Today, I have a fun interview to share with you that will show you how to make money by becoming a voice over actor. It sounds like a fun job, plus you do can it from anywhere! I recently had the chance to interview Carrie Olesn, a full-time voice over actor (and RVer!), who explains how voice acting may be a possibility for you.
Carrie replaced her day job salary in 2014 with voice over work, and quit her job to become a voice over actor full-time. People started asking her all the time how she got into voice acting and how they can too.
So, she created a six-week online class and it sold out. Several of her students booked voice acting jobs before the class was even over!
Since then Carrie has created several resources focused on helping others learn more about voice over including a membership site, online group coaching sessions and equipment guides.
Check out the interview below for more information on how to make money as a voice over actor. Grab a copy of Carrie’s free Getting Started in Voiceover Guide and keep reading for more info.
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Please give us a little background on yourself and how you became a Voice Over Actor.
In 2014 I was working my 8-5 job as an e-learning specialist. I was responsible for creating tutorials, courses, and running training webinars for an international construction company. It was a great job, and I enjoyed it a lot. But after my husband and I had our first baby, I desperately wanted to create a situation that would allow me to be home with my family more. But at the time, my husband was working to get a start-up business off the ground, and it wasn’t bringing in enough money for me to stay home, so I had to go back to work.
I always listened to podcasts during my commute to work. One day I turned on a random podcast that I had never heard of before. The host was interviewing a voice actor named Alyson Steel.
I had no idea what voice acting was, but when she started talking about the process of recording scripts for TV and radio commercials from home, my ears perked up. At the end of the interview, she said she offers coaching, and I booked a session with her.
After my first session, I became obsessed with voiceover! Every spare moment I had, I was practicing and learning as much as I could about the industry. I started auditioning shortly after I started getting lessons. I booked my first three jobs within two weeks of my first coaching session.
The first job was for a 2-minute narration that paid $450! I will never forget the morning I told my husband Derek about that first voiceover job as I left for work in the morning.
After those first few jobs, I continued auditioning as much as I could on the nights and weekends. My goal in the early days was to do ten auditions a day after work and on the weekends. I put in a tremendous amount of time and energy into my new side hustle and it paid off.
Thanks to a national radio campaign, I replaced my day job salary with voiceover work, and was able to quit my job to pursue voiceover full time. My voiceover work has been supporting our family ever since.
What exactly is a Voice Over Actor? Who are some common clients?
A voice over actor is the person you hear, but don’t see on radio ads, YouTube ads, explainer videos, corporate videos, documentaries, e-learning courses, audiobooks, TV commercials, video games, movies, cartoons, etc. Even the voice on the bus telling you what stop is next came from a voice actor.
Clients can be anyone from a film student or YouTuber to Fortune 500 companies. I’ve worked with a variety of clients including Tiffany’s, REI, Kmart, Taco Bell, Walt Disney World, Netflix, and many others.
How much can a beginner Voice Over Actor expect to make?
The pay varies widely for both beginners and professionals. It really depends on your business model, your skill level, and your marketing strategy. It can also depend on your commitment to charge what you are worth. Unfortunately, lots of voice actors feel the need to accept low rates in order to book work.
Rates for each job will depend on several factors: the medium (TV, radio, internet, etc.), the market (local, regional, national, etc.), the length (in either time or word count), the usage (how long it will air), whether it’s a union or non-union job, and sometimes the time spent in the studio.
Rates on online casting sites range from hundreds to thousands. When I first started booking work regularly, I was averaging $300-$350/job. If you’re established, have a good agent, and run your business well, it is possible to make 6 figures/year voice acting. It took me three years to reach the 6 figure mark with my voiceover work.
A very small set of voice actors, many of whom have reached celebrity status, even pull in 7 figures. But much like with the “super-stars” of on-camera acting, the people who make it to that level are the exception, not the rule.
(How much to charge clients is a topic that I address frequently with my students in the membership class. The rates sometimes don’t make sense and even advances voice actors sometimes aren’t sure how much to charge.)
What do you like about being a Voice Over Actor?
At this stage of life, with two young kids, the flexibility is such a huge advantage. And I love the variety. No two days are alike (unless you’re recording an audiobook — and even then you get to experience the story arch from day to day), and after years in an office, I love being able to “let loose” every day in my VO booth. Plus, my “work uniform” is house shoes and comfy clothes every day.
It’s also really fulfilling to wow my clients with a creative take on their script.
A lot of times a client won’t know exactly what they’re listening for until they hear it. So I get a lot of creative license to just play with the script and create characters which makes it much more rewarding when we “find” the perfect sound for a spot. It’s incredibly fun and fulfilling to use my creativity to deliver a great read to a client.
I get to do really fun, creative work — and I get to do it from home, or in a recording studio. I think it’s been really healthy for me to get to run a serious business, but also to get to play and have fun as part of running that business.
How can a person find their first Voice Over Actor job?
Their current network! I’m a huge proponent of marketing yourself to find voiceover work. And the most effective place to start is your immediate network. Of course, you need to have some examples of what potential clients can expect if they decide to work with you in the form of voiceover demos. So, you really shouldn’t start looking for work until you have some kind of sample reel you can let people hear. And, in my opinion, you really shouldn’t make a demo until you’ve had some training.
There are also online casting sites for voiceover. These are sites where clients post excerpts of scripts from jobs that they need to cast a voice actor for. Voice actors record a portion of the script and submit it. Then the client selects one of the voice actors to record the final audio.
Starting your voiceover career on an online casting site can be a very effective way to book work, but you have to keep in mind that they are very competitive. So, you shouldn’t expect to join a site and immediately start booking work if you haven’t had any training. There can be up to a hundred submissions for each job, so it’s competitive. You have to be dedicated, be willing to take feedback, and have some major tenacity to be successful no matter what road you take as a beginner.
Also, not all casting sites are created equal. They charge different fees to sign up on the site, pay voice talent different rates, and many take a percentage of each job that you book. So make sure you do your research before joining.
What if you’re not sure if Voice Over Acting is a good fit?
There are definitely some low risk, low barrier to entry ways you can dip your toe into the voiceover waters and see if it’s for you.
Just keep in mind that building up the business side is just as important as being able to “do voices.” And in reality, most voice actors use their real voices for the majority of their work anyway. I give away a free guide to getting started in voice over on my website. Reading through the guide will give you a better idea of what it takes and if it’s right for you. The guide paints a picture of what is involved and anyone who reads it will walk away with a clear understanding of what to do next.
Practice by recording yourself reading commercials and see if you enjoy the process. Read the excerpts on the backs of DVDs. Read the billboards out loud as you’re driving. You can practice for e-learning narration by reading instruction manuals and trying to make them sound interesting. Hey, someone has to get paid to make that stuff sound exciting, or at least not super boring, right?
Another indicator that voiceover might be for you is if you have any background with acting, music, podcasting, or performance. These things aren’t necessary, but experience in one or several of these things will give you a little headstart.
You should also join the Voiceover Start-Up Facebook group. It’s open to everyone who has ever thought, “Hmm, I wonder if I could do that…” But really, getting training and doing it is the only way you can tell if it’s for you or not.
What specific steps does a person need to take in order to make money as a Voice Over Actor?
- Training – It would be nice if all it took to do VO was to have a nice voice. But everyone needs training and practice (and then more training and more practice). I would never have been able to book so many jobs so quickly without training from my coach Alyson. Hire a good coach and listen to what they tell you. Alyson and I work together now to run group and one-on-one coaching sessions for our students.
- Practice – Start paying close attention to the voiceovers you hear on the radio, TV, online and even in movies. Listen to voiceovers in the genre that you want to work in. Record yourself and listen back. Make adjustments based on your coach’s feedback. Remember that voice over is a skill that needs to be developed and maintained. No one is perfect on the first day.
- Equipment – You will need a good microphone and a quiet place to record. I started with a $100 mic, a $100 interface and a closet full of clothes as my studio space. I recorded some of my first few national radio spots in my closet! You’ll also need recording software, a microphone stand, and of course, a computer. Equipment info is available in my getting started guide.
- Marketing – After you’ve gotten training, have some recording samples that you can provide to clients (these don’t have to be paid jobs), and are 100% ready to start taking on clients, you can start marketing yourself. Effective and consistent marketing is what took my business from “I hope I book more work this week” to “Wow, I have regular, consistent clients now!” I also get plenty of referral business and repeat business too. Auditioning is still a part of my business plan, but a much smaller part than it used to be. You have to remember that this is a business and being easy to work with matters and will lead to more clients.
- Audition – Once your coach gives you the okay, you can start auditioning for work. The more auditions you do, the better your chances are of getting work. But it’s not only a numbers game. You’ll learn to audition only for the jobs that match your voice profile. This will increase your chances of getting booked and decrease the amount of auditions you need to do. For example, if your voice profile is young adult female, you won’t want to waste time auditioning for jobs that call for a mature, older voice–unless you’re sure you can pull it off.
- Make a demo – Your demo is the most important tool in your marketing toolbox. You’ll need one so that potential clients can get a taste of what your work is like so that they can determine if you are a good fit for their brand. It is also necessary for getting agency representation. In a nutshell, a demo is a reel of the best parts of your best work. Sort of like an audio-resume that shows off your skills and vocal range. Word of caution: Don’t make a demo too early while you are still developing your skills and learning your style. If you make a demo too early it will be out-dated quickly and won’t reflect your true talent. And don’t make your demo on your own unless you really know what you are doing. A demo that isn’t top quality and represents you well could actually hold you back and do you more harm than good. You wouldn’t use your first resume from ten years ago to try to get a job today right? Same thing with a demo, it needs to represent where your talent level and abilities are today.
- Agents – After you’ve got some work under your belt and have recorded a professional demo, you can start approaching talent agencies for representation. Agents are selective about who they choose to sign, but if you want the bigger jobs (like national TV or radio spots), getting an agent should be on your roadmap. Signing with an agent doesn’t guarantee you jobs — you still have to audition for and win them. This is a big reason continual practice is essential for working voice actors.
How much does it cost to start this side hustle and how much on a monthly basis to maintain it?
My initial investment was under $400. I already had a microphone and interface because I had done some podcasting. The microphone was $100, and the interface was about the same.
I spent about $300 on my first few coaching sessions over the course of several weeks. The online casting site I joined was having a special where you could get your first month for $10.
I already had a computer, recording space (closet), and recording software (Audacity is free). For someone starting from scratch, you’ll want to spend at least $100 on a good condenser microphone. An interface will run you about the same on the lower end. You can set up a recording space for nothing (or close to it). And you can get free recording software. So the only variable left for start-up costs is training and practice.
Eventually, you’ll need to get an invoicing solution, figure out how you’re going to handle accounting, maybe pay to join the World Voices Association or attend conferences. And if you decide to incorporate, those are expenses you’ll want to discuss with someone who can help you with that.
Regardless of the training method you choose, you’re not likely to start booking jobs right away. It takes the average new voice actor 70-100 auditions to book their first job. Again, a good coach will shave hours off the learning curve and give you the best chance for success.
Of course, there are all kinds of ways to get training, ranging from free (getting books from the library and studying/practicing on your own) to hundreds of dollars/hour (private coaching). Ongoing costs include coaching and membership site subscription fees if you choose to use online casting sites. You can also update your recording equipment as your income and average job size justify/necessitate it. I currently use a $3,000 microphone and a $5,000 vocal booth (that I bought used on Craigslist for $1,100 + shipping) for my studio setup. I use a Mac mini outside my booth, a monitor inside, a comfy stool, and table for my coffee–ahem, water–all squeezed into my booth.
What do you love about being able to make money as a Voice Over Actor? What has it helped you do?
Every day I get to do work that I love and earn more than I have in any of my past jobs. It’s the perfect fit for me. I have put in a lot of work building up my business, and the journey hasn’t always been pretty. But I can honestly say it is my dream job.
There have been lots of ups and downs, setbacks, and disappointments. Rejection kind of comes with the territory. But I knew I wanted to make it work, and I’m so glad I stayed with it. I’ll never forget being the top pick for a job that would have been a years’ worth of steady work (and pay!) only to find out it went to someone else as I was sitting in the studio parking lot. I was devastated and it took a few days for me to shake it off and get back in the game. You'll get more no’s than yesses (especially in the beginning) but the yesses will start adding up as you get better and grow your acting, marketing, and business skills.
Being a voice actor has allowed me to spend more time with my family. It has allowed me to earn more while (mostly) making my own hours. And it has allowed me to express myself creatively while developing my acting skills. It’s also rewarding to help companies and brands tell their stories — and super fun to hear my voice in their ads.
One example of when my interests aligned perfectly with a job I booked was for this Grammarly campaign. A friend of mine called me and said he was getting deja vu because I’ve said some of these exact sentences to him while helping him edit his papers.
Lastly, are there any other tips that you have for someone who wants to try this?
If you are interested in learning more, give yourself the best chance of success by investing in yourself. Research your options, hire a good coach that you feel comfortable learning from, enroll in a class (online or in person), start reading books and blogs and listening to voice over podcasts and credible YouTube videos.
Start paying closer attention to the voiceovers that are around you every day. They are everywhere! Once you realize how much voice over there is in the world you’ll start hearing them more and paying more attention.
Start recording yourself for fun just to see if you enjoy it. Don’t worry, no one is listening, just go have some fun with it for now.
What can a person learn from your class? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your class?
The Voiceover Success Intensive is a community-focused membership program for aspiring and growing voice actors. As a member, you get access to dozens of hours of training videos on topics like voiceover genres, branding, acting, marketing, auditioning, equipment and more. We also have monthly live Q&As, Hot Seat Sessions, Study Groups, and a members-only Facebook accountability group.
Many of my students have started booking paid voice over jobs within weeks of starting the program, ranging from audiobooks to e-learning narration, and even TV spots. I sometimes highlight students who are finding success in voiceover on my blog.
Good luck and please let me know if you decides to take a closer look at voice over work!
Did you enjoy this interview with Carrie about voice acting? Are you interested in learning how to make money as a voice over actor? Let us know what you thought!
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