Does Voiceover Make Enough Money to Survive?
Short Answer: Yes.
Every actor’s got their ways. Most people start out with a full-time day job, a spouse, or both. I think—as wondrous and luxurious and normal as those things might be, they’re not necessary or maybe even helpful. I read a lot of FB posts saying things like, “I can’t narrate until I get home from work,” and it’s like, you’d better be a workout guru vegan powerhouse, because when my work is done…I can’t work some more. Sometimes the kids have to tuck me in at night.
This job is HARD. You have to BE a LOT of people. Your face has to change shape, your body morphs for every character, every scene, every project. You may be called upon to slay dragons, get raped, speak in tongues—the sky is not even the beginning of the limit. I need all of my energy to do these things. There’s nothing like being a murderer and a would-be victim screaming her head off to save her life—you are BOTH of these people! You do not record separately! You have to change faster than…anything I know, really.
Ok, so how do you do it financially? You can’t just ramp up, $0–$50k in two weeks. I highly suggest getting fired under mysterious circumstances. That’s what happened to me, and it worked. Get heinously fired in such a way that the company doesn’t want anyone else to know, so they tell the unemployment folk that you were laid off, and you can get unemployment insurance. Six months is plenty of time to ramp up, and if you own a house you can do something called Save the Dream and get almost a year of free house payments after that.
If that doesn’t sound great, which, believe me, it’s not, just know this—it’s desperation that got me here and keeps us in clean underwear. Were you up at 2 a.m. learning about medieval history? Nope? I was. It was great. The cat came in soaking wet from the rain, I drank an iced coffee, and learned a bunch about sex and France. It’s the gift of desperation. We’ve sold art off the walls and books off the shelves to put gas in the car. I’ve gone to sleep at midnight to get up at five, I’ve auditioned for anything, anything I could get my hands on, I’ve done commercials for ONION festivals, people. ONIONS.
Quit your day job so you can focus your work energy on voiceover, and take a job where you don’t have to think—like politics, for example.
The nap is your enemy. Halloween candy is your enemy. Facebook is your evil, wretched nemesis, as is its cousins Insty and Tweety. Comparison will try to kill you. Experience—coaching—making friends in the biz—coaching. Audition your head off. Audition until your head cannot remember being attached to your body. Learn and work as if, if you don’t, your children will go hungry and you will lose your house and your car and have to live in a cardboard box, which you will then have to pad with Auralex. A great man said, “Half measures availed us nothing,” and damnit, he was right. Love you. Carry on.
If I were new to and in lust with this business, and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s cut the crap, what’s it going to take do this for real,’ here is the first thing I would want someone to explain.
- There are these big, huge publishing companies, called the Top Five. They are: Hachette, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, MacMillan, and Simon + Schuster. Narrating for these folks is where the money is. They pay big bucks for narrating, and once you’re in with one, you can branch into the others.
But you can’t get there right now. They are busy and filled to the brim with folks. So how do we get there?
- There are these other, really big publishing companies: Tantor, Blackstone, Brilliance, and other folks:
And ha ha HA HA HA , they won’t take you, either. And no, you don’t need an agent, because God is being awesome and narrators don’t need agents. So what do you need?
- There are other, more indie companies, like Dreamscape, Blunderwoman, and new ones popping up all the time.
THEY WON’T TAKE YOU, EITHER. FORGET IT.
- One thing works to get you sustainable, and only one thing, and a lot of it, and it sucks because it’s totally expensive: coaching with a real coach who’s already in with the top five. NOW SHUSH. Swat down the demons in your head and shush.
There’s no way around it, people. You can audition your little buttcheeks off on ACX, you can make a shiny happy profile on Findaway Voices, you can narrate 36 audiobooks and voice robocalls until you call yourself, but ain’t nothin’ gonna budge until you have a coach who is a big name in the industry and that coach writes a note to their big five contacts saying how awesome you are and gets your little tiny foot in that great big door.
I don’t care if you are the incarnation of Julia Roberts. I don’t care if you’re broke. I don’t care if you got knocked up after a hockey game and wound up a single mother of hungry twins—oh wait, that’s me. You need coaching and you need to pay for it. Get a credit card, get a loan, get a grant, get an investor. This is a real job, and a real job takes investment.
There are many great coaches. Just to name a few: Johnny Heller, Hillary Huber, Jeffrey Kafer, Pat Fraley, Carol Monda, Paul Reuben, Steven Jay Cohen, Karen Commins, J Michael Collins, Sean Allen Pratt. Some of them are more for audiobooks, some more for commercial work, for animation—shout out to Lisa Biggs, for example. You scrape up the money, learn about these folks in social media or conferences and get yourself a coach. You can meet on Skype or Zoom or FaceTime or whatever.
This brings up the location issue. You don’t have to be in New York City or Los Angeles. But it helps. That’s where many agents are, a ton of the conferences, networking, and the big studios. For animation—unfortunately—you kinda need to live in Los Angeles. People live without it, but it’s hard. Basically for animation they need all of the actors to be in the same room. As audiobooks do more “full cast” work, uggers—us little Midwesterners have to tread more to keep up. But cream rises to the top…if cream works very hard.
Now in the meantime, there are all kinds of things you can do to get the wheels turning. And I know, because I’ve spent the last 2.5 years doing them. And I’ll share those triumphs and skidmarks to the face next time. Love you.