IamA Professional Voice Talent...Ask Me Anything
I have been professionally recording radio and TV commercials since 2007. I have voiced over 1,000 commercially aired spots, and I am currently under contract with HBO Latin America as the voice of HBO Plus in the Caribbean.
Here's my site: http://www.dansharfinvoiceover.com/
Here's your proof that I'm me (see "contact" page of site): http://imgur.com/lP4Gd5Q
EDIT: Wow, on the response everyone! I'm pleasantly surprised at the number of questions (i was expecting like, 2 hecklers at most). I will try to answer as much as I can. There have been some repeats, so please read the other answers if I don't address you directly. THANKS EVERYONE!
EDIT: Thanks again, everyone. This was fun. I'm still around to answer questions if you've got 'em.
My wife may kill me for this...
That fuck off look is priceless!
I get to see it like, twice a day. Haha.
Yes. She reps the U like no one's business.
Will you answer questions in audio format?
Depends on the question, I guess. I can upload an MP3 to chirbit.com and then just submit the link here if the situation calls for it.
Sounds like a really cool job. What's the most fun commercial you have done a voice over for?
It is. The most fun commercial? I've had to do some stupid voices for some commercials, which is always fun for me. But I think the most fun I've had with a commercial was doing one in Spanish, since I speak a very limited amount of Spanish. The Cuban audio engineer said I nailed the accent, so I was really proud, and had a good time with it.
Don't let other people tell you what to do with your life and don't be afraid to fail. They go hand in hand. If you try and fail, at least you know you failed because you couldn't do it, and not because you never tried. You'll be happier with the person you end up being. After all, the grass is usually greener on the other side because the other side is fertilized with bullshit. It's better to find that out for yourself.
What brand of vacuum cleaner do you have?
Dyson DC24 All Floors.
I am very interested in getting into V.O.work. Lots of people tell me I have a great radio voice and in fact have gone to school for radio. I have read "The Art of Voice Acting" by James Alburger. My question is what is the best way to get started in the industry? If it is any help I live between New York and Philadelphia.
I don't think that the way I got into the industry is particularly typical, so I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer this. You may want to attend a VO conference, or contact an agent, or take a class with a professional voice over coach. Even if you have a great voice, and even if you have "perfected" your craft, these might present some really good networking opportunities for you.
After all, if you really do have a great voice, an agent will find you work. It's how they make money.
How did you start your career? Do you have to live in a show business town to do it, or can you do it from anywhere?
I started my career by working at a good sized advertising agency that has its own studio. Essentially, I begged and begged and begged and begged for about a year for them to let me try to do commercials, and they finally let me. They didn't pay me though, and I ended up doing about $100,000 worth of work for free over the course of the next year. Then, the company laid me off from my day job, and I said to them, "Well, now that I'm not a salaried employee, you're going to pay me for the VO work. They said OK.
The answer to your second question is really complicated. I live in South Florida, so it is not necessary to live in a showbiz town. However, A LOT of national and higher tier advertising requires you to do a live audition, sometimes at the drop of a hat. If you aren't within driving range of some major studios (NY, Chicago, LA), you can miss out on a lot of opportunities.
thanks for doing the AMA.
do you use your "work" voice during sexy time?
Haha. Great question. No comment.
What is your favourite HBO program?
Game of Thrones. I'm caught up on the books too. The show is totally bad ass.
Do you see the irony in a voice actor typing out answers to his ama?
What is a reasonable level to set my speakers at?
Start low and go up from there. Speakers being too soft at first never hurt anyone. I'd hate for my voice to be the reason you can't hear the sound of your own childrens' laughter or something.
What are some voice exercises I can do to improve the quality of my voice and modulate it to give effective corporate presentations and meetings.
That's an interesting question. I also work as a copywriter at an advertising agency, and I present creative fairly often. I can't tell you anything you might find in a book as far as 'exercises' go, but I can give you some advice.
Just as with voicing commercials, there is an aspect of acting that is really necessary in a presentation. For me, I always give the strongest presentation when I can sell myself on the effectiveness and legitimacy of whatever it is I'm pitching. Once you can sell yourself on what you're pitching, it truly shows in your presentation; like an actor in a movie portraying an emotion.
You know when you're really into a movie, and when something emotional happens to the actor, you feel it too? They cry, you cry. They are angry, you get angry. They are elated, and you are happy for them. It's the same in a presentation. If you can sell yourself on what you're selling, you can sell just about anything to just about anyone.
A truly great presenter gets the audience to buy into them as much (or even more) than what they are presenting. Get behind it and own it. In the end, you're selling yourself.
Does singing help if someone wants to do this, i.e. does it help with vocal range or make you more desirable to someone who would want to hire you?
I'm not sure about the question about vocal range question, but being able to sing, and being versatile with your voice in general, certainly opens more doors for you. I work with a guy who executes all kinds of commercial jingles, and he works exclusively with a select group of random singers to do all of his work.
Do you think Dan is the best possible name, or would you just consider it better than all other ones?
The best??? Yes.
I'm curious what your take is on the industry's male domination. I've been an audio engineer for 20 years or so and I can still name 20 male VO artists for every female (hell, engineers too).
That's a really interesting question. I work with both male and female voice overs, and who is chosen depends on many factors, mostly having to do with the target demographics. Different age groups, races, and obviously the sex of the audience make a big difference, but also, the desired tone of the spot does too.
I think men probably dominate the industry because people are conditioned to associate a masculine voice to be more authoritative, and most of the voice over's you hear are telling you to do something, not suggesting that you do it.
What made you want to go into voice acting?
I've always been pretty theatrical, ever since I was a kid. I loved being in the spotlight, but I was raised in a more business minded environment, and acting never really manifested itself as an option for me. I had an AP Lit teacher in highschool who loved the sound of my voice. She always made me read all of the poems and passages to the class. That's really when I started thinking about it.
I started getting drawn more towards advertising as a career choice as I went through school, and voiceovers really seemed like a legitimate outlet for me. I had to push really hard for my company to allow me to try, and as I said earlier, I had to do a lot of work for free when I started, but it eventually paid off for me.
I really want to get into voice acting. Tell me all your secrets!! (seriously, how can somebody enter the world of voice acting on a professional level?)
Thank you for your question. Read through the other comments, because I've talked about this at length. Feel free to ask a follow up though!
Hello. People tell me I have a voice fit for narration, radio, broadcast, etc and also have a degree in audio engineering. What suggestions do you have for an aspiring voice actor? Thanks!
Having a primary skill like audio engineering is the best thing you've got going for you, because you have a built-in IN to the industry. If you REALLY want to do VO's, you should probably get a job at an agency or company that uses them, and then make yourself a killer reel based on the work they do. Just take a couple scripts that they make, read them, and edit them as if they were real spots.
Then, say to someone who makes those kinds of decisions at your company "I do voice overs, here's my reel". You might have to send your reel a few times, but that's the best way for you to get your foot in the door. Also, you'll have a paying job, so it won't seem like a burden to try and get work.
Hey Dan, thanks for the Ama. I can do numerous accent/voices. I run a fairly popular youtube channel and would LOVE to do voice over work ven if it's free, just to get my name out there. Any tips, insider advice, hook ups you can help me out with? Thanks a ton!
First of all, I share your enthusiasm for work, because I know in the industry, it can really hard to come by. However, I wouldn't ever present yourself as "willing to do work for free". Instead, I would tell people that you are "willing to do your first job on spec (or for free, whatever)", to get your foot in the door. People will take advantage of you if they can.
If you have a reel (and you should, you need one), you should just start sending it out to people...really, anyone who might pay you for work. Make a form letter, and look up agencies or production companies on the internet, and send them your reel.
Cold calling is a total bitch, but if 1 out of 100 places you call gives you shot, you could start the ball rolling on a career.
How do you get work that is paid decently? When I needed voiceover work done for a couple of my projects I just went to fiverr and had an AMAZING voiceover guy who did perfect voiceovers for $5 for a few minutes. And there seem to be plenty of people offering this kind of service. I'm impressed if you can make a living doing this.
How do I delete this comment before someone who pays me sees it?
The industry is INCREDIBLY saturated. It's very similar to acting. You can probably walk into a bistro in NYC or LA and find three or four waiters who are impressive actors, and are just biding their time trying to pay their bills before their big break. The internet makes it even more saturated, because like you said, people can just "find" talent anywhere for 5 bucks.
What it really comes down to is professionalism and reliability. Most companies want someone who will do the job consistently, and deliver a quality product time and time again on demand. Can you find that guy who you paid $5 for a voice over again? And will he definitely be able to give you a quality read, delivered in a short time frame? The answer might be yes, but it also might be no, and professional agencies and major companies can't be saddled with the potential ramifications that go along with those types of inconsistencies.
More often than not, you're going to get what you pay for. And often, you're paying for more than just a "voice".
What's your favorite kind of sandwich?
Sandwiches are GREAT.
I love a good Reuben, but ordering a Reuben at a new place can be a problem.
Give me a Monster from Laspadas every time, and you'll never go wrong. http://laspadashoagies.com/
What is the most high profile bit of v/o you have done? Anything recognisable that I might recognise?
Aside from HBO, which I can't post on my site, most of the stuff I do is on my site.
I've never done a national (US) spot. I have done some regional work though. Where do you live?
I live in England, so that may be a bit far afield :)
Yup. A little far for me.
Have you done any kids show stuff I might have seen/heard? I have a 12yo daughter so I'm used to all the Kids Next Door/Phineas & Ferb stuff.....
No, arrrg! I would love to do that kind of stuff, and it's right in my vocal range.
I always wanted to be cast in a Disney movie :)
To most people it would sound like you have the easiest job in the world. What are some downsides to your job?
It's the easiest job in the world, and I love it.
The downside is, it's really difficult to find work if you're not a major player, and the work can dry up at the drop of a hat. About four years ago, I had to "give up" temporarily, and take a day job because my biggest client fired the agency I was working with and when they dropped them, they dropped me. It was completely sudden for me.
If you can make good money doing it, it's the best, but the process of finding work and the constant rejection can be really difficult if you don't have thick skin. Every time someone says no, they are saying no to your voice. You have to be able to deal with that.
What was the hardest project you've done as a Professional Voice Talent?
One time, I had to read for 45 straight minutes, working on a time constraint. It was murder on my vocal chords, and it became increasingly more difficult to maintain my voice.
I think people don't realize how physically difficult it is to talk and talk and talk and talk. I don't think I even realized it. It gives me a really good appreciation for professional speakers, and especially for musicians. When musicians have to cancel concerts because of fatigue, I always feel like it must be their voice giving out. How some people can sing for hours blows my mind. I apparently have trouble talking for 45 minutes.
I'm going to be doing some voice acting soon and am uncertain as to the best way to prepare myself. How much time should I devote to practicing and do you have any other tips?
I practice all the time. When I hear something I like on TV or on the radio in the car, I try and emulate it. If I don't like something, I try to do it better. Always out loud. If you say something enough, it starts to come out of your mouth a little differently. You never want to present with the tonal quality of someone who's reading something. You want to come off as someone who is just talking about something.
Also, if the job calls for something upbeat, practice smiling when you are delivering the line. People can hear your smile, and if you don't practice it until you're in the booth in front of someone else, it never comes out as genuine.
Did you go to school for this? I go to Ohio Center for Broadcasting in Cincinnati and we have learned quite a bit about voice overs and commercials. What was your first gig?
No. I studied marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. I worked at a major ad agency with its own studio, and I begged and begged for about 8 months until someone let me audition for a client. I'm pretty sure I only got it because they weren't going to pay me, but either told the client they would get a discount or pocketed the difference. Either way, I didn't care. I just really wanted to get into it.
As far as getting a reel together, what type of things should be included? About how long do you think the reel should be?
Your reel shouldn't be more than a minute. You can have multiple reels if you have multiple talents (cartoon voices, accents, impressions), but don't jam them all on one reel. It will be overwhelming to whomever is listening, and if they hear something they don't like, they might just say "NEXT" and never give you a second thought.
If you are looking to get into commercials, you might want to just rip off a current commercial, and read it as if it was you who was originally cast for it. At least that way, you know that you are reading something that was professionally written for broadcast, and the person who is listening to your reel can take you seriously.
What pointers can you give to students who are about to graduate? What can we do to get our voices out there, instead of soundcloud?
Don't put all your eggs in the voiceover basket. I addressed someone else who worked as an audio engineer about this. Working at a production company or an advertising firm is a great way to make money, get noticed, and have an eventual IN for doing Voice work.
How different is your normal conversational voice from the voice you sell? Do people ever recognize/react to your voice outside the studio?
Generally speaking, it's not very different at all. I have kind of found my niche as more of a "guy next door" or "regular joe" type of voice over, so there's really not much schtick involved. Of course, that all depends upon the project.
No one ever recognizes me by my voice. Out of context, no one is ever thinking about it, ever. I have literally had people sitting in my living room, talking to me about my work, and one of my spots comes on TV and I point to the TV and say, "Hey, that's ME." And they respond with something like, "Yeah, me too..." because they don't know what I'm talking about or trying to say. I literally have to say, "No, that is my voice. That is my commercial and I am the one talking on the TV right now."
Do you get frustrated whenever you watch a program or video with sub-par voice acting? I'm an aspiring actor and whenever a video game character gives a bad reading I have to stop and facepalm.
Yes. ALL. THE. TIME.
There is currently a commercial for The Olive Garden where the woman says "Parmesan" wrong like, 8 times in the commercial. I want to throw the damn remote through the TV.
YOU HAVE ONE JOB TO DO. NAIL IT OR GTFO.
As a copywriter myself, I know the complete ins and outs of the process. I have worked for an extended period as an AE, directly with clients, and on the client side.
I will change scripts if there is something completely incorrect, but I don't make changes to scripts. Honestly, getting involved in that process at all is a nightmare. Additionally, as an outside vendor, pissing off even the lowest person on the totem pole at an agency can get you fired from an account. All someone has to do is start nagging about your work, and other people might just say "Then pick someone else."
You sound like you know the process. Clients can be extremely picky about what goes in their spots. In the end, it's often more a case of "I'm going to cover my own ass and make a change if it's necessary" rather than become part of any potential problem a client might have with a script.
In all: I feel you.
How did you get started/break into copywriting? Do you think it's possible to do without a degree?
I took a job as an Account Coordinator at an advertising agency, got promoted to an Account Executive, started doing voice work, got laid off from my AE job, and then hired on a couple years later as a copywriter at a different agency. Not the most conventional route, but I had always had my eye on doing writing/VO work.
Without a degree? Maybe, but it's probably pretty hard. I can't imagine that a big company would consider your resume without you having a degree. Of course, there are always ways around that. Especially if you had some kind of extenuating circumstances that prevented you from attending a college. The bottom line is, if you get a chance to prove you can write, can you do it?
Once you can get a job copywriting (assuming you are a good enough writer to keep your job for some period of time), a degree would almost certainly become less and less of a factor. As with any job, I would imagine that "comparable experience" would be adequate, and probably even preferred to a college degree.
You could always go the unconventional route, and take a job doing something at a company that needs copywriters, in some form other than copywriting. I'm pretty sure history is full of corporate presidents, CEO's and business owners that started in the mail room.
In the end, talent and perseverance will win out. In my opinion, there are too many undeserving people in the work force who do less than their share of contributing already.
Do you watch those voice actors on youtube like mcgoiter or brizzyvoices? If so, what do you think of them? Are they good enough to become a pro voice actor?
I don't really watch the stuff. I just did. Like, just now.
Impressionists are a little bit of a different breed. My agency uses one guy to do all our spots with impressions. He is big time, and literally does any voice we ask him. He does work for Disney, and on Family Guy and stuff like that.
I'm sure that they could find work. They obviously have equipment, and bigger followings than most. I would actually be surprised if they do not already get paid to do work for someone, somewhere.
I am a radio and Tv producer in Australia, at the company I work for we make around 300 commercials per day. Send me your voice demo and I'll see if we can do some work together!
Sounds cool! I sent you a personal message with my information. Let me know on here if you didn't receive it.
Voice acting is something I've recently thought about, but I know I have a pretty juvenile voice plus I have a bit of a lisp. Do you think it's worth pursuing? And if so, what's the best way to get started?
I've heard voice over artists with lisps. There are even a few famous actors that have a bit of a lisp. There are A LOT of roles out there for everyone. Voice Overs aren't all Don LaFontaine.
I know for a fact that often, when a client wants a teenage voice, they ask adults to do the work. The legality is waaaay less involved when you are dealing with an adult, and there are plenty of adults (you?) who can pull off a teenager or tween voice.
I don't know how serious your lisp is, but don't let it stop you. It may even give you an edge in some cases. If you feel like it's holding you back, I'm sure you can find a list of prominent politicians, actors and other famous people who have overcome speech impediments who you could draw inspiration from.
Thank you so much!
No problem. Best of luck to you!
Copywriting... did you ever feel like what you were doing was extremely repetitive? I intern'd at a talent media agency as an (unpaid) copywriter. It sucked. Worst two months of my life. Bit of office politics and power play to blame, too... the owners and all the managers - except for the nice (trilingual) PR guy and the other copywriting interns - were female. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a sexist man, it was just an interesting experience. One really vapid girl intern tried to get me 'fired', though. Like, jeeze, I'm churning out copy for you guys from 830am-5pm for you, free of charge, four days a week, and you're getting concerned this position might not be right for me because I said I was "bored"? Right.
I [n.] hate [verb+obj] copywriting [n.] Anyway, my point is: "We are the leaders innovators in the xyz region. With more than xyz years in the industry, we can provide your xyz needs quicker than [politically correct pun goes here]."
It can get pretty boring. Although, I've found through talking to different copywriters that there are a lot of different kinds of copywriting. I did some freelance work this past year that was extremely technical, and I found it pretty interesting. Now, if I had to do that technical work full time, I would probably get really tired of it really quickly, but at least it afforded me the opportunity to experience something different in my field.
My current copywriting job can get extremely repetitive, but I feel like that can be said of almost every job. To be perfectly honest with you, I feel like I'm probably just getting to the point in my career where I have put in enough work, and have enough experience to say "I think this is how this advertising campaign should ACTUALLY go," and have people at least consider it.
I think that if you're not at least 30, you probably haven't earned the right to say "The work I do is boring. I want to do more interesting work." No one gets put in the game to take the last shot before they've hit 300 in practice. No one gets to hit clean-up without swinging at 250,000 pitches in the cage. You probably wouldn't get elected to a major public office without sifting through paperwork and reading 600 page bill proposals.
That shit is all BORING. But until you do enough boring stuff that it's all second nature to you, it's hard to really make a difference in anything you do. Just think of your career as trying to climb a ladder. Even if you're able to get really high up, eventually that ladder is going to fall without a solid foundation to rest on.
Annnnnnd, I'm rambling.
TL;DR - Everyone wants to be famous, but no one wants to put the work in.
My friend doesn't have any passion to do anything with his life, except voice acting, which he's always been interested in. This has lead to him having depression, bad thoughts, and has degraded his school work. My question is, many people here have asked how to start, but what's something he can do/read to get a jump into the industry? I really think he can do it but that's not my forte.
I've said it a couple of different ways, but I'll say it again, since you seem to be trying to help your friend. The best way to get into the industry may be to do voicework as a secondary job. I am a copywriter for an advertising agency. I do voice work while I am at work at our studio, and at home on my home studio. However, I don't have to worry about my "next gig" or not getting every job, because I have a day job.
If your friend is really interested in VO work, and is passionate about it, he/she may want to consider becoming an audio engineer. If they learn that skill, they might find other outlets for their interests too, such as working with musicians and on music, being a DJ, mixing for video, working on radio and/or television, etc. There are a lot of possibilities, and a lot of them pay pretty well.
Maybe you can push them towards that, and then they can do VO work on the side, or possibly find something similar that they are passionate about.
Hey VoiceOverDan! Thanks for doing the ama-its been very interesting!
I'm not sure if you'll still read this or not, or if you'll know the answer, but I have a question for you. I've always wanted to do voice work for audiobooks as I have a good reading voice and experience as a college radio DJ; would the process of getting into that part of the industry be similar to what you have mentioned previously?
Thanks for your expertise!
If you're really passionate about audiobooks, it's a totally different world out there today than it was even 5 years ago. You don't really need to go through any of the commercial aspects that have discussed in this thread. I think the up and coming company to work with is probably ACX.
Just go to ACX.com and check that out. Might be a really good jumping off point for you.
I will certainly check it out! Thank you so much for your advice, I really appreciate it!
No prob. Good luck!
I used to sing quite well but became a smoker and stuff but now I've stopped, and I can't hold notes and it's always crackly when I sing and stuff.
how do i gt 2 hav da voice of an angle?
Start smoking again. You'll be an angel sooner than later.
Have you ever narrated a friend's actions just to piss them off?
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