I will give you my answer, but I thought, since I have the privilege of calling Alyson Court (Big Comfy Couch, Beetlejuice, Resident Evil, X-Men, etc.) an occasional hang-out buddy, I thought I’d ask if she had any advice.
Here’s what Alyson had to say:
Thanks to modern technology (in the form of one’s own laptop recording device and access to millions of examples of different character voices on line), anyone can easily acquire the tools they need to start honing their skills. Record yourself and listen back. Get to know how your own voice changes depending on volume, emotion, etc, and work to control and stretch your range. You don’t have to be able to do everything but the voices that you choose to specialize in should be polished and you should be able to do them with ease and control. The only way to get good at anything is to practice practice and… what’s that? Oh, yeah, PRACTICE.
All of this can be done for free. No point shelling out hundreds of dollars on a demo if you don’t have anything good to record. Get the voices down and then make a demo and yeah it costs a bit but it’s totally worth getting your first demo done professionally- you’ll learn lots at the recording session.
Then, once you have a decent demo, start shopping it around to talent agencies.
JM: And how did you get into voice acting, Alyson?
I went to a school for the arts starting in grade 4. They used to get calls from producers so I started going to auditions. Got an agent a couple months later and the rest is history! But being one of the first Nelvana kids is probably the source of my voice career- right time, right place.
Nelvana needed kids voices and there wasn’t an established kids voice pool yet- Nelvana basically created it in Canada. So most of us truly owe our starts to Nelvana.
JM: Thanks Alyson!
You can find and follow Alyson Court on Twitter and take a look at her impressive voice acting history at IMDB.
JM Frey adds:
I became a voice actor because one of the vocal coaches I was working with in university mentioned that I had a good radio voice and I should consider it. (She worked on Sailor Moon, so I took her word as gospel).
So, I did some auditions for a local commercial-creation start up and amassed a nice little demo. Like Alyson says, I learned a lot about my voice and the art of learning to speak with a mic on the fly, while in the booth. It’s not something you can really learn without actually speaking into a mic and hearing what you sound like, what the mic does to your voice, how to inflect and breathe and not pop your consents. And how to change your voice for every character – you may think you sound different each time, but listening back, you might find it’s not all that different at all. All of that requires practice with an actual mic. I practice with a crappy mic I picked up at the dollar store, so it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg for a practice mic.
As for the art of creating voices, one of the best workshops I ever did was with Roland Parliament , and it was a free one hour session at a FanExpo. He said: “Look at the character and think of what they’d sound like. Where and when are they from? Look at their teeth, their mouths, envision how that would feel to speak around. Don’t just do a funny voice – do the character’s voice.” It is advice that I use every single time, and it’s a beautiful starting point at which to marry technique with creativity and acting.
If there’s no character image, then I make up a little story in my head about who this person is and what they look like, even if I’m doing a commercial for, say, Fabricland. (The masters have been burned. You will never hear me singing that jingle again.)
Of all the sorts of acting I get to do, I love voice acting the most. Unfortunately I also find it the most competitive and difficult to get into. I’ve never had any luck landing an agent. Pounding the pavement is thankless and unless you have a thick skin, it can be a bit heartbreatking. I’ve taken a break from it for a while, until I have enough samples to build up a new demo.
Luckily, I seem to get a few opportunities a year through friends-of-friends or people who have heard me and call me up for a gig, or people who have me recommended to them.
I would still very much like to get an agent and try to do voice acting on a more full-time basis, but before I can do that I need to build a new demo reel and start pounding the pavement again. If there are any director/producer/agents out there reading this… hey! I’m available!
You can also look into other options, like VOX or the Audible program ACX for exposure and income. But you’ll need a really good home set up to participate in these services – a great mic, a very quiet space with zero ambient noise, an editing program, and patience. All of that can be had for relatively cheap, but have to be willing to put in some money and time.
Generally speaking, there are no shortcuts into voice acting. Either you work your way in via an agent, by doing your own productions like Welcome to Night Vale, through some of the other freelance voice acting sites, or through opportunities to be recommended to people like me.
Best of luck!