Voice Over Education Blog

April 2014

An Agent is Not a Magic Wand

There’s no magic wand in show business.

Few voice over artists land a lot of jobs by merely hanging out their shingle (putting up a website), posting a demo and waiting for clients to call. It also takes “legwork” and continual professional development over the years.

Your website is simply “home base.” From there, you branch out and promote yourself, via email, mail, phoning, networking, all that “marketing” in our business entails.

Ah, but if you have an agent, no more legwork, right?

Wrong. If representation makes sense for you, you’ll still want do your own self-promotion. In fact, your agent will probably expect it.

While the agency will provide guidelines for your collaboration, within those bounds you should continue doing much or all of the self-marketing and prospecting that you did as an independent.

In short, an agent is not a magic wand; you don’t just sign, give them your demo, and wait for your agent to call.

Another common misunderstanding regards who to promote yourself to:

You should start out by promoting yourself to potential clients, not to potential representatives. Any agent, manager, etc., wants a marketable entity. They’re not in business to be mentors, coaches, business managers, teachers, parents, etc. (all of which can also be helpful, of course).

That’s not to say that you can’t actively seek representation at some point in your career. But if you’re not already successfully self-promoting, your career is probably not at that point.


Acting has been defined as “seeming real in an unreal situation.” Boy, does that describe voice over! What is more distant from “real life” than to be locked in a padded cell accompanied by nothing more than a hunk of metal, a sheet of paper and a glass of water?

Thus every voice over performer, whatever the genre, must be a “voice actor” of sorts. In telephony, you must sound like you’re personally meeting the caller and be interested in the reason for their call. In museum tours, you must envision each painting, sculpture, etc. as you describe it. In wildlife narration, you must “see” the subject, and (as in another classic definition of acting) subtly react to what happens in the visual. In promo, you must think it’s the most spectacular (or whatever) program ever made. And so on.

In any form of acting, it’s easy to fall back on various “tricks.” How many times have you seen an actor glance off-stage, or pause in an odd point in the line, become “theatrical,” or repeat a personal tick? The first few times they do it, it may seem real, because real people do those things. But by fifth time or so, it can be downright annoying. Good play-acting is more than memorizing lines and using a few gimmicks.

So it is with voice over. You can inflect a sentence a certain way, pause too long or too often, fake a chuckle, or constrain your voice, etc. only so many times before the listener finds you out.

Working Through Your Accent

These days, voice over work can be found virtually anywhere and performed anywhere.

But what if you’re from anywhere -- what about your accent?

Everybody has an accent. Even if you’re from the American Midwest, a wide swath of territory where people speak what’s called “standard American English,” you have an accent in the ears of a Southerner, Brooklynite or Bostonian.

In that case, fortunately for you -- and unfortunately for talent in those other parts of the country (and the rest of the world, for that matter) -- American clients tend to favor the standard American sound. If you don’t naturally have it, do you need to acquire it? And if so, how?

Yes and no.

Note that we haven’t said “lose your accent.” While “losing” your accent is what people usually say (and for simplicity’s sake we will say it here), don’t ever really lose your native accent -- sometimes it can be an added competitive advantage. For example, in telephony for locally-focused companies, in local commercials or spots for certain products (e.g., hot sauce), and in “real people” roles, many clients want VO talent to have a local sound. That Deep Southern, Boston or foreign accent can actually be an advantage.

But if you have a distinctly regional accent, or if English was not your first language, you’ll expand your marketing options by learning to “lose” it when necessary.

Here are some tips for losing, or at least softening, a regional accent.

1. Don’t be discouraged by the situation. Besides locally-focused job opportunities as we’ve mentioned, there are character roles, product spokesperson roles, audiobooks, training videos, and many other genres where a specific accent is sometimes sought. For that need, few other VO performers can sound as authentic as you.

The Importance of Being Grateful

I ran into voice actor Steve Zirnkilton at the Cracking the Voiceover Code event in New York last month. Steve is a very busy actor, with extensive promo credits on all of the major networks and half of the cable channels.

Despite his long list of top-notch clients, Steve will always be best known for voicing the opening lines of the Law & Order television series – arguably the best known voice over script in popular culture (other than “In a world …”).

So, back to the event. After meeting him, I uttered the words that I knew were a mistake the moment they left my mouth: “Hey Steve, could you give me 10 seconds of `In the criminal justice system, … ?’”

Steve is a gracious guy. He politely delivered the opening lines of Law & Order on demand, as I’m certain he has been requested to do as party entertainment 10,000 times before. I squirmed.

A few days later I was emailing with Zirnkilton about something else, and felt the need to apologize for the request I made of him at the event. His response was humbling, and all voice actors should adopt this “attitude of gratitude” about what we have chosen to do for a living.

Excerpted from Zirnkilton’s email response to my apology:

“ … and when it comes to people asking me to do the Law & Order opening. No matter how many times I'm asked to do it, I can look at it two ways. I can think of myself as a circus monkey doing tricks, or, I can look at it for what it really is; how incredibly lucky am I that I am in a position to deliver the opening line of a television show known by millions. I promise you I'll never get tired of that!”

It’s All a Matter of Scale

How many times have you been reminded about the need to keep current numbers, hard facts, and metrics as it relates to your Voice Over business? Hmmm?

In my blog a couple years back, I wrote about The Pareto Principle. That’s the rule of 80/20 that keeps coming up everywhere. As the Pareto Principle applies directly to your VO business, for example, it’s likely 20% of your marketing efforts results in 80% of your jobs.

In a blog that I penned titled Metrics, Numbers, Stats, I talked about the need to quantify your auditioning and booking results.

Another of my articles delved even more into this -- The Patterns of Pace, which has a great link embedded: 50 Top Tools for Social Media Monitoring, Analytics, and Management.

My point here is that numbers are a blessing, a curse, and a hard taskmaster. However, your VO business cannot survive unless you “keep” them.

Did you know for instance, that Nevada is the largest producer of gold in the world? They do it with massive mining techniques. In a picture of the front-loader they use, people are itty-bitty standing under the gigantic shovel.

The easy-pickings like the Comstock Lode and other surface veins of pure nuggets are gone. Nevada gold mining today produces one ounce of gold by digging up 30-tons of soil from enormous open-pit mines, then leeching it with caustic cyanide.

Yes, we talk about “mining” for prospects, but let’s face it, the big fat mother-lodes of choice clients are gone. Plan for big numbers to achieve small results.

How many times have you heard the sage advice that you get one booking for every 85 auditions? (Or is it 150 now?)

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