexiest part of your job as an artist, but they pay the bills, can be a LOT of fun, and will constantly keep you working your craft. I’m proud to voice the campaigns I’ve been lucky enough to work, and it’s something I celebrate often. With that ball rolling steadily along, I have been able to move into opportunities doing Voice Over for feature film, videogames, television, instructionals, and multiple non-traditional projects. I still don’t know what is coming next, and that is what I love the most about my job!
There are some obvious bits of advice that everyone starting in voice over will hear often, and should take to heart. Step one – get into a class. Of course, you can read about how to get started in this business, but the details of how this business works will be illuminated in a good intro to voice over class, so start there for technicals. Invest in good equipment and a place where you can produce professional sounding auditions. You’ll need to train, then get a professional sounding demo that showcases yourself and your abilities, and in theory that should lead to representation with an agent that can submit you for work.
Today, here are my TOP 5 honest talking points that I like to touch upon when I’m in a conversation with an actor that is just getting started with their voice over career:
# 1 Voice Acting is Acting
Even if you already love acting many people find that the minute you are shoved into a sound-proofed, isolated booth, there is an undeniably stifling feeling of being alone in a void.
It’s like learning to act on a new planet, and understanding that voice over is a learned acting skill will put you miles ahead. This job is so much more than just having an interesting sounding voice. If you are already a trained on-camera actor but haven’t done any VO yet, you might find that sometimes, it’s even harder. When you are stripped down to only one of your five senses and tasked to convey a thought, a feeling, or a moment with just your voice – you’ll realize how quickly you miss your facial expressions, and your ability to fully express yourself through non-verbals (you’ll still do all these things, but no one will be able to see it.)
Since voice over work is often done in a vacuum, meaning you don’t have other characters reading along with you, you’ll miss the luxury of being able to react to other people’s lines honestly.
The truth is that voiceover can sometimes feel like a thankless job when you run into a person that thinks it’s the ‘easy version of acting’. When you tell people you are a voice over artist, you’ll probably get a lot of, “I’ve been thinking I could make a lot of money on the side doing that too!” Be prepared for people to not understand what you do, or how much work goes into your craft, and don’t forget to be kind about it.
# 2 Make Friends with Technology
Gone are the days when you could just have great acting chops or a fun voice and break into VO.
These days, you are also expected to be a sound engineer, an IT tech, and the owner of a functioning sound booth (even if that is just a converted closet). It may seem really overwhelming and costly at the offset to think of putting together a full booth with professional equipment, but it is now expected in this industry if you want to be seen as a professional. Trying to get work and agents before you commit to this step will burn future bridges for you by making you look like an amatuer.
Take the time to research and learn about the microphone, interface, and editing software that will best fit your needs and your sound space.
Then take the time to learn how to use each piece of equipment. Take classes, watch online videos, and talk to others to build up this knowledge. All of your clients and your agent expect you to be proficient with your technology, your editing abilities, and your relationship to your sound booth. Even though you are an artist first and foremost, you are choosing to start a career that is based in ever-changing technology. Get good at it and keep up to date on the tech. It’s expensive, and it’s hard, but if you commit to not skimping on this step, you will succeed so much faster.
# 3 Get Good at Celebrating Other’s Victories
The realm of VO is a surprisingly tight-knit community.
Some of the best actors and humans I know are voice-over people, and everyone’s journey into the field has its own twists and turns. When you are first starting out, it will be really hard to watch others succeed while you are still waiting for that first break. The best way to keep moving forward is by leaning into the success of others. Everytime someone you know succeeds in the field you are studying, it should be a reminder that, if they can do it, you can too! When things are slow for you, it can be tempting to let jealousy or frustration creep in and take you down. In those moments reach out to someone that you know that has great career news and celebrate them.
Every successful actor has been exactly where you are, and you’ll never know all of the struggles they went through to get to where they are today.
Learn to get over yourself and take in the truth that you aren’t going to book everything (What a boring world that would be!). The jobs you book will be right for you, and were always meant to be yours. So if someone you know books a job you were hoping for, or you aren’t getting any bites, take the time to toast to them and step outside yourself. The better you get at executing this skill well, the more it will feel like magic when the right jobs come your way.
# 4 Don’t Get Hung Up on Networking
Networking should always be the by-product of being active in your craft and community. It’s important and necessary in this business, but it shouldn’t feel like something you are checking off your list. Meeting the ‘right people’ is helpful, but not if it’s obvious that you have an agenda. Producers, Casting Directors, and Directors can see an agenda coming from a mile away, and the desperation in your eyes will mask your talent every time.
Networking for the wrong reasons will feel frustrating and alienating.
If you are finding yourself exaggerating your successes in industry conversations, that should be your red-flag that you are networking poorly. These moments should be about learning who others in your industry are, and where they are at with their work – not what you can get from them. If given an opportunity to respond, be honest about where you are at, what you are learning, and what your goals are. Remember, everyone started somewhere, so there is no shame in being new. It will be a welcome relief to casting directors that are dreading the constant feeling of being descended upon by an actor that isn’t ready to be hired.
Be great at what you do, easy to get a hold of, and be ‘The Talent’ that people are excited to have found. If you’re doing that, networking will feel like making friends and meeting colleagues.
# 5 Know Where You Are in Each Moment. Embrace It.
Don’t beat yourself up for being anywhere that you aren’t. “I am the best that I am today, because this is as much as I know right now” is a mantra I say every time I do a job. You, right now, are where you are supposed to be. Somedays, you won’t feel like you are on top of your game. Maybe you are working on a project style that is new to you, or different than the way you’ve been training. The key here is to be malleable and listen to your team.
Connect with your director and really listen to what they are asking for.
You won’t always be the best in your field – but if you are accepting that each day you are the best that you are because this is how much you have learned up until now, you will never ‘fail’ in a job. If it doesn’t feel like you are hitting the right chords or finding that magic space – make a mental note of how it feels and spend however much time you need asking yourself what might be missing and how you can learn to fill that particular need in your arsenal.
# 6 Never Stop Training
There is always something to work on, always a way to keep getting better.
Get into Voice Over specific classes and take the time to learn the required skills. Just like with sound equipment, this can also be expensive and you might be tempted to skip this step hoping that you’ll just get lucky – but that’s never in your best interest. Mix it up and don’t get comfortable in any one place. In my opinion, anytime I stick with one school or coach for too long, I find that I start mastering how to please that particular coach, that specific acting style, or that singular school, instead of continuing to challenge myself. The problem lies in the fact that casting doesn’t work like that. You’ll never feel that comfortable with most casting directors and it will be jarring when you audition and the feeling doesn’t match the way you’ve felt while training with a comfortable coach.
I like to keep myself on my toes by mixing up my training often.
Not knowing how the person I’m performing for is feeling about my work is closer to the casting process for me, and challenges me to get better and be more true to myself. I like to learn methods and skills from different schools and coaches, add them to my toolbox, and keep going. You are sculpting who you want to become in this industry – so make your training unique to who you want to be as well. There is no formula to this path.
Follow your instincts and never convince yourself that you no longer need training – I promise, you do.
Jen Fiskum is a Los Angeles based actor whose commercial work includes Oculus, Nissan,Truist, Dexcom, Sofi, Cox, Clarisonic and many others. Recently, she has voiced Ada in the Netflix show Signs (English language version), and can be heard in the Steve McQueen movie Widows.
How To Stay Productive In Quarantine
Artistry & Vision in Quarantine
Going the (Social) Distance: Unmasking Creativity
Singing With Intent: Telling Powerful Stories
A Deeper Connection With Your Audience
How To Thrive, Right Where You Are
10 Steps To Get Through Quarantine
How to write licensable music for Film/TV.
Become a Better Background Vocalist
5 Ways To Rethink Social Media