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Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes as a Freelance Voice Actor

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The entertainment and advertising industry has opened up a tremendous amount of opportunities for freelance voice actors.

The range of disciplines in which the freelance voice actor can use their voice and keep their craft energized and always in demand? Commercials, explainers, trailers, gaming and audio books…the list goes on and on.

Many voiceover artists can be found in Squawk’s voice section. Some you may recognize from their on-camera work in TV and movies. More likely, though, they are just a voice you will have heard on the TV. If they were doing their job well, you probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all.

Creative freelancers tend to operate straight from passion. This is great, but it isn’t enough – you need to develop a business mentality.

The majority of voiceover artists have more than one string to their bow, and voice acting is often just one of their many talents. But how can you make a success of that one talent? How can you rise to the top of that field, especially when competition is so fierce?

5 Mistakes in Growing Your Freelance Voice Actor Career

We all make them.

Making mistakes is part of learning and growing. While we all hate to make them, the value is in what we learn from them. The best part is – we don’t have to make all of the mistakes ourselves; we can learn from the mistakes of others.

We get emails every day from people who want to become freelance voice talents. They’ve heard all their life what a unique and wonderful voice they have, how special it is, and how they are missing their calling of being a professional voiceover talent.

Some are more curious than serious. Some just want to make it happen so badly that their excitement and sense of urgency can lead them to disappointment and frustration when it doesn’t happen for them straightaway or when they continually face rejection or worse – radio silence.

Read on to realize whether you are falling into any of these critical career mistakes as an aspiring voiceover artist.

Male freelance voice artist with headphones in background and microphone in foreground

1. Not knowing your own voice

I do so wish voice artists wouldn’t change their accents to neutral. It’s a hangover from the old Drama School conditioning – I think, where everyone had to sound like they were reading the BBC News. Your voice and your accent are like your fingerprint, entirely unique to you.

If you’re from Sheffield, U.K., I want to hear that. I’ve got ten other people with neutral accents, but if a job comes in and the client wants a Northerner, then you will only be in with a shot if your reel shows that. So, by all means, have some neutral samples in your reel but make sure you open with your native accent.

Think about the order of samples on your reel because casting directors might not have the time to listen to the whole thing. So make the first one the one that shows your voice off best.

Describe your voice to me in your opening email. It helps us know where to place you. It also shows you understand your craft and your voice. Knowing your voice and your strengths are the mark of a true professional. Don’t try to be an everyman or something you’re not.

2. Not being a trained artist

Before cutting a demo, a voice talent should invest in high-quality voiceover training to work on script analysis, delivery techniques, recording, and working with recording software. Basically these are the skills you will need to actually be a reputable voice talent in a highly competitive field. It isn’t enough to just say the words into a microphone.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that being a good actor means you can be a good freelance voice artist. They complement each other, but the two disciplines are very different. You can be feeling all the feels and hit record, but the microphone can pick up something completely different. Passion can come across as utter boredom without visual input. So listen back to your work. Better yet, ask someone else to listen to it and see if your message has come across.

3. Not taking action to promote yourself as a freelance voice actor

I feel that the strongest thing successful artists did that got the most results in their business was just taking action.

Whether you have an agent or not, you need to market yourself. Create a website or online portfolio to showcase your work. Then make contact with companies that could use your skills. If you have your own home studio, that’s great. You are already cutting costs for a future employer. Start local to your home and contact advertising agencies and production companies. It is a good idea to do your research and work out what rates you want to charge for your work, as negotiating a deal is all part of the service.

Use social media and online platforms to market yourself and your voiceover services. Don’t wait for your demos and clips to be found. Make them findable yourself. Social media has made the process of linking with professionals and connecting with people much more accessible – I no longer find that there are as many gatekeepers as there were in the past.

Focus on networking: You need to interface, exchange and communicate with others – both in person and via social media. Attend industry events, connect with other voice actors. Build relationships with casting directors and agents too.

Freelance voice actor microphone in black and white


4. Not using your studio time and listening to direction

An artist on Squawk said to me last week that she still thinks about an early voiceover job she did where she was in the studio recording a bumper for a top brand. She had been asked to record one line and been given the brief of how the client wanted it to sound. She had done all the preparation and thought about her delivery, and the client gave Take 1  the thumbs up. Since everyone seemed happy, she didn’t consider recording it in many different ways.

This was pretty early on in her career. Ten years later, though, she still thinks about how she could have done more, said it a different way, offered a different mood, or a slightly different emphasis on some words. Sometimes you will spend one hour in the studio saying one or two words in a multitude of different ways. Sometimes you will have five pages of words to say in one hour, and you won’t have time to make lots of mistakes. So prepare and rehearse in your own time. Time is money. Do tongue twisters on the way to the studio, drink water, mark up your script and exercise your mouth muscles so you’re ready to go.

Understand how smiling changes your voice, and know how to tweak your voice to sound more formal, more conversational, more familiar, and edgier. I’ve even heard of people being asked to try an accent out of the blue! Be prepared for anything.

5. Forgetting to harness your creativity as a freelance voice actor

Finally, remember to stay positive and keep exploring your creativity. Many voiceover actors dance with their passions and develop work opportunities around them as well. Lindsay York-Jones, for example, an RP voiceover artist, isn’t only involved in audiobooks, radio commercials, and film narrations, she also runs a wide range of side gigs.

When I get stressed out over an aspect of my voiceover business, I find that taking even one step to improve the situation alleviates some of the stress because I feel I have more control over it.

  • Take voice acting classes or workshops to improve your skills and learn new techniques. You can also take classes in related areas, such as acting, improvisation, or singing.
  • Practice your craft. Use your downtime to work on your voiceover skills, such as character development, accent work, or commercial reads. Record and listen back to it to recognize areas for improvement.
  • Use your free time to add to and update your voiceover demo reel. This can help you showcase your abilities to potential clients and agents.
  • Volunteer: Offer your freelance voice actor services for non-profit organizations, school projects, or community events. This can help you build connections and gain experience.
  • Pursue other interests: Take up a hobby or pursue other interests outside of voiceover work. This can help you remain calm and avoid burnout.

Remember, staying active and engaged in the industry and in life can help you stay motivated and ready for the next opportunity that comes your way. Also, it’s important to stay positive and persistent in your pursuit of voiceover work, as it can be a competitive field.

Want to learn more advice about freelancing? Take my free mini-course here.



Images by Amin Asbaghipour and Jorge Guillen

Rich Willmott
Rich Willmott

Rich Willmott has over 30 years of long experience in the advertising industry. Through Squawk Voices UK agency, he is casting and directing voice talent. (headshot in Desktop)

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