I’ve had a lot of hobbies, a lot of interests, over the years: animation, acting, leatherworking, and writing to name a few. Every one of these had their financial costs. Some more than others of course. I mean, what did writing really cost me other than a few dollars for a notebook and pens plus the occasional convention here and there. Where on the other side was leatherworking, which the upfront costs there can be pretty staggering to get the necessary tools to be able to make some fun stuff.
Then I met Voice Acting and it left leatherworking in the dust.
I’m getting into my third year of being a voice actor. I had started small with a silly mic bundle from Amazon for $40 setup in a giant den for recording -- it’s pretty embarrassing to go back and listen to some of my first recordings -- to now having a mid tier setup that I’m very proud of and a couple of demos. I’ve sunk a lot into this new career and yet the costs keep coming and at times seem to be getting bigger every time I make it to the next “level.”
So I started to wonder, what is the real cost of being a voice actor? If someone had told me just how much I could be looking at to spend, would I have started to begin with? I probably still would because dammit I love getting in the booth and recording. But I can’t deny it would have been nice to have a realistic perspective on what I was getting in to.
And that’s just what we’ll do. We are going to break this down and see, at least at a minimum, what the true costs of becoming a Voice Actor is.
I’ve identified three main categories and gave them pseudo-military names: Your Battlestation, Your Support Team, and Your Ammunition.
This is everything you need to record. Here I’m going to be looking at the price for making yourself competitive in both animation and commercial.
Sound Treatment: PVC Booth w/ Moving Blankets or Acoustic Curtains. $100-120 (I’ve found this to be the best bang for your buck as acoustical foam can be costly)
Mic: AT2020 XLR $100
Preamp: Scarlett 2i2 $150
Computer: $500 (I’m going with a bare minimum here, but if you’re wanting something quiet that you can have in the booth with you then you’ll easily double that price and more)
DAW: Free - $60 (This one really depends on what you’re wanting to accomplish. If you just want to hit record and go, Audacity. If you want to mix, Reaper)
Total: $850 just using minimums, you’re starting at $850 to get your battlestation ready in order to audition and get coaching.
But before you get in to battle, you’ll need…
This is your coaching, hiring a marketing expert, and maybe even hiring some management. That last one is probably best left for when you’re really pulling in the jobs so I won’t worry about it too much here. Hiring marketing expert, I feel, is a must at some point unless that's a degree you already have.
Coaching: $1,000 - $1,850 just to start! Coaching will be a career long endeavor for every new genre. And it's probably an unpopular opinion, but I do think you should stick with a coach that's at least $100 a session.
Marketing: $500 - $2,200 and I know that's a huge margin. From my research that's starting at getting a workbook with some one-on-one help to full on branding overhaul. The mid point I've found is $1,500 for three months of help.
Total: At minimum $1,500
(My cynical take away from this section is, it's more financially viable to play the support role for other people's dreams.)
This is everything you need to get your name out there: Signing up for Pay to Play sites, getting a website, and having demos made.
P2P: It's hard to put a number here because it's going to largely depend on how many you want to sign up for. But let's just say one on the mid range at $300
Website: Another huge variable that will depend on if you're using stock templates from something like Weebly or hiring a team to build you a specific voice actor site. Let's just go with $50
Demo(s): Depending on who you go to, this could range from $300 - $2,250 A DEMO. And you're probably going to want to have a few in order to diversify your portfolio. So let's call it $5,000
Total: Looking at, realistically, $2,500 (this is taking into account just one demo)
(Again, seems like ancillary jobs around voice actors is where the money is!)
All right we've broken down the costs. So what's our total? $4,850. Which may not seem like a lot, but many of those costs above are recurring or at least happen more than once. If we go top end it's now closer to $11k when including multiple demos, the best marketing, and the most expensive coaching.
What's my take away here? Other than my cynical one, ha!
I think it's more simple than what I'd thought going into this blog post. My initial mindset was to treat it like getting a secondary education. Art School cost me a fair amount, this isn't too dissimilar. But that's the wrong way of thinking. No what it is, and you've heard this time and again, but being a Voice Actor is running a business. Everything I listed above is simply operating costs.
Once you can wrap your head around that I think it helps. You're starting a business and this is your overhead. If you can handle being underwater for potentially years… well… you may just be OK.
While I've been working on starting my voice over career, during the day I've continued with my job as an animator and illustrator. Having a degree in both and working with amazingly talented people over the past twelve years has really taught me a lot and about design and how to use it to elicit certain reactions. Having this foundation in animation and illustration has served me well in all of the other aspects of my art. Chiefly, whenever I've needed to design logos for myself or friends I've been lucky to be able to draw on all of that training.
And now I'd like to extend my 12 years of knowledge out to my fellow voice actors to help them with their own branding by lending my artistic eye. Now I'll be up front, my knowledge of branding as a philosophy is just beginning and I'm learning a lot about it. But when it comes to the artist side of things, I'm your critical eye.
So if you have a logo or site already designed, I'll be here to help you check to see where you can improve. Or maybe you have some ideas and need someone to help you make sure you're on the right track.
I'm offering several levels of help, which go into more detail on my Branding Page. But here is a quick run down of the options.
1. FREE 15 Minute consult: We'll meet online where you're comfortable and you can pick my brain about what you have or what you want to do and I'll give you my thoughts.
2. Deep Dive: We'll meet for an hour and go over what you have in depth, or work on some ideas together. We'll end the session with a branding direction that you can take to an artist of your choice and have a solid beginning point.
3. Deep Dive +: Same as above but I'll continue to work with you or your artist until the project is complete and you are happy.
4. The Max: You'll hire me to do the WHOLE thing. If this is the option you're most interested in, we'll do the 15 Minute Consult to work out exactly what all you're wanting and build a branding plan for you.
If any of this interests you, jump on over to the Branding Page and fill out the form for what you want and let's get you a great brand!
Man, if only I could tell Jeffrey from six months ago what was in store for 2020. I was gearing up for VO ATLANTA 2020. It would be my first major Voice Over conference and a huge opportunity to meet industry people, get to meet my mentor, and really dig in. My business cards were coming in. I was working with my coach and mentor and prepping to take some classes and really make the most of my experience.
Then the reports of COVID-19 started trickling in during January and February. Events started to cancel slowly. Every day I woke up and checked if the event organizers had made a decision. It wasn't surprising when they finally called it off. In fact, I was also relieved because I was looking at making a hard decision. Should I still go and risk it, just to keep the opportunity alive? Thankfully that decision was made for me.
It was a bummer, for sure. We all were excited to get to meet one another and spend three days mired in Voice Acting and learning.
Then my day job made the decision to let us work from home and we were furloughed for one week out of the month. We packed up our company computers and hauled them away with us. That is when something magical happened. Being able to work from home and having a full week off I was able to take on more freelance work animating. Which then afforded me the money to do the one thing that's been in my way for a long time. I finally was able to get a professional demo produced.
I contacted my mentor Cliff Zellman, producer at A-Mazing Demos (seriously, if you're needing a Commercial Demo go to Cliff!) and we got to work. In just a week we had amazing spots recorded and then he produced an incredible demo for me. I also took that time to revamp my website and branding.
COVID-19 has been devastating. It's taken its toll on my family relationships as I haven't been able to visit with many of them for a long time. But I am certainly grateful for the extra time I have been given to work on my career. I am pumped to really jump start to the next level.
Here we are, the end of 2019. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have started to take some time to reflect on this past year while also looking forward to 2020. I've had some incredible life changes moments this year. The first being the birth of my daughter Nova and the second the choice to really focus on my Voice Acting career. You see, with that choice came a steamroll of great things.
Deciding to make voice acting a focal point of my life meant really stepping out there. I bet on myself and joined the World Voices Organization (which I've blogged about previously). There I've met some amazing people and found two incredible mentors. They have been guiding lights in this crazy career, helping me navigate the many pitfalls that can befall a new voice actor.
Now, I live around the Atlanta area and I've heard about VO Atlanta a lot. It's one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) VO conferences in the country. I knew it was something that I'd want to attend. However, the ticket prices are something that wouldn't fit within my budget. So I set attending VO Atlanta as a goal for my future. I would make it happen, but just not in 2020.
Then something big came around the corner in November. I saw a Facebook post from Anne Ganguzza of VO Peeps calling out for submissions to win a scholarship to VO Atlanta. The Coral Joy Memorial National Scholarship. Seeing it, I knew I had to take a shot. And they weren't messing around. To win, you had to write an essay, PERFORM the essay, and also record one of two spots for the conference. It was a lot, but I was determined.
I spent three weeks writing the essay, getting input from friends and colleagues. The first draft I ended up tossing all together as it ended up feeling too impersonal. So for my second go-around I dug deep and really laid it out there. Even the recording I worked to make it as honest a delivery as possible. The night came to send it in. I checked and double-checked that I had everything ready and exactly as they'd asked. And thank god I double checked because I nearly forgot to include the WRITTEN portion of the essay. How devastating that would have been. With everything ready to go, I hit send.
Oh god, the waiting.
You see, normally I'm very good at "Send it and Forget it." But not with this. I couldn't get it out of my mind. They were going to announce the winners (there was an International winner as well) the day before Thanksgiving. As time got closer to the announcement I got it in my head that I hadn't won. I figured that they would have already contacted the winner so that when the day came to send out the tweets and Facebook posts they'd have their marketing ducks all in a row.
Then the call came. I heard Anne's voice on the phone and I knew it before she said it. I can imagine I didn't sound very grateful or excited because I was so stunned.... I was also driving! But man I couldn't have been more thrilled. I called my girlfriend, the mother of my newborn daughter and let her in on the thrill. It had happened.
Now a new waiting has begun. March can't get here fast enough for when I have a chance to meet all of these wonderful people in voice over face-to-face.
While that was amazing, I haven't stopped moving forward in my career. I haven't started working with Marc Cashman on a weekly basis to really dig deep and learn the craft of Voice Acting. Each week he kick's my butt and I feel stronger and stronger. He and I will continue working on into the new year, getting me ready to take on 2020.
And that's where I am as I go into this New Year. Working on my craft, building my connections, and getting prepped for VO Atlanta. Today I name 2020 as the year of my career. I will look back on it in the future and be able to say that's when it really boomed.
I can't wait to share it with you all.
Have a safe and happy New Year and a 2020 that makes all other years look like a joke.
I think we've all done our fair share of looking at Whisper Rooms, or similar branded sound booths. For us starting out that price tag is... yeah. So we start looking at other options. I'd run across one site that just sells the plans for a Whisper Room like construction for around $60. Not too bad, if you also have the skills or access to equipment and labor for the construction. With some more digging I ran across VocalBooth To Go.
I believe it was on YouTube that I found it, but there they have two videos showing how to build a PVC frame to hang their specialty blankets from. It's a super simple design and easy to construct with just the items you can find at a Lowe's or Home Depot. Seeing as how I needed to get away from the HVAC that I had setup near originally, I figured it was time to clear out the workroom in the basement to make room for the new booth.
First things first, off to Lowe's to get the materials!
I decided to buy 10 poles instead of 8, just in case I screwed up something. I did a lot of pre-planning and sketching but I always want to make sure I have what I need. It's always frustrating to be knee deep into a project and find out you don't have enough material.
Next I marked out the length of all the pieces I'd need to construct the top and bottom frames, then used the PVC Pipe cutter to get everything I needed. What's great is that you can get just about everything you need from the poles. I think I did have to dip into the ninth pole because I miscalculated one cut. Again, glad I bought more!
The first video provided by VocalBooth To Go makes a 3x3x6 booth. I wanted a bit more room than that to accommodate the arm of my mic, so I decided to make a 4x4x6 instead. I did some mathing and edited their original design (based off their video on how to expand the booth to anysize you need) to get to that size. Spoiler, I failed at the mathing and instead made a 4x3.5x6. Not sure how that happened. But, it worked out for me in the end so I can't complain.
Here is a list of all the lengths and cuts of material you'll need. (Note, this is to make my LxW booth. Some of your measurements may vary depending on what you need.)
And there it is. Everything is put together and in place. I put down some anti-fatigue mat foam to help my poor feet and to also combat reflections from coming off the concrete floor.
After this its as simple as putting in the grommets on the blankets and zip tying them to the frame. I put the back blanket on first and then for the front, slightly overlapped them, tying end grommets over one another in order to have a slit doorway. Once all that was done, I threw another, thinner blanket over the top!
I haven't been able to test it out just yet. But the location is what has been most important. It's in a finished basement with four concrete walls and underground. There is another door between the booth and the living area. I'm now several walls and dozen of feet away from the HVAC system and water pipes (which I used to be RIGHT NEXT to).
I'm pumped to see how it goes. Maybe I'll get a sample recording and put it up here. I'll need to, because I know for certain my FX stack is about to have some major changes to accommodate the new space.
If you've never heard of Red Light Syndrome, then let's turn to our trusty (as trusty as anything on the internet can be at least) friend Urban Dictionary: where a person has musical talent, but once they are being recorded, they fall to pieces. While the definition is taking about musical talent, I think some of us voice actors still can suffer from a varying degree of Red Light Syndrome. Speaking for myself, I don't fall to pieces, but something a bit more sinister happens.
I forget how to play.
For some reason I just clam up ever so slightly. As if I'm being constrained by the mic. And in so doing my personality, the thing that will sell a client on ME, gets diminished. I can even feel it. Before I start recording I'll do some runthroughs and find how I want to tackle the copy. I find where I want to go with it and then hit the record button. WHOMP! Just like that I feel like I start holding back. Which causes me to have to do more takes then I would like to get myself up to where I need to be.
Thankfully I haven't found my RLS to be debilitating. But instead just more frustrating. Because I can tell I haven't been able to be my authentic self. Which means holding back on my unique voice, thus holding me back on giving a potential client the voice they're looking for.
It's something to work on. Being able to identify the problem is the first step to fixing it. Do you suffer from Red Light Syndrome? If you do, how do you combat it?
Last month I took the opportunity to invest in myself, and invest in my career. I took the plunge and joined the World-Voices Organization as an Associate member. And man have I been blown away by this group. What an incredible resource they are and supportive group. I have already met some major talents in the industry and created -- what I hope to be -- lasting relationships.
My first career and still current day job is as an animator. I consider it to have been a side step on my road to being a voice actor. They are twin loves for sure. As I pursued that career as a young person it was late in that education that I learned how important a mentorship can be. Especially for the arts. A formal art education is... problematic. I have a full rant on that which I can save for later. But suffice to say it has become my belief that finding a mentor should be one of the top five goals for an artist.
There is something magical that happens when working one-on-one with another artist. The passion between the two of you is symbiotic. Having mentored young animators I have been on the other side. As you teach, you begin to solidify all the information you've taken over the years. Your knowledge of what you just do naturally cements further. There are times you can even have ah-ha moments as the teacher! And watching your mentee flower and "get it" is an amazing reward.
So no matter how far I go within WoVO -- and I do hope its far as they are an amazing group of voice over professionals -- I can say that even at this level I'm happy to have joined. I'm fired up having just hour long phone calls with incredible talents. Getting their insight, and already learning what I need to tweak in my work to take myself to the next level.