There are many reasons why a career as a freelance voice over artist might be appealing to artists. Voice over work can be an opportunity to pursue a lifelong acting dream without needing to live in a city like Los Angeles or New York. With a little time and money invested, aspiring voice over artists can also build a home studio on par with any professional recording studios. From television spots to audiobooks to video games, there have never been more options available to aspiring performers.
And given its status as a gig economy hub, it should come as no surprise that Austin is home to plenty of talented freelance voice over artists. One such artist is Jordan Jones, who has spent the past 19 years amassing an impressive body of work with his vocal talents. Most recognizable as the new voice of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird for Cocoa Puffs, Jones has also worked on countless national commercials, television shows, and video games.
Here he shares five pieces of advice for up-and-coming voice over artists.
Build on an Existing Performance Background
If your only real exposure to voice acting is what you hear in commercials, you might think that the sound of your voice is the only thing that matters. For professional voice over artists, however, voice acting requires the same preparation as any stage or screen performer.
“First and foremost, underlined in bold, you can drop the word ‘voice,’” Jones explains when asked about his approach to voice acting. “We have to study the script. We have to get into character. It’s all the same training.”
Whether it’s college acting classes or community theater experience, knowing how to create a character is essential to the success of any performance. But like stage or screen performers, voice acting is a competitive industry that requires a balance of talent and work ethic. If you do not have some innate ability as a performer and a storyteller, no amount of hard work will help you bridge that gap. “This is one industry where you absolutely need to have some natural talent,” Jones adds.
Take Hobbyist Advice with a Grain of Salt
For new voice over artists, online networks can be an essential source of knowledge. Community websites and social media groups offset the solitary nature of the business, allowing new artists to ask questions, share success stories, and seek out industry mentors. But while Jones is the first to recommend people seek out opportunities to network online, he also encourages people to take this advice with a grain of salt.
“In my experience, if there are a hundred voice actors in a room, ten of them are actual professionals,” he explains. According to Jones, the vast majority of voice over artists you encounter online are “hobbyists or moonlighters,” which means people who are also struggling to break into the industry. It’s crucial, then, to not lean too heavily into the advice of people who are still struggling to find success.
Keep Your Costs Low in the Beginning
When it comes to recording equipment, one of the most common mistakes Jones sees is artists who spend too much money out of the gate. “Don’t dive headfirst, spending $1 billion on the latest technology,” he explains, noting that the high industry attrition rate means many of these voice actors are “going to be turning right around and selling that equipment on Craigslist.”
Instead, Jones suggests starting small and focusing on creating a noise-free environment in your home. “Do what you have to do to get a good sound,” he continues. “Low noise, no hissing, no cracking, absolutely no background noise. This can be done on a shoestring budget.”
Once you’ve learned the ropes - and started building a roster of regular clients - then you can begin to reinvest your earnings back into your home studio.
Balance Your Work Against Your Reputation
As a new voice over artist, odds are you are in the market for whatever work you can find. That often means turning to freelance service sites and accepting below-market rates as you build your demo reels. And while this may be fine in the early going, it could limit your ability to build your reputation in the long-run. “The work is absolutely out there,” Jones admits, “but the ultimate goal is to get to a point where you have talent agents and regular clients hiring you appropriately for work.”
That makes every artist responsible for the management of their career. As you rise through the ranks in your industry, know that the rates you set will determine not only your income but the income of the voice talent that follows you. “It’s left up to the individual as to how underpaid they’re willing to go until they can get to a point where they can demand a more ethical rate,” Jones concludes.
Be Prepared to be a One-Person Shop
As with any freelance career, the challenge of being a freelance voice over artist is wearing a variety of hats. Not only are you responsible for finding your next work, but you also have to ensure that you are getting paid on time, troubleshoot your technical problems, and learn the hundreds of little challenges every other small business owner faces in their day-to-day life. In the end, everything comes down to you.
“Your only product is the sound of your voice,” Jones explains, “and you are 110% responsible for becoming an audio engineer, a marketing specialist, accounts payable, and accounts receivable.”
Perhaps even more important, though, is finding time and money to reinvest in yourself as a performer. “You are responsible for your own product development. Your research, your coaching... you’re improving you. You’ve always got to be improving.”