Gary Williams, the Oakland Raiders public address announcer, has made his living doing voiceovers for more than 25 years. He's done hundreds of radio/TV commercials and corporate narrations for dozens of clients, including Macy's, Chevron, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Apple, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, Safeway and many others.
Here's Gary's take on the business and what you need to do to get started, along with his voiceover demo for your "listening pleasure!"
Many years ago, long before I had thought of any possible career path, a doctor friend of our family suggested that I would make a good physician. Once I told him I fainted at the sight of blood, he admitted that maybe it wasn't such a good idea.
Thus a voiceover career was born. And the ironic thing is, I've played a doctor in commercials and read dozens of medical narrations....all without spending tens of thousands of dollars going to medical school. In fact, they paid me! What a concept.
The point is, almost no one says while they are growing up, "I want to do voiceovers for a living." In fact, most normal human beings have no idea what the words voiceover mean.
But the fact of the matter is, with a little planning, perseverance and hard work, you can either supplement your income or make a fortune like I do (I'm prone to gross exaggeration) reading scripts for a living. Trust me, it beats working and you never have to wear a tie. In my case, the commute is great too. I figure about 50 feet from palatial estate to my recording studio.
Let me dispel one misconception right out of the chute. You don't have to have a big, deep, booming voice to succeed in this business. Listen to commercials. Most of the people getting work sound like the man or woman next door....just regular people hawking this or that product.
A skill you do have to have is the ability to read and interpret copy quickly and believably while making as few mistakes as possible. After all, once you are in the studio, time is money. If you can't read two sentences together without fumbling over four words, don't quit your day job.
That brings me to my next point. Practice makes perfect. Very few of us in our chosen field of endeavor are "naturals." If you want to get better, you've got to work at it. Record a commercial or narration that you like, then transcribe it. Now you've got the copy that the voiceover guy got paid for reading. Mimic the read. Where did he or she pause? What words did they emphasize? Did they speed up or slow down through parts of the copy? You won't believe how much you can learn and how much better you can become with this simple exercise. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Now that you are ready to take on the world, you need your "calling card." That's a fancy way of saying you need to produce a short demo tape. And by short, I mean short. I don't know one producer who sits down and listens to three minutes of someone's demo tape. Not a chance, unless the producer is your mother. Trust me, they'll form an opinion of you in the first 10-15 seconds, so make sure your best material is right up front. So that they hear your versatility, it's perfectly acceptable to have short snippets of a variety of reads that run a total of no more than one or two minutes. Here is a sample demo of yours truly for what it's worth. Listen to other people's demos to get an idea of how you might proceed.
"But I've never done a commercial or narration!" you say. No problem. Fake it. Find some copy to read, put a little music or sound effects behind it...and voila....you have your first demo tape! And you don't have to go to the expense of burning CDs and mailing them out. Mp3s and the Internet are beautiful things. Track down the names and e-mails of producers in your area and get in touch with them.
Also, don't expect miracles overnight. It took me a good year to finally get rolling. It's unrealistic to expect that you are going to be cashing thousands of dollars worth of checks a month after sending out your material. Be patient and stay in touch with potential clients. Develop some kind of marketing campaign to keep your name out there.....be it a website, promotional material, social media, etc. Sure, voiceover work is fun, but it's also a business. Treat it as such.
I've been fortunate enough to make a decent living at this, not because I'm the the greatest voiceover performer who ever walked the face of this earth, but because I'm pretty good, I return phone calls, I'm easy to work with and I take the work--but not myself--too seriously.
It's a recipe for success that has worked on my end and I have every reason to believe it can work for you as well. If it does, I expect a 10% commission on every job you get for the rest of your life. Paypal, MasterCard and Visa gratefully accepted. I don't take American Express. Member FDIC. Operators are standing by.
See you in the studio.
Because many NASPAA members have good voices, the NASPAA felt compelled to provide members who are interested in becoming a voiceover talent a means by which they can showcase their talent. With the assistance of Gary Williams, the voiceover section was born!