Friday, March 27, 2009

The Role of the Amatuer in the Voice Acting Industry

Stephanie Ciccarelli, the primary public voice (no pun intended) of, recently broached the topic of establishing an amateur tradition in the voice over industry in a post on her profile. I quickly became engrossed in the resulting online conversation. While attempting to add my comments to those already posted on her Facebook page, I realized that I had more to say on the subject than could be conveniently written in that forum. So here are some my musings on the topic.

One of the first questions asked in response to Stephanie's post addressed what is meant by "amateur tradition." While pondering this, I realized that there are basically two elements of the definition of amateur that concern us: why and how.

Most formal definitions have an entry that reads similar to this: "a person who engages in a study, sport or activity for pleasure rather than financial profit or professional reasons." Many of us are aware that the root of the word comes from a French term that means "to love" or "one who loves." This is the why element, the underlying motivation for engaging in an endeavor.

Let me illustrate this with a personal example. I studied theater and classical voice extensively in college, but ultimately decided not to pursue either as a professional career. However, I am still very active in the performing arts, both as a community theater actor and as an classical vocalist. Because of my innate talent and subsequent training I am capable of presenting professional-quality performances, yet I still consider myself an amateur (or semi-professional at most, since I am occasionally paid for my singing). This does not speak to the quality of the performance, only to the fact that I do not attempt to derive any substantial income from my ventures. I perform onstage out of love for the art, not to make a living.

Voice acting, though, has become something different now. Even as an novice voice actor who has spent far more money getting into the industry than I have gotten out of it yet, I consider myself a professional for the simple fact that this is a business. Yes, I love what I do, but my primary motivation is to provide a service for a client in exchange for payment. Because I want to be paid well, I strive to provide the highest quality service possible. And this leads us to the second element: how.

Love for an endeavor does not necessarily translate to a sufficient ability to enact it as well as others. Thus we have the following subsidiary definition: "a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity." And herein lies our trouble.

As professionals, it is not the talented amateur who records a few projects that threatens us, any more than the community theater around the corner is a serious threat to the income of the actors in the professional company downtown. What we are fighting against is amateurishness. We don't want someone to come along and present an inferior service or product and call it voice acting. That is an affront to our pride in our craft.

I think most of us in the voice acting industry are a combination of the professional and the amateur. We make our livings with what we do, but we also love our work, and we take pride in the professionalism with which we approach it and the quality of the product we provide.

So what is the role of the amateur in our industry? I think it is two-fold because there are two kinds of amateur: the rookie and veteran. The rookies are those who are curious about our craft and want to learn more. We need this kind of amateur because they are the stock from which new professionals--much like myself--arise to refresh our industry.

And to keep that dreaded amateurishness from creeping into our craft, we need to remember the second class of amateur: the veteran--those of us who are working professionals who love what we do and want to preserve its rich tradition. It is the role of the veteran to protect the quality of our art, and we do that by being a mentoring resource for those who are inexperienced.

That is what the amateur tradition in voice over really is: the effort to both preserve and renew a craft we love.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Getting an Education in Voice Acting (Part 1)

I made my first foray into the world of voice acting by taking an introductory class on the industry at a local community college. The class was taught by Michael Massa, a professional voice actor and a producer/instructor with Creative Voice Development Group (aka Voice Coaches) in Schenectady, New York (

As an introductory class, the material covered was very general and much of it I already knew from my own research into the industry. However, as many of these introductory seminars are designed to be, this was also a bit of a recruiting device. Attendees had the opportunity to record a sample spot and have it evaluated by the Voice Coaches client services director, Don Bowers. I eagerly took advantage of this opportunity to get some feedback from a voice professional with over 40 years in the industry.

Don called me the next morning morning and reviewed my take with me. It was enlightening, and i enjoyed hearing a professional evaluation of my work, even if it was short. The review was followed up with an offer for further training with Voice Coaches staff. I did not jump into the offer at that moment, but I did take some time over the next few days to look over the information I had received previously from Mike Massa, in addition to taking a look at the website.

Let me take a moment to talk about the different kinds of educational opportunities that prospective voice actors may encounter. There are an inordinate purveyors of voice over training available. A search on Google this morning for "voice over training" returned over 20,000,000 results. Obviously, there are not 20,000,000 different programs out there, but this gives you an idea of how many different options are available.

And for every different kind of program, there are as many different opinions among voice professionals as to what is the most effective format. It is important that you do your research, and find a program that fits your needs, your budget, and especially, your level of commitment.

I highly recommend reading the opinions of professional voice actor, producer and coach Michael Minetree ( He makes some very valid points about the voice actor training industry, and although I eventually chose to train with a program that he would probably consider less effective than his one-on-one training, he has some very strong arguments for avoiding the numerous demo mill and telecourse progams that are available.

That being said, here's a description of four programs I took a serious look at:
  • The Great Voice Company (
    Susan Berkley, voice of AT&T and Citibank, and author of "Speak To Influence: How To Unlock The Hidden Power Of your Voice," is the personality behind this training program. In my Google search, this was the first website in the results list. My primary interest in this program came from the fact that it was the first one I looked into, and seemed like a good choice for someone looking to get into the business quickly. Ultimately I felt that the program was too impersonal and the promises of earning potential were emphasized too much ("Got A Great Voice?You Could Be Sitting On A Gold Mine…") over the amount of work required and risks involved. That turned me off to this option pretty quickly.

  • Michael Minetree, Minewurx Studios ( I REALLY like Michael's approach to voice training. His website states that his training "adheres to one very firm belief; the only way to successfully coach voice over talent is one on one." Of all the programs I looked at, this one seems to present the most comprehensive and effective preparation for the serious student. If finances and impatience were not a concern for me, I would have signed up in a moment. As it was, I chose another route. We'll have to wait and see if the comes back to bite me. Regardless, I very well might go through his program in the future once I have access to greater financial resources.

  • VoiceActing Academy (
    James Alburger is an (11-time) Emmy-award winning audio producer and director, and he’s also a talented voiceover artist. Along with Penny Abshire, this creative team offers many levels of education to both the beginner and the veteran voice actor. The following quote from their website says a lot about their approach, and echoes many of the concerns that Minetree addresses. "There are many voiceover coaches who will tell you that you can make a lot of money in voiceovers, and some will suggest that making all this money is easy... The truth is that some people do make a lot of money in voiceover, but they’ve been perfecting their business and performing skills for many years... Most people who get into voiceover have no idea what’s involved, or that to be successful may require a substantial investment of time, energy, and money." Alburger is one of the best known coaches in the business, and has written several books, including "The Art of Voice Acting," an essential volume for any beginning voice actor. I think the primary reason I did not choose Alburger's workshops was that I had met in person with a member of another organization. This speaks volumes on the importance of face-to-facenetworking in this business, but that's a topic for a different time.

  • Voice Coaches / Creative Voice Development (
    David Bourgeois and his team at Voice Coaches combine their extensive professional experience to provide training to aspiring Voice Actors and communication professionals across the country. Two things in particular impressed me about their approach to voice over training: First, they don't present the opportunities in voice acting with any kind of rosy gloss. From my introductory class with Mike Massa to their written materials and the one-on-one training sessions, the difficulty of succeeding in this business without great commitment and patience was continually emphasised. No one promised me instant riches, but after what (I felt) was an honest evaluation of my potential, I was told that with hard work and perserverance, I would have the chance to be successful. Second, this is a group of industry professionals that LOVE what they do. Everyone I might had such a positive attitude, and I was constantly reminded that they are in this business because they have a passion for it and really enjoy what they are doing.

There were a number of other programs I looked at, but again these were the programs that I investigated the most. After a great deal of consideration, I found that I was really attracted to the services and educational philosophy of the Voice Coaches. Also, the ability to make reasonable payments over time was essential because of my lack of significant financial resources. And, as I mentioned above, the fact that I had taken an introductory course from one of their producers already and had spoken on the phone with another person on their staff made a huge difference. And so--with some very important encouragement from my wife--I set aside my worries and made a commitment to enroll in the training program.

In my next post, I'll describe my experiences as I learned about the art of Voice Acting while participating in the Voice Coaches program.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hi, I'm a Voice Actor!

"Hi, my name is Joseph, and I am a voice actor."

Some might say that the previous statement is somewhat presumptuous. After all, I don't have a degree in communications or an official certificate hanging on my wall. I've never worked in radio. I have never been hired to record a single commercial or narration. I don't even have a demo to play for you (yet).

So how can I claim to be a voice actor? I recall reading some advice from a veteran voice actor to VO newbies like me. The point was essentially this: don't wait until you finally get a demo made, or get that first gig, or get your home studio put together, or whatever other benchmark you can think of. Being a voice actor is, at least in the beginning, is more a state of mind than a state of work. Someone who seriously pursues becoming a voice actor becomes one when the choice is made and the action begins.

Case is point: I have thought about getting into voice overs for years. My father was in radio when I was young, and continued to occasionally get some work as a voice over artist while I was young even after his primary career changed to a different field. Consequently, I have been fascinated with radio. I don't know how many times over the years I was alternately teased about or received compliments on my "announcer voice." So I knew I had some inherent talent.

I also have a strong background in performance art. I studied classical voice performance and theater in college, earned a degree in music, and have nearly 20 years of amateur stage experience and more than five years as a semi-professional classical vocalist. This has confirmed that I most likely have the talent and skills necessary to be successful in the field.

And so I found myself, now in my mid-30's, thinking how much I would really like to get into doing voice over work. Not actually doing anything about it, mind you, other than occasionally asking people I encountered from local radio stations about it. Just thinking and dreaming.

I was NOT a voice actor.

Last fall I decided that if I was really serious about this dream, I ought to put some serious work into investigating the field, so I signed up to take an introductory class on voice acting at a local community college. I started doing a lot of research online about how to become a voice actor. I even started profiles on several voice over community websites.

I attended that introductory class on October 23, 2008, and it really confirmed my interest both my interest and my belief that I could be successful. By this time I was seriously thinking about spending some money on getting some training with a voice coach and had begun looking at several programs. I was sure that I had what it took... I just wasn't sure I had the money yet to get started. Someday though... someday very soon.

But I was still not a voice actor.

That all changed on the afternoon of Oct. 28, 2008. I didn't realize it for a few more weeks, but that was the moment when I transitioned from being an aspiring voice actor to an actual voice actor. I still hadn't taken any classes, I hadn't gained any sudden experience or education, and I certainly hadn't gotten any work in the field. So what was the difference?

I made a simple choice, and more importantly, I took action on the choice. I wasn't just going to think or dream about being a voice actor, or take a few classes to make sure if I really had what it took. I simply decided I was going to become a voice actor, and so I became one.

The particular action I took involved in making a substantial financial investment in a voice coaching and demo production program. That was the first step in a very exciting journey that I have now been on for a little over four months. But it was the fact that I stopped dreaming and started doing that really changed what I was.

As I mentioned above, it took me some time to realize that it was this moment that was the catalyst of change in my status. And that status can change again as soon as I stop acting on my choice. But until--and only if--that happens, I will be a voice actor.