Voice Acting: From a Beginner to a Professional

My journey into voice acting

I remember walking down the dusty walkways of the University of California Riverside (UCR) in 2004 as a young freshman college student with no idea of what the future would hold for me. I was born in India but raised in a trailer park in La Puente, California. My father died when I was in high school and I saw college as an opportunity to escape my human suffering.

I was a poet looking for some direction in life. A lost adolescent with no guidance. I didn’t know what voice acting was. I didn’t have any “Hollywood” ambitions. Quite the opposite, actually. I figured I would end up in academia or maybe as a lawyer somewhere.

The four years I spent at UCR took me down the journey of self-discovery. It played an influential role in helping me find my confidence and my unique voice. A voice that I had suppressed in my adolescence. My years at the university taught me crucial skills in communication. I learned how to freestyle rap. I took Toastmasters classes so I could master my formal speaking skills. I tried stand-up comedy in order to work on my improvisational acting. These college years allowed me to explore the depths of my creativity, which eventually led to my interest in the art of voice acting.

The beginnings of my voice acting career

I was born a poet. A true spoken word and spiritually conflicted artist. A slave to other people’s opinions about me. I was a lost kid. However, poetry and spoken word helped me cope with my trauma. Poetry taught me the art of communication. I found myself quickly doing open mic spoken word events where I would practice many of the principles associated with voice acting, such as: inflection, pitch levels, attitude adjustments and volume.

Poetry, in a spoken word performance context, involves a heightened level of emotional performance. I remember attending a few on-campus events at the University of California Riverside and practicing my cadence with different musical instrumentals in the background. This is a practice I still use in voice acting today. When I do my voice acting auditions, I have an undertone of various music beds that help bring out the emotion in a specific read. Voice acting is an art, and the practice of it is no different than any other creative endeavor. It involves using the vocal instrument as part of your daily life in a habitual routine.

How I learned from other voice acting professionals

Shortly after graduating, I wanted to find ways to make money using my voice. For context, this was the early 2000s and the Internet wasn’t what it is today. I found a great book on voice acting by James Alburger called The Art of Voice Acting. The book gave me a great introduction to the business of voice acting as well as the basic concepts. It was enough for me to get some good referrals for intro classes and coaches in my local area. Nowadays, you can find great resources for free online. YouTube is filled with excellent Voice Over lessons from credible coaches. Take the lessons wherever you can get them. It is all cross training.

Over the years I have learned from many voiceover coaches. When I wanted to learn about promo voice acting, I went to a promo voice actor who also coached. When I needed help with my voice over studio, I hired a professional voice acting engineer and studio consultant. After years of building my voice acting business and going from a closet to a fully produced recording studio – I now earn a full-time income with repeat clients and voice acting agents across the world.

So, what should your plan of action be as an amateur voice actor trying to transition into becoming a professional voice actor? Your goal should be to educate yourself on the art as well as the business of voice acting. Depending on the genre of voice acting you want to pursue, you should connect with the appropriate coach. I am a voiceover artist mainly for commercial voiceover work and I also teach commercial voice acting business strategies. Feel free to message me and I will provide a trusted referral list of various coaches that I have learned from all the years. You can also visit my coaching page here: https://kabirsvoice.com/voicecoach/

How voice acting brought me back to UCR

Back when I graduated from UC Riverside, I had no idea that I would one day be chosen as the male voice over for one of its marketing initiatives. But that’s exactly what happened in 2022. I had the privilege of providing the voice behind the university’s new “Bold Hearts, Brilliant Minds” campaign (see video above).

As a voice actor for hire, I take all VO jobs very seriously. I value every client. But since this was my alma mater, it was a truly special opportunity – so it was important to me to get the voice right.

This campaign is all about UCR’s role in empowering tomorrow’s leaders as one of the top public universities in the United States. The video is a powerful 1-minute spot that illustrates how UCR’s students, alumni and faculty are transforming the world.

So for me, it was crucial for my voice acting to deliver the right energy and emotion. The voice had to embody everything about UC Riverside:

  • Bold
  • Confident
  • Poised
  • Energetic
  • Optimistic

All of these emotions tie into the ideas expressed in the script itself: “Fearless. Innovative. Connected. This is where tomorrow’s leaders come together to forge the future.” Also, the music helps to set the pace and rhythm of the voiceover.

The end result is a powerful video that I was proud to be a part of, especially as a former student at UC Riverside. I want to thank UCR for selecting me as the male voice over for this campaign.

But let me back up a minute…

Before I learned how to become a voice actor, I didn’t know a thing about voice acting. As I mentioned above, UCR provided the foundation for me to explore my creativity and pursue different creative outlets. But learning how to become a voice actor was a very personal process. It’s been a lot of hard work over many years.

And in many ways, it’s still an ongoing process. As a voice actor for hire, I’m fortunate to have been selected as the male voice over for numerous global brands like Amazon, T-Mobile, Mazda, Microsoft, Wendy’s and others. And I believe in staying humble, no matter what successes I have. But my personal goal is still to be recognized as one of the best voice male actors in the business, which is why I believe in constantly learning, growing and evolving.

If you’re just getting started with voice acting, here is some advice I can give you based on my experience as a voice artist.

How to become a voice actor

The first thing to ask yourself when learning how to become a voice actor is this: Is it for you?

Voice acting isn’t for everybody. So, it’s important to set the right expectations. Perfecting your vocal talent and getting lucrative voice-over jobs takes time. You must work at it and love it. Like any career, success isn’t guaranteed – it’s earned. Aside from having an imagination and being creative you also need to have professionalism and business understanding. You must be able to protect client confidentiality and audition every day.

I would also encourage you to reflect on your desires and expectations when it comes to the path you choose and the platform. Many voice actors have started great part-time careers on sites like Fiverr. Other voice actors choose the traditional path of Hollywood agents and managers etc. They both come with their own pros/cons. Respect everybody’s opinions but always conduct business the way you want to and with integrity.

So, how do you know if voice acting is right for you? This touches on a very fundamental question…

What is voice acting?

By definition, voice acting is a form of acting that uses voice to convey messages for the purposes of entertainment, education or marketing. Unlike traditional acting, which adds the element of physical performance, voice acting uses only the vocal element.

There are numerous forms of voice acting. The term “voice over” typically refers to the concept of adding a voice to visual media. Examples can include voice overs for TV/movies, advertising and educational videos, just to name a few. But voice acting can also extend to other non-visual media, such as telephony / IVR voice greetings.

But again, at its core, voice acting is a form of acting. Maybe you were born with an amazing voice, but that alone doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful voice actor. You need to know how to properly use that voice and adjust it to fit the needs of every script.

There are many examples of great voice acting performances today in all types of genres: Ron Pearlman doing voice overs for the UFC, Morgan Freeman narrating your favorite documentary, or Benedict Cumberbatch doing an amazing creature performance. But you don’t have to be a celebrity to earn a living in voice acting. You can make a full-time income as a voice actor by performing great on corporate narrations, eLearning modules and explainer videos. Perfect the art and you will be a celebrity in your own right.

This brings me to the next important point …

What makes a good voice actor?

Voice is definitely important. To succeed as a voice actor for hire, you need to have good vocal quality and range. Your voice needs to be clear and articulate. But also, you need to know how to adjust the tone, pacing and energy of your voice to match the script. I will also say that unique and different voices that are really perfecting the art of voice acting can do well. Not everybody needs to have a deep powerful voice or a certain sound to make it.

Aside from having a good voice, a good voice actor will also have:

  • Ability to understand what each client wants and deliver it effectively
  • Industry knowledge and business acumen (or willingness to learn, if you’re a beginner)
  • Wide range of experience
  • High-quality recording equipment and demos
  • Strong communication skills
  • Professionalism
  • Professionally produced voice acting demos and website
  • Experience and knowledge of running live Voice Over sessions via Source Connect and/or other meeting platforms.
  • Basic knowledge of negotiation skills

Check out my post on “What makes someone great at voice acting” for more details on each of these qualities.

How does one start voice acting?

There are a few ways to break into voice acting. For me personally, I found it helpful to take a course in commercial voice over work and seek guidance from a mentor. I also learned the basics of setting up a home recording studio.

Having a high-quality microphone and recording software is important. As a beginner, this equipment doesn’t need to be the “best,” but it has to be good. As for finding your first jobs as a voice over for hire, you may want to start out on sites like Bodalgo, voices.com or Voice123. These sites connect you with clients who are actively looking for voice actors.

From the very beginning, you should be focused on building a portfolio of high-quality demos and building an online presence with a website and social media. This will help you attract better VO jobs over time and will also help you get representation from an agent when you’re ready for that step.

There’s so much to consider when you first start voice acting, so check out my recent post on how to become a voice actor if you want to go deeper on this subject. That post has lots of additional tips, along with a VO sample script that you can try on your own. (See Slide 8 of my presentation at the One Voice Conference, or jump to the 17:30 mark in the video.)

Connecting with voice acting agents and casting directors

When it comes to connecting with agents and industry casting directors, I would encourage you to be fully prepared with the appropriate: demos, website, pitch and personality to match. It is very competitive but there’s a lot of opportunity for those that come prepared.

Now when it comes to the business of voice acting, this can be its own challenging endeavor for newcomers to the industry. The business of voice acting is changing rapidly. The traditional model with brick-and-mortar Hollywood agents and casting directors has shifted towards an online digital model that’s more concentrated on Pay 2 Play websites and independent voice acting websites with powerful SEO. That isn’t to say that agent and casting director relationships aren’t crucial. Those opportunities and relationships are vital. The business of voice acting involves running a smooth operation of: auditions, digital strategy, relationship networking, marketing to repeat clients, updating demos, improving website dominance on Google, and much more. Never take for granted the: agents, casting directors, engineers, coaches and mentors that all make this industry what it is today. I am forever in debt to the countless voice acting affiliates that have helped me become who I am today.

Finally, I want to thank the creative and production team at the University of California Riverside for giving me this opportunity and being such a great part of my growth.

I appreciate you:

Johnny Cruz

Christy Zwicke

Taylor Ruthford

Learn more about becoming a voice actor for hire

If you’re ready to dive into voice acting, or take your skills to the next level, head over to my Voice Over Coaching portal. You’ll find links to all my coaching resources and tips, including business strategies, website/SEO goals, marketing and branding, understanding contracts and business negotiations and so much more.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos and tips from professional voice over artist, poet and philosopher Kabir Singh.