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How To Build a Portfolio Without Giving Your Voice Away For Free

Aug 17, 2007
There are many practical and rewarding ways to go about gaining experience and prospective clients. When I had a few moments at VOICE 2007 to myself (very rare moments, I assure you), I got thinking about ways that you could create a respectable voice over portfolio without undercutting for work, or worse, giving your voice overs away for free to people who could pay for the service you provided but had chosen to take advantage of you instead. Many beginner voice talent find themselves in a bit of a quandary. They can't get an agent because they haven't received any work, and they need an agent (or so some may think) in order to get the work in the first place!

It's the age old question: What came first? The Chicken or the Egg? I've always subscribed to the philosophy that the chicken came first. If not, how would the egg have survived? There are many dangers out there for aspiring talent just waiting to take advantage of them. When you think in terms of being the chicken as opposed to the egg, you are given a variety of choices and the ability to pick the best solution for you to carry you through the longterm when building a voice over career. I often say and reiterate frequently that voice over is not an easy business or a cakewalk. It's a business first of all and one that demands vocal talent as well as technical skills in order to succeed as a work from home or independent studio operation. One of the best ways to gain experience in both the voice over and recording process (that is of no cost to you) is to volunteer and learn from others who can mentor you. Here are some ideas to gain experience in specific voice over niches:

1. Narration and Audio Books

If you'd like to try your hand at recording for audio books or narration pieces, consider starting with some public domain material available at Project Gutenberg. This database contains tens of thousands of works that are in the public domain that you can practice with or record that are royalty-free and no cost to you to download. Another resource available to you in this field is to join the community at LibriVox.org. I happen to have met the founder, Hugh McGuire, at PodCamp in Toronto. Essentially, this is a community of people who are dedicated to producing audio books that are in the public domain. These audio books are accessible for people to download. The service acts as a creative outlet for many, community, and a means for amateur voice talent to record audio books and receive reviews from others on the website.

2. Children's Books and Voice Acting

Volunteer at local libraries, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and so on. Oftentimes, these organizations are more than thrilled to accept your offer to volunteer and you have the opportunity to make a direct impact on individual people or a group of people. This is also an excellent way to get comfortable with reading aloud and developing characters. Your audience will let you know how you are doing and you may find yourself feeding off of them, becoming a better storyteller and voice actor for it.

3. Character Voices and Animation Voice Overs

Join a small voice acting or theatre group that performs radio and or audio drama. There are several groups that you can be a part of online if you are looking for international communities and others that are locally based. Elie Hirschman is a member of Darker Projects, a community of voice talent from around the world who produce audio dramas. Elie has mentioned this group before in his Biz segments on the VOX Talk podcast. Dave Johnson runs a voice acting group in San Diego called the Amateur Voice Acting Group. You can build a credit list through roles that you have performed and count it as voice acting experience.

4. PSAs and Commercials

To try your hand at this kind of work, you could volunteer at non profit organizations or charities. You could look at this volunteering as a form of community service or as a donation or gift. A great example of some serious VO donating was shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck. Voice talents including Peter O'Connell lent their voices in PSAs created for the American Red Cross to help spread the message and encourage financial donations to help facilitate rescue and rebuilding efforts.

5. Technical Skills

If you need to hone your technical recording and editing skills, see if you can arrange to be mentored for a brief time by a professional audio engineer or voice over professional who is a proficient audio engineer. A few hours in their presence, watching, learning and applying what you've discovered, coupled with study in online forums or books will greatly help you to develop your audio editing skills. Internships or volunteering on a regular basis at actual recording facilities is also a good idea if you have the time and opportunity to do so.

Volunteering your time and talent, although still providing a service without charge, is quite different from giving your voice away for free. When you volunteer, you do it on your own terms and for the good of others, receiving more than you gave in return. Referrals (or treasures) will be more likely to spring for you professionally from the seeds that you had sown when volunteering your time and talent.
About the Author
Stephanie Ciccarelli is the VP of Marketing with Voices.com, the voice over marketplace hosting more than 10,000 professional voice talents. Stephanie is also the author of The Definitive Guide To Voice-Over Success.
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