An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a UK Voice Actor

Article Image
Photo Source: Anton27/Shutterstock

If you’re a performer with a knack for voices and regional accents, becoming a voice actor could add a profitable string to your bow. Once seen as the poor cousin of 'regular' acting, voiceover acting is increasingly regarded with prestige. It needn’t stop you from pursuing other projects you’re keen on, and if the work takes off, you might find you make your name voicing audiobooks or video games. 

The voice acting industry has grown exponentially in the past few years. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a sharp rise in the number of actors who turned to voiceover gigs in order to make a living from home. As a result, the market has seen a boom – but there’s always room for fresh talent.

JUMP TO

What is a voice actor and what do voice actors do?

Voice actor

aijiro/Shutterstock

Voice acting, or voiceover acting, is audio-only work that could span a number of different genres: audiobooks, commercials, radio, video games, and corporate reads among them. 

“It can be extremely lucrative,” says voice actor Brian Bowles. Fortunately, there’s no either-or scenario between voice acting and regular acting: the two work in tandem. “Regular acting and voice acting complement one another wonderfully,” says Bowles, who estimates he’s clocked up over 4,000 voice acting roles over the course of his 35-year career. “Voice work is often very short term,” he says, adding that it usually takes “just one session on a voice job [to] pay an actor’s bills for the week and free them up to take the unpaid fringe work they might feel more passionate about.” 

In fact, “concentrating on your voice really enhances every other area of your acting,” Bowles says, pointing out that while visual roles allow factors including lighting and costumes to share the overall success of a performance, “in voice work you have to convey everything with just the voice.” This, he says, can help you to grow as an actor. 

Another bonus is that you don’t have to spend hours learning a script to prepare for a voice-acting job. If you’re recording in a booth with no camera, you can have the script in front of you. 

Here in the UK, you don’t need to belong to a union in order to be a voice actor. Sure, many professionals are members of Equity, which has its own Audio Committee representing voice artists, but this is not compulsory. As such, there’s often less back-and-forth over contract signing than in the US, for example, where voice actors are expected to belong to SAG-AFTRA.

Skills voice actors need to be successful

Microphone

FabrikaSimf/Shutterstock

Accents

If you’re wondering how to start voice acting, mastering a few accents is a good jumping-off point. You’ll be expected to have received pronunciation (RP) and a good selection of regional British accents under your belt, as well as a range of accents from other native English-speaking countries such as Ireland, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. “Each accent is more cash in the bank,” stresses Bowles. 

Ageing up and down 

You’ll be expected to be able to age your voice up and down to fit different personas. Listen to industry pros who perform broad age ranges, then practise finding the tones and inflections that make you sound older or younger than your years. 

Characters 

It’s not every voice actor’s strong suit, but being able to portray different characters authentically will open up a lot of avenues for voiceover work. A famous example is Nancy Cartwright, a female adult who voices the character Bart Simpson on the long-running animated TV series The Simpsons. Her work has won her an Emmy, among other awards. 

“Voice work is often very short term. Just one session on a voice job [can] pay an actor’s bills for the week and free them up to take the unpaid fringe work they might feel more passionate about.”
Brian Bowles
Voice Actor

Mastering the tech 

Back in the day, all voiceover jobs took place in a studio, where a voiceover artist would work with a producer who took creative control of the recording and a sound engineer who managed the technical elements, including sound quality and editing. Due to a combination of budget cuts, recording technology becoming more readily available, and the rise of home studios, voice artists are now often expected to manage the production and technical aspects of the jobs themselves. So it’s worth training yourself or booking a training course in basic audio editing. 

Keeping up with the market

The voice-acting industry is an ever-shifting landscape. Until relatively recently, the crème de la crème of the industry were vocal chameleons, praised for their ability to speak in accents from around the world. Today, even behind a mic, there are concerns over authenticity, especially when it comes to portraying the voices of ethnicities and sexualities beyond your own. The exception to this rule can be found in audiobooks, where it’s common for one reader to voice all the parts. Still, actors and producers alike have raised important questions about cultural appropriation.

How to become a voice actor in four steps

Voice actor

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

1. Hone your voices

You can book sessions with a dialect coach if you’re hoping to master a particular accent, but training is not required to kick-start your career as a voice actor. That said, you’ll want to feel confident in your repertoire. Many successful voice actors have a natural aptitude for faithfully mimicking dialects. To improve your range, Bowles suggests recording yourself speaking in different voices and listening back to them. “Get friends whose opinion you trust to comment on their authenticity,” he suggests, adding that you could take this even further by incorporating different accents into your daily life. It stands to reason that if you practise using another voice in public, you won’t be thrown when you use it out loud in a studio. 

2. Create a voiceover reel 

In order to show producers your talents, you’ll want to put together sample reels of voices that span your range. Experienced voice actors can call on work from their previous jobs, but if you’re just starting out, Bowles suggests recording the types of voices you hope to get booked for. You’ll want a commercial reel featuring a range of different voices (for example: warm, reassuring, emotive, amusing, or confident). You’ll also want to prove your skills at voicing documentaries and corporate videos (including using specific financial or scientific terms). A drama reel, such as a monologue, is another must. Length-wise, Bowles suggests keeping each reel to 90 seconds, spending no longer than 15 seconds per voice. 

3. Condense your voice reel 

“Nowadays, because of the pressure of time, the vogue is very much to create a one-minute compilation of your various styles,” suggests Bowles. Once you’ve recorded your commercial, corporate, documentary, and drama reels, select the best moments from each and run them together in a highlights reel. “Your own natural voice should be featured at the front,” Bowles recommends. “Then the commercial in the style which best represents your voice. If you have the ability to create characters and accents, do add them, but only if you are really adept at them.” 

4. Focus on getting signed 

Once you’re happy with your reels, it’s time to focus on promoting yourself. While you can apply directly for advertised voice acting roles, Bowles cautions that producers tend to use the people they’ve used in the past and agencies they deem reliable. Therefore, it’s worth trying to get on an agency’s books. Industry leaders worth researching and applying to include Hobsons, Yakety Yak, and Calypso Voices. Good luck!