How I Got Started in Voiceover

One of the most common things that people say to me when they find out it do voice work and audio production is “oh wow, how’d you get into that?” I think there’s kind of a fascination with voice work, like acting or filmmaking, like its some kind of mystery job and you have to know a secret password to get in. In reality, doing voice work is a business just like any other. There are the superstars, like James Earl Jones or Sir David Attenborough, or the recent designee of the 2018 SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, Morgan Freeman. These are household names. But just as there are software developers who are not Microsoft, or professional sports people who are not Tom Brady, there is a whole industry of people doing voice work and supporting people doing voice work, who you will probably never hear of. Some of those will be people who want to make it “big” and haven’t yet, and a lot of them will be people like me, who just bloody started doing it. And that’s the kicker. I just did it, and I’m still doing it, and I don’t intend to stop. It really is that simple.

I’ve always loved talking. When I was a kid, I used to record myself reading travel brochures on a tape recorder in my parents’ bedroom. I used to announce the gymnastics meets in high school. And I’ve always kind of loved public speaking. I also have a thing for singing in the car or shower but then who doesn’t? For one reason or another, however, as an adult I largely forgot about my love of speaking as performance and I didn’t really do it for over a decade. It was in 2015 that I kind of started again.

In the spring of that year, my son was about as into YouTube let’s play videos as he could be. In an attempt to prove that literally anyone can make those videos, I taught myself how to do it, so I could teach him. Around that time, I was like way into Star Trek Online so I made a few videos. I’d also started listening to podcasts around then, and quickly became a fan of Priority One, a dedicated Star Trek Online podcast (it’s since broadened to the larger Star Trek fandom, not just gaming). After tweeting them back and forth a few times, the Executive Producer, Elijah, reached out to me as a potential guest host. I was flabbergasted, frightened, and excited all at once, but I said yes, thinking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I used my Star Trek Online gamer tag as an alias and I went for it. Over the next year or so I learned everything I could about performance, equipment, and post-production because I just plain caught the bug. And at the same time, I was immersing myself in the Star Trek fandom as well.

In the spring of 2016, just a year later, a tweet from the author Diane Duane caught my eye. Diane Duane was an author who I’d rediscovered through Star Trek. I’d loved her Young Wizards books as a child, and didn’t realize as an adult that she wrote for the Star Trek franchise, including the highly regarded Rihanssu series of books. On this particular day in early 2016, she retweeted a young man who was reading one of her Young Wizards books aloud on YouTube. I thought to myself, “I would love to do that!” and onto Google I went. I read and watched everything I could about how to become an audiobook narrator, including a great video by Sean Pratt about the advice he gives if you think you’d like to do it: spend an hour a night reading aloud, for two weeks, in a confined space. There is more nuance to it than that, and I’ll be sure to put a link to this excellent – and short – video in my shownotes. I didn’t quite complete his two-week test, but for me, I didn’t need to; it was the thing I wanted to do. Not long after that I stumbled upon ACX.com, the Audiobook Creation Exchange. Owned by Amazon and Audible, it matches authors with narrators for a wide range of books. I very quickly did a series of four non-fiction royalty-share books, not lucrative, but good practice. I taught myself how to edit in Audacity, and I just kept going. I completed my first science fiction novel later that summer, just before I moved from the UK back to the States.

Once in the States, I found that audiobook narration was more difficult because of my living situation. So instead I looked to smaller, more manageable voiceover projects. I signed up with Upwork because I was impressed with their setup and ease of use. I started doing anything I could find that was even tangentially related to voice work. In the earliest days, I edited podcasts and wrote shownotes. I found a couple fantastic clients early on, who I’ve been working with ever since. And I lived and breathed by the mantra a midwife told me once: “Start as you mean to go on.” Even the smallest client, I treated with respect, as though they would end up a client for life. I worked my way to Top Rated status on Upwork, figuring out my strengths along the way, and playing to them, and these days I get more invitations than I submit proposals.

The key to “how I got into it” is no more than just “I wanted to do it, so I did”. I started, and I just never stopped doing things.

You know, the title of this podcast isn’t just lip service. I chose it because for people interested in audio production and voice work, it’s a directive. Use Your Voice, and don’t stop, whenever you can.  You might not ever be a famous voiceover artist, but I can promise you that if you want to do it, there is work out there for you.