If you are ever in a Facebook group for digital nomads or frequent travelers, the number one question that seems to be asked every single day if not multiple times a day is “How can I earn money to travel?”.
Either this question is answered with snide remarks because it gets asked a million times or the comments fill up with 101 ways to earn money to travel. Yet for all the responses I have seen, no one has ever mentioned doing voice-overs.
The perfect portable business:
Voice-over work is the perfect, portable business. You can record audio anywhere you can get great quality sound using a simple travel kit for your studio equipment or find a recording studio.
What is a voice-over?
It’s basically an acting role using only your voice. You audition for voice roles and if you are selected, you record the voice-over as instructed and you get paid.
What does it take to do voice-overs?
A voice, some practice, a way to record good audio and more than a little persistence when auditioning for roles.
I was tempted to say “a good voice” but that’s too subjective. With voice-overs, no matter what your voice actually sounds like, it is up to those in need of the service to determine if it’s right for their project. You just want to make sure you put your best effort into practicing and creating a great demo to showcase your voice.
How do I get started?
The first thing you want to do is start practicing and training yourself to do good reads over and over. While you’re doing that, decide which voice-over styles you would like to do.
Here are some common voice-over styles: Narration, Announcement, Commercial, Corporate, Biography, Character, Internet, Inspiration and Education.
For example, I’m only interested in doing narration. More specifically, I only do documentary and relaxation voice-overs. My voice is best suited for these type of voice projects.
Practice makes perfect or at least it makes things easier:
Once you feel comfortable with your voice and your ability to deliver clean, smooth reads and you've decided which voice-over styles you want to do, then it’s time to get some real-life experience.
One of my favorite ways to get a little experience is to join groups and forums for online radio broadcasters. Once I get an idea of who needs what, I offer to do their station calls, DJ drops and even their promos for free.
TIP: If you are a female, many online radio broadcasters will be eager to take you up on your free offer. Many of them are male and have ample access to male voices (even their own) but little or no access to female voices.
You can continue to get practice and exposure by offering to do voice work for free. I find doing voice work so enjoyable and relaxing that I didn’t mind doing short projects for little or no money. Of course, you don’t want to do this forever but it’s not too much work to do for free when you are first starting out. No, seriously, don't do this for too long. Get a little practice and then start charging.
Time to make a demo:
When you feel ready, it’s time to make a great demo. Your demo is your first opportunity to attract clients. It should compel them to offer you a chance to audition. So you want to put only your best material in your demo (not ALL of your material, just the best).
If you don’t have samples for the voice-over styles you are interested in, then create them on your own. Avoid using scripts available online. You can review them for guidance but write your own scripts or use a professional demo service. Make sure they are of the highest quality.
TIP: Audio quality must be your number one priority. This includes your read and the overall audio itself. Do you want to be a high-end player or a low-end player? It’s your decision.
What kind of demo do I need?
You need more than one. For example, I specialize in narration only. But I wanted to be more specific and niche down to only documentary and promo narration. I also do relaxation voice work. So I made one demo for documentary and promo narration and one demo for relaxation audio.
I have also made a demo for audio book narration, however, I’m less likely to pursue it as much because of the amount of hours it takes to do it. But it’s still a great option.
For the sake of your demo and your voice-over business, pick the best type of voice-over style for your voice and skill level. You can always make changes later. Start simple and do what you do best. My natural voice is perfect for narration and more specifically, smooth, relaxing narration that does not require dramatic acting. It makes sense for me to focus on what I can do best and so should you.
How do I make a demo?
Now that you have an idea of what kind of demos you need, you have a few choices for getting them done. You could produce them yourself if you have a quiet environment and good recording equipment and software. Or you could go to a recording studio, preferably one with experience doing voice-over demos, and have the demo recorded professionally. I’m an advocate of both.
If you are going to a studio to record, prepare and practice your demo material extensively before you go. This will save you time and money. When you get there, you should be able to easily get it done with fewer takes and walk out with a great demo.
If you decide to record it yourself, still prepare and practice your demo material before you start recording. You will forever thank yourself for having done so. There is nothing worse than recording a ton of takes just to have to listen to all of them again during the editing phase. I shoot for a maximum of two good takes for any one style per project.
There are many fantastic software choices for recording good audio. I won’t create a giant list of those choices. There are many resources available online for that. However, I will share the only two programs I use for producing voice-overs.
Adobe Audition: It has always been a simple yet powerful audio recording tool since the days it was called Cool Edit Pro and not owned by Adobe. I loved it then and I also love what Adobe did to improve it. It allows you to record individual tracks or multiple tracks in one session file. There is also a plethora of plugins you can use with it, including one for the awesome software mentioned below (although I prefer to use iZotope as a standalone program).
iZotope RX 6 Advanced: There are few words that can express the awesomeness of this software. What it does for audio can seem almost magical. You always want to strive for the best quality audio possible but sometimes, you still get background noise, hiss, hum and other nonsense you don’t want. This software will help you easily and magically remove unwanted noise as well as do many other wonderful things with your audio.
What equipment should I use:
Here is where I’m supposed to tell you to either use crap like a cell phone or go to the abyss and tell you to use equipment neither you nor I can afford. I’m not going to do either.
Look, if you want to record using high-end equipment, you might as well get to a recording studio and get the engineer to go with it. This is the sensible thing to do when you are ready to go with the more expensive stuff. You are a traveler, you don’t want or need to haul around a bunch of expensive recording equipment.
On the other end of the spectrum, you are not doing voice-over work on Fiverr or Upwork (if you are, this article isn’t for you). Therefore, don’t go trying to use a cell phone and Garage Band to record voice-overs. Again, you are a traveler, you are trying to help fund your lifestyle with an enjoyable career doing voice-overs. You want to make a good impression and be known for doing good quality work to make this a reality.
So what equipment should you buy? I’m still not giving a list but I would recommend you spend as much as you can afford for the best you can afford just short of pushing you into the “just go to a recording studio” category. You should also visit the websites of voice-over artists who are successful and productive. Many of them list what equipment they use. This was very helpful to me in determining what affordable yet high-quality equipment I could use to get the job done.
Going all in:
Now that you have a general demo created and a few specialized demos, it’s time for a website and payment process. Don’t leave home without’em.
Seriously, if you plan on doing voice-overs as a business, you will need a nice website. It doesn't have to be too fancy. It just has to be nice-looking and functional. It’s your business card so to speak. So you need to be able to drive traffic to something that is enticing for potential clients. A simple one-pager with multiple sections will do.
For example, my voice-over website is only one page. The key elements on the page are demos, a little about me and a way to contact me about projects. This is all you really need to get started.
For your payment process, you want to have a way to send clients invoices and use a payment processor that works for you. I personally use Stripe for payment processing but you can use any one that you like. Then you can sign up for invoicing services that can connect with your payment processor so it’s a seamless one-step process.
The business side of fun:
Now it’s official. You've decided what type of voice work you want to do, you've practiced and did stuff for free, you've made your demos and your website and payment process is done. Now you have to come up with some business rules to live by. Here are some questions you should answer for your business.
What is my turnaround time?
How will I handle requests for modifications? Will they be free or will I charge? If they are free, how many modifications will I allow for free? Unlimited or a set amount?
What will I charge for my services? Will it be a flat fee or hourly? Will it be different depending on the project?
How will I deliver the finished product? What file formats? What method, like email, ftp, dropbox, etc.?
What kind of final product am I willing to deliver? For example, are you willing to add music and sound effects, ect. if requested? If so, are you willing to spend money on building a good library of royalty-free music and sound effects, etc.? How much will you charge for the extra work?
These are the very basic questions to get you started but don’t over-think it. You can always adjust you business as you go along. For example, I've kept mine super simple. I deliver audio that contains only my voice with no music, sound effects or processing of any kind and my prices depend on the length and scope of the project.
You also want to take a look at the voice-over rate guide to decide how much money to charge. For the love of all things magical, try to stick to these rates. It's fine to charge more but charging lower is not in anyone's best interest; especially yours.
Looking for voice-over work:
Now it’s time to make a little loot. You need to get your voice into the ears of people looking to hire voice talent.
Here are a list of free places to look for work to get you started:
Get comfortable just auditioning for as many roles as you like. Try to have a set amount of auditions you’d like to do every week and adjust the number to your needs as you business grows.
And that’s all folks. Audition - tweak - audition - tweak - get paid - tweak.