Being a voiceover agent

 7 April 2011

Jess Manley is an agent with Damn Good Voices, an agency that offers voiceover representation to actors and broadcasters. Finding voice work for others is an interesting challenge.

Jess Manley is an agent with Damn Good Voices.
Jess Manley is an agent with Damn Good Voices.

Starting as a voice agent

Damn Good Voices started as part of another company, Crying Out Loud, who make voice reels for actors. The director found he had a lot of talent coming in to make reels. That made him think he was missing a trick.

So he set up his own agency to represent some of the people he’d been making reels for. Jess started out as his assistant, helping promote the agency as it started. But her role soon increased.

“I progressed on to working for the voices more. I do bookings and preparing them for jobs. It’s being a schedule organiser most of the time.”

Finding voiceover work

It’s hard finding work as an actor. Whether on stage or in a recording studio, jobs are thin on the ground. Jess finds it tough to get as much work for her voices as she would like to.

“One job might go on over the course of several months, but only be a small amount, a basic studio fee, each time.

"Other jobs are coming in for a lot more money but are one-off. So it’s trying to constantly build relationships with companies. Most of the time it’s just calling and saying ‘please use our voices, because they’re great.’”

“If you listen to the radio, or the television, you can often recognise the voices for tie-ins and commercials. People really want recognisable voices. If you happen to be known for something, then you’re probably going to be coming in at a certain level.

"But you can go the hard way and you’ll get there in the end. Not impressions, but people who’ve got something to their voice - like Penelope Keith, or whoever - do actually get a lot of work, because not everyone can afford the real things!”

The challenges of being an agent

Earning money

Something that frustrates Jess is the amount of undercutting that goes on in the voice industry. It’s not just unscrupulous companies offering poor wages. Often, it’s the actors themselves undermining the levels of pay.

“From an agent’s point of view, everything should be Equity minimum. Especially in the voiceover industry.

"Often we are forced into giving seriously good deals to companies because they’re otherwise just going to go around and ask for voices who will do it for well under Equity minimum.”

Managing relationships

A voice actor won’t audition often. A casting director listens to their voice reel without ever meeting them. It’s easy to feel divorced from the work and frustrations can get taken out on the agent.

"A voice needs to have good pitch, a high level of sustained energy."

Agents have very similar frustrations, and Jess' advice is to keep things on a friendly footing.

“I feel awkward when I’m on the other end of the phone thinking ‘I’ve been trying to get this person work all day, I hope they know that!’

"Whereas if someone called me and said ‘oh, I just went to see this play’, or just wants to have a chat, then they’re going to be at the forefront of my mind when a job comes up that they might be right for.”

Advice for working in voiceover

Being a voice artist

"They don’t necessarily have to be an actor. Think about the stuff you hear on the radio, think about those hard pitch commercials: 'Buy more mattresses!'

“That’s someone who needs to have good pitch. Someone who needs to have a high level of sustained energy, someone who is used to studios.”

Broadcasters make excellent voiceover artists on those grounds. Their experience in the stressful environment of a recording studio really pays off.

Preparing a voice reel

But for anyone thinking of being a voice, a good voice reel is an absolute must.

“Like with headshots, have a voice reel made that might be a little more expensive, but that’s well worth it. Have it broadcast-quality for sure.

"Do a good variety of voices for the reel, but have a good few examples of the thing you really feel is going to sell.”

Becoming a voice agent

“I’d say there’s a lot of great agents out there. If you want to get into being a voiceover agent, go and work in someone’s office as their assistant or go and do an internship.”

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