How to become a freelance voiceover artist

A radio presenter, who had a background in acting. That was me about 15 years ago before I became a freelance voiceover artist, writes IPSE Covid Success Story Award-Winner Faye Dicker, founder of Freelance Mum.

But how can you become a freelance voiceover artist, yourself? Later, I’ll share a little more about me to see if you can leverage what I l leveraged, but before that -- here’s five fundamentals to becoming a self-employed voiceover artist.

1. Showreels

If you’re going to be a voiceover artist, then you’re going to need a good showreel!

Or showreels, depending on how many genres you fit into. The trouble with getting a showreel, is it’s a bit of ‘chicken and egg’ situation – you can’t get work without a showreel and you can’t get a showreel without any work!

So you can do one of two things – edit your own showreel, or invest in getting one properly produced.

Personally, I’d go for the professionally produced one. But do your homework – there are lots of voiceover courses you can go on; get a bit of experience and if nothing else, practise at home first.

Remember, if you’re going to spend some money, you want to be confident in what you’re doing. A good producer will be honest and get the best out of you. Some voiceover courses to check out include Gravy for the Brain, Tanya Rich’s, and Brava’s.

2. Get Marketing (and join a voiceover directory or two)

Once you have your shiny new showreel – you need to tell the world what you’re doing! So get marketing.

The work won’t just land in your lap, so it’s important the industry knows about YOU. If you’ve got the money, get a website and host your showreels. If you’re bootstrapping it, you can host your showreels on places like SoundCloud, and then share the links.

Regardless, of which route you go down, do some research and sign up to a few directories. There are many on the market, so take your time to research the ones that work for you. Three to potentially get you started include Mandy; Bodalgo and Voiceovers.

Unlike agents, directories don’t take a cut. But you pay to list your showreels on them. Some offer free listings or trails on their site first, which are worth a go. Some specifically put your name forward for jobs and others you have to audition for. It’s worth considering, if you’re paying to list on a site which you need to audition for the jobs, considering if you’re around to submit auditions. It’s annoying and a shame to pay to be on a site if you’re not available for auditions!

3. Set up a GOOD home studio for voiceover recordings

With your showreel and directory subscriptions in place, you’re going to need a GOOD home studio!

Although there will be occasions when you need to go into a studio, chances are you’re going to be working from home, so you’ll need a decent studio.

By ‘decent’ I don’t mean it needs to be state of the art – but it does NEED to be properly sound-proofed. While I look back and smile at my first ‘studio’ --  a converted cupboard, in many ways it was the best. The smaller the space, the better. You don’t want too much space for the sound to bounce around!

If you are on a budget, duvets tacked to walls and the ceiling (and don’t forget the bit behind your head needs plenty of sound proofing too), will certainly give you a nice ‘dead’ sound.

With a bit more money, you might want to invest in acoustic tiles or even a sound booth.

I spent years working from corners of rooms, with a heavy curtain around me and duvets tacked on every wall! Sounds okay but it gets VERY hot in the summer! It wasn’t until we bought our family home that I was finally able to invest in sound panels, which give the space for the ultimate dead sound.

If you need a technical point in the right direction, do enlist the help of a studio engineer to get expert advice. For me, that’s been Rob at BDoubleE.

4. Consider an agent

I often get asked if I have an agent – and yes I do! But I didn’t have an agent until I was established as a voiceover artist.

So you don’t need an agent to work as a voiceover artist; you can still generate work yourself by sending out your showreel and signing up to a few directories. It’s obviously helpful if you’ve got someone actively seeking work on your behalf, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be busy without an agent.

If you’re looking for representation, check out a few agencies, look at their fees and if they’re taking on new voices. Some accept/consider new voices at set points in the years; others always have open books. And some will be at capacity. Make sure you have shiny new showreels at the ready and can quickly email the links over!

5. Carve out your niche(s)

There are so many different types of voiceover work, so have a think about which area you want to specialise in.

Is it audio books? Will you specialise in the corporate market? Or do you have a voice like plasticine and so can turn your hand to characters!?

By no means do you have to work in one area. Many voiceover artists excel in several areas, but have a good think about which area suits you and your lifestyle best.

For example, audio books are typically recorded from your home studio – which comes with a lot of editing, but it’s great if you can project-manage your workload.

By contrast, radio adverts tend to be recorded on the day, so you need to be available to record it there and then. And just to add to the mix, corporate clients often email in advance and ask for your availability!

Once you’ve given it some thought, send them an email with links to your work. Then, once you’ve recorded some samples for them, update your showreel with your latest examples!

Extra top tip: always be front of mind!

As with all freelance work, it pays to be front of mind for when a new commission comes up. So make sure your showreels are shiny, and you’re front of mind (be it via directory listings, an agent or emailing producers).

And then be responsive and reliable. If you do a good job and deliver on time, chance are they’ll use YOU again.

So keep at it – talent is nothing without determination!

And finally, here’s how I made it...

As mentioned at the outset, I took the plunge into freelancing as a voiceover artists some 15 years ago, when I was a radio presenter with a background in acting.

From my radio perch, I could see that working in the media industry was precarious and I thought voiceovers would be a useful string to my bow. Not to mention it sounded fun – I liked the idea of talking to myself for a living!

After doing my ‘due diligence’ (which started with just chatting to a few friends who were also voiceover artists), I decided to set up my own voiceover studio. My parents knew I was struggling and leant me £3,000 to buy the equipment I needed to get started, with the message ‘We believe in you Faye.’ They didn’t have much money and on quiet days in my early days doing voiceovers on a self-employed basis, knowing they believed in me really kept me motivated!

In terms of practicalities, I converted a good-sized cupboard, ran electricity through it and found just enough room to stick a seat in. And hey presto -- my first make-shift voiceover studio! It quickly paid for itself several times over and 15 years on, I’m finally working from my own ‘proper’ space from home. Like many industries, there are no ‘hard and fast’ rules on how to get into voiceovers on a self-employed basis, but the above five have been fundamental to amplifying my freelance career as a voiceover artist. Good luck!