So you want to be a voiceover artist?

You’ve got a great voice. Why not use it to earn at least £50 per hour for voiceover work? That’s the promise made by UKVoices, whose ads turn up in the back pages of magazines such as Now.

The fact that the ad appears in Now should ring alarm bells immediately. Voiceover work is a branch of acting, and the trade magazine for the acting profession – the place where people advertise their jobs – is The Stage. To the best of my knowledge, Now is not regarded as the bible of the acting profession.

Let’s assume that UKVoices is just trying to find new talent, though. What’s the deal?

It’s simple enough. Sign up – it’s £20 – and you can record a brief showreel, which will then be downloaded by agents who are just gagging to take you on. UKVoices doesn’t charge any commission, which makes them very attractive to would-be employers.

Here’s the thing. If UKVoices tries to get people voiceover work, its employees are idiots.

Let me explain. If UKVoices doesn’t charge commission, it makes no money from getting people work. Its only source of income is sign-up fees, so it’s in the firm’s best interests to sign up as many people as possible, irrespective of whether they’re any good or not (and if you listen to the sound clips on the site, it’s clear that quality isn’t a key criteria). If the firm does anything other than bank the sign-up fee, it’s spending time and therefore money on something that won’t generate any return. That’d be madness.

A quick aside: staff agencies aren’t allowed to charge registration fees for that same reason (the relevant legislation only covers Employment Agencies). Instead, temp agencies take a fee, usually an hourly one. The more work you get, the more money they get. If you don’t get any work, they don’t get any money.

The truth is that voiceover work is like writing novels, getting a record deal or becoming a full-time journalist. It’s much harder than most people think. As the excellent Excellent Voice Company’s site points out:

There is a huge difference between people who have a nice voice, read aloud well or whose friends tell them that they ought to do voice-overs – and a professional voice over. Professionals understand that the smallest alteration in inflection can make the difference between success and failure, they understand why the client or director needs a particular style of read or performance. They appreciate the need to save time and know how to fit a forty second script into thirty seconds without it sounding like a machine gun.

Good voices develop a sense of timing in their heads. They can see a written script and tell you exactly how long it will take at an average read. They can sight-read to time without looking at the studio clock. They know how a scriptwriter’s mind works, how to get inside a script, and what to bring out, without having to have it spelled out for them.

This doesn’t mean to say that new voices don’t turn up on the circuit – but it does explain why so few really make it – they’ve got to be very, very good.

The advice continues:

To survive, any industry needs to recruit new talent – and there’s nothing more pleasing from an agent’s perspective than hearing that extra special something on a showreel, and knowing that you’ve discovered a new voice – who then goes on to become a success. But there’s no point in being anything other than brutally honest about a really tough industry.

You might get a gig via UKVoices. But I wouldn’t bet on it.