I wrote the following in response to a friend who’s a Sound Designer for video games, like I used to be. His letter:

Hey so other than getting a demo reel of my VO talents together, what would you say is the next step in actually getting work? Do I need to get an agent? Getting a SAG card or something? Move to LA?

I’ve got the setup to record VO, the acting chops, and a fairly unique and powerful speaking voice. Just wondering, once I have something to showcase my talent, how I move forward from there to actually start booking work.

My response:

Whatever acting chops you have, if you haven’t done VO, it’s a completely different animal. I highly suggest seeing any of the educators on my site. My favorite from personal experience are Nancy Wolfson and Richard Horvitz.
After getting some education and experience off of web portals like voice123.com under your belt, I suggest paying money to a professional for a demo. I know that sounds counterintuitive to a sound person. The truth is the demo isn’t for you, you don’t know what you’re listening for. The demo is meant to appeal to agents and casting directors. A good first demo comes after time spent figuring out who you are and what you’re good for in VO. I recommend Chuck Duran, from personal experience.
If you’re serious about going full-time in VO, it requires living in LA. All of the major work comes through LA. It’s impossible to make a living solely from VO in any other city.
You’ll earn an agent after the time and money you’ve invested in education, time spent doing non-union auditions and jobs via web portals, and developing yourself as an actor. I got my agent via cold call emailing every agency in LA. You can find contact info here.
Becoming union usually happens via Taft-Hartely. You can google that.
There’s no one way to get into VO the same way there’s no one way to get into audio. You just have to forge ahead and research, and work hard. Hope this helps!

This is a letter I wrote in response to someone asking what their chances of working in games and animation were locally, outside of Los Angeles:

I would say there is no work for games or animation where you are, only because the perception with clients is that all the talent resides in Los Angeles. Usually the first piece of advice a voice actor gives someone is “Move to LA,” because that’s what you’re going to end up having to do.

Having said that, when I became a full-time voice actor, I lived in Irvine. There’s an actor with my agency who drives in all the way from San Diego.

If you’re determined to stay where you are [in Southern California], that’s totally fine. But invest in a fuel efficient car and get cozy with some kind of commuting routine to keep you entertained and alert. I lived on audiobooks, it was the only way to justify the 3-7 hours I’d spend in a car on a day that I had to work in LA.

Once you have an agency in LA, auditions will funnel to you from there, and you’ll only have to hassle with commuting when you’re summoned for work or auditions. There’s nothing to stop you from collaborating with local game developers or animators. But you will likely be working with students, as typically established studios will automatically defer to sourcing talent from Los Angeles agencies or casting directors.

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Please note that there are exceptions, such as Gearbox famously casts local actors in Dallas, and Adult Swim likes to cast local talent in Atlanta. But these exceptions are far and few between! You will cast your widest net from an agency in Los Angeles.

Are you making a video game? Would you like some voice overs in it? Here are some ways you can go about it:

Your cast must either be all union actors or all non-union actors. (Side note: Actors can simultaneously do union and non-union work if they are financial core. However your project must cast actors only as all union or non-union.) That also means if you have a union-only cast, you can’t have yourself or fellow developers perform in the game, not even as creatures (though it’s obviously more difficult to detect with creatures when they’re sound designed), unless you and the devs are SAG-AFTRA members as well.

For clients outside of the United States: If you wish to hire American actors, the American actors must be either all non-union or all union. If your cast is also comprised of actors outside of the United States, those international actors do not have to be members of SAG-AFTRA to perform alongside American union actors.

For rates and information on having union talent in your game, go here for the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Media Agreement (aka games).

If your game is non-union it behooves you to match union rates in order to be competitive with union productions and attract experienced talent. Specifically you’re looking to match the “Atmospheric Voices” section. With non-union jobs, the actor is missing out on health and pension benefits which would otherwise be automatically taken into account if the job were union. This means that in order to match union rates you must round up, i.e. matching rates as of 2016 means a four hour session is a minimum of $1,000 USD, and a one hour session is a minimum of $500 USD. If you offer less than union rates, you can expect your talent pool to drop in quality as inexperienced actors will accept less than the union’s minimum wage.

For indie games, SAG-AFTRA does have a separate contract, which when interpreted into non-union fees is about $400 for up to two hours. From three to four hours, you can expect to round up to $1,000, just like a regular union job. Keep in mind that “indie” is an arbitrary, subjective qualifier and the $250,000 budget limit SAG-AFTRA placed on what it means to be “indie” is based on nothing. By my count, an independent developer is one who is not funded by investors or a publisher, regardless of the initial budget of a game. It’s worth noting that games end up costing exactly what the initially proposed budgets were… pretty much never.

Plenty of non-union games will post their projects on websites like voice123.com for example. Like with most things in life, you’ll get what you pay for. Many voice over actors will not work for less than whatever they think they’re worth. If they see your project and your rate doesn’t meet an actor’s personal minimum standard, they will not consider auditioning for you.

I can’t stress it enough, you’re going to get whatever you pay for. For small indie games and devs just starting out, there’s nothing wrong with sourcing for random people on forums and social media or friends to supply you with VO. It’s just like programmer art, everybody starts somewhere and works with what they have.

Aside from going on social media and asking your friends for personal referrals, you can post your project to the website all agencies pull from, which is Voicebank. Ever wanted to hear certain voice over demos or contact the agent of a particular actor? You can spend all day on Voicebank doing just that.

If your game has vocally stressful lines, i.e. screaming and dying, factor that into the compensation. If you’re going to put an actor out of commission for the rest of the day, you have to make it worth their while! If the majority of the session will be vocally stressful, limit the session to 2 hours maximum. If only some of the lines are vocally stressful, always save projected or screamed lines for the very end of the session.

If you have the budget, hiring a casting director can be worth it. Casting directors will send your auditions to the agencies and actors they’re buddies with and rely on as workhorses. Casting directors are also used to working with all kinds of budgets and many will accommodate you because like everyone, they love to work. To find casting directors, it’s good to ask actors directly who they’d recommend, as voice actors will develop close relationships with casting and booth directors over time.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for many busy voice actors to also spend a good chunk of their careers being casting directors and booth directors as well! Voice actors can make great booth directors, since you have to imagine they might know what they’re talking about.

I wrote this in response to someone asking career advice regarding having a hard time being hired. It may sound like hippie dippy mystic crap, but it’s the truth. The path of least resistance to getting paid is to be a good human to your fellow humans. You know, the people with the power to pay you:

At the end of the day, nobody cares about your talent. The only thing people really care about is the experience of working with you, and if you’re worth the investment of time and energy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnrKeFNayZ0&feature=youtu.be&t=1h4m12s Watch these couple of minutes of George Clooney talking about working with “batshit crazy” for a short period of time, versus working with someone who has less talent but is more amiable for a long-term project. He does a great job of illustrating the point. Replace the word “audition” with “job interview,” it’s the same thing.

To take the analogy further, think of your job interview process to be similar to dating. If you stink of desperation, nobody wants you. If you seethe with self-righteous entitlement, nobody wants you. If you have a date (or job interview or job experience) go badly, and you blow off steam about it online, the information will spread (or a screenshot of it will end up on a website), and nobody wants you. You have to look at yourself and your accountability in what happens in your life. If it seems like everyone but you is lucky, you have to be honest with yourself about what you’re doing to affect your own luck. You can’t fix your dice rolls but you can certainly work towards weighting the dice a certain way.

Things will never change for you, state of the economy or industry or otherwise, if you don’t take the time to make sure that you’re not getting in your own way. I hope you can turn your “luck” around and arrive to where you want to be. There are a lot of people in the tiny pool of the games industry who would have much stronger careers if they just stopped and asked for feedback and support. The fact that you stopped yourself in your tracks specifically to do that shows that you are already more self-aware than most who are beating themselves into brick walls but don’t want to understand their own life mechanics. I wish you the best and a long career of your choosing.

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-Maya Angelou

Here’s an email I received from a friend who’s just completed coursework with Richard Horvitz:

“Hey Fryda — I finished up classes from Richard (he says hi by the way and bragged about you to the whole class) and was going to be setting up one-on-one classes with him I preparation of a demo video down the line. He said we should figure out my determination and that since my end goal is animation VO that I should do a commercial demo first. Is this the direction you took, a commercial focus first before looking at other forms of VO? I’d never given commercial much thought before since I’d much rather work in video games and animation, but I’d like your input on what you did for your own career goals.”

Here’s my response:

If you insist on only auditioning for games and animation, you’re not going to make a living in VO. You’re going to have to take a night job working at a bar like every other actor.

Commercials are where the money is. Currently, nothing else pays residuals, unless you get on an animated show and then you’ll get your residual check, but only if your character makes it to air. Games have the poorest contracts in the entire industry and are being renegotiated for the first time since the 90s. Again, you will not make a living on VO alone if you refuse to do commercials. (Side note: You can say no to commercials when you’re in such an overwhelming number of games and animated shows that you clearly don’t need the extra income. Until then: Saddle up.)

If you can be excellent in commercials, you can be more than excellent in games and animation. It’s putting the cart before the horse to assume that you can be immersed in a story if you can’t convincingly sell a can of soda. Commercials become the easy breezy big payout work, providing you with the income that enables you to take on passion projects or jobs that are more fun, but typically pay less.

Furthermore, no agency will take you if you don’t have a commercial demo and are unwilling to do commercials. You are only attractive to agencies if you have the potential to make money. By stating that you won’t do commercials, you are already communicating that you are going to make the agency much less money than another actor who is willing to do them.

The big AAA projects and network animated shows will always be funneled through agents, so I would recommend playing their game before deciding to go by your own rules.

I also saw Richard privately for several sessions as we prepped for my demos and I highly recommend doing it. In private time with Richard, you’ll start to discover what your real strengths are and also your weaknesses will be more exposed, giving you a good idea on how far you’ve still got to go.

If you want some coaching for commercial work, absolutely go see Nancy Wolfson. She used to be an agent and coaches from a technical point of view. Pro tip: The education NEVER stops. Even at the very top.