Ever have a great day at the office? Let me tell you about the best voice acting job I ever booked – and why it didn’t matter that I was a (relative) beginner.
Most of us could have 20 amazing things happen to us on any given day – but it’s the one random bad thing we tend to dwell on.
The weirdly aggressive Uber driver that blasted bad house music, stopped for gas and beef jerky during the ride – and then made sure you were watching as he rated you 3 stars. Or an argument with a loved one that was soooo avoidable, but you walked right into it anyway (again). A MacBook Pro you lent to a friend for their first gig – that now leaks coffee from the USB ports and speaker grill.
Those types of things can press the mute button on an otherwise great day. That’s life I guess. Weird stuff can be hard to shake.
But today I want to tell you about the voice acting job I booked that was so damn amazing, no string of life’s random indignities could have wiped that big, dumb smile off my face.
This Voice Acting Job Started With an Email
When the audition email from my voice over agency came in, I actually said yessss out loud. It was for a national network casting for Mtn Dew. And the session and usage rates were SAG scale.
This was almost a decade ago – and at this early(ish) stage in my voice acting career I got hyped when I got audition queries. I’d had a couple of big VO jobs by this point. But my meat and potatoes was still radio promos, explainer videos, regional TV commercials and maybe the random small budget cartoon character.
I replied, “I’ll be there,” and set up a reminder in my calendar.
OK, maybe actually I replied “I’LL BE THERE!!!“ But let’s pretend I played it cooler than that.
Sure, now you’ll record most voiceover auditions from your home studio. But, back in the day, a lot of castings still took place in person.
I took the freight elevator at Milk Studios and found the sign in sheet for Mtn Dew. At 11:15am it was already full of voice actor’s names – four pages long – meaning the casting directors and agency creatives were casting a wide net for this one.
As I grabbed the short script and looked for a place to sit, my heart sank. The room was packed with some recognizable heavy hitters.
Professional voice actors aren’t typically people you notice at a glance. We wear workout shorts and black metal t-shirts because no one is ever looking at us.
But there’s a ton of crossover with the talent roster from movies and TV – on-screen actors that do work all over the entertainment industry, including voiceover. Those cats get eyeballs on them.
Anyway, I quietly mouthed the lines a couple of times, and felt utterly outclassed as I waited for my turn to read.
Once inside the vocal booth, the casting director said, “Let’s get three in a row, twice through.”
I read the short script into the microphone six times, varying my tone, pitch and cadence. In a voice over audition, one of the most important things is to show those potential clients that you’re versatile and can play around with different phrasing – without butchering the script in the process.
As I left the studio that day, I walked past an actor from an HBO series – and another super recognizable film actor who also happened to do tons of voice over in car commercials.
Damn. I knew I’d never hear back from anyone about this job again.
My agent has always been one for brevity:
“You’re booked on that Dew TV spot. Go to Heard City at 1pm on Thursday.”
Yeah, of course I took my wife out to dinner that night.
A Super Fun Voice Acting Job
There were at least 15 people in the studio when the receptionist brought me through. They were sprawled out on couches, discussing the finer points of the spot’s music mix.
Professional recording studios are magical places. They’re packed with insane gear, and people who know how to use it. Seriously, just watch a professional sound engineer as they’re editing. If blistering fast and effective edits are your thing, you’ll be impressed. OK, I’m a nerd.
Anyway, they played the commercial for me all the way through so I could get an idea of the overall feeling. They had inserted one of my takes at the end tag from the casting as a placeholder.
“We really liked your audition reads,” one of the producers said. ”Especially the take where it sounds like you don’t care at all. That almost sarcastic one.”
“That’s my sweet spot,” I said.
The sound engineer took me into the booth and adjusted the mic and pop-filter, handed me a set of headphones and closed the door with a vacuum whoosh.
I read through the lines a couple of times so the engineer could set levels, then double checked that my device was turned off and took a sip of water.
“OK, Ben. We’re rolling on one,” came through the headphones.
I read. And I dripped with sarcasm. Through the glass, I could see heads nodding after my first set of three passes through the script. So far so good.
We adjusted a bit and tried some variations.
By take seven, they had put together a franken-clip of their favorite phrases from each take.
“Hey Ben,” one of the producers said into the talkback mic. “We think we have what we need. But, do you wanna get weird with this thing?”
The Power of Yes
I’ve found that, when dealing with voiceover clients, the appropriate answer to almost everything is yes. Doesn’t matter if it’s an audiobook, a TV commercial or character voices for video games.
Voice talent jobseekers take note: if the client asks (unless they’re asking you to work for free or something), simply say YES.
We spent the next hour going deep into the weird. I played around with voices that sounded like everything from Eric Cartman – to barely audible creepy whisper takes – to a few that sounded like a pensioner telling those damned kids to get off his lawn.
We were all laughing like idiots.
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Incidentally, this was the moment I truly saw how creative commercial production is. Sure, they were creating a paid promotion to sell soda for a massive company. But the process and the output were as creative as someone producing an art film or writing a song. Irreverence was all part of the process for this team from BBDO.
Did they use one of those insane takes in the final spot at the end of the day? No. They used the original take that they liked. I think they just needed to go super weird so they could rule it out.
I filled out my contract and said my goodbyes.
You Don’t Get Many Attaboys in Voiceover
In fact you usually only know if the clients truly liked your work when you see the spot on TV and hear that your voice is still in it.
However, as I was leaving, one of the producers said, “We have some other stuff coming up. We’ll call you.”
Sometimes people just say that stuff to be polite, sometimes they mean it. At that moment in time, I was just happy that the clients were happy with the session.
But, you never know if the commercial will ever actually play.
This Commercial Played. A Lot
From commercial breaks during Breaking Bad to hockey intermissions, they bought a lot of air time for this Mtn Dew Kickstart spot. It was on everything from prime time to ad-supported streaming services to social media platforms.
It played so much that, one day, I opened the mailbox to find I was now qualified to purchase health insurance through the SAG-AFTRA labor union.
As someone who, up to that point, had only achieved modest victories in voice acting, this was a big effing deal for me.
And those particular clients did call with more work. A lot of it.
The following year, I even voiced their Super Bowl ad.
Why This Voice Acting Job Was Great
Let’s break it down.
- It was a big opportunity that I didn’t just pass up because I was basically a beginner. Did I feel intimidated? Yes. But I still took the shot.
- This job was the most obvious example of a voice acting job going to the person who gave the client what they were looking for in the audition. The clients could have booked household name talent! But instead they went with a no-name voice actor. It’s not about looks, fame or notoriety in voiceover. It’s a fairly level playing field.
- The voice over session itself was fun, creative and allowed me to show the clients what I was capable of as a voice actor. They let me into the creative process – and we created a working bond together.
- It was a lucrative voice over job that paid well, got me access to health insurance, and boosted my confidence in my voice acting skills.
- These clients became repeat clients. And that’s absolute gold. When you have repeat clients, you’re getting regular work you didn’t have to compete for.
You know, just one of these things would have been a big win for me at that time in my career.
A Voice Acting Reality Check
Let’s be real.
Not all voice acting jobs are this great. Hey, that’s why I felt compelled to single this one out – and talk about exactly why this was a milestone for me as a much greener voice actor!
And wait until I tell you about the worst voiceover booking I ever had.
Like most professions, much of the paid work you’ll do as a voice actor (whether you’re part-time freelancers tracking down a job or two on the online marketplaces, or make it into a full-time career) will be transactional.
You’re paid a fair rate for audio recordings of your voice.
But just think about that for a second. You’re paid for your voice. At its core, that’s one of the rare things that sounds too good to be true – that actually still turns out to be good.
And, considering how fun most voice over recording sessions are, even if the paycheck turns out to be humble – you’ll be buying groceries, or filling up your car’s gas tank with the proceeds you made from placing your face in front of a microphone and talking.
Want to learn more about voice acting and the things beginners should know about the voice over industry? Bring your natural talent and check out my class for beginners!