I know a lot of people say you’ll probably need a second job to make ends meet if you decide to get into voice work but if you do audition for a job and land it, do you find it easy to balance your other job around it? Or are VO sessions pretty much booked a week after you get the part and you only have one shot to actually get in there and record your stuff? It just seems like it might be hectic balancing another job around sporadic voice acting gigs.
Being a performer is not a predictable job. In order to be employable, you have to be unemployed. Jobs come and go with unreliable turnaround speeds. Maybe you’ll be booked for something next week. Or tomorrow. Or later today. I have been awoken by an agent calling my phone to ask if I could be somewhere to record later that morning or afternoon. If I have somewhere else to be, like a second job, I lose that voice acting job.
So how do you get from A to B and not go broke? Any kind of creative freelancer would be wise to conservatively practice their artistic “dream job” part-time. When is it time to go do your dream job full-time? You have to decide for yourself. No one will tell you that you’re ready or that it’s the right time. You’ll have to be brave and tell the world “I’m here and I’m great at this and I’m gonna do a great job for you!”
Of course, you’re going to have to be able to back up those claims about being available, being competent, and knowing how to do a great job. This can only be accomplished with time and experience.
Personally, this is how I did it. From an interview I did for Tom Taylorson:
During a 2 year period when I couldn’t accept full-time in house work due to lengthy family and legal matters which required loads of travel, I became a freelance Sound Designer. A friend referred me to her coworker who was looking for a voice actor to be the voice of the company’s phone system, as well as some online commercial spots. I accepted the job offer, thinking I was ready to actually perform for a project outside of games. And that was the first time I accepted money for voice acting.
That first job jumpstarted me into thinking I ought to seek more training. So I spent the following 4 years regularly going to Los Angeles and Burbank, taking a variety of voice over classes which are offered all over town. I spent the majority of my time learning from Richard Horvitz (actor as well as casting and booth director). Richard ultimately became my mentor. When I felt ready to make the switch from working full-time in games to calling myself a “professional voice actor,” I had Richard Horvitz produce and direct my commercial and animation demos. As soon as the demos were ready, I cold called over 120 agencies via email with my demos attached, also pointing to my website where my demos are hosted.
I received replies from 10 different agencies. The agency I selected was also the agency Richard Horvitz had just joined. I signed my paperwork the same day (at the same time, even!) as my mentor, which is insane.
tl;dr I spent four years casually taking voice over related classes (VO, improv) without the pressure of needing VO to immediately make me money, as I still kept my full-time job and did these classes on nights and weekends for fun. When I transitioned over to VO full-time, I had four years’ worth of education and confidence under my belt. The transition was smooth and I started working right away, and haven’t stopped since.
I don’t think there’s any sin in getting your hands dirty and putting yourself out there as quickly as you can stand it. But you have to remember first impressions can last a long time. If you put yourself in the VO pool before you know how to swim, lots of people will witness you struggling and drowning, and they’ll remember it until you can show them otherwise. If people think you aren’t ready to work they won’t consider you for auditions, and this can create a really negative snowball effect that will be difficult to recover from.
Be smart, do what you have to so you can afford your living expenses, and when your overhead is low enough and your savings are high enough, give it a shot. But not a moment before you’re ready!
A very important caveat: Voice over as a full-time job is possible but probably only in Los Angeles. With VO being file based, you can be anywhere in the world and if you’ve got a high quality home studio or access to a local studio, you can certainly record your VO. But the majority of union contracts or union fee matching jobs will go to agents in Los Angeles, and clients will prefer to book you in a Los Angeles studio for quality control. Generally, actors outside of Los Angeles who do voice over also juggle other mediums such as theater and on camera work to make ends meet.