Q It Up: Whether you’re doing voiceover full-time or supplement your income with VO on the side, what are the things you’ve done that have contributed the most to growing your voice-over business? Is it marketing? Finding a great agent? Customer service? Is it improving your voice game with a coach or upgrading the tech side with the best mics, preamps, acoustics, etc.? Is it regularly refreshing and improving demos? A great website perhaps? What has been most important to your voice-over success!
Matthew Fogarty: All of it is important – having the right gear and space, marketing, website, and providing good customer service. But I think above all else, the most important thing is performance. This can be accomplished by working with a great coach. I get lots of questions from people who are looking to get into voiceover, and I always tell them to make sure their performance skills are at a professional level first. Having a U87 microphone isn’t going to be the difference between a performance that is lackluster and one that books. There are lots of pieces to the voiceover puzzle, but if you know how to nail the copy with a great read, that’s the best place to start. If you are consistently sending out awesome auditions, a lot of the other pieces like finding a good agent, will come a lot easier.
Norm Kelly, CMG, Dayton, OH: I actually AM doing voiceover on the side, and have been for about a decade now; however, I’m so busy at my radio job that I have all the voiceover work I want to have from just a couple of clients who: provide me fairly steady work, AND always pay without fail. That’s enough to keep me happy for now.
Tyler McClure: I have been working in radio for the past 5 years, but am a new business owner. I offer many audio production services, but my main side hustle is radio imaging and radio commercials. I also started using my voice for side gigs through my business and on freelance sites like Up Work and Fiverr.
My issues right now is finding clients with a budget. Everyone wants awesome radio production, but no one has a budget.
I am interested to learn from these questions, specifically the marketing aspect. I can use some help and guidance marketing my services.
In my short time as a business owner, I have noticed that word of mouth is huge. This all stems from providing quality work and top notch customer service. I am a people person and I understand negotiating. So much so that my clients tell me I am good at it. I have already picked up new clients from word of mouth.
Ty Ford, www.tyford.com: Marketing: If you’re just starting out, it’s face time. You need to get out there in your market and meet people who might hire you. They need to feel comfortable with you, like you before they throw money at you. If you’re shy, then join Toastmasters and get over yourself.
When you meet people, DON’T tell them how wonderful you are at first. Let them tell you about what they are doing and LISTEN for ways that what you know can help them do what they want to do. The best salesperson is the best listener.
If you’re in a big enough market, yes, an agent, if they don’t already have someone like you on their roster.
Improving your Voice Game: Broadcasters especially need to learn to drop the radio voice, or, better yet, add to it with styles that you can go to that aren’t THE RADIO VOICE. And don’t expect this to be easy. This is voice acting and you may just be a one trick pony. I’ll hear it in a second with my students and I might be able to reprogram you to be aware of it and where else to go.
Gear: Not as important as your abilities, but you need a tight, quiet space with a system that is backed up regularly.
A simple website with streamable or downloadable demos helps. No demo longer than 1.5 minutes.
Most important: All of the above and not being a jerk. You can be a jerk if everything else is superlative, but why waste the energy? It’s much easier being a nice guy/gal. Leave your ego at the door and try to solve the client’s problems.
Persistence: If you’re not gigging, your job is pitching. It gets easier the more you do it.
A Sense of Humor: Humor can be a little dicey and you need to know boundaries. You do that by listening. Don’t talk politics or religion. I know one talent who was amazing for knowing the top ten jokes of the week. They weren’t blue. They were usually quite good. I think he saw the whole recording session thing as a chance to entertain his clients. He wasn’t a time waster. He knew how to get down to business.
Mitch Faulkner, MLMI Creative Services: For me it has been customer service that has helped me maintain my client base and expand to new clients by referrals!
I often go above the call of duty by making suggestions or producing alternate pieces based on my experience! One thing we have to realize when Producing spots for event or concert clients, most of them have zero experience in writing and producing spots and they welcome the help when you make suggestions -- keep in mind that I offer suggestions after I produce what they ask for. That shows interest in their results as opposed to just producing a poorly written spot because you get paid either way. But helping them do a better job creates word of mouth response to their peers in the business which generates NEW business for my company!
Gary McClenaghan, Imaging Director, Bell Media, Edmonton, AB: Networking, practice and coaching. In that order.
Jay Helmus, Production/Audio Engineer, Jay Helmus Productions: Love this question! I'd be interested in seeing the different answers...
Being on the production side of things, my thoughts might be a bit off the mark as most of the VO people I deal with are local and within the building... but I would guess that the two most important things to growing a VO business are Networking and Persistence. I can't count the number of times people have told me they want to get into voicing, and then sit back like their part is done. I guess they think that 'wanting' to get into voicing is all it takes to get there? Or my favourite is when people come to my studio and introduce themselves and tell me they'd love to help out with voicing... and then I never see them again. Really?? If you truly want it, you should be stopping by every single day asking if there's anything they can do! 9 out of 10 times we'll say no, but once we've used you a few times, you'll become a go-to.
Archer and Valerie Productions: Versatility. I've been able to build lasting agency relations by being able to tackle their loudest, screechiest car screamers as well as their deep, contemplative luxury spots - and everything in between. Also, fully educate yourself on the client's product before you do a voiceover. No matter how hard you try, you can't sell something if you don't know what it is. The agency's client often appreciates the sense of authority and asks for you!
Denzil Lacey: To be honest, most of my voice work has been word of mouth. Generally I tend to focus more on Radio Imaging and manipulating my voice in production projects, whether it has been through auto tune for CHR Imaging or drops. I've been lucky to get some really nice national projects with the likes of Spotify Ireland or on hold voiceovers through an agency. I could do local spots - but the pay is quite small and wouldn't justify my time spent recording as I'm quite picky and self-critical.
CJ Goodearl: All of the above, but probably the most important would be demos and customer service. Be easy and fun to work with, and CONSISTENT. Take direction well and do not suck.
Greg: Establishing relationships. It is all about helping a client solve a problem. The client then may think of you to help solve the next problem.
Providing quality and good customer service are very important, but good client relationships get you continuing work and referrals.
Drake Donovan: In my opinion, you need all of the above to be a success, but for me the biggest contributor is marketing. Most stations are going to choose a voice that is a known quantity, or Name Brand, if you will. You’ve got to find ways to market yourself to stand out among the Jeff Berlins, Ann DeWigs and Chris Corleys of the v/o world. However, running ads in the trades is expensive and might not have the best ROI. I’ve taken to viral marketing. For example, I post my Sweeper Of The Day copy every day on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a little something I use to keep my name top-of-mind while not overtly selling myself. I also publish a quarterly newsletter with tips and tricks for imaging aimed at busy programmers who could use a few shortcuts for writing and delegating imaging. I also attend conventions like The Conclave, CRS, WWRS, and Country Cares to get some facetime with my fellow radio pros, now that I’m working from home. There I hand out little branded tchotchkes to aid in being memorable. My advice: find that little unique thing that you can do to give to the radio world at large that will make your name remain top-of-mind for when the time comes to audition new v/os.
Gord Williams: I joined several websites in order to get auditions and oddly enough the ones that I did not pay for is where I got the work. There are hundreds of how to be a voice over guy courses and I considered them. I came across a video where people where in a recording studio trying to describe what they wanted and the talent calmly sat there and tried to put more zest in it. Then it was something else and on and on.
I don’t think there is a definite answer to this dilemma of getting clients. They come from everywhere for many reasons. I wrote and taught a radio course because of personal connections more than anything else. So what I do is in essence try and listen to other people but with veto power firmly in the hands of my common sense.
I don’t know if I would go so far as to try to sound like a pickle. Not at this stage. I do try to expand what I do. The second thing I try to do is market it, but I have to confess I am slacker that way. Some of these courses talk about getting on the phone and getting permission to send a demo. Further to that some of these courses also recommend that you juice your demo a bit. The example being that the teacher sounded much like a spot for Disney. A re-creation was on the demo being flown out at light speed.
I don’t know about all that. I just don’t worry about the work and I keep going. My VO stuff is a supplemental income and I have always kept my day job. I doubt I would ever let go of the day job. Not because I don’t think I couldn’t make a go of it under the right circumstances. I just don’t want to end up in the big city going from place to place to get in and I don’t want to shape shift into the aforementioned pickle. I will leave it up to guys like Dustin Hoffman to be a beautiful beefsteak tomato (Tootsie).
What is most important to my success is to come to terms that I am not a beautiful beefsteak tomato and no character flaws will need be revealed at the end of this show.
Dude: I've been full-time since 1989. I think all of the things you mentioned are valid. Let me put them in order of importance to me: 1) Finding a great agent. 2) A great website. 3) Improving your game with a coach. 4) Marketing. 5) Customer service. 6) Regularly refreshing and improving demos. 7) Upgrading the tech side.
I'm not sure this is really the way it should be done, I just know what's worked for me. I really should update my demos more often, but I can't pinpoint any time when having a slightly outdated demo was a detriment. Finding a good coach is probably 2a - very important, and keeps you relevant and in-touch with the direction of the industry.
Dean James, Dean James Voice Overs: Oh Wow! All of the above apply to growing my VO business.
Sure. Having a decent voice and delivery count to start. But it's not at all about the "big voice". It's about the delivery, keying on the right words. Very little of what I do has time constraints, or fitting 10 lbs in a 5 lb bag. It's about "telling and not selling." Working on this part of my delivery has been key. I have a great coach (Marc Cashman) to help steer me in the right direction. Because of my radio background, this has been my first and easiest step to move on from. Though a good radio delivery does not necessarily translate to a good VO delivery. Being off-air in management helped a lot.
Education is the next step -- not formal (though formal can't hurt). Learning the business. What voice seekers look for. How to properly audition. Where to audition. Most importantly - when not to audition. Trying for roles that you realistically don't fit in to can be a detriment down the line. You could develop a reputation as being a time-waster for voice seekers. There is no need to audition for everything. There is plenty of work that fits your strengths. I have another coach as well, Gravy For The Brain. Amazing help with the business, branding, marketing and general information about the business and how you can be successful.
Studio equipment. It doesn't have to be the Starship Enterprise. You need a quality mic (about $300). Stay away from USB mics (good to practice with but not for paid work). A digital interface to your computer (about $125) and software. You can start with Audacity, or Cool Pro Edit (both free). It doesn't have to be the best and expensive. I haven't mixed music with my work yet (except for my demo) so no need to get crazy. I use Adobe Audition which is mainly designed for voice work to go with Adobe Premium video software. It's a little pricey ($21 per mo.) but it makes editing really easy. The ability and efficiency to edit your voice work helps a lot. Take out breaths, or not take them out (or add a breath). Mouth noises, compression (how much) and pickups.
Studio sound is really important. No matter how good the voice and equipment. If the room sounds bad (reflectivity, neighbor mowing lawn, dogs barking) you have an issue no matter how good the read. But most anything is reasonably easy to address. Gravy For The Brain was really helpful here, as well, getting my studio to sound great.
Then a strong demo. The best work. Different styles or reads (mixed like a music playlist). Uptempo, low tempo, gut-wrenching, character (if you are really good at it) and so on. Is it the right music? Does the music get in the way? Is it a commercial demo, a corporate demo, medical info demo, phone/IVR demo? Eventually you need them all and you need the right guidance to get them right. As your work gets better so will the demos.
Customer Service is huge. Over 40% of my business is repeat business. No audition. Just a phone call. This, once you get the above steps covered, ultimately is what will be the key to growing your business. J. Michael Collins (very big in VO and a guy that mentors a lot) taught me this out of the gate, Customer service is key.
A website, marketing, agents, etc. all come after, but the above steps are important to launching your VO journey the right way. There is a ton of potential. It's a $14 billion industry. But people will not throw money at you. It's about getting off to a good start and treating it like a business and not a hobby. The hobbyists stick out like a sore thumb. Voice seekers are looking for the real deal. The real deal will be the ones to grow their business.
That's all I know.
Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to