How to be a Voice Actor: Business Basics
I recently had the pleasure of hosting an in-depth webinar for aspiring voice actors on how to be a voice actor. The goal of the webinar was to provide a detailed blueprint for building a successful voice over business.
If you’ve been curious about the business side of how to be a voice actor, I strongly encourage you to and come back to it whenever needed in the future as your career grows.
In the meantime, I want to use this blog post to outline some of the most important points from the presentation.
What I Cover Below
With the resources below and in the video, you will gain the specific strategies needed to grow your web presence and SEO, better understand contract negotiations and learn fundamental business strategies to improve client retention. This is a comprehensive deep dive into the various business strategies of voice acting.
In the sections below, I only cover what I know and what can make you money, based on my experience as a voice actor. I show you how I became a full-time, six-figure earner as a professional voice artist, building a client list that I am very proud of, including companies such as: Amazon, Mazda, T-Mobile, NBA and others. I share the tools, resources and strategies that helped me build a book of repeat business via agents, my own website and many referrals.
Here are the core topics I cover below:
- Studio / Source Connect / Editing
- Rates / Negotiations / Contracts
- Website / SEO / Digital Strategy
- Networking / Agents / LinkedIn
If you’re watching the webinar, be sure to also check out the Q&A at the end, because there’s a lot of great additional information that we address there.
The Voice Actor’s Studio
Every aspiring voice actor must invest in a quality setup before pursuing this career. So if you’ve been wondering how to be a voice actor, one of the first steps is making sure you’ll have the right equipment. Clients expect talent to have high-quality audio and an efficient voice-over studio setup with live direction options. That means no hissing sounds in your audio, plus the ability to properly EQ, make tight edits and so on.
My closet was my voiceover studio for over 5 years. I had already been making MORE than part-time income as a voiceover actor. But it was enough for my needs in the beginning.
Your goal as an aspiring VO artist is to do the best you can with the space you have. There are a lot of tools, like Auralex foam or The Porta Booth, that can help dampen sound in a noisy space.
- Source Connect, a digital connection application for remote audio recording and monitoring, is preferred by the industry, but many other technologies exist.
- Consider a direct ethernet connection (not WiFi) for a more stable Internet connection.
- If you cannot afford an isolated booth, your environment should have acoustic treatment to dampen sound and eliminate excess noise.
Check out my studio specifics here: https://kabirsvoice.com/studio
When you’re ready to build a vocal booth, consider buying used if that makes better sense for your budget. I purchased my studio booth on craigslist from a production company that was closing.
There are a few vetted tech experts in the industry. Tim Tippets was crucial in building my sound and space. George Whitman and “Uncle Roy” are a few others.
Here are some resources to check out:
Voice Actor Equipment
Audio Interface: I use the Apollo Twin Interface, which is an audio interface that connects your computer to your audio equipment. Another popular option is the Focusrite Scarlet. An advanced, high-end unit is the Avalon brand mixers, for example the VT-737.
Audio Processing Software: Some of the best software for recording and editing audio includes Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, Twisted Wave and Logic Pro. I personally like Logic Pro because I’ve spent many years using it. It is efficient for me. If I was to start voiceover again, I would use Adobe Audition, because of its focus on voice over actors/auditions.
Microphone: I use a Sennheiser 416 shotgun directional microphone in an isolated voiceover booth. I encourage voice actors to try various microphones – you can even rent them online. (proavrentals.net is one of many sites for rentals.)
Here are some key factors in determining what microphone is best for you:
- Are you in a closet or do you have a dedicated booth? How loud is your surrounding area?
- Which genre of VO are you pursuing? Certain microphones are better for certain jobs. For example, for video game jobs, a high-end condenser microphone (such as a Neumann U87) may be requested.
I always offer live sessions to clients. This is more efficient and allows a voice actor to gain experience being directed by multiple creatives. It promotes relationship-building. It saves time, while also limiting the need for multiple revisions.
If you don’t offer the client a live session, then make sure to offer a complimentary round of revisions. Charge a fractional rate for revisions and session fees based on requirements and size of job.
Your session fee can range anywhere from $100/hour to $350/hour, plus usage. Find your value based on supply/demand of studio time.
Some great options for conducting the live session include IpDtl, Source-Connect, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and Bodalgo Live.
Some thoughts on Source-Connect:
Source-Connect, from Source Elements, is an industry standard recording tool. The paid version is best, but the Pro subscription is not needed unless you have a more complex studio/video setup. Again, I am not affiliated with these tools, but I have extensive experience with them.
- Source-Connect Now is the free version and works best on Google Chrome. This is an excellent option for novice voice actors to start with.
- Source Nexus allows you to listen, playback and record various inputs. It also allows you to record to your DAW (digital audio workstation) from any device, browser, etc.
Check this page for more information on these tools.
Voice Actor Editing Tips
Editing is an art. For me, it has taken time to become a better editor – which is something that all voice actors should strive for. There’s a lot of nuance to editing VO tracks and setting the right EQ. Here are a few pieces of advice I can offer based on my own experience:
- Be patient as you learn the various editing techniques. Use free resources like YouTube for tips on the best techniques. Or consider hiring an audio engineer for a one-on-one consult.
- Use a “dog clicker” or other sound-maker while you record. This is a great way to pinpoint mistakes in a long session, so you can find and edit them easily later. When you make a mistake, use the dog clicker in your mic, which will create a spike in your audio wave visualization, making it easy to find. (Jump to 39:00 in the webinar video to see how I do this.)
- A carefully implemented noise gate, along with a de-noiser, can solve most sound issues for talent in a less ideal environment & limited budget.
- Unless specifically requested, you want your exported audition file to be in the range of -3 and -6 db. Include about 2-3 takes to show range in attitude and pace.
There are numerous audio tools and configurations that can help enhance the quality of your audio, including iZotope RX, Waves Renaissance Vox, fades, normalization and on. In the video, I describe each of these in detail and provide a live sample edit session, so be sure to check that out.
Rates, Negotiation & Contracts
Someone very close to me once said that “Negotiation is about what is tolerable.” But what’s tolerable involves many factors. For voice actors, this is where having an agent can really help you navigate your journey.
Everything is based on leverage especially in the non-union world of voice acting. Do you have the leverage to demand the price you ask for? The marketplace will guide you.
Sometimes it’s worth taking a lower rate for the exposure, larger opportunity and/or potential future opportunities. It’s like a game of poker. Don’t show your hand until you have to.
Regardless of the rates you set, I would encourage you to stay firm with your session fee, assuming it’s reasonable, and have cushion to negotiate your usage fee. For example: $200/hour session fee (includes live connection).
- Recommended Read: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
- Global Voice Acting Academy (GVAA) is another great resource for setting your voiceover rates, finding a “voice acting coach near me” (or virtual) and building your VO business.
Contracts & Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs):
Non-disclosure agreements must be respected with sealed lips. I’ve seen this happen MANY times: voice actors posting “famous shoe brand” pictures from the script breakdown and then getting fired on the spot for breach of contract and losing upwards of six-figures because of it. It’s not worth it. If you sign an NDA, you should not disclose a thing.
For contracts, hire a local attorney (laws vary by state) and draft a basic project agreement that outlines usage/media and entity specifics. Enforce contracts for jobs above a certain media buy and/or budget threshold.
Give special attention to the following words in your contracts, because they can have far-ranging consequences:
- In perpetuity
- In all known universe/full buyout
- Name and likeness
Union Voice-Over Work
Most union jobs go through voice over agents. Competition is fierce for these jobs.
Sag AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) is a merged entity. Getting your union membership is a respected milestone. For those NOT living in “right to work” states, you have the option to go Financial Core. This is a personal decision and should be taken seriously and with respect.
You can convert non-union jobs to union with a paymaster and get health insurance. Limitations apply.
Most Pay2Play auditions (via sites such as voices.com, voice123, etc.) are non-union. Be cautious of conflicts arising from doing both union and non-union jobs, especially for larger brands. Contract conflicts and exclusivity can occur. Holding Fees are paid.
Union VO job example:
- A scale session fee of $450 for 4-hour session block + 1 Core Script with a package of cutdowns: 60 sec, 30 sec, 15 sec, 10 sec.
- Residuals TBD based on usage but if National + 1 Year + Online and OTT Ads: possible 30K-$50k+ job over the year.
If the Usage is less and for a shorter cycle of time, it might result in a few thousand dollars in residuals.
Non-Union Voice-Over Work
The rules of supply and demand do not change. Find what you’re excellent at and become high in demand for that niche VO. Your price can reflect your growth.
When providing quotes to clients, ask them questions to simplify the communication of client size, budget, editing needs, usage term and media etc.
Questions to confirm:
- What is the term for usage? For example: in perpetuity or 1 year?
- Is archival in perpetuity organic web usage needed?
- Who is the client? Always ask to sign an NDA. This will give you information on potential media buys/conflicts.
- Web ads? Streaming Radio ads? OTT Connected TV? Etc.
The more you know about usage, the more you can leverage your rate higher. Educate yourself on industry rates, terms and media buys. I would encourage you NOT to do any jobs below an industry fair wage. Set a reasonable minimum based on the usage and terms of a job. You should increase your quotes as your experience and clientele portfolio grows.
Non-Union VO job example:
- A session fee of $300 for 2-hour session block + 1 Core Script with a package of cutdowns: 60 sec, 30 sec, 15 sec, 10 sec.
- This will all depend on your negotiation skills and many other factors for the job. But something like this would probably be about $3,500 for 1-year broadcast usage and digital paid usage.
Don’t lowball yourself. Larger companies should be treated as such. Discounts for nonprofits or churches are fair and appreciated.
QuickBooks, Taxes, Corps
Always remember that professionalism is important in every aspect of your VO business. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or tax expert. I encourage you to speak to a professional in your local jurisdiction. But here are a few basic tips I offer about running your business effectively and professionally:
- Consider a DBA name (“doing business as”) and then transition into an incorporated company. I am an S-Corporation in California. This allows you to structure how you pay yourself a bit more efficiently. It also allows for more write-offs as business expenses.
- QuickBooks is great for bookkeeping. You will be able to extract data/history of your clients and jobs efficiently. There are many other tools for accounting and bookkeeping. Using a system that allows clients to pay efficiently, formally and safely, is very crucial to a great user/client experience.
- Consider quarterly tax consultations with an expert. This way you can pay your estimated taxes in advance and avoid penalties (corporations).
- Ask clients for invoice specifics to avoid complications: who should receive your invoice, which email address, when they want the invoice sent, etc. PO# are important to track jobs for larger companies. “Net 30 days” is fair turnaround to request for payment. Again, be professional. You’d be surprised how many students I meet ask big companies if they can be paid by Venmo. Or something like bitcoin. All of that has its place, but do you want to reflect being a true professional?
Website, SEO, Digital Strategy
The single most important thing you can do for your career as a freelancer, entrepreneur or voice actor is to have a solid digital strategy and to treat your website like an ASSET.
When I first started my business, I worked on my website every day: design, strategy, content, etc., using tools like WordPress or Squarespace. Now, I focus on content strategy and hire a team to implement the changes: tech, posts, optimization and so on.
When you have an asset, your goal is to build and grow the value of that asset. For your website, that means increasing your rankings with Google and your Authority Score. By using the correct tools, you can strategize and grow your digital presence.
Tools & Resources to Explore:
- Google Analytics
The strategy for your website is different than the strategy for your social media. But they ultimately work together to build your VO brand/business.
Tips for Your Voice Actor Website
- Having your own blog for your specific niche, in this case Voice Over, will greatly increase your Google rankings.
- Your blogs should be centered around very specific keywords that relate to your industry and voice. For example: urban voice over, voice actor for hire, best male voice over, etc.
- You want to make sure that your voice over demos are centered on the homepage and the first thing clients see/hear.
- Your website should be mobile optimized and Google-AMP. AMP readiness is vital.
- Every page on your website should have keywords describing your creative art, studio space, voice over style, about you/background, etc. 500+ words per page minimum.
- Run your website through optimization metrics such as: http://gtmetrix.com or Google Page Speed.
SEO Basics: How to be a Voice Actor in the Digital Age
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is how you optimize your content and website, in your given niche, to increase search engine visibility and rankings via keyword targeting.
SEO is NOT a short-term goal. Good, sustained SEO that is valuable and increases your website’s authority score (0-100), can take a few years to manifest.
What to optimize for:
- Long-tail keywords: 3 or more words. Very niche and lower search volume. Ex: “voice actor for hire Los Angeles.” These keywords have lower competition, because they’re more precise.
- Short-tail keywords: no more than 3 words. These terms are broader, so they have more competition and higher search volumes. Ex: “hire voice actor.” These are more difficult to rank for but worth it, because they can be very valuable.
When starting out, try attacking niche specific keywords and keywords with low-ranking difficulty. Google Keyword Planner is a great free resource.
Blogs, Keywords, SEO Content
Writing a blog is not about making money. Writing blogs is about providing value to the visitors of your website and, at the same time, becoming “best friends” with Google. Posts should be informational and engaging, while also incorporating your targeted keywords. For example: urban voice actor, male voice artist vs male voice talent, voice acting for hire, etc.
Avoid negative keywords that you may not want to be associated with: for example: “cheap voice actor” or “free voice over.”
Tools for keywords:
- Free: Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads platform
- Free/Paid: MOZ Keyword Explorer
- SEM RUSH Keyword Manager
Google Analytics and Google Search Console can help you track all user/site metrics, including traffic sources and bounce rates, etc. Once you begin tracking, there are a few terms to familiarize yourself with:
- Organic traffic is unpaid traffic that comes from search engines such as Google. It does not include traffic from paid ads.
- Direct traffic: traffic that comes directly from someone typing in your URL into the browser.
- Referral traffic: traffic coming from referral sites, such as your profile on voices.com or voice123.com.
Here are some good voice-over blogs to reference:
Additional tools that can help you with your website:
Again, I am not affiliated with these. I’m just a user.
AMP, Google, GMB, Reviews
There are a few additional steps you can take to improve your SEO, enhance your site’s usability and build your reputation.
First, start building a Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business). Your goal should be to accumulate as many client reviews as you can. These reviews can be shown on your website and marketed as verified reviews.
AMP is Google’s metric for mobile optimization and is critical for Google rankings and authority. This metric ensures your website should be mobile-first & mobile-friendly. Whatever program you’re using to build a website, make sure it is AMP ready.
Your relationship with Google is measured by the metric of your site’s authority score. Your goal is to build the score using strategies that allow you to accumulate backlinks (links to your site from other sites) and organic search rankings.
Grade.us is an excellent tool that allows you to get client testimonials in an efficient way.
P2P (Pay2Play) websites allow a voice actor to audition for real jobs and a variety of production companies. It is mandatory that you participate in online auditions so that you can expand your craft. These websites allow a voice actor to practice every single day on real scripts.
Not all pay 2 play websites are the same. The three main websites for active daily auditions are:
The casting auditions on these websites range from: e-learning, commercial, promo, animation, corporate narration and many more. Having a paid form of membership allows for better discoverability on these websites as well as audition opportunities.
Voice123 specifically allows direct communication between talent and buyer. This is crucial in building your repeat clientele business.
A well-rounded voice actor will never have only one source of auditions. These websites play a crucial role but should not be the only opportunities you get.
- Excellent technology and interface. Jobs ranging from $100 to a few thousand dollars.
- Recently jobs as low as five dollars to compete with Fivver.com. These are not advised. Overall, taking these jobs brings price perception down.
- Does not allow communication with buyer. Not beneficial in growing direct business.
- Allows for direct communication with the buyer. Great for building direct business.
- Challenging algorithm system.
- Excellent high-quality jobs.
- Great customer service and CEO.
- Great for international auditions (outside of USA), Europe, etc. CEO active in VO community.
- Not a high volume of auditions
- Auditions range from a few hundred dollars to low thousands.
Network, Agents, LinkedIn
Agents matter. Especially if you want larger union jobs that pay residuals. But keep in mind that not all agents are the same, and not all deserve to be praised. Have the mindset of quality over quantity. The better the agent, you don’t need as many VO jobs. Your relationship with an agent is a partnership. Bring them work and doors open.
If any agent is asking for exclusivity, make sure they’re putting a lot of money in your pocket first, or at least an extremely valuable on-going opportunity.
Regular agent fees should be 10% for union jobs and 15% to 20% for non-union Jobs. Referrals from voice actors and/casting directors/VO coaches are the best way to get an agent.
Agent Submission Checklist:
- Professionally produced demos
- Optimized voice actor website
- Average of 2+ years VO training and credits
- Digital pitch deck: one sheet with basics and profile of voice. This can be on your website.
- Understanding of the basics of the industry and media buys
Casting & Conferences:
Voice-over conferences are a great way to network with casting directors, agents and voice acting coaches. A few big ones are Voice Over Atlanta, SOVAS and One Voice Conference. Be sure to bring questions, business cards and demos.
Soundandfurycasting.com is one of the premier casting directors in the industry and a beautiful team of people.
Some additional casting resources & directors:
- Kalmenson & Kalmenson
- The Voicecaster
- Elaine Craig
- Voiceover LA
Get in front of key casting directors by taking workshops they teach. Your entire goal is to stay on top of mind when it comes to agents, casting directors and clients. Some people connect with clients only on social media. Some people use CRM and mailing lists with newsletters. Try various options that fit your style.
Your voice-over demo should be done after extensive training is complete (about 1-2 years). This will save you time and money in the long run. You don’t want to invest $1,500-$3,000 on voice-over demos and have to redo them soon after. I made this mistake when I started. My first demos sucked. But – so did I. You get better with time and training.
The more specific you can get with your demo, the better. Create niche specific voice over demos. For example: explainer video demo, eLearning demo, commercial demo, promo demo, etc. Take a look at the demos on my website, and how I’ve categorized them, for examples of how you can approach this.
Sample Voice-Over Demo Reel
Here is an example of one of my primary VO demos, which showcases a variety of commercial voice-overs for clients in various industries:
Tools for creating your demo:
- Look for demo players audio and video
Can you make your own voice-over demo?
Yes, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for most people. Rely on experts who do this every day and know how to make your demo the best it can be. Some demo producers that are well known include: J. Michael Collins, Demos That Rock, Dave Fennoy, etc.
You don’t have to invest in demos for the rest of your career. Once you get to a certain level, your paid jobs become your demos.
How to approach your demo:
- In a typical demo, you want to show a good amount of range in attitude, pace and intensity. Aim for about 6 to 10 different spots no longer than 60 to 90 seconds.
- A great commercial demo will have different attitudes in reads for various fortune 500 brands. Study what’s playing in the ad space currently and the brands spending the most money.
- The foundation of demos is your commercial demo. Your commercial demo is always requested by a Voice Over agent. Other highly coveted demos are animation and promo.
- You don’t create a demo reel for each voice. You create a reel for each genre of ads or narrations: video game voice actor demo vs. commercial voice-over demos vs. explainer video voice-over demo vs. corporate narration, etc.
Here is an example of a genre-specific demo reel that I created to showcase some of my voice-overs for explainer videos:
The Value of LinkedIn for a Voice Actor
Over 80% of my clients are on LinkedIn. I like to add them as soon as I’m hired, and while the relationship is being built. I recommend creating a LinkedIn profile for your business as well as your personal endeavors. It is a professional network, so the content should be curated professionally. Also, get in the habit of leaving reviews for those that hire you instead of asking for a review first.
- LinkedIn ads are very expensive and should be avoided unless you can stomach the budget and are well prepared.
- LinkedIn groups are a great way to be active on the site and increase your visibility and relationships. Don’t just look for Voice Over groups. Look for groups where ad agencies and marketing specialists participate in.
- LinkedIn Learning is awesome. You can watch videos on: audio engineering, SEO, business, etc. Without all the noise of YouTube. Professional and high-level content.
Using a Voice Acting Coach
Some of the most common questions I get are “Do I need a voice acting coach?” and “How do I find a voice acting coach near me?”
Continuous voice over coaching is mandatory for ongoing success. To this day, I get help from voice acting coaches depending on what I want to learn.
Working with a private voice acting coach allows you to get very specific questions answered and problems solved, which makes it more efficient. I would always write down questions and keep a notebook full of them: business questions and creative questions. Seek a voiceover coach for the genre of voice acting you want to learn (advertising, educational VO, etc.). Last year, I was focused on video game coaching and had some private sessions with Dave Fennoy.
As a voice acting coach myself, I primarily coach students on the business of voice-over and techniques for finding authentic emotions during an audition.
If you haven’t already, be sure to watch the full webinar, where I break down all of these topics in greater detail. Also, the final 25 minutes of the webinar is a Q&A which covers even more ground on how to be a voice actor, so be sure to check that out.
Over time, I would encourage you to come back to this post to redigest it or rewatch the presentation as needed while you build your career.
My final piece of advice for your VO journey: Be patient. This is a marathon. But if you stay committed and implement the specific strategies outlined above, you will see progress.
Good luck and thank you for reading.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more tips from professional voice over artist, poet and philosopher Kabir Singh.