OTM ESSAYS
 

Written by Michael Daingerfield

ESSAY 3
THE TRAJECTORY OF A VOICE ACTOR

I think one of the most important factors to staying with anything that’s difficult is having a love for what you’re doing.

Well before I booked my first job in voice-over I had a real love, almost an addiction to doing voices and generally playing with my voice.  I was doing it to see what silly noises I could make, or what things on TV and in movies I could mock or impersonate.  Then it got serious.  I was offered to audition for the series leading role as Ace Ventura - in the new CBS animated series Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.  I remember thinking back then that as long as I can do the best impression of Jim Carrey then they have to give me the role.  I started on an 8-week program which included literally practicing the voice 6-hours a day.  I bought the movie and watched it on TV - I even recorded all of Jim Carrey’s dialogue on to a cassette tape that I could listen to in my car.  I would annoy my friends and my co-workers by doing the voice whenever possible.  I even recorded myself voicing Jim Carrey’s dialogue from the entire movie on to another cassette tape and then played both tapes back and forth to see how close I was to mastering the voice for every line in the movie.  Then came the auditions - there were 4 of them - first round was just with the casting director - next was with the Nelvana production team and then I had two to go after that - one for Morgan Creek (the owner of the Ace Ventura franchise) and the final audition was for the CBS network.  After two months of biting my finger nails - I got the call - “You got the part!!!”.  I was thrilled beyond belief - this was actually my first voice-over gig, ever.  And it was the lead of a series from an internationally recognized franchise, imitating one of the biggest film stars on the planet - there were TV guide interviews, trips to LA to do CD ROM games, I even did ADR for Jim Carrey in the 2nd Ace Ventura movie because he was unavailable.  Then, after 41 episodes, 2 CD ROM games, multiple promo jobs and media opportunities and exposure, Ace Ventura was finished.  

One of the first big lessons that I learned was that I hadn’t created a career in voice-over yet, I’d only had one job - yes a very excellent job that was very lucrative, but it wasn’t a career.  I still had to develop a technique of how to voice other animated characters - original ones - because doing impressions in animation is really not that common.  And I had to learn how to voice commercials and narration as well.  For a certain period of time I didn’t work, at all.  Slowly but surely I started to book other animation roles and then my commercial voice-over career began and everything sped up again.  It’s almost as if I had to catch up to what I had achieved with the Ace Ventura series.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about voice-over is that if you get one big job - you’ve got a career - you’re in the inner circle - now you’ll just get handed bookings - no, you’ll get to audition more easily for the jobs you want - but you still have to be good - even if you do land in this inner circle you’ll have to fight to stay in it.  To this day, I’m still getting better and I’m constantly looking for new ways to work.  Narration is something that I’ve been doing for about 10 years professionally and I can honestly say that it was about three years ago when my understanding of the art of narration kicked in, it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t do it before then, but my understanding had just grown deeper.  And with a deeper understanding comes more work.  I’ve now narrated well over a 100 hours of broadcast TV series narration and narrated dozens and dozens of corporate videos.

So as you decide to get into voice-over or continue to train - see it as getting into a new career - something that you can legitimately do for the rest of your life.  Don’t see it as a one-off, with the attitude of “ok, I got a good job, now I’m successful.”  

Your trajectory as a voice-actor should/could go as the following: (this is only a basic outline)

Phase 1 : Total beginner - not much earning potential as you are a total beginner and you have limited access to the work as well as limited ability to help you get the work - even if you get the audition.  Your main focus right now is to get the best possible training from people who are plugged in and understand the business, and have been through what you’re going through now.

Phase 2 : Beginner with some training - with the right training you’re beginning to understand what the industry expects of you.  You may be able to work on line - but I recommend waiting to seek representation for an agent in your home market as you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Phase 3 : Intermediate with significant training - you’ve been training for at least 6 months - you’re practicing all the time with your make shift home studio and you’re even booking work on line from sites like voice123 and voices.com.  You understand what a great demo needs to sounds like in order to impress someone and you’re about ready to record your demo.  You also understand the process of a professional recording session.

Phase 4 : Advanced with demo - you have decided to record your demo so that you can pursue the voice-over market where you live.  You work with a great demo producer - nail the demo record and submit your demo to agents and land an agent.  You’re still training - remember it’s one thing to impress an agent and get on their roster but it’s another thing to impress a studio or a casting director who will bring you into audition and work (which is the whole point of this).  If you’re not ready to impress once you go into the audition for that studio or casting director - they will not remember you - remember the key word is impress.

Phase 5 : Professional working voice-actor - you are auditioning and working on a constant basis - you are always looking for new ways to market yourself and you’re even looking at trying to leverage work in other markets - via the internet, your home studio and your website - remember you’ve got to market yourself in voice-over all the time so studios and casting don’t forget you and so you can meet new clients.

Phase 6 : International professional working voice-actor - this is the phase that I’m currently in.  I’m in the process of getting my 01 visa to work legally in the US.  This will give me an opportunity to not only do home studio work for my Los Angeles and New York representation - it will also give me the opportunity to physically go down there and work in LA/NY on various projects that I need to be there for.  

This completes ‘the trajectory of a voice-actor’.  I understand that this won’t necessarily be the path for everyone, but it gives you a basic idea of the phases that you’ll need to go through to have a successful career.  I can’t stress enough to get the right training as you continue on your path.  I’m still training btw - I have a coach in LA and New York who help me on a regular basis.  So don’t ever think your training is complete - it’s a part of it - look at Tiger Woods - when he was the number one golfer in the world, he still had a team of coaches.  

This is an incredibly adventurous career, you meet all kinds of amazing people (I got the chance to work with Bob Ezrin - the music producer of Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’) while doing the Ace Ventura CD ROM games in LA.  It’s funny to look back at that kid who was still doing his first voice-over job, I’m glad I stuck with it - because I could’ve easily been a ‘one and done’ flash in the pan and moved on to another career that wasn’t nearly as fulfilling.  It really is worth your time and effort to step on the path and stay there.  Until next time - stay On The Mic and I’ll see you in class.