My Top 10 Voice Over Start Up Lessons

mr-fluffers
Mr. Fluffers is one hell of an ADR guy. No lie.

On September 1st, 2016, my home-based Voice Over business, Studio Blue Media, celebrated it’s 1st anniversary. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it… It’s been an interesting year of hard lessons, set backs, and amazing successes.

Here are the Top 10 Things I Learned About the Voice Over Business (and Myself).

  • Find Your Own Way
    Sure, I had nearly 20 years of broadcasting experience under my belt when I started, but Broadcasting and Voice Over are two completely different beasts. Essentially, I had to give myself a “crash course” in Voice Over when I started. I read every article, combed through voice actor sites, watched hundreds of how-to videos, but ultimately I realized the key difference was how I approached the work: It was the client’s story, not mine. I had to leave my bags at the studio door and learn to become a transparent proxy to tell their story. But to really make my voice over business work, I had to find a way to make it mine. I took the basic tenants they presented, found a way to highlight my strengths, and built a business in a way that made sense to me. Thankfully, it seems to be working. Your takeaway: Take the lessons learned by those who came before, but don’t treat them as gospel. What worked for them may not work for you. Find your own way.
  • Don’t Be Intimidated By Equipment
    One of the first things I was told was that I absolutely needed a Neumann TLM-103 microphone or my voice overs would sound like garbage and I wouldn’t be taken seriously. What? That’s a $900 mic! I can’t afford that… So I found a different way. My starter mic was a $79 MXL V67G and it sounded really good (I actually still own it)! Paired with a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, and a Symetrix 528e Voice Processor, I had a great set-up for under $300 that sounded rock-solid. Don’t listen to what everyone tells you need. Ignore the mic snobs. Find what works best for you and then rock it. The most important thing in your studio isn’t any piece of equipment, it’s you. And a $900 mic isn’t going to change that. Want to learn how to build an inexpensive home studio? Check out my article!
  • Use Your Strengths
    I wish I could do character voices like Frank Welker, Steve Blum, or the amazing Kevin Michael Richardson, but I can’t. I’ve auditioned for literally hundreds of cartoons and video games to no avail. Voices just aren’t my deal… and I’ve learned to accept that. However, I am a pretty good narrator, announcer, and “guy next door.” So instead of wasting my time auditioning for games and shows, I work on audiobooks, documentaries, and video series. Find your strength and use it. I used to stare at my inbox every day waiting for a callback from auditions, now I check my inbox and it’s filled with bookings who want me and what I can do.
  • Find What Works For You
    I’m not going to lie to you. It was a hard year. There were months that I barely scraped by and had to pay my internet bill with nickels, but other months were amazing! I had projects where everything seemed to fall into place perfectly, and others that just crumbled in my hands. But during the course of my first year, I built my reputation. Clients came to know that I offered quick turn-around, I am professional, and need very little direction. As my reputation grew, and my stats on many of the pay to play sites went up, my bookings became more consistent, clients started searching me out, and I’ve built a client list that I’m pretty proud of. Don’t give up. There will be hard times. Stay with it and keep producing the best product you can. If you build it, they will come.
  • Plan For Freelance-Style Paydays
    One Thing that took me a long time to get used to was irregular paydays. Back when I was a cog in the machine of big business, paychecks came twice a month on a regular basis. That was nice. I knew when I would have money and could count on that. Now that I run my own business, there’s no such thing as consistent paydays anymore. Since I am freelance, the paychecks come in after the project is complete. That means one day I could clear $160, and a day later get $2,000. If you’re not very good at saving money when you get into voice over, get good fast. Because deposits are all over the map, always make sure you have money when you need it.
  • Network, Network, Network
    Just because you work in a little studio talking to yourself, don’t run your business in a vacuum. It will drive you crazy. There are a multitude of groups for voice over artists you can join, ask questions, or just vent about a rough day. Plus, I highly recommend launching your own website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts. These are all just tools to get your name out there. I was actually surprised how many bookings came from my website and Facebook page.
  • Self-Discipline Is A Must
    Working from home requires a massive amount of self-discipline. You have to set your hours, stick to them, and run a business in a place that you usually play and relax in. Find a way to make it feel like work. For me, it was as easy as getting up, and getting ready for work like I used to. Yeah, I can do voice overs in my jammies, but I am far more productive if I get up, get dressed, and get a cup of coffee in me. It helps that the little one is in school now. Keeps me on a more rigorous schedule.
  • Take Care of Your Voice
    Yes, it’s important to make sure your computer, microphone, and other tech is in good working order, but don’t forget to take care of your most important asset: your voice. I, unfortunately, do not have health insurance right now, so I take every precaution I can to make sure I stay healthy and in good voice. Drink lots of water. LOTS of water. Before and during recording sessions, don’t drink coffee or soda as they can be a detriment to your voice (they cause you to expectorate more). I’ve found that if I keep a clean mouth (brush, floss, and use mouth wash), and drink water, it decreases the amount of mouth noises in my recordings. Also: plugins like iZotope’s RX 5 are a god send.
  • IMG_0940Kittens Make Terrible Interns
    No matter how many I hire, kittens make terrible interns. Sure, they love climbing on the sound-proofed walls, but getting them to do a voice over? Forget about it. Plus when using a really good tube condenser mic, purring sounds like a tank engine revving up.
  • Be Who You Are
    The best advice I can give anyone is to just be yourself. There is no one else like you, no one else delivers like you, and no one else is quirky and brilliant as you are. Don’t try to be someone else because you read their book, or watched their series of Youtube videos on how you can make $20,000 on voice over in your spare time. You will fail. Be who you are.

So there you have it: the Top 10 Things I Learned in the Past Year about Studio Blue Media and being a freelance voice over talent.

It was a tough year, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve finally come to the point where I’m holding my own. Work is good and consistent, and I’m happy with me and my product. With the support of my wife (especially my wife who believed in me from the beginning), my son, my friends, and my amazing family I watched my business mature and grow.

I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

If you have any questions, comments, or would just like some friendly advice, please feel free to email me at terencecwest@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!

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