Heard But Not Seen: Actors Use Their Voices to Bring the Written Word to Life
It takes more than a pleasant speaking voice to become a successful voice actor. Cassandra Campbell, who has narrated more than 200 audiobooks in a variety of genres, was a theater actress and teacher of dramatic arts before a friend suggested she audition as a reader. Like other successful voice actors, Campbell knows how to engage listeners with her tone and expression, even though, of course, they never see her. The field is competitive, but those who get hired enjoy the kind of flexibility that makes for a balanced work and family life.
Voice actors provide their voices for animated films and television shows, audiobooks, commercials, documentaries, dubbed films and video games. Modern technology lets voice actors work from anywhere, so many use home-recording studios.
No formal education requirements are established that lead to voice acting as a career. It's helpful to take acting classes and work with a voice coach. Community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and private acting schools offer a range of course options that can get you started. It also helps if you love to read and can read well. Voice actors read from scripts or books; the fewer mistakes they make, the less costly and time-consuming the editing process.
About the Industry
Most voice actors work on a freelance basis, which means they're hired for each recording project separately. You can market yourself directly, but most successful voice actors have an agent who helps them put together a demo reel and introduce them to casting directors. To build your professional network, you may want to join SAG-AFTRA, which brings together the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federal of Television and Radio Artists. Representing a wide range of media performers, including voice actors, the union works to improve the wages, benefits and working conditions for all its members.
Top voice actors tend to be in demand; studios like working with individuals they know, so it can be difficult for a newbie to break in. The best-paying jobs are ones in which the actor gives voice to an animated character in a movie or for an entire season in a television show. Many jobs are single-session assignments, however, and voice actors are continually looking for the next gig.
Years of Experience
The distinctive voice stylings of Mike Rowe ("Dirty Jobs" and "The Deadliest Catch") have made him a multi-millionaire, but most voice actors make considerably less. An actor may be paid anywhere from $20 to $100+ per hour, but remember, pay is by a per-job contractual basis and not a weekly salary.
Statistics are not available for voice acting as a separate category, but median salary for all actors/performers is $54,828. Median means that half of those in the field make more, while half make less. Years of experience do not necessarily translate to higher pay, but some average annual salary ranges include:
- Less than one year of experience: $46,773 to $53,388
- 7 to 9 years of experience: $51,660 to $57,540
- 10 to 14 years of experience: $53,820 to $60,252
- 20+ years of experience: $54,828 to $61,699
Job Growth Trend
Even though the acting field, including voice acting, is very competitive, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs will grow at a rate of about 12 percent over the next decade, higher than average compared to all other jobs. Growth in the industry, along with new technologies for animation and gaming, will continue to open opportunities for talented voice actors.