Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Is Voiceover? Perspective and Advice From J.S. Gilbert.

If you read or post on ANY of the VO forums round the web, then you've probably bumped into J.S. Gilbert. Very direct, sometimes a little harsh, always honest, and very helpful.

I just caught this post of his over at Voiceover Universe, and had to republish it here. I've been asked many times about how to get into VO, but I don't know that I've seen a better answer written out than what JS delivers here.


What is Voiceover?

Einstein said that "everything about us has changed except for the way that we think." It was a statement regarding the way man would wage warfare after the advent of the nuclear bomb, but I think it is a very appropriate statement for almost anyone in business today.

And voiceover is business. Unless of course you are a hobbyist voiceover, something I don't quite understand, but...

When I got into voiceover many years ago, the term seemed much more limiting than it seems today. While there were many people who would be considered voiceovers, the term didn't necessarily apply to those who were on air personalities, DJ's and some other categories.

Today, the range of work that appears to fall under the general umbrella of voiceover is staggering. The unique differences required for someone looking to do voices for cartoons are different than voices for video games and extremely different than the requirements for voice mail.

In another section of this forum I was giving advice to someone who mentioned they wanted to get into voiceover and while some of ti was applicable, his response was that he wanted to attend broadcasting school, which suggested to me that while it's great to have this huge community representing individuals of all different backgrounds and training, that indeed the term voiceover can be confusing.

Some individuals strive to get work in many different arenas; voice mail, corporate narration, commercial, games, cartoons, audio books. And many teachers will also have you believe that you need to take every class in the world to succeed.

The truth is that most voiceovers, while they may work in a number of areas, tend to have a "money voice" that clearly gives them an edge in one or two particular areas.

Audio Books and Voice mail/ on hold can have very different requirements than performing for a 30 or 60 second commercial. Having deep and resonant pipes and crisp speech that cuts across the airwaves can support someone in being a DJ, but may not suit work in some other areas.

Additionally the way we work has changed. Imagine coming into an industry where a home recording setup would run $100,000 or more. And it wasn't computer based, but based on tape. editing required taking a razor blade and literally cutting out the bad parts and splicing the tape back together. That's a lot how things were 30 years ago. In those days, the ability to record a radio commercial in 57 or 58 seconds perfectly in a single pass on the first or second try was a prized skill and this alone, combined with a strong set of pipes might allow someone to earn a pretty good income. Nowadays we can process sound to very small degrees. We can add an ess to a word that was pronounced in the singular. We can make someone sound deeper or pitch them up in tone. We can purchase home recording equipment for hundreds of dollars.

Some people elect never to have an agent represent them, while others have representation in every state they can get. Some of us go to a studio and work and others work from home. Others do a combination of both. The ISDN line has changed everything.

The one thing that is still true is that there are a lot more people who want to work in voiceover than there is available work. Like many creative pursuits, most people who attempt to make a living at v.o. will not be able to. And like many creative pursuits, those with the best heads for business seem to prevail.

I don't tend to agree with those who seem to think that if you do what you love the money will follow. I have seen too many people who appeared to love doing v.o. go off after several years to their old careers or scamper to try and develop some new skills set that will make them employable.

My recommendation is to learn as much about this business as possible. Look at where you might have the best chances for succeeding. Be cautious when it comes to spending money, especially on supposed industry gurus. Buying books is good - you can get them used and relatively cheap on Amazon and sell them there when you are done and the investment is minimal. I'd suggest getting every book on voiceover, improv and acting you can get your hands on. Visit the audio forums and v.o. forums and try to get a sense for who's who.

It's great to get your demo critiqued, but often the person doing the critiquing doesn't have the skills or background to give a true assesment. Many others will be overly "kind" because they think they're doing you a favor. This is a business where it pays to be thick skinned. Many more no's will come your way than yes's. And often you are left completely in the dark; did my audition stink or was I perhaps their second or third choice.

You do not have to be able to do a hundred different voices. If you can do one voice really ,really well, it trumps doing 100 voices with mediocrity. Learn to emote and act and how to interpret copy and I always suggest improv training. It's relatively inexpensive as far as acting classes go and it's a lot of fun once you get over the hump and give yourself permission to be silly.

Make some sort of realistic plan with goals and make sure you have a way of keeping from going into debt or being a burden on loved ones and friends. Realize that the part where you are in front of the mic is really a relatively small part of being a voiceover .

If I can offer any assistance, feel free to contact me. I am happy to help, if I have the time and I do not charge. There are also a bunch of very talented and knowledgeable voiceovers out there who freely give of their time and experience. But don't take anybody's word as gospel. My experiences are uniquely mine as yours will be yours. We are all different and you need to take all of what you discover and learn and make your own plan of action that serves you.

J.S. Gilbert on Voiceover Universe

***UPDATE 8/20/08***

There's a great five minute interview with J.S. over at Voiceover Experts, where he discusses problem solving and business.


  1. Juan,

    I always enjoy what J.S. writes. Your post today is no exception. Really good stuff. Thank you for getting it posted.

    Be well,

  2. In that way that JS gets a little direct, a little in your face, cuts through all the crap, and just gets to the point, he pretty much sumed up something I've been trying to say myself for a while.

    I HAD to snag it, LOL!
    Thanks Bob!

  3. Hey guys I didn't know you cared.
    Thanks for the kind words.

    I have handed in a couple more audio podcasts to and I'm gong to do some copy analyisis stuff on mic and on-camera at voiceover universe. You guys should join me on the panel.

    Send me an email


  4. Awesome. Thanks for the heads up JS.