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.

18 thoughts on “So you want to be a voiceover artist?

  1. Paul says:

    Aren’t voiceovers usually a lot more computer generated nowadays? By that I mean that a voice can be altered to get that perfect sound?

    I’m unsure, but after listening to a Chris Moyles podcast it seemed that way.

    Great blog, by the way. Lots of nice interesting content :)

  2. Gary says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the kind words :)

    I think voiceover stuff tends to fall into three areas: IVR systems (those horrible phone menus), local radio voiceovers, and high-profile voiceovers.

    The first category’s usually computer-generated, with a machine stringing prerecorded words or numbers together in a not-very-convincing way. Local radio tends to have a couple of actors pretending to be different characters and adopting different accents, and the high-profile stuff typically uses celebs (which is why Edith Bowman’s all over music ads, and why John Peel used to advertise *everything*).

    You *can* tweak stuff with computers but IMO it’s not very convincing, and a decent actor can do a better job than someone not so good who’s being tweaked on PC. The exception is singing: there’s a plugin called AutoTune that turns even the flattest note into perfect pitch, and it’s everywhere.

    Mind you, there’s some amazing stuff happening right now with voice synthesis. It used to be OK Computer-style robot voices, but I’ve heard some really convincing stuff that’s entirely computer generated. It’s still not as good as a real person, though…

  3. Squander Two says:

    A friend of Vic’s does almost every female voiceover on UTV, including all the local adverts, which certainly supports the idea that it’s a difficult field to break into. I also think she falls squarely outside your three categories: a handful of actors have the advert business sewn up, and most of them aren’t celebrities.

  4. tm says:

    >most of them aren’t celebrities

    Hmm. A bit of both, recogniseable actors turn up on voice overs all the time (see John Peel above), but there are clearly a fair number of what can only be called ‘BBC English’ speakers (you know that slightly posh, not quite from anywhere english accent – that not one real life english person I’ve ever met talks with) who do a lot of stuff. It’s also clearly a bit faddish. After ‘This Life’ became a big hit you literaly couldn’t watch ITV or CH4 without hearing Andrew Lincolns dulcent tones every 20 minutes – yet now you almost never hear him (He was the character inexlicably called ‘egg’ BTW). See also Angus Deayton, Stephen fry et al. Although being dragged through the tabliods for their ‘adult activites’ presumably didn’t help that pair.

  5. Gary says:

    > a handful of actors have the advert business sewn up, and most of them aren’t celebrities.

    True. It used to be the case that one bloke did almost all the radio and independent TV ad voiceovers round these parts – the voice of Tony from Tile It All. He’s not a real Geordie, you know.

  6. Squander Two says:

    > recogniseable actors turn up on voice overs all the time

    Yes, of course. However, the ads that are expensive enough to afford those famous voices are the minority.

    Incidentally, what is it with Hugh Laurie and nappies?

    > there are clearly a fair number of what can only be called ‘BBC English’ speakers

    Each region has its variations. Here, we have people who do a weird sort of idealised semi-English posh Northern Irish accent. And the Scots just use people from Edinburgh who know Kirsty Wark.

  7. Lucy says:

    Hi there,

    I was really interested to see your article regarding UK Voices. I came to the conclusion not to sign up to the £20 fee but instead find myself paying aprox. £3.50 to receive txts a few times a week.
    As I am pay as you go, this has become rather expensive. I decided to put an end to it but what do you know, the UK Voices website is not working… and I’m still getting charged when I put credit onto my phone.
    If anyone knows a way that I can contact UK Voices to get off their list, I would be most grateful.
    Thanks, L.

  8. Gary says:

    They should abide by the STOP system, where you reply to the texts with the word STOP. If they ignore that (provided the texts are being charged to your mobile bill) you should then be able to get your phone operator to block the incoming messages.

  9. Martin Hughes says:

    Re Voiceover work
    I run a long established voice over agency working for the BBC , Discovery, Channel 4, ITN, Sony, etc etc – The truth about VO work is that NO professional voice booker will use a site like UK voices with telephone quality samples of people with no experience. And in my opinion it is wrong to pay to be “represented”It may sound harsh but it is true and I would advise people not to fall into the trap of thinking that VO work is easy. If you have a good voice, – practise, get a professional demo done, learn about the industry, practise more, and email your demo to all the major agencies and ask for honest feedback ! Then practise some more ( you get the point !!!) Nothing wrong with having a dream about being a vo ..but following the right path to get there is crucial…

  10. retrodan says:

    Well…I almost just fell for this scam as well before realising that it does sound a bit too good to be true…so after finding your blog article I decided to look into it further…

    My logic was, if it costs money to sign up and see if it works then I’m not doing that…If it is free to sign up as a company needing a voice over and post an advert, then I’ll do that and see what the site is like on the other side of that login box on the front page…

    Well…I wish I could report I had found something out…but having registered, I still have been sent nothing by way of login details…

    …in summary, this surely must be a scam! Should this be reported to…um….someone?!

  11. Slim Jim says:

    I saw an ad 4 ukvoices.co.uk in Loot Recruit last month (Apr 2011). Thought it looked fishy – thx 4 the 2nd opinion. Will try 2 flag it with the ASA.

  12. Steve says:

    Months ago I signed up with a number of agencies, UK Voices being one. They were the only agency to charge a fee, but they had a comprehensive “money back” offer if you don’t get work through them, as long as you audition for one job per week.

    Given that other agencies I’m on generally have anything up to 10 jobs per week, I figured that’s not too bad and I may as well spread my wings as far as possible, and signed up.

    The issues I’ve encountered:

    * You never see the UK Voices ‘jobs’ advertised on any other agency site, nor vice versa. All the others have noticable crossover.

    * As mentioned above…phone-in auditions? Especially if half the point of them is that you’re saying you can work from home; you need -proof- of your home setup and its quality.

    * There is no confirmation of application

    * There is no feedback from applications

    * Jobs appear perhaps two per week, or sometimes not at all, which leads me nicely into….

    * The “money back” promise. The fine print states that you get a refund if you a) apply for one job per week, and b) do not get into the ‘final shortlist’ for any job you apply for. The problem here is twofold.

    i) Most weeks, there is at least one ‘job’ to apply for. However, twice now there have been gaps of more than two weeks between advertised jobs. According to their conditions, as you didn’t apply for a job in that time, you’re out of the money back offer. Never mind that there were no new jobs to apply for.

    ii) As there is no feedback, you don’t know whether you’ve got through to the ‘final shortlist’ of anything. All they would have to do is say “well, you were shortlisted for (pick “job” at random here)” and they get out of it that way also.

    As you can tell, I bitterly regret joining the site, but most of all I bitterly regret coughing up £60 which I’m not going to see again.

  13. Gary says:

    Hi Steve, sorry for the slow reply – the site had a hack attack that broke everything for a bit.

    Sounds like you’ve had a rotten experience – thanks for adding to the comments.

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