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Opuzz Voice : Featured Article

How To Get Started

by Mark Levesley

So You Want To Be A Voice-over Artist Or Presenter?

Voice-Over Artist = someone who talks in the background on TV/Radio commercials, documentaries...etc.

Presenter = someone who actually appears on the television screen, talking and doing things!

There are some general tips and ideas listed below. If you are from outside the United Kingdom I'm afraid that some of the information will not be of any use but hopefully you will find something of value in what follows!

How Did I Get Started?

By pure chance. I saw an advert in a Scientific magazine ('New Scientist') for a Presenter on Tomorrow's World (an English Prime Time TV Science programme). I needed to make a video to show what I could do, as part of the application (a 'showreel'), and so I found a company that ran one-day courses in TV presenting and could produce a reasonably cheap showreel for me. This the company duly did for me and I sent in my application but failed to get the job! However, someone that I met whilst on the course suggested that I get hold of a book called 'The Presenters Contact File' and send my new showreel off to production companies and agencies. This was expensive to do, but I did it and got precisely nowhere! You must also remember that I had absolutely no experience of the business and was working as a scientific researcher at the time.

Then out-of-the-blue, I got a phone call from an agent, who happened to remember my showreel. He thought  that the tape was awful but needed to find as many people as possible to go to an open audition for a TV commercial for an Insurance company. He had run out of people on his books and so was basically just putting anyone forwards for it. I went to the audition and GOT the job!

Then I decided to make a demo tape of my voice. This was done professionally. I sent this around to various agencies and production companies and radio stations. I got nowhere - again! Then I made another tape, again professionally. This proved just as successful (i.e. useless). Then one day I got another phone-call from someone wanting a voice for their company for a promotional video. They had watched a video of my advert on a training course on 'Marketing Your Company' - This was two years later! They liked my voice and I did the voice-over for them. Word then spread, simply by people talking to each other - no agents, no advertising, no nothing! Eventually, five years later, I was able to give up my job and concentrate on Voice-Overs and Presenting. I do now have an agent but I still get a lot of work for myself.

How Do You Get Started?

Pick up a copy of 'The Stage' (an English weekly newspaper that deals with the theatre and television industries). There are plenty of companies that will help beginners make voice tapes or showreels. Give the companies a ring and make sure that they are using a proper studio using digital recording (or Beta SP for videos) and that they can make copies on audio cassette/video for you from the master tapes. Also make sure that they can provide you with a list of contacts - people to send your tape to (mainly radio stations and agencies). Point out to them that you are a beginner and ask about how they are going to go about training you. You may think you have everything it takes, but you will need some training. Make sure that the company can provide you with scripts and that you don't have to write your own - unless you have a real talent for doing so. Finally, make sure that your tape will show you off in a number of different ways. For instance, a voice tape should have one lively piece, one slow piece, one fast piece, one quiet piece etc. If you can do some impressions, it all helps, as does being able to do a cartoon voice. 

A voice demo should last no longer than 3.5 minutes and a showreel no longer than 5 minutes, once edited together. 

Make up a CV. This should contain your name, nationality, age, date of birth, contact details (address, phone numbers etc.), and any relevant work/voluntary  experience you might have had. Include a brief list of your qualifications and work experience. This should take no more than one side of A4. If you want work as a presenter you also need add your height, hair colour and eye colour. As a presenter you will need some photos taken professionally. Again a newspaper like 'The Stage' has many people who are good at this. Once you have chosen a few good photos, get one or two of them made into 'repros' - these a cheap quality photos printed onto card. Send these out - NOT the original photos. Repros makes the whole process cheaper.

Play your tapes to your friends and see what they think. If you are too embarrassed, this is not the right area of work for you!

Send off as many tapes as you can afford and expect to hear nothing! If you have sent tapes to agencies, give them a ring two or three weeks after sending them your tape and politely ask whether they have had time to look at/listen to it. You will get lots of polite letters back saying 'thanks...but no thanks!' unless you are really lucky.

Do not expect to get anything you send out back again. If you want to try to get things back, make sure you enclose a stamped-addressed-envelope/package.

The real motto here is 'try, try and try again!'. If you are the sort of person who is easily discouraged or depressed by rejections, this is not the right field for you to work in. You need to be prepared to spend quite a bit of money to get started and be prepared to follow up the tapes you send out with phone calls. One tip, however, don't call people after about 3:30 p.m. - agencies etc. are usually busy sorting out their clients for the following day in the late afternoons.

Companies, Radio Stations and Agencies are all looking for interesting voices. If you can do impressions, that helps.

This is not the only way to get into this sort of work. You may just be very lucky and be related or know someone who can get you straight into the business. If you decide to go ahead, you might get your first job in a week or two. You might get your first job in a year or two. Or you might never get a job. Be prepared!

Good luck and best wishes,

By Mark Levesley

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