While Bugs Bunny might be a cartoon icon, the rabbit owes his fame to Mel Blanc and all the other voice actors who brought him to life. Getting into the voice acting business opens up plenty of other doors aside from providing voices for animated characters, but getting jobs isn't easy. Living in a big city helps. Having the right skills helps even more.
Anytime you hear a voice but don't visibly see a person speak, you can bet the sound you're hearing is courtesy of a voice actor. From television to movies and video games to audio books, voice actors have the responsibility of lending their voice to bring written scripts to life. Voice actors are often synonymous with animated characters, but their roles extend far beyond cartoons, animated movies and video games. Providing the voice in radio and certain television commercials, radio plays and dramas, the narrative voice in television documentaries and even the voice in interactive toys and devices are all roles of voice actors.
Trying your hand at voice acting calls for a few common skills that many professions need, such as communication, multitasking and attention to detail, and one fairly unique skill that can make or break you: acting. Having a pleasant voice or the ability to offer lots of different voices will help, but if you can't act, you won't find work. Voice actors don't have the body language advantage that onscreen actors do; they have to rely on projecting emotion strictly from their voice alone. Their words and the emotion that drips off of them are all they have to mold a character's personality, bring a documentary to life and help turn a radio commercial into profitable advertising for a company. Conveying that emotion requires a wide variety of voice acting skills, from properly utilizing pauses to changing pitch in the blink of an eye.
You'll work inside a sound studio as a voice actor. If the project needs multiple voice actors, then you might work alongside the other actors, but sometimes each actor is recorded separately. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), voice actors typically don't have the opportunity to practice their lines before reading them. Recording sessions vary in length and depend on how much material to cover and how many takes to make a successful recording. Unlike other careers where your weekly hours are fairly consistent and predictable, voice acting is all over the map. Simply put: if you have a lot of projects, you'll spend more time working.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
You can't just send in your resume and a cover letter and expect to find work as a voice actor. In fact, going alone probably won't get you anywhere. Randy Thomas and Peter Rofe, authors of "Voice for Hire: Launch and Maintain a Lucrative Career in Voice-Overs," strongly suggest grabbing an agent and say doing so is one of your most important career moves. SAG-AFTRA, a voice actor's union, offers an agent search tool on their website. Always follow the agency's submission instructions to a T. The BLS points out that you'll have a better chance of finding work if you live in a city where studios are commonly found, such as southern California and larger cities.
While no comprehensive and organized salary information exists for voice actors, the BLS notes that some information points an hourly wage between $300 and $500 for the first hour of recording and between $250 and $350 for each hour after. The Bureau stresses those numbers come from anecdotal information. As with any profession, you'll earn less when you first break in than when you become well-known and have plenty of success under your belt.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.